Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana and Archbishop Rowan Williams enjoy an impromptu jazz parade that broke out at the service
The first day of meetings between the Archbishop of Canterbury and U.S. Episcopal bishops featured table discussions of the controversy over sexuality roiling the Anglican world and the occasional pointed criticism of Rowan Williams.
The Anglican Communion leader also dedicated a new Episcopal church in the Lower Ninth Ward neighbourhood devastated two years ago by Hurricane Katrina and told a jazz-accented ecumenical service that human communities should be marked by “gratitude” and “indebtedness to one another.”
Archbishop Williams, about 150 bishops and members of the joint standing committees of Anglican primates, or national leaders, and the international Anglican Consultative Council met Thursday for seven hours in closed-door sessions.
“It was an open and forthright conversation marked by respect, courtesy and honesty,” Bishop Robert O’Neill of Colorado told a news conference at the end of the day.
Sources who were in the closed-door sessions said a couple of exchanges directed at Archbishop Williams were “painful” in their honesty.
Bishop O’Neill confirmed that one topic touched upon was the fact that Archbishop Williams has so far not extended an invitation to the 2008 decennial Lambeth Conference to Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who lives with his male partner. His election in 2003 was seen as a breakthrough for justice by the U.S. church and biblical heresy by some churches in Africa and Asia.
“Concerns have been expressed about who is invited,” said Bishop O’Neill. Sources at the conference said some American bishops have attached notes of protest to their acceptances, but there does not appear to be a move to boycott Lambeth on behalf of their colleague. (Organizers have suggested that Bishop Robinson might be invited to Lambeth as a guest, but not as a full participant.)
The American bishops also protested moves by archbishops in Africa to consecrate bishops who are conservative American priests that will minister to congregations at odds with their national church’s more-liberal stance on homosexuality.
“The subject came up; it is part of the reality of our life,” said Bishop O’Neill.
Bishop John Rabb of Maryland told the news conference that, overall, his colleagues were “talking about the specifics of how we see our role and our ministry in our lives as bishops and how we provide appropriate pastoral care for the whole church.” Bishop O’Neill said the bishops “collectively take our responsibilities and ministries very seriously. We are passionate about the work we do individually and collectively and we reflect a passionate commitment to the life and ministry of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.”
On the same day, the American church’s presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, announced that eight bishops had accepted her invitation to serve as “episcopal visitors” to disaffected dioceses. Six conservative dioceses, out of a total of 110, have rejected her authority.
Earlier this year, the U.S. bishops rejected a plan put forward by the primates that would have seen the minority dioceses governed by a “pastoral council” and “primatial vicar.”
Archbishop Williams, after the afternoon session, traveled to a hurricane-ravaged neighbourhood to bless a new church called All Souls, which is to open in a renovated former drug store. It will be a community centre as well as a place of worship.
He referred to the visit at the evening’s ecumenical prayer service, saying he “felt it a privilege to see a little bit of (the relief) work.”
Conference attendees, clergy and parishioners from across the city gathered at a theatre in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for the service, which opened with the Shades of Praise gospel choir and ended with a rousing jazz performance of Just a Closer Walk With Thee and When the Saints Go Marching In from trumpeter Irvin Mayfield’s quartet.
Archbishop Williams told the gathering, “What we owe to one another is what we owe to Jesus Christ, who has given us new creation and new hope.”
Before the service, scenes of Hurricane Katrina devastation played on big screens, along with scenes of Episcopal Church rebuilding efforts. Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana, in his welcome, referred to the “suffering, pain and death” experienced by evacuees during the hurricane who waited at the convention centre for rescue.