(Photo: ENS / Dick Snyder)
The representative body of the Episcopal Church reaffirmed its position that homosexual members are an "integral part" of the American church body.
"We wish clearly to affirm that our position as a church is to welcome all persons, particularly those perceived to be the least among us," stated the Executive Council in a letter to the Church. "We wish to reaffirm to our lesbian and gay members that they remain a welcome and integral part of the Episcopal Church."
The council further welcomed those "who are not reconciled to certain actions of General Convention." Rifts within the church widened when the convention consecrated an openly gay bishop in 2003.
The letter came Sunday at the close of a three-day meeting and a private conversation centered on the recent communiqué issued by the Anglican Communion. It was the first meeting of a major deliberative body of the Episcopal Church since the global Primates meeting in Tanzania in February.
A communiqué issued at the end of the Primates meeting had given the U.S. body an ultimatum to not consecrate another gay bishop or authorize official prayers for gay couples. Otherwise, they will face a reduced role in the Anglican family. Noting that the request by the Primates raises questions about the polity of the Episcopal Church, the Executive Council authorized the appointment of a work group to consider the potential response of the legislative body to the communiqué.
At a Holy Eucharist at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Portland, Ore., Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told attendants, "Jesus laments over a community's unwillingness or inability to serve the needs of all God's people, an unwillingness to see all human beings as worthy of healing and welcome."
The Anglican Communion currently rejects homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, though it still calls on its people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all people, regardless of sexual orientation, as stated in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution.
Days ahead of the Council meeting, Jefferts Schori held a live conversation in New York and webcast with national church members where she clarified the national body's "case" on which the Episcopalians base their support for the full inclusion of homosexuals.
"God created us human beings and God said that it was very good. God created diversity, male and female ... and God said that it was very good," Jefferts Schori explained. "We live in an age where reproduction is not understood theologically to be the primary intent of marriage but that the primary intent of faithful lifelong relationships is companionship and growth in Christian living," she said, adding that people in the Episcopal Church say such relationships are appropriate with homosexual couples.
While Jefferts Schori alludes to Scripture for her support for homosexual ordination and the blessing of same-sex unions, the majority of the Anglican Communion have pointed out that the Episcopal Church has abandoned Anglican tradition and scriptural authority, particularly when it consecrated an openly gay bishop in 2003.
Conservative Anglican leaders continue to call for "true repentance" from the Episcopal Church for its apostasy and await for a clear response from the U.S. arm of Anglicanism by the Sept. 30 deadline the Anglican Communion had given in its recent communiqué.
While calling for a time to pause especially during the season of Lent, Jefferts Schori has continually expressed that the American church is unlikely to agree to stick with Anglican tradition.
"I believe that we're called to pause and not to go backward," said Jefferts Schori in New York. "I see no desire among any in this church to retreat" from its stance supporting homosexuals.
The Executive Council is scheduled to make a report and recommendations at its June 2007 meeting.