Saturday, September 21, 2013

House of Bishops Day 2 (Fall 2013)

After breakfast in the hotel restaurant with our friends Bishop Marty and Donna Field of West Missouri, the work day for bishops began at 9am with Morning Prayer at our meeting room tables, while the spouses headed out for a field trip to Thistle Farms.

We then got into our morning session, which featured four presentations followed by a panel discussion around the themes of justice and reconciliation. The presenters and panelists were Bishop Suheil Dawani of the Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Hisham Nassar, MD, also of that diocese; Rabbi Steven Gutow, Executive Director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; and Canon David Porter, the Archbishop of Canterbury's Director of Reconciliation. The Diocese of Jerusalem is in fund-raising mode, mostly to help fund their expansive educational and medical social ministry in four countries, mostly among non-Christians, and the presentations were aimed at supporting that project. I was particularly struck by one of Bishop Dawani's slides that quantified the decline of Christian numbers in the Holy Land over the past century. As recently as the end of World War II, Syria was one-third Christian and the city of Bethlehem has a solid Christian majority. Now, for a combination of reasons, there is a danger that Christianity will disappear from the land where Christianity was born. Rabbi Gutow was a compelling advocate for a fearless tenacity in the struggle for reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians, and a two-state solution. Canon Porter, who is Scots-Irish from Belfast, brings impressive credentials to his new position on the Archbishop's staff. He ended with the sobering reminder that peace and reconciliation are usual quite costly. Usually, somebody who deserves justice doesn't get it. But embracing that difficult truth is preferable to perpetuating the cycle of violence, and lies at the very heart of gospel ministry.

As I shared with my Table 7 colleagues during our discussion time, I often feel more than a little bit hypocritical as I speak about the reconciling power of the gospel when I operate in an ecclesial environment that is still wounded and bleeding. The smoke may be cleared, but corpses and casualties still litter the field of battle. Whatever side of the Anglican Wars one sits on, there is still tremendous anger, grief, and pain all around. Sadly, there's also a lot of denial and demonization--in all directions. There are essential conversations to be had that aren't even on anybody's calendar yet. There are truths that need to be told, but there's no safe place in which they can be told and heard. The House of Bishops has the capacity to become such a place. But I don't see it on the agenda.

Taking advantage of the fact that I drove here, I got in my car and found some nice fast/comfort food for lunch.

The first part of the afternoon was given over to a report from the bishop members of the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church, aka TREC. This group has an expansive mandate from General Convention 2012--probably an impossible mandate. We were briefed on their progress to date, and their expectations about how the process will continue to roll out over the next couple of years. We were then given the follow questions for table discussions:

  1. What do you want to hang onto? Let go of?
  2. What is the best possible TEC future? How does TEC look in 10-20 years? What is it known for?
  3. What initiatives are needed for TEC to reach this future state? Where does TEC need to innovate? Where does TEC need to reimagine how it works?  What is your role: As a bishop? As the House of Bishops?
Our responses were tabulated. We will soon be asked to engage questions like these at the diocesan and parish level.

The second half of the afternoon was owned by the House of Bishops Ecclesiology Committee. Most of the bishops were not aware there was even such a thing as an HOB Ecclesiology Committee, and my impression was that most had not read the "primer" on ecclesiology that the committee had prepared and which was shared with bishops barely a week ago. This document sets forth an understanding of Episcopal Church polity that runs counter to that articulated by the Bishops' Statement on Polity, a 2009 document to which I and my Communion Partner colleagues are committed. After some opening remarks by committee chair Pierre Whalon, TEC in Europe, we were turned loose for table discussions. When we reconvened and feedback was solicited, there was a consistent theme of discomfort with the notion--whether set forth historically or theologically--that General Convention has metropolitical authority, that we have eschewed having an archbishop, but that General Convention is, in fact, our archbishop. There were several other technical and historical errors that were pointed out as well. So my sense is that this document has effectively been re-referred to the committee that produced it, and that we will probably hear from them again down the road sometime. 

We adjourned in time to freshen up before coming back together for Eucharist at 4pm, observing the lesser feast of James Coleridge Patteson and His Companions. The Bishop of New Jersey presided, and Stephanie Spellers, one of our HOB chaplains, preached a rather fine homily. We were then all bused to the 28th floor offices of a downtown Nashville law firm for an elegant--and scenic--reception with drinks and hors d'oeuvres. When the reception wound down, Brenda and I ran off with our old friends Bishop Jay and May Ruth Lambert for dinner at the Nashville iteration of the Key West icon Margaritaville. Jay was my parish fieldwork supervising rector while I was in seminary, so we had a lot to catch up on. In the late 1980s, neither one of us would have imagined meeting under the circumstances that brought us together tonight.


Jon said...

I'm somewhat sympathetic to the idea that GC doesn't have metropolitical authority, but if this is true, who can remove a bishop who is an embezzler or a child molester from their position and, more importantly, by what authority since I assume the PB would be the primary individual acting to strip the guilty of their prerogatives. If this requires GC or the PB to have metropolitical authority, then clearly one or the other has to have metropolitical authority, although we might all be happier if there is some other sort of authority that includes the ability to punish the guilty.

Bishop Daniel Martins said...

If we look at churches that DO have bishops who have metropolitical authority, and what that authority entails, we see that, in TEC, those functions are widely dispersed: the PB, Standing Committees, those responsible for Title IV processes, etc,

Unknown said...


The T-Rex is extinct.


Train Wreck?


It's all about the journey, man!

We need better acronymns...

Fr. Keith said...

Thank you for your words Bishop! i wonder how we tell those truths you speak of in a way that is not meant to change anyone's mind. I think that is where we all go wrong...any attempt at reconciliation is really an attempt to change minds and that is not going to happen. It is also not as easy as a straight line down the middle - with some on one side and others on the the other side. We all find ourselves in different places in our conflicts. I am a gay, married priest who actually would prefer to see GC become like a Metropolitan and yet most of my theology lumps me in with the "conservative" side of the church and understand what it feels like to be ostracized for what you believe is the catholic understanding of the faith. So isn't the question more about how we live together in our disagreements?
Many blessings to you and your colleagues!

Jeremy Bonner said...


The historical position was that only the House of Bishops could depose one of its own.

Removal of a bishop even for the sorts of offenses to which you refer has been very difficult, even when their dioceses want them removed (witness the cases of Bishop Joe Doss, formerly of New Jersey, and Bishop Charles Bennison, formerly of Pennsylvania).

The House of Bishops exercises the authority of a college of peers, but it's not truly metropolitical.