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Friday, April 11, 2008

Question Authority, says Bishop


The chief symbol of authority in the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, delivered an unusual message to a Seattle gathering of young churchgoers: Question authority.

In a setting that symbolizes entrenched local power -- the Washington Athletic Club -- Bishop Schori urged youthful listeners to "prod" the church, think about the Gospel "in new ways," and challenger their elders on the environment.

"I expect you to hold older generations' feet to the fire for the condition of Creation," Schori argued.

At another point, she told listeners:

"You are living reminders to the rest of us that God is constantly doing a new thing . . . Some people believe the church never changes. The only thing that never changes is a dead body, and that begins to rot."

Elected in 2006 by the Episcopal General Convention, Schori is the woman to hold the post of Presiding Bishop. She is a former oceanographer, with a PhD from Oregon State, and spent part of her girlhood in Lake City.

She is also a resolutely progressive voice in the church, to the dismay of some traditionalists. Schori supported the election of a non-celibate gay, the Rt. Rev. V Gene Robinson, as Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire.

Schori has taken a hard line toward dioceses and congregations seeking to sever ties with the Episcopal Church - insisting that property belongs to the parent church - and has shaken up the church's administration. She is moving parts of the Presiding Bishop's staff to four different cities, including Seattle.

Schori was introduced by the Rt. Rev. Nedi Rivera, the number two bishop in the Diocese of Olympia, as a living refutation of the notion that religion is dull. The gathering for young people was sponsored by the Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

Anglican and Episcopal bishops from around the world will gather this summer in England for their once-in-a-decade Lambeth Conference. The conference is controlled by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowland Williams.

Williams had withheld an invitation from Bishop Robinson, whose election is not recognized by conservative African, Asian and South American bishops.

Schori made clear her displeasure with the decision not to invite the gay bishop.

"It's the archbishop's party and he issues the invitations," she said. "He (Robinson) is going to be there outside the meeting."

In answer to a question about cramped church facilities, Schori replied by saying: "Sometimes I think the (church) buildings are albatrosses." The Presiding Bishop praised what she called "the freedom that comes with simply gathering and being together."

She also urged young people to "think about the Gospel in new ways. It is the obligation of every generation to view God with new eyes."

A question-and-answer session saw the kind of blunt dialogue rarely heard on the visit of a religious dignitary.

Katrina Hamilton, a University of Washington student, talked about how many of her friends are removed from and ignorant of religion, and noted "an increase in the stereotyping of Christians."

"It is much more acceptable in my circle to be gay than to be Christian," said Hamilton.

"We don't live in Christendom anymore," replied Schori, "and that is both a challenge and opportunity." She urged people to ask the question: "How does the way we live proclaim our faith?"

Despite the presence of their distinguished guest, the Episcopal teenagers behaved like teenagers everywhere. They grew a bit restless, whispered jokes, passed notes, checked blackberries for messages, chewed and popped gum.

Chris Walsh, a student at Bishop Blanchet High School, put it to Schori in asking how the church can ever hope to capture and hold the attention of young people.

"We're always overscheduling," said Walsh. "What does the Episcopal Church have to offer to the overscheduled? How can the Episcopal Church reach out and compete."

It has to begin at the family and parish level, not at church headquarters in New York, the Presiding Bishop replied.

"Part of it is converting a consumerist, competitive society: You can't do that from the top down," Schori added. "Part of learning Christian discipline is about setting priorities."

The Presiding Bishop continued to be provocative, even in her closing prayer:

"We give you thanks for newness, and for the discomfort it causes."

Schori will visit the Seattle Art Museum's sculpture park on Friday afternoon, and then attend and speak to a daylong environmental conference on Saturday at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Bellevue


Anonymous said...

THIS is what I truly love about +Katharine, because the future of the church, and the ones who will bring our dreams to bear, are those to whom she was speaking.


Diana said...

Thanks for sharing these comments by our spirit-inspired Presiding Bishop. Especially this one: "You are living reminders to the rest of us that God is constantly doing a new thing . . . Some people believe the church never changes. The only thing that never changes is a dead body, and that begins to rot." And I will now include this is my prayers - "We give you thanks for newness, and for the discomfort it causes."

Hiram said...

Except her, of course...

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, Hiram. How lacking so in creativity. You disappoint. Ah well, at least you weren't as mean spirited as some have been. We are grateful for small mercies.