The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops adopted on Tuesday three resolutions, one of which called for an urgent meeting with the head of the Anglican Communion.
At an annual spring retreat meeting at Camp Allen in Navasota, Texas, the House of Bishops has been considering its response to the recent communiqué adopted by Anglican heads worldwide that urged the Episcopal Church to respond to a moratorium on ordaining homosexuals and blessing same-sex unions.
Months away from issuing a response by the Sept. 30 deadline, the Episcopal House of Bishops affirmed in its first resolution its desire that the Episcopal Church – the U.S. Anglican wing – remain a part of the councils of the Anglican Communion.
"We affirm once again the deep longing of our hearts for The Episcopal Church to continue as a part of the Anglican Communion," the House of Bishops stated, according to the Episcopal News Service.
At the same time, it also reaffirmed that, "We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church."
Earlier this month, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church had also reaffirmed its stance on the "full inclusion" of homosexuals. And in recent weeks, some Episcopal leaders expressed that they would choose the "full inclusion" of homosexuals at the cost of splitting with the Anglican Communion.
Nevertheless, the House of Bishops stated this week that it "pledges itself to continue to work to find ways of meeting the pastoral concerns of the Primates (heads of the 38 Anglican provinces) that are compatible with our own polity and canons."
While expressing desire to keep ties with the Anglican Communion, the House of Bishops stated that the Primates' request to establish a pastoral council to provide alternative oversight to Episcopal dioceses that requested it would be "injurious to the polity of the Episcopal Church."
Seven dioceses split over theological views with the Episcopal Church have rejected the authority of U.S. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who supports ordaining homosexuals and blessing same-sex unions, and are seeking a new overseer. Rifts in the Anglican Communion had widened when the Episcopal Church consecrated an openly gay bishop in 2003.
The House of Bishops called the Primates' request for providing alternative oversight in the United States "spiritually unsound."
"The pastoral scheme encourages one of the worst tendencies of our Western culture, which is to break relationships when we find them difficult instead of doing the hard work necessary to repair them and be instruments of reconciliation."
A day ahead of the adopted resolutions, the Rev. A. Katherine Grieb, associate professor of New Testament at the Virginia Theological Seminary, drew attention to the Anglican Covenant. Grieb is a member of the international task force preparing a draft version of the covenant.
The Anglican Communion currently has until the end of 2007 to respond to the proposed Anglican Covenant, which is said to be a "discussion starter" and an effort to prevent a split in the Anglican Communion.
While discussions and the covenant drafting could take as long as 10 years, Grieb pointed out that it has become clear that the covenant process would be moving "at top speed." A complete and ratified covenant could come out as early as Lambeth 2008.
As the Episcopal Church looks at a "double deadline" (one in September, another in December), Grieb suggested a "time out" from the Anglican Communion.
"I suggest that we enter a five-year period of fasting from full participation in the Anglican Communion to give us all time to think and to listen more carefully to one another," she said, according to the Episcopal News Service.
The fasting period would mean non-participation in global meetings, including the decennial Lambeth, but contributions to discussions if invited. And the Episcopal Church would still be sending support and remain engaged in the mission of the church, Grieb explained.
"But we should absent ourselves from positions of leadership, stepping out of the room, so that the discussions of the Anglican Communion about itself can go on without spending any more time on our situation which has preoccupied it."
Rather than walking "together" with the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church would be walking "in parallel."
"It is not enough to say 'let's take a break from the Communion to let things settle down,'" said the Rev. Ephraim Radner, rector of Ascension Church, Pueblo, Colo., who is also participating in preparing the draft version of the covenant, "but it is, in a sense, our having broken the Communion that has caused the unrest in the first place. This mistrust must be dealt with now, in this church and elsewhere, with all of its hard choices; why? So that there will be a place where trust, as the Covenant would have us do, can bear fruit."
Bishops of The Episcopal Church are scheduled to close their six-day meeting at Camp Allen on Wednesday.