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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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I am grateful to the clergy and people of the Diocese of Tennessee for your prayers and other support during the recent meeting of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church. I have been conscious that this support, a sign of our communion and common life in the Body of Christ, has upheld me during a time of stress in the life of the Church. I give thanks for you, and pray that you too are upheld in your ministry by God’s life-giving power.
Our time of gathering in New Orleans with the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting was not an easy one. The visible signs and continuing effects of the devastating hurricane of two years ago were evident; the weighty subject of the Primates’ February Communiqué and our response to it was in the forefront of most minds. The Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the Joint Standing Committee shared with the House of Bishops the global context of recent actions of the Episcopal Church and the effects of these actions on the life of the Anglican Communion, and also charted a possible way forward for our common life together as a Communion. These perspectives were difficult for some members of the House of Bishops to receive, yet these perspectives shaped the response of the bishops.
In a most positive part of our time together, members of the House of Bishops and spouses along with our Communion partners had the opportunity to join in the work in rebuilding New Orleans. We also shared in a joyful ecumenical service of thanksgiving during which almost one million dollars from the dioceses of the Episcopal Church was presented to the Dioceses of Louisiana and Mississippi. We discovered, as well, the continuing vibrancy of many communities on the Gulf Coast, in the midst of a situation that continues to be very difficult.
The House of Bishops has now given its response, one that went much further than I thought possible for the House to provide the clarifications requested by the Primates’ Meeting. The clarifications concern the requested assurances on the blessing of same-sex unions and on the consecration to the episcopate of persons living in a partnered same-sex union sought by the 2004 Windsor Report. The issue before the Episcopal Church is to provide the assurances requested by the Report that will allow the common life of the Anglican Communion to continue. I believe that the principal question is no longer just whether the Episcopal Church desires to continue to walk with the Communion, but whether the Communion itself has the will to continue together. There is much here at stake that goes beyond the Episcopal Church.
It is now the responsibility of the Instruments of Communion to evaluate our response. The Communiqué was addressed to us by the Primates’ Meeting, and I believe that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC and the Primates’ Meeting will be making recommendations to them. Many interested parties will offer their own evaluations, but the assessment of the Communion as a whole through the Instruments of Communion is the crucial one for Communion-minded people.
Part of being members of a Communion of Churches is that our own opinion of whether we have addressed adequately the concerns of others is not decisive for the future of our relationship. These matters are the business of common discernment throughout the Church. I have written before of my passion for Jesus’ Church, a worldwide phenomenon with roots firmly planted in the earliest times, growing and reaching out to the future. I have called you to a deeper consideration of the Church, “that wonderful and sacred mystery” (BCP, 291), and I call you again to reflect on the importance of Christian community. My commitments are unchanged. In the midst of challenge, I pray for good discernment, graceful conversion, and at all times the mercy of God.
(The Rt. Rev.) John Bauerschmidt is Bishop of Tennessee.
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