Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will be installed as presiding bishop of ECUSA in November at Washington National Cathedral.
Some conservative dioceses are attempting to break away from the American Episcopal church following the election in June of a female presiding bishop and the church’s indication that it will continue to support liberalizing church attitudes toward homosexuality.
In addition, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in late June reacted to moves by the Episcopal Church in the U.S. (ECUSA) by suggesting that the Anglican Communion might reorganize, with “constitutent” churches limiting their autonomy under a formal covenant with each other, and “associated” churches playing the role of “observers.”
Referring to the 2003 consecration in the U.S. of a gay bishop, Gene Robinson, Archbishop Williams said that some actions “just do have the effect of putting a church outside or even across the central stream of the life they have shared with other churches.”
On the issue of non-celibate gay bishops, he said it is “not unreasonable to seek for a very much wider and deeper consensus before any change is in view, let alone foreclosing the debate by ordaining someone, whatever his personal merits, who was in a practising gay partnership.”
After the American church’s triennial General Convention, which met here from June 13 to June 21, seven U.S. dioceses asked Archbishop Williams’ office for “alternative primatial oversight.” Several of the dioceses do not ordain women and/or are concerned about Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori’s liberal views on homosexuality.
However, resistance was also forming within several of the dioceses. In Central Florida, a group called Episcopal Voices of Central Florida strongly objected to the diocesan bishop’s call for alternative oversight and stated it wished to remain part of the U.S. church.
The American church made history in June with the election of Bishop Jefferts Schori, 52, leader of a thinly-populated diocese (Nevada) and a priest who came to the church in mid-life after a career as an oceanographer. Her installation services are set for Nov. 4-5 at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
As the first female national leader in the communion, Bishop Jefferts Schori said she plans to build relationships with her fellow primates (national bishops), some of whom do not ordain women and believe homosexuality to be contrary to Scripture.
Sexuality questions arose as some 1,400 delegates tried to agree on a response to the Windsor Report, a document produced by an international Anglican panel that asked the U.S. and Canadian churches to repent for past actions around the issue of homosexuality and to declare moratoria on electing gays to the episcopate and authorizing rites for blessing gay couples.
The convention considered a resolution asking diocese to exercise caution when considering a “candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church.” The resolution also directed the church to “not proceed to develop or authorize rites for the blessing of same-sex unions at this time.”
One legislative house – the lay and clergy delegates – rejected the motion. On the meeting’s last day, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold told the other house – the bishops – that they had to produce some message, since “if we do not have something substantial, it will be very hard for the Archbishop of Canterbury to invite the bishops of the Episcopal Church to the Lambeth Conference (in 2008).” Every decade, the Archbishop of Canterbury invites all Anglican bishops to meet at the Lambeth Conference, held in Great Britain.
The bishops produced a resolution asking dioceses “to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of a candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church.” Although the wording was nearly identical to the earlier resolution, an unusual address by Bishop Jefferts Schori to the lay and clergy delegates helped sway the passage of this motion. She said that she found the resolution “extremely challenging” but it was “the best we are going to do at this convention.” Bishop Schori voted to confirm Bishop Robinson and has approved same-sex blessings in her diocese.
However, the convention made no statement on the blessing of same-sex unions.
Reaction was swift.
A group of conservative bishops said that the convention’s actions were “clearly and simply inadequate” as a response to the Windsor Report. “We therefore disassociate ourselves from those acts of this convention that do not fully comply” with the report.
A group of liberal bishops disassociated themselves from the motion for different reasons, suggesting that it moves the church away from full inclusion of all members: “Our witness to justice has been prophetic in this nation and in the wider Anglican Communion on the issues of the full inclusion of people of color and persons who are differently-abled,” said the bishops. “The language of this resolution too much echoes past attempts by the church to limit participation of those perceived to be inadequate for full inclusion in the ordained ministry.”