Presiding Bishop’s message to the church on General Convention

Posted Aug 3, 2012

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] “We emerge with abundant hope, better discipline for working together and with partners beyond this Church, for our fundamental reason for being – engagement with God’s mission,” Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori states in her Aug. 3 message to the church about the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, held in July in Indianapolis, Indianapolis.

Message to the Church

The General Convention which took place in Indianapolis in July offered new and creative responses to the call of the gospel in our day. We saw gracious and pastoral responses to polarizing issues, as well as a new honesty about the need for change.

General Convention addressed a number of significant issues that will impact the life and witness of this Church for years into the future – and they include many more things beyond what you’ve heard about in the news. The way we worked together also represented a new reality, working to adapt more creatively to our diverse nature as a Church.

It is that way of creative engagement that ultimately will be most transformative for The Episcopal Church and the world beyond it. On issue after issue, the resolutions addressed by General Convention emerged in creative responses that considered, but did not end in, the polarized positions expected as we went into Convention. People listened to the movement of the spirit and discerned a way forward that was mutually upbuilding, rather than creating greater divisiveness or win-lose outcomes.

The hot-button issues of the last decade have not been eternally resolved, but we have as a body found creative and pastoral ways to live with the differences of opinion, rather than resorting to old patterns of conflict. There is a certain expansive grace in how these decisions are being made and in the responses to them, a grace that is reminiscent of the Elizabeth settlement. We’ve said as a Church that there is no bar to the participation of minorities of all sorts, and we are finding pastoral ways to ensure that potential offense at the behavior or position of another is minimized, with the hope that we may grow toward celebrating that diversity as a gift from God. If we are all sinners, then each of us may be wrong about where we stand. Human beings, made from humus, become Christlike when they know humility.

Major issues addressed at General Convention included approval of a trial rite for blessing same-sex unions. It may be used in congregations beginning in Advent, with the approval of the diocesan bishop. Bishops are making varied responses to the rite – a prime example of this emerging reality of local adaptation based on context – something which is profoundly Anglican.

The decision to provide a trial rite for same-sex blessings was anticipated by many across the Church – some with fear and trepidation, others with rejoicing, and yet others with frustration that more would not be offered. The decision of General Convention may not have fully satisfied anyone, yet it has provided more space for difference than most expected. The rite must be authorized by a diocesan bishop, which permits bishops who believe it inappropriate to safeguard their own theological position. Some of the responses by bishops with questions about the appropriateness of such rites in their dioceses show creativity and enormous pastoral respect for those who support such blessings. The use of this rite is open to local option, in the same way we often think about private confession: “all may, some should, none must.”

General Convention also produced creative responses to a number of other challenging issues – in particular, peacemaking in Israel-Palestine, the Anglican Covenant, and the call to restructure The Episcopal Church. The resolutions adopted reflect a higher level of investment in the health of diverse opinions and positions in the Church than we have seen for a long time. We can celebrate a bit of “growing up into the full stature of Christ” and the kind of welcome we claim to exemplify: “The Episcopal Church welcomes you,” whoever you are and wherever you stand. As a Church, when we’re at our best, we earnestly believe that that diversity helps to lead us toward the mind of Christ.

The call to restructure the Church is a response to growing grassroots awareness that we must change or die. I’ve heard it put this way, “It’s not a matter of tradition or change – tradition IS change!” We live in an age of rapid change, and if we are going to be faithful to our baptismal work of going into the world and proclaiming the gospel, our methods and support systems also need to change. We need to be more responsive and able to engage opportunities, more nimble.

Nimble is not a word usually associated with Episcopal churches, but the passion and energy at our General Convention was certainly moving in that direction. Most of us probably associate that word with Mother Goose and Jack who is nimble enough to jump over the candlestick. But there is a character to Jesus’ own ministry that has something to do with a flexible and creative responsiveness that might be called nimble. It certainly characterized the explosion of his followers across the Mediterranean world and then to India, Africa, and Europe. Nimbleness has something to do with creative risk-taking; it may have a playful character that is also profoundly creative, and it partakes of joy.

We’re looking for a 21st century Episcopal Church that can adapt and respond to a myriad of varied local contexts and missional opportunities. We’ve begun to realize, pretty widely across the Church, that the way we’ve “done church” for the last century or more no longer fits many of our contexts. We haven’t been terribly effective at evangelism with unchurched populations; we haven’t been terribly effective at retaining the children born to Episcopal parents; family structures are changing and our ability to address the needs of those families has not kept pace, whether we’re talking about ECWs and women in the workforce, or single-parent families, or special needs children.

The General Convention decided to address needs for structural change, by looking at the ways in which we live and move and have our being as a Church. A task force will be appointed to listen broadly within the Church and offer a proposal by late 2014.

General Convention adopted a budget for the coming triennium based on the Five Anglican Marks of Mission, which includes some creative initiatives in partnership with dioceses, other parts of the Anglican Communion, or those churches with whom we are in full communion or other relationships. One notable example: “Mission Enterprise Zones” will facilitate creative initiatives at the diocesan level, funded in partnership with the broader Church.

General Convention asked for a task force to study our theology of marriage. Remarkably, this happened only a few days after the Anglican province of Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia did the same thing. This may offer some very creative opportunities for study across provincial boundaries in the Anglican Communion.

The General Convention affirmed the implementation of the Denominational Health Plan, and offered some greater flexibility and more time to address health care parity issues for lay and clergy employees at the diocesan level.

All of this creative work means that we emerge with abundant hope, better discipline for working together and with partners beyond this Church, for our fundamental reason for being – engagement with God’s mission. We have moved beyond the entrenched conflict of recent years. I pray that our growing confidence is a sign of new humility, knowing that we are finite creatures who can always be wrong, that we can do God’s work only as part of the Body, and that disagreement is a mark of possibility.

God still seems to have a use for this Church, if we can remember our central focus – to love God and our neighbors as ourselves, wherever we go, and wherever we find ourselves. May God bless the journey, and may we learn to travel light.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church


Comments (25)

  1. Vivian Varela says:

    Thank you Presiding Bishop!

  2. The Rev. Daniel Hanna says:

    In these words you continue to be such a blessing to the Episcopal Church, Bishop Jefferts Schori !

  3. Tony Price says:

    Will this good summary by Bishop Katherine be available in Spanish?

    1. Anne Mayagoitia says:

      Tony, just click on Noticias at the top of the screen. The Spanish version is there.

      1. Fay Jones says:


  4. Ian Looker (UK) says:

    Isn’t it strange then, with all this progress being made, that the Episcopal Church continues to lose thousands of its membership year by year. Excellence unrecognised! Strange too, that with all these creative initiatives emerging to avoid win-lose outcomes, that the Episcopal Church should engage in so much litigation against its own people, who have been doing a little creative thinking for themselves.

  5. Judy Elliott says:

    Thank you, Presiding Bishop, for this excellent summary of General Convention. I watched many of the sessions on Live Stream which was very helpful to those of us unable to attend in person.
    Judy Elliott
    Diocese of Western New York

  6. Linda Gelbrich says:

    This summary is hopeful and encouraging. Thank you for reminding us of our “central focus.” May it be so – daily. minute by minute.

  7. Thom Hendricks says:

    Bishop Katharine’s remarks proclaim the reasons that I’m humbly proud and to be an Episcopalian.

  8. Judy Elliott says:

    Sorry for the duplicate message above, but the Presiding Bishop’s excellent summary was worth mentioning twice!

    Judy Elliott
    Diocese of Western New York

  9. Marcia Mary Cook says:

    My dear Bishop, I thank God for giving you that amazing ability to hone in on the gist of our issues and decisions, and thank you for presenting us with summaries containing those precious kernels of truth.

  10. vincent schwahn says:

    Thank You Bishop Katherine….you are an inspiration to me…and many in our church. You
    have shown us how to lead with kindness and integrity.

  11. AliceMarie Slaven-Emond, RN,MS, FNP-C says:

    How incredibly lucky a group we are to have this type of leader at the helm. I say my prayers of gratitude for coming into this church family more than ten years ago from the Romans. I was blessed then and consider myself continuously blessed year after year, month after month and day after day! !Gracias a Dios!

  12. Stephen Koch says:

    More grandiose platitudes from the woman in charge of the assisted suicide of the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church: An institution racing toward fiscal and moral bankruptcy; besotted with the systemic moral blindness of identity politics as its last-ditch version of sin; a self-hating remnant of a Christianity without relevance, dignity, honor, or belief in its own history or integrity. An institution which, for me at least, used to be an essential element of my very life and breath, and which has now become a firewall between me and the Holy Spirit. The institution that once taught me how to pray, and which now makes prayer impossible, so much ludicrous babble. What have these people got to offer? Big talk from very little voices.

  13. Karl Griswold-Kuhn says:

    we kept hearing that what GC passed was NOT a “trial rite” but rather a “provisional rite” (even though there is no such thing as a provisional rite),
    but it is now being referred to as a “trial rite” by the PB…this is the concern. If it was a “trial rite” it would not have passed at GC, hence why it was changed to a “provisional rite.” I want to give the benefit of the doubt but this makes me nervous.

  14. The Rev. Al Minor says:

    This convention bodes a turning point of some sort. It is positive, joyful, and full of new anticipation and new engagement. I think we call that something a bit stronger than the usual sense of the world HOPE. I , for one among many, am very grateful for the achievements of this fine council of the Church. I am looking forward to the near and far future.

  15. Tonna Heath says:

    I am perplexed that the church’s learned leadership cannot come to terms with Biblical teaching that homosexual acts are an abomination to God. (Lest anyone think that I am homophobic, that most assuredly is not the case. I am sympathetic to their plight; however, that does not allow me to condone actions that are specifically forbidden in scripture.) My point is simply that the church’s stand on this issue—like other sinful acts, i.e. adultery, idolatry, theft, etc…— should be to love the sinner, but not the sin. By blessing same sex unions, the church does in fact bless the sin.

    The Presiding Bishop’s statement also seems to suggest that the Episcopal church has lost membership due to its failure to embrace cultural shifts. I humbly offer an alternative point of view. Perhaps membership dwindles because part of the faithful find it impossible to contribute or associate with a body of believers who are more worried about offending people than offending the God they worship.

  16. Julian Malakar says:

    It is interesting to know from PB’s summary that the Church adopted policy of worshiping one and only True God of Holy Trinity with diversified understanding of True God’s righteousness. Some Shepard’s (Bishop) interpretation about righteousness based on His Holy book the Bible and the others by diversified knowledge comes out of contemporary world which changes by 50/60 years. Though we are sinners but we understand that both school of thoughts cannot be right in the eye of Holy God, as Jesus Christ Who is the building block of the Church teaches us that we are either with knowledge of God or with knowledge of the world. In the question of God’s righteousness there is no middle of the road position.

  17. Fr.Michael Neal says:

    And the spin continues………………………..Having loved the Episcopal Church…………it has left me…….

  18. Bob Dilts says:

    God bless you–and we are the better for it.

  19. Jim Sharp says:

    I agree with the comments of Tonna Heath. The modernist attempt to re-define marriage – the basic foundation of human community – seems like a caving-in to a relentless, vocal minority. Let us have compassion, civil unions, full legal protection to everyone, but do not tamper with the sacrament of marriage. Words have meaning, and ideas have consequences.

  20. Lauren Moore says:

    It’s funny how the middle road keeps veering further and further to the left. I left the Episcopal Church in light of the findings of this convention. The adoption of liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions with an allowance for bishops and clergy to honor their conscience is not a compromise, it is a misrepresentation of the Bible’s teachings, which will undoubtedly lead lay people astray. A religion that changes doctrine to reflect the prevailing views of modern culture cannot save. If it could, why would Jesus have bothered to challenge the Jewish culture of his time? Jesus was not flexible when it came to God’s Word, and those who dare to call themselves Christians, much less priests or bishops, shouldn’t be flexible either. Though my body is made of earth, I have been blessed with the Spirit of God as his child to discern truth from heresy, and I shall never submit to the authority of a human being over the authority of God when it comes to defending his Word.

  21. Tim West says:

    For all the talk of a new age of celebrating diversity the experiential reality (for me at least) is that the some kinds of diversity are tolerated rather than celebrated. Furthermore, the differences are so foundational that I for one simply do not know where to begin anything like a real dialog. Perpetually giving the “minority report” gets old very quickly and in those moments silence seems to be more celebrated than diversity.

  22. Christopher Cleveland says:

    Long time members, entire churches and even whole dioceses are leaving TEC in record numbers.
    I am a same sex oriented man (now chaste and joyfully so) who left TEC for the Anglican Ordinariate where I have found the peace that comes with Truth, Goodness and Beauty.
    How dreadful and sad that TEC has all but repudiated everything that once made her a holy church.
    And so they march with smiles and banners into Oblivian and Irrelevance.
    Lord have mercy.

    1. Lisa Fox says:

      I wish you peace in your journey.

      BTW, in case you haven’t noticed, the groups leaving TEC are fundamentalists. They are not in communion with the See of Canterbury, but are an illustration of “dead wood splintering.”

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