Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Reflection from Bishop Mark Beckwith

Reflections on the House of Bishops' Meeting
September 26, 2007

There were a remarkable series of dynamics in play at the just concluded House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans. For starters, there was the dynamic between the Episcopal Church (increasingly identified as TEC by the rest of the Anglican Communion)– represented by the House of Bishops; and the rest of the Anglican Communion – represented by the Archbishop of Canterbury and several leaders of the Anglican Consultative Council (the ACC). The Archbishop and the representatives of the ACC presented to us a rather united front in their disdain/concern/anger at TEC for getting out ahead of the rest of the Anglican Communion in our actions over the last three years (the more gentle presentation) – or abrogating our commitment to the Communion and the Gospel (the more harsh presentation). We later learned that the ACC position may not have been so united – in that some of the ACC members present, who represented different views, were not given the opportunity to speak to us. It was also troubling to learn that an edited version of the most ardent presentation was on the internet within an hour of it being presented to us.

Another dynamic in play was the sense I had that we are dealing with more than one house of bishops. The primary house is comprised of the vast majority of bishops who stayed through the whole meeting – and who worked hard, and well, to build bridges and create solidarity in the midst of diversity. It appears to me that an ancillary or adjunct House is made up of a small group of dissident bishops who left the meeting as soon as the Archbishop of Canterbury did. Their media champions stayed – and seemed to have versions of our work – with their own unique commentary on it, out in public before we even finished that work.

To my mind, the “primary” House of Bishops was able to sort through these various dynamics, and build on the work that we did at our meeting in March. Although it may not be reflected in our final statement, there was a growing sense during the meeting that we are willing and able to honor our differences – which are reflected in our differing theologies and liturgical practices. There was not an attempt to demand conformity – or to diminish any particular diocesan response to the invitations and challenges of the Gospel.

Our final statement, which went through various drafts, and strongly endorsed by the bishops who were present, represents an intention to re-state what had already been said by either General Convention, the House of Bishops (in March 2007) or various subcommittees of the ACC. As one colleague said, “our written response didn’t go forward on any of the contentious issues that challenge the ‘bonds of affection’ in the Anglican Communion, but we didn’t move backward either.” Given all the dynamics that were swirling about, we did some good work. I was disappointed that we didn’t build on our March statement, but there were several who were disappointed that we didn’t retract some earlier positions.

As far as the dynamics of the House of Bishops are concerned, we moved considerably forward in developing a community marked by the paradox of unity and difference – and we more clearly recognized and honored the strong gifts of leadership in Katherine Jefferts Schori. The desire expressed in our statement that Gene Robinson be accorded full participatory status at next year’s Lambeth Conference is a testimony to a growing solidarity of difference.

So what does the House of Bishops’ meeting and statement mean for us in the Diocese of Newark? For me, it means that we continue to do the work and carry out the witness that has been given to us – and which we have claimed. I was much taken with Archbishop Rowan Williams’s frequent reference to the notion of “catholicity”, which for him means wholeness – or fullness. I may be taking his notion a step or two further than he intended by saying that catholicity reflects a desire to identify, embrace and celebrate the full giftedness of the human family. When we can do that, we are made whole – and are then truly catholic in the fullness of the word. What has been my privilege over these past several months in the Diocese of Newark is to hear and see the unyielding commitment to grow into greatness wholeness by reaching out – sometimes boldly, sometimes rather feebly – across cultural, economic, racial, sexual orientation and other fear-driven barriers.

The final and perhaps most important dynamic in play during the House of Bishops meeting was the tension between the work around church matters – and our participation in the repairing and rebuilding of the city and Gulf Coast after Katrina. We spent one day on a field site and four days in meetings. Somehow we all need to learn how to re-orient our time and our commitment. In a sermon that Gene Robinson preached at Grace Church, New Orleans, on Sunday morning, he pointed out a rather significant mistake in the Catechism of our Prayer Book. On page 847, the question is asked: “What response did God require from the chosen people?” And the Prayer Book responds, misquoting from Micah 6:8: “God required the chosen people to be faithful; to love justice, to do mercy, and to walk humbly with their God.”

Micah said no such thing. He said that we have to “do justice”, not love it. Loving justice generates treatises and ideologies – and leads to self righteousness claims about how open-minded we are. Doing justice requires us to repair and rebuild New Orleans and Newark – and Newton and Nutley and North Arlington (and every other community where we are planted); not to mention repairing and rebuilding our own internal landscapes so that they are aligned and inspired by the fierce compassion of the living Christ.

1 comment:

Bill said...

Just one thing that caught my attention. Mark reports on something an associate said: “As one colleague said, “our written response didn’t go forward on any of the contentious issues that challenge the ‘bonds of affection’ in the Anglican Communion, but we didn’t move backward either.”” In the business world it is said that not moving forward IS moving backward. If you stand still, you are losing ground because the rest of the world is not standing still.

And like Mark where he says: “I was disappointed that we didn’t build on our March statement”, I agree, I too am disappointed. Maybe I expected more from our Bishops but maybe that will come a little later.