Following breakfast, the first order of the day was the Eucharist (not much Catholic piety here!). Lloyd Allen, Bishop of Honduras presided, partly in English, mostly on Spanish. The music was provided by a group flown here from Los Angeles as a gift of the bishop thereof, the Theodicy Jazz Collective. They are incredibly talented and accomplished young musicians. I'm very fond of jazz and very fond of liturgy. I'm less sure the two go together, that jazz doesn't have too broad a semantic range to support the work that needs to be done in liturgy. But there were moments when I enjoyed it a great deal.
Following the Eucharist, we remained in our places in the chapel and heard our second "retreat" address of the meeting, by George Wayne Smith, Bishop of Missouri. He spoke of the idea of "home" and how the place that roots us and the place where we live are, for bishops, rarely one and the same, and that chances are that neither place is one about which we can avoid feelings of great ambivalence, which is not inappropriate for disciples of Jesus, because our true and lasting home is in a place we've never even yet been. Yet, we should strive to "go native" in the places where we are placed, to seek the welfare of those places, because that is the very path of our salvation, and the salvation of the world.
We adjourned back to our usual plenary room with more discussion around table groups on the themes raised by Bishop Smith. This might seem tangential to our purpose for being here, but it's not. If bishops are going to successfully engage difficult issues, that process is helped by building up reservoirs of trust and mutual affection.
Lunch took the form of mini-provincial meetings, so I ate with the other fourteen bishops, minus one who is not here, from Province V.
After a short post-mealtime break, we gathered for the obligatory group photo. I don't know how many of are here, but I would guess it's in the neighborhood of 130, so that is no mean feat.
Back to plenary at 1:30, where we got to some of the hard stuff--the report of the Task Force for the Study of the Theology of Marriage. They have, as you may know, proposed changes to the marriage canons that render them gender-neutral, opening the way to full-on same-sex marriage in the Episcopal Church. My understanding of this issue is no secret. The proposed changes shrink back from the nature of marriage as a social institution that is, in fact, created by God, and is the effective sign of the covenant union between “Christ and the Church” (Ephesian 5:32). We're playing with fire here.
We stayed on this task until 4:45. First, 30 minutes of table discussion. Then, well over an hour of "Indaba-style" discussion in groups of about 20, spread over various locations. Then back for another half hour or so of plenary discussion. My contribution, both in the Indaba and the plenary, was along these lines:
Over recent years and decades, we have dealt with issues around sexuality and marriage primarily politically (legislatively) and liturgically. Now, with this task force, we are beginning to deal with it theologically. This is not in itself a bad thing, but it's risky, because it will present us with the temptation to be too clear, too precise. As Anglicans, precision in doctrinal formulations has never been our thing. And that lack of precision is precisely what has very often enabled us to stay together through some very serious disagreements. I am able to be in and serve in this church because of that lack of clarity. Even though many of you do things I think are a little crazy, I can always point to the Prayer Book and say, "This is what my church teaches." But if we opt for excessive clarity at this point in our history, people like me might not have a place left in which to stand. Do not those who want to move the ball down the field in terms of sexuality and marriage already have the tools with which to do that? Might we not perhaps be better served, at this moment, by simply doing nothing? By letting the issue work itself out organically rather than legislatively? Who knows? We may be able to "muddle through" once again. But if we opt for excessive clarity, we are cutting ourselves off from that opportunity.
It's way too early to predict how any of this will turn out this summer, but I can say that I have had positive comments on my remarks from a broad cross section of bishops.
We then spent about 30 minutes hearing from some special guests: bishops from the Union of Utrecht, with which TEC is in full communion. This was followed by brief evening devotions, and dismissal for our "Class" dinners. My class of 2011 is a great group of bishops and spouses. We have become good friends, and I am very grateful for their fellowship.