Monday, March 27, 2006

A Word to the Church

This is the pastoral letter resulting from the House of Bishops Meeting at Kanuga, N.C. May God help us heal and truly recognize the wonderful diversity within the church.

House of Bishops Meeting at Kanuga
March 2006

In this Lenten season we greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We write to you from the Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, North Carolina, where we are gathered for our spring meeting. In Lent God calls us to examine our hearts and renew our companionship with the One who offered himself for the salvation of the world. We are very conscious of the larger context in which we gather and deliberate: in a country where the disparity between rich and poor persists, where we struggle to rebuild lives and communities along the Gulf Coast, a country whose daughters and sons are serving at war overseas. Increasingly we are aware that we represent not a single national church, but one richly comprising congregations in fifteen countries. We wish to share with you something of our journey with Christ during these days of our meeting together.
The unity, mission, and faithfulness of the Church are matters very much in our prayers. We strongly affirm our desire for the Episcopal Church to remain a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, and we recognize that the gift of communion requires generosity and restraint on the part of all. We were blessed by the presence and presentation of our guest from the Church of England, the Right Reverend Michael Langrish, Bishop of Exeter, who encouraged and challenged us in respect to our relationship with the larger Anglican Communion. On behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Ms. Sue Parks, the Manager of the Lambeth Conference, briefed us on the plans for the Lambeth Conference 2008.

We believe that the most effective way to foster communion is to be present for each other, as often as possible, so that we may learn from each other, be corrected by each other, and discern the mind of Christ together. In this regard we were encouraged by the report of the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. We welcomed the Commission's overview of the report that it is preparing in order to assist the General Convention in addressing the critical issues and concerns raised in the Windsor Report, in the Primates' Communiqué, and by the Anglican Consultative Council. The report, which will be completed and issued early in April, affirms our commitment to the Anglican Communion, and will include a number of resolutions to be proposed for consideration by the General Convention. We commend to the prayerful reflection and legislative process of the General Convention this report of the Special Commission as a way forward in faithfulness to our Lord, to the Episcopal Church, and to the Anglican Communion.

A significant experience of our meeting was the opportunity to have a conversation with the seven current nominees for Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church. All the nominees listened carefully and responded with their own insights and perspectives. Our evening together gave testimony to God's blessing upon the life of the Church, and proved helpful as we begin to prepare for the election of the next Presiding Bishop. We are deeply appreciative of the generosity of these our colleagues in offering themselves for this discernment process.

We also benefited enormously from a day spent considering the nature and purposes of biblical interpretation in hearing God's living Word. Our guests for this day, eminent Anglican biblical theologians originally from Kenya, India, and Hong Kong, and the United States, provided us with a profound glimpse of the contexts in which the Word of God comes to life throughout the world.

As part of our continuing commitment to work against the sin of racism, and much informed by what we have learned about ourselves in the wake of last year's hurricanes, we developed a new Pastoral Letter to be read in all congregations. We also wrestled with the grave difficulties regarding immigration and the injustices facing those who come to the United States. Additionally we considered important studies relating to the opportunities and challenges of evangelism and church growth today. As we prepare for General Convention, we commit ourselves to continued prayer and labor for justice for all of God's people, for the unity of the Church, for the faithfulness of the Church, for the mission of God.

At the heart of our meeting was a retreat led by our Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold, III. Our time together in prayer was deeply enriched by his profound gifts as a spiritual guide and teacher. This occasion manifested his depth of conviction and generosity of heart, which have so characterized his years as Presiding Bishop and meant so much to so many of us.

As a result of our time together we are better prepared to join at General Convention our sisters and brothers of the House of Deputies, whose presiding officer, the Very Reverend George L. Werner, also addressed us. Together we will journey with hearts confident in God, eager to seek the Holy Spirit's guidance in serving Christ's mission of drawing all things to God.

"For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace" (Isaiah 55:12).

Along with this letter, came a pastoral letter on the "Sin of Racism." It reads, in part,

With God's help, we will:

renew our commitment to the 1994 pastoral letter, "The Sin of Racism"; take responsibility to expose, dismantle and heal those situations of injustice based on racism; seek forgiveness for our lack of charity and consciousness in recognizing those situations which degrade the image of God in our neighbors; make amends for our undeserved position and benefit as a result of unjust situations both now and in the past; empower all members of God's human family, that they may live into the fullness of what God intends; encourage the larger church to continue and expand its work of education, spiritual formation, and anti-racism training, that all might discover the riches of God's diverse creation, especially in those who differ from us; advocate for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, our respective dioceses, the parishes which comprise them, and our governments, as well as our own households, that God's desire may become increasingly evident for all of humanity; recruit and empower people of all races and ethnic origins as leaders in our church, and as members of all boards, agencies, commissions, and committees; dedicate equitable resources for all races and national origins in the funding of theological education for all ministries, lay and ordained; advocate for continued response to the sinful legacy of slavery; expose situations of environmental racism and classism which poison and threaten the poorest among us, and seek justice for those communities; and advocate for compassionate care of the stranger in our midst, and demand just immigration policies.

Amen. And amen. [note: the bolding is mine]

I wonder if all the bishops are aware how easily the word "homophobia" can be substituted for the word ""racism?"

Maybe this at least says something about progress we've made in race relations. I wonder how acceptable many of the bishops would have found this letter 50 or 60 years ago?

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