(Photo: Episcopal News Service / Jim DeLa)
The presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church wrote a letter to members of the denomination Wednesday to summarize the results of their recently concluded triennial conference and to clarify the details behind two resolutions that have drawn notable, and mostly negative, attention from the media.
After eleven full days of worship, learning, and policy-making, those who gathered in Anaheim, Calif., for the 76th General Convention adopted a budget that will result in the loss of church staff and represents “a significant curtailment of church-wide ministry efforts, in recognition of the economic realities of many dioceses and church endowments,” reported Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
Despite the reduced budget, the church body still decided to commit 0.7 percent of its budget to the Millennium Development Goals on top of the 15 percent already committed to international development work.
“As a Church, we have deepened our commitments to mission and ministry with ‘the least of these,’” Jefferts Schori stated, citing from Matthew 25.
“We have committed to a domestic poverty initiative, meant to explore coherent and constructive responses to some of the worst poverty statistics in the Americas: Native American reservations and indigenous communities,” the Episcopal leader continued.
Jefferts Schori also reported on the adoption of a health plan to serve all clergy and laity and reported about the revisions made to the church body’s rules to better keep churchgoers safe, “especially from abuse, neglect, and exploitation” at the hands of church clergy and staff.
Despite such gains, however, the presiding bishop noted that what captured headlines were two resolutions, “the consequences of which were often misinterpreted or exaggerated."
“Some have insisted that these resolutions repudiate our relationships with other members of the Anglican Communion. My sense is that we have been very clear that we value our relationships within and around the Communion, and seek to deepen them,” clarified Jefferts Schori.
The two resolutions that the bishop referred to specifically were Resolution D025, titled “Anglican Communion: Commitment and Witness to Anglican Communion,” and Resolution C056, titled “Liturgies for Blessings.”
While D025 states that The Episcopal Church reaffirms its “abiding commitment” to the Anglican Communion, it also states that the church body affirms that “God has called and may call ... to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church” gay and lesbian persons “living in lifelong committed relationships characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God."
C056, meanwhile, granted permission to bishops to “provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church,” in light of new legislation authorizing marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian persons. It also noted the need to consider providing theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender relationships.
Since the election of The Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop in 2003, relations between the U.S. Anglican arm and the rest of the worldwide Anglican Communion have been strained to the point of tearing.
While adherents of the Christian faith have historically taught that homosexuality is a sin according to Scripture, liberal believers say biblical teachings on inclusiveness should take precedence and nullify any such teachings against homosexuality.
Conservative Christians, meanwhile, hold onto the belief that homosexuals should not be allowed to hold positions of leadership within the Church. They also feel that the Church should not bless homosexual relationships, as this would be tantamount to blessing a sinful act.
In her remarks Wednesday, Jefferts Schori acknowledged that Anglicans in America and overseas "are obviously not of one mind, and likely will not be until Jesus returns in all his glory.”
“We are called by God to continue to wrestle with the circumstances in which we live and move and have our being, and to do it as carefully and faithfully as we are able, in companionship with those who disagree vehemently and agree wholeheartedly," she wrote. "It is only in that wrestling that we, like Jacob, will begin to discern the leading of the Spirit and the blessing of relationship with God.”
That said, the presiding bishop said the General Convention, “[a]bove all else ... claimed God's mission as the heartbeat of The Episcopal Church.”
“I encourage every member of this Church to enter into conversation in your own congregation or diocese about God's mission, and where you and your faith community are being invited to enter more deeply into caring for your neighbors, the ‘least of these’ whom Jesus befriends,” she concluded.