Tuesday, September 25, 2007

House of Bishops talks make 'enormous progress,' go into overtime

Bishops discount earlier reports of draft document

By Pat McCaughan and Mary Frances Schjonberg, September 24, 2007

[Episcopal News Service, New Orleans] After a day of mostly closed-door and overtime sessions, Episcopal bishops on September 24 said they'd made "enormous progress" toward a productive response to the concerns of Anglican Primates.

"This is a continuing process of discernment and clarification of the relationship of the Episcopal Church with the whole Anglican Communion" as regards church polity, the ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire and other issues arising from that decision, Bishop David Alvarez of Puerto Rico told reporters at an evening news conference.

"Through this process we have proven the quality of life of this church in which we can talk openly with each other and in which we can differ but also pray together," he added.

He was joined by Bishop J. Neil Alexander of Atlanta and Bishop J. Jon Bruno of Los Angeles, who called earlier reports about a draft document inaccurate. "There is no draft at this point," Alexander said emphatically. "We've made enormous progress today in building a very strong and broad consensus in the House of Bishops but we still have work to do."

The bishops said they want to respond in as clear and concise a manner as possible to the Anglican Primates' February 19 communiqué, issued in Dar es Salaam, and which asked the House of Bishops to "make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorize any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention."

It also asked that bishops respond to their request to "confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion" by September 30.

"We are working very closely with one another, whether conservative or liberal or moderate" to come up with a response, Bruno said.

In response to a reporter's queries about the future course of the church and possible breakaway dioceses reformulating under an overseas or other archbishop, Alvarez said: "We have been addressing precisely that issue as openly as possible, recognizing the divisiveness and controversy around it. We are very clear that we may have some people who are not in agreement with the majority positions taken by both houses of General Convention, but," he added, "that doesn't mean we can foresee a significant breakaway or division of the Episcopal Church."

Alexander said the challenges of the past few years and throughout the history of the Anglican Communion have shown "over and over how tough the fabric of our common life is. We have experienced a hard pull on our fabric but we're a tough bunch. We're faithful to the mission and ministry of Jesus and we believe that, at the end of the day, the Anglican Communion will find a way forward in mission and ministry."

Despite repeated efforts to focus the news conference on issues of human sexuality and possible schism, the bishops emphasized that the tone of their conversations are respectful, and their goal is to develop a clear, concise response for the Primates without reversing support for gay and lesbian people.

"Are we going to withdraw our support of gay and lesbian people in the church -- no," Bruno said. "They are fully enfranchised members of our body." But he added: "Are we going to do anything to exacerbate this situation? No, we won't, and we're waiting to see how our response will be received."

Alvarez agreed, adding that is an "issue of justice, love and the Gospel. That's not something you turn back."

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