Bishops conclude fall meeting with an eye on new possibilities

By ENS staff
Posted Sep 24, 2013

[Episcopal News Service] The House of Bishops ended its fall meeting Sept. 24 in Nashville, Tennessee, following six days focused on the theme “Transforming Loss into New Possibilities.”

“This has been a grace-filled meeting,” said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori during a telephone press conference after the meeting ended.

The bishops looked at mission as going out into the community rather than as staying in “beautiful churches” waiting for people to come, she said. “There were challenges from and to the bishops to get engaged in communities.”

From the first day, said Bishop Todd Ousely of the Diocese of Eastern Michigan, the presentation “Missional Wisdom: Beginning Theologically” by Dr. Elaine Heath presented a challenge to the bishops. Heath is McCreless professor of evangelism at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and co-founder of the Missional Wisdom Foundation.

“She talked about going into neighborhoods and engaging people where they are, where they live,” he said during the press conference, adding that the challenge for bishops can go beyond neighborhoods and be applied to reengaging ecumenical partners and other bishops.

Throughout the meeting, the 148 bishops attending heard presentations on innovative ways of doing mission, the new Diocesan Partnership Program and the work of the Task Force to Reimagine the Episcopal Church. The bishops also discussed topics such as gun violence, ecumenical partnerships, and peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land.

Besides Heath, invited guests included the president of the House of Deputies, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings; Bishop Gregory Palmer and Mary Anne Swenson of the United Methodist Church; Bishop Tilewa Johnson of the Province of West Africa; Bishop Miguel Tamayo, former bishop of Cuba and Uruguay; Bishop David Rice of the Diocese of Waiapu in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia; Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani; Dr. Hisham Nassar, Dawani’s coordinator for health care in the Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East; Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; and Canon David Porter, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s director of reconciliation.

“I was moved by every presentation, but particularly by those beyond our own context,” said Jefferts Schori. Having Dawani, Nassar and other foreign guests, she said, “reminded us at a deeper level of our connection to and engagement with ongoing conflicts around the world. We continue to be called into engaging the conflicts in our midst as well as around the world.”

On Nov. 15, the Episcopal Church will host and produce a forum centering on a critical topic for our times, “Fifty Years Later: The State of Racism in America,” and in April a nationwide summit on gun violence will be held in Oklahoma – both “important ways to call us beyond our immediate context,” Jefferts Schori said.

The Episcopal Church’s Office of Public Affairs issued daily accounts providing a brief overview of the bishops’ discussions and activities in Nashville.

On Sept. 24, the final day’s theme was “Moving Missionally: Episcopal Perspectives.” The day included a panel discussion using biblical pericopes (verses) as a frame of reference.

The afternoon of Sept. 23 was devoted to conversation with the United Methodists about the meaning of full communion and how ecumenical partners can draw on common roots to work together missionally in new ways. The Sept. 23 The theme was “Moving Missionally: Practical Applications,”  with a panel discussion including the Rev. Tom Brackett, Episcopal Church missioner for church planting and ministry redevelopment; the Rev. Mary Frances of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and the Rev. Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms.

On Sept. 22, the bishops visited several churches in the area. Jefferts Schori presided and preached at Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville.

Episcopal Church Chief Operating Officer Bishop Stacy Sauls gave a presentation on the new Diocesan Partnership Program on Sept. 21. He explained that a new name for the churchwide staff, “The Missionary Society,” is the simplification of the corporate name of the “Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.”

“It represents the effort of reorienting the work of the churchwide staff to work with the dioceses and to be facilitators of mission,” said Sauls, according to a daily account. “This happens as the staff offers (1) support for diocesan ministry (2) leveraging resources for this ministry [and] (3) makes connections throughout the church.” Sauls stressed that this contrasted with a “corporate headquarters” model of church where money flows upward and program flows downward.

“My sense is that it’s being very well-received; I’ve only heard positive feedback about the initiative,” said the presiding bishop when asked how the Diocesan Partnership Program had been received. “It’s a great opportunity for churchwide staff to be servants in ways that will serve the whole church more effectively.”

Many of the bishops received handwritten notes from their staff representatives “and were delighted by that,” said Bishop Dean Wolfe of the Diocese of Kansas.

The thing that excites him most, said Ousely, is that “the churchwide staff is entering into the stream with the dioceses.” So it’s no longer a programmatic focus, but rather the partnership program presents an organized way to facilitate networks and relationships, he said.

A Sept. 20 discussion on bridge-building mission focused on the work of peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land and included presentations from Dawani, Nassar, Gutow and Porter.

The meeting included daily Eucharists and prayer services. The House of Bishops Spouses/Partners group met concurrently.


Comments (15)

  1. Jim Edwards says:

    So when are our bishops going to be genuinely pastoral and advocate for LGBT folk?

    1. Katheine Clark says:

      One day I pray our Bishops will lead the way in acknowledging that when God took our human flesh to be his own, this mighty act includes all of humanity. The church doesn’t have the “right” to decide who is human and who is not. Evangelism of any kind depends on this doctrine, the hallmark of our own tradition,. It IS the good news! Because of the Incarnation, we are called to “partnership” with God himself in nourishing and loving all his world “so loved.”

    2. Hope Holben says:

      We are truly blessed in the Diocese of Northwestern PA! Our Bishop Sean Rowe has been “genuinely pastoral and an advocate for the LGBT folk”, since day one. Thank you Bishop Rowe!

    3. John Standard says:

      I’m sorry. What was your point? That we aren’t being fair to the opinions of white, married, combat vets? That the President and George Zimmerman are both mixed, and that no one has pointed that out until now? I’m a little confused.

  2. Tony Price says:

    How did the gun violence topic go? I wonder how many bishops are gun owners.

  3. Nancy Mott says:

    While we’re being out in the community and relevant in the world, I’d like to know what was said about the recent Supreme Court decision gutting the 1965 Voter Rights Act.

  4. Kale Francis King, Priest says:

    I am hoping that this will not be many wonderful presentations that rightfully pleased the hearers but will QUICKLY find their way into real application in dioceses and then QUICKLY reach into the local congregations. Did I say QUICKLY?

    1. Michel Barry says:


  5. Jim Edwards says:

    Ho hum. More of the same which seems to amount to nothing.

  6. In similar ways to how our elected officials in government are accountable to us, the people back home – so we the people in the pews have to hold accountable our church-clergy leaders, urging them to “go & do” as well as “preach & teach.” We, the laity, have the power to re-enforce expectations, as well as joining the “partnership” of clergy to get out into our communities whether its volunteering, urging new friends and neighbors to “join us” in ministry, or heading up
    events that are invitational to the community at large (i.e. PSA’s to the general public to join an event, placing posters in public places, e-mailing co-workers, neighbors, volunteering to be on boards for no-profits or agencies that are change-oriented and bring hope to the dis-enfrnachised). We can’t expect clergy to do it all … we are the hands & feet of our dioceses and parishes.

  7. Nancy Mott says:

    “Out in the neighborhood”–Does this mean all neighborhoods? or just the (mostly) suburban ones surrounding our churches? And does it mean: Engage in issues facing minorities and the poor? Work to remove voting barriers? (a shout-out to Bishop Curry and NC clergy) Does it mean: Get information out to the uninsured on ACA Health Exchanges? Work for Immigrant rights (good work in AZ and elsewhere)? Ensure that “all the sacraments for all the baptized” are available in ALL the dioceses? and does it mean that we as a Church led by our bishops don’t just STUDY but DO (as in Yoda: “DO or NOT Do — not just TRY” to) actively spread racial awareness throughout every level of the Episcopal Church.

  8. Karen Birr says:

    Being “OPEN TO ALL” means a lot to me. That is why I became an Episcopalian almost 31 yrs ago. However, all I have heard lately is to try to go out in the poor neighborhoods only. Forget those who have some money. Why? They also need God in their lives. Without the people who have ‘some’ money in our parishes, how could we pay for the upkeep of the buildings and keep a priest/vicar? Yes, we are here on earth to do God’s work and God’s will. I don’t think God’s will is to ignore those who have money. I’m a little tired of those who don’t understand the ‘voting ID’ issue either. I worked for 10 yrs at the ‘polls’. Everyone I worked with – Reps and Dems – both believe in the ‘voter photo ID’. Gun violence; that is important, but why don’t we discuss the home life and the mental health issues first? Don’t tell me that just because someone is raised with a single parent that person will lead to violence. I know far too many people who were raised I a single parent home and they are very successful people. Including my father. So, please let’s open the doors again to EVERYONE – poor or RICH or whatever. Everyone needs God in their lives. Not just the poor. Why did the Bishops have to have leaders who all had a ‘degree’ of some sort. How about getting speakers who have much to share who do not necessarily have a degree? Another closed door. Again, open those doors who once accepted EVERYONE!

  9. Karen Birr says:

    I have to brag a little about my home parish priest. She is the best example of what a Christian is supposed to be. She ACCEPTS EVERYONE! It doesn’t matter their status in life, their color, their whatever might be out of the ‘norm’. I wish more of us would be like her. Praise God for her. My home parish is truly blessed to have her as our priest. Thanks be to God.

  10. I have just written the biography of my father, The Rt. Rev. C. C. J. Carpenter, Bishop of all Alabama from 1938 through 1968. In those days bishops could hardly avoid being involved in the entire community where they lived. They were looked to as natural leaders and called on to be involved in all sorts of community, (city, state and national) events. That is not automatically the case now and bishops have to be more aggressive about making it happen. – the Rev. Douglas M. Carpenter

  11. Selena Smith says:

    Mission means to be sent or sending. I think that one relationship for mission is between church and society in the messages each sends to the other by actions regarding their power, that is finances. When bishops such as Curry, Ousley, Rowe and their diocesan conventions by priorities, resolutions, and canons use power to care for themselves, their actions send an alarming message to society. Time for a change in leaders who inspire and model mission by their systemic actions.

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