Issues of immigration and evangelism will top the agenda as more than 100 bishops of the Episcopal Church gather Sept. 16-21 in Phoenix for their annual fall meeting, themed “Changing Contexts for God’s Mission: What is the New Invitation?”
The bishops also are expected to discuss congregational development and mission, all within a context of prayer, Bible study and worship.
At least 50 bishops and a dozen of their spouses — who are also gathering in Phoenix — plan to attend a Sept. 13-15 pre-meeting visit to the Arizona-Mexico border. The trip, organized by the Diocese of Arizona, aims to help bishops and spouses “spend time … on both sides of the border seeing conditions for themselves,” according to a statement released by Greta Huls, diocesan canon for communication.
Bishop Kirk Smith of Arizona said that he is pleased that the House of Bishops has come to Arizona “to experience first hand the immigration crisis by visiting the border, talking with people involved on both sides of the issue, and by praying with those most affected. It will be a time to put human faces on justice issues.”
A meeting of the bishops’ spouses and partners — held concurrently with that of the bishops — also will focus on issues of immigration amid changing contexts. Local immigration experts, community activists and congregational leaders will address each gathering separately.
A panel of spouses who visit the border trip will share their experiences with the group, said Ginger Sauls of the Diocese of Lexington, convener of the spouses planning committee.
Spouses also will have the opportunity to participate in a community service project and other activities, she said.
Local immigration activists and Hispanic congregational leaders also will address the bishops. Additional scheduled speakers include: Anne Rudig, director of communications for the Episcopal Church, and the Rev. Canon Carmen B. Guerrero, Arizona diocesan canon for peace and justice and multicultural ministry, and pastor of the Latino congregation at Trinity Cathedral.
Jones has been deeply involved in urban revitalization and regeneration and along with others helped to establish “Faiths4Change,” an organization working across faith communities with local people in the holistic transformation of their local environment. He also has developed a dialogue on sexual ethics between Anglican dioceses in England, Africa and America.
During a presidential address to the synod of the Liverpool diocese earlier this year, Jones called for Anglicans to “accept the diversity of ethical convictions” in the debate on sexual ethics so that “we will let nothing deflect us from mission,” according to the diocesan website.
The bishops are expected to make a statement about immigration at the conclusion of the meeting Sept. 21. The bishops of Maryland on Sept. 3 issued a pastoral letter addressing the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
The House of Bishops decided their meeting would go ahead as planned, in spite of calls to boycott the state to protest Arizona’s tough immigration law designed to target, prosecute and deport undocumented persons.
“It’s an opportunity to be educated, to be informed and to make a public statement about solidarity with people that are victims in this, and there are victims on both sides, which is important to emphasize,” said Arizona Bishop Smith at the time.
“We will accomplish a lot more by being here, learning, hearing and responding about it and standing in solidarity with people suffering instead of taking the easy way out by saying ‘Let’s go meet someplace else.'”
After the U.S. Justice Department, the American Civil Liberties Union and others sued to halt the law, a federal judge blocked portions of SB1070 on July 28, the day before it went into effect. The blocked sections would have required immigrants to carry citizenship papers at all times and police officers to check immigration status during traffic stops, detentions and arrests. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton also halted a section barring undocumented workers from applying for or soliciting employment. An appellate court judge in San Francisco is scheduled to hear arguments in the matter the first week of November.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is expected to celebrate and Bishop Leo Frade of Southeast Florida is expected to preach at the Spanish-language service Sept. 19 at Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix. More than a dozen other bishops also will participate in services in local congregations that day.
House of Bishops members will prepare daily accounts of the meeting which will be made available through the Episcopal Church’s public affairs office. The meeting is closed to media. A telephone-in media conference is scheduled for after the Tuesday, Sept. 21 conclusion of the gathering.
— The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. She is based in Los Angeles.