I presided at the Eucharist and preached at a small mission congregation in the Diocese of Louisiana this morning. Before the liturgy, I led an adult forum with about 15 folks around a table in the parish hall. After an overview of the House of Bishops meeting and a little bit on our ecumenical relations, I opened the floor for their questions.
Lots of concern about the “September 30 deadline” (which, of course, is not a deadline but as the Archbishop of Canterbury has reminded us “perception is reality” in real life). I spoke of my hopes that we will find a way forward, and then said something like:
“Two things I hope you’ll hold in tension: I want you to be concerned about these larger issues, about the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and all the rest of it. But, bottom line, no matter what happens at this House of Bishops meeting, it doesn’t have to derail your local efforts. The cutting edge of our mission and ministry is the local congregation and you need to build a healthy and vital congregation!”
A 40-something big guy, with a red face and tears in his eyes said, “I disagree with you. What happens does affect our local congregation! I invite people but nobody in this part of the world wants to come to a church where, when you open the paper, is all about gay bishops and being thrown out of the world wide communion!”
I conceded that there are local consequences, but reminded him that I was only arguing for some balance in all this…that we shouldn’t be consumed by “the issues” but dedicate ourselves to mission. Then we went on to the predictable argument about “do we believe the Bible or not…why won’t the bishops defend the plain Scriptural truth…why is the Episcopal Church going against worldwide Christian opinion on these matters, etc., etc., etc.”
So, I did what bishops do every Sunday in the 50 minutes we are given in adult forums like this…trying to summarize decades of biblical scholarship, cultural differences, Anglican polity — things which parish clergy should have been doing for years in little places like this! In the end, I think I did OK. They trusted me enough to come to the liturgy, listen carefully to the sermon, receive the sacrament. All in all, it was a good day.
But, over a glass of wine at lunch with the rector and his wife, I had to confess that I do not know if we can hold this fractious Church together. Where I live, in New York, we bishops will be pilloried if we make any concessions in a conservative direction. An 815 staff person walked out on Katharine Jefferts Schori after she reported on General Convention Resolution B033. It was too conservative.
Finally what we will have to do, over these next two days, is say our prayers…listen deeply to each other…come to a consensus decision which is faithful to what this church is and what this church desires to become…and offer it to the larger Church.
As we said in an earlier communication from this House: all we can offer you is who we are. Not who you might wish we were.