Into Deeper Place*

Continuing a process that began when they met in Vermont just days after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the House of Bishops, at its interim meeting in Cleveland September 26 October, explored a model for reconciliation even as tensions over collegiality and canonical authority bubbled under the surface. Using the small group model that has, over the years, strengthened the collegiality of the house, the bishops also drew on their chaplains to ‘inhabit reconciliation’.

Respecting one another’s urgencies

‘One person’s elephant can very easily be someone else’s mouse,’ said Presiding Bishop Frank T Griswold, opening the second day’s session. With a reminder to the bishops to ‘respect one another’s urgencies’, but to retain a sense of proportion with regard to them, he called Pennsylvania bishop Charles Bennison and Pittsburgh bishop Robert Duncan to the podium to speak to ‘the facts’ regarding Bennison’s deposition of a traditionalist priest, the Reverend David Moyer, whom Duncan then invited to take up canonical residence in his diocese.

Bennison expressed gratitude to Griswold for his efforts at reconciliation, but said he ‘had no choice but to depose [Moyer] according to the canons.’ He apologized for ‘any way in which this has undermined’ the ministries of other bishops, the Church, or the Anglican Communion, but refuted a statement by Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey that he was ‘unwilling to consult’ with Carey or other bishops on the situation. After repeated attempts to contact Carey at his Lambeth Palace offices, he said that he felt ‘undercut’ by comments have been ‘contrary to the effort I undertook.’

Duncan began by admitting that he had ‘purposely occasioned a constitutional crisis among us’ to open a discussion about ‘limiting episcopal power’ and make known his objection to Moyer’s deposition under Canon 10, which does not require a trial. ‘Name me assisting bishop of Pennsylvania, I’ll name you assisting bishop of Pittsburgh. You can deal with my difficult congregations and I’ll deal with yours,’ he declared.

Of one heart?

‘They may not have been of one mind but they were of one heart,’ commented Bishop Clifton Daniel III of East Carolina on the presentations by Bennison and Duncan.

After a brief period of questions and answers, Griswold turned to the theme of the session – appropriately enough titled ‘Power, Influence and Authority’.

Being a community of reconciliation is a lifelong process because of sin, Griswold went on, and the closer a community gets to the goal the more ‘the Evil One lurks close by to disturb our reconciliation.’ ‘We must engage in dying to singularities and the need to win,’ he told the bishops pointedly. ‘What makes division painful is that we have begun to live into the community of reconciliation’ and have ‘increased expectations of mutuality, which makes conflict that much harder to bear.’ Before the bishops moved back into their groups, he also warned of the sometimes unconscious pressures of ‘bearing concerns that are not our own’.

Frustrations surface in resolution

Frustrations about recent actions by Bennison and Duncan, as well as the bishops of Kansas and Delaware, surfaced in the form of a strong ‘mind of the house’ resolution that would have chastised those colleagues for ‘inappropriate behaviour’ that threatens the unity of the church.

The original resolution asked the House of Bishops to express its ‘disappointment’ with the bishop and leadership of the Diocese of Pennsylvania in its failure to resolve issues surrounding the deposition – and it also pointed to what it called ‘extra-canonical action’ taken by the bishop of Pittsburgh in offering the deposed rector a position.

The proposed resolution also lamented the decisions in the Dioceses of Kansas and Delaware that ‘went beyond the consensus achieved by the General Convention Resolution D039 when they formally authorized the blessing of same-sex unions.’

The final resolution retained a sentence that said, ‘We believe that the canons, used properly, can be an instrument of grace and a unifying factor in the life of the Church. We expect that depositions and other disciplinary actions be recognized by all bishops of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.’

The bishops also endorsed a call from the presiding bishop to consider preparation of a pastoral teaching on reconciliation as a contribution to the General Convention next summer in Minneapolis.

Questions about war with Iraq

The possibility of war with Iraq was very much on the minds of bishops and they unanimously endorsed a strong statement that was sent to all members of Congress as they began to debate on a resolution. President George W Bush is seeking authorization to use military force if Iraq doesn’t submit to inspections.

‘We deeply respect the seriousness of your responsibility to protect the lives of our citizens and, with you, we condemn the brutality of Saddam Hussein and his regime,’ the letter said. It quickly added, ‘Our faith requires us to strive always for justice and peace. We believe that restraint and the on-going commitment to international cooperation are the means toward peace that we all desire.’

The letter concluded that the bishops ‘do not support a decision to go to war without clear and convincing evidence of the need for us to defend ourselves against an imminent attack.’

In their own meeting, 74 spouses of the bishops signed a letter questioning the use of force against Iraq.

Living in reconciled community

In his sermon at Trinity Cathedral on Sunday, Griswold said that the possibility of war raises deep questions of ‘what it means to be peacemakers, living as a reconciled community. How does shalom become the truth of what we are – and shall be?’

He said that ‘as a nation we are accustomed to waging war,’ and facing that possibility with Iraq it is important to ask, ‘How are we as a nation called to be an agent of reconciliation? As persons of faith we are called to wage reconciliation … to bring people to the deep place of shalom, that true peace that flows like a river from the heart of God.’

Noting that how people speak to one another also shapes the response, Griswold decried the ‘harsh language’ being used by the US government over the Iraq issue. ‘We must embody reconciliation, becoming the thing we preach … because we are called to the costly and on-going work of reconciliation,’ he said.

While that doesn’t mean ‘being passive in the face of evil, it does recognize that even the enemies of truth have a place in the heart of God.’ He also said that Americans ‘must ask what it is in us, as a nation, that provokes such strong reaction.’

James Solheim is director and Jan Nunley is deputy director of Episcopal News Service. This is an abbreviated version of a dispatch released on October 7 last.

* A deeper place is generally a hole or a pit.