Disputing the issue over homosexuality has not been productive for the church, said the head of The Episcopal Church. But being open to conversation is vital, she added.
Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori wrapped up a three-day, 15-town marathon tour of western Kansas Wednesday. While The Episcopal Church faces a growing exodus of parishes that believe the U.S. Anglican arm has departed from Christian orthodoxy, Episcopalians numbering from 10 to 220 at churches in the Diocese of Western Kansas welcomed Jefferts Schori, who they say has not sugar-coated difficult subjects.
"It is what is," said Jefferts Schori, responding to a question about gay bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire whose consecration in 2003 widened divisions in The Episcopal Church and the global Anglican Communion.
"Really, we have always had gay bishops, clergy and members of congregations," she said, according to The Hutchinson News. Robinson, however, was the first elected bishop living openly with a same-sex partner.
Three months remain before The Episcopal Church is expected to respond to requests made by Primates (Anglican leaders) in February to unequivocally pledge before a Sept. 30 deadline to neither consecrate another openly gay bishop nor authorize the blessing of same-sex unions. The Anglican Communion had reaffirmed its stance this year that homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture.
Jefferts Schori and other Episcopal leaders have since stated that they do not plan to go "backward" on their 2003 decision and hope to remain at the Anglican table to be able to "challenge" views expressed by other Anglican leaders opposed to homosexuality.
"I think God calls us to a place where we can have conversations and not have to agree," said Jefferts Schori as she described the church's role at its best, according to The Hutchinson News. "Go toward those who disagree and find a common ground."
Disagreements and controversy are part of life, she said in a conversation on Monday. The challenge to finding common ground is "to keep the things you disagree about lower on the priority scale."
"In order to truly know someone, we have to enter real conversation," she said, adding the need to leave out judgment in order to have conversation.
The Episcopal head has also emphasized diversity in the church. In an earlier tour stop at St. Michael's Episcopal Church, Jefferts Schori encouraged the diocese to care for members that speak different languages, have different skin colors and those who represent different social classes and ages.
"They may not look like many of you, but that is the field that is ripe for harvest out there," she said, according to Hays Daily News. "I think the core of the Episcopal church is about living together with diversity, honoring that diversity and claiming it as a blessing. Many of the approaches we may take have to do with changing our ideas about what a normative Episcopalian looks like."
Jefferts Schori just marked the one-year anniversary of her election to the office of presiding bishop on Monday. She is the 26th presiding bishop and the first woman to hold the position.