Bishop Epting on the Primates Meeting

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Anglican Primates’ “Pre Meeting”

Bishop Bruce MacPherson of Western Louisiana and president of the Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop’s Council of Advice; Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh and head of the Anglican Communion Network; Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Primate of the Episcopal Church; and I were asked to address some 38 Primates (heads of the various worldwide Provinces of the Anglican Communion) at the start of their meeting in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, last week.

Our task was to share our various perspectives on the Episcopal Church’s response to the “Windsor process” and our hopes for the Anglican Communion in the face of deep disagreements on homosexuality, the ordination gay and lesbian persons and the blessing of their committed unions. After lunch with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and his assistant, The Rev. Andrew Norman, to clarify our roles and tasks and to review the report of the Joint Standing Committee Report on its persective as to how the Episcopal Church’s General Convention responded to the requests of the Windsor Report, we engaged the Primates in conversation.

Bishop MacPherson expressed the concern of perhaps one-quarter of the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops that the General Convention’s response had not been adequate and offered, on their behalf, these bishops’ services to provide oversight for congregations out of sympathy with their own bishops over these matters. Bishop Duncan asked for a “wall of separation” and protection (from church discipline and legal action) for such clergy and congregations.

I spoke of the concern of our ecumenical partners, certainly over the issue of homosexuality, but also that the Anglican Communion (the third largest Christian body in the world)  find a way forward together and not “deconstruct” over the disagreements. Finally, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori spoke of the forty-year journey the Episcopal Church has been on over these matters and her perspective that outside “invasions” of overseas bishops into the internal life of the Episcopal Church only exacerbated the problem and made it more difficult for us to find solutions as a national church.

After our brief presentations, we engaged the Primates in forty minutes or so of respectful and honest conversation on the issues. Images of a leaking ship, the need for some to rest on the “bosom of the deep” confident of God’s grace, and of others throwing life lines to those who feel like they are drowning all found their way into our discussion! Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori shared her concern about the violence of some of the images being invoked — drowning, violation, building separation walls, “lobbing grenades at one another.”

In his summation, Archbishop Williams shared his conviction that “building walls” is hardly what Christians are to be all about, according to Ephesians 2. He also spoke of his discomfort with the idea that the Episcopal Church has created a “new faith” (suggested by both Bishop MacPherson and Bishop Duncan). He spoke of his affection for the Episcopal Church and shared a memory of his experience at Trinity Church, Wall Street, just across from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

“For all we knew, ” he said, “those of us huddled in that room were about to die. Someone said, ‘I could peacefully face death in this company of people.’ I thought then — as now — ‘that’s not a bad definition of the Church,’” Rowan said. No indeed.

After a break tomorrow to share some reflections on Ash Wednesday and the begnning of Lent, I shall return to reflection on the Primates’ meeting.

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