General Convention: “The gathering of the family”
The 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church will gather in Minneapolis from July 30 to August 8. With the theme of “Engage God’s Mission,” we will seek to express and celebrate the church’s wide and rich diversity in ideas, languages, cultures, and theological perspectives. As the deputies (laity and clergy representing their respective dioceses) and bishops from around the church meet to study, discuss, debate, pray, work, and celebrate together, we shall also look to Christ’s presence among us in the decisions that will be made, both through the legislative process and through committee structure.
We have been called to engage in the work before us, remembering our desire as God’s people to ‘receive,’ ‘repent,’ ‘reconcile,’ and ‘restore’ all people to the community of God’s redemptive love. The agenda is full and many of the issues before us are complex and important to our ongoing life together. None seems to engage us on a more deeply conflicted and anxiety producing level than the issue of sexuality and in particular homosexuality. The General Convention will consider numerous items and issues, but it appears that sexuality will overshadow much of its other work in these areas of concern.
Several weeks ago, I was asked if I believed this would a difficult General Convention with the issues that were to come before it. I expressed my opinion that the issues of blessing same sex (gender) relationships and the ordination of practicing homosexuals persons would engage the church in a time for further study and reflection, and be dealt with pastorally rather than legislatively. This is the family gathering to do its work and God’s work. This is still who we are, but with the election of The Rev Canon V. Gene Robinson, who is openly gay and partnered, as the Bishop of New Hampshire, the Convention has taken on a more decisive role legislatively in how we in the Episcopal Church will live together in our Anglican Communion.
Many people have now asked me what will happen if Canon Robinson is approved by the Convention and what will happen if he not approved? I cannot predict the future, but I know that people on both sides of this issue will be hurt and frustrated. It is now a matter of winners and losers. Some people will withdraw from the fellowship of the church. Some will denounce the church. Those who don’t get their way will say that the Holy Spirit was not involved and those whose point of view prevails will say the Holy Spirit was involved.
Can we justify what we want and have God on our side? The posturing in both the Convention and through the press releases will be evidenced before the church and the world. I believe that this is a no-win situation for all sides and I am personally saddened that we find ourselves at this juncture and in this place.
However, controversy is no stranger to our Church and we have grown through it in the past as have committed to process of prayer and seeking God’s guidance. That is what I have done in the past and will continue to do throughout this time of preparation before Convention. I believe we as a church will emerge stronger because of the struggle and our faith and trust in God who leads us, even if the Convention does not ‘do it my way.’
The complexities of this situation have ramifications beyond New Hampshire, beyond the Central Gulf Coast, beyond the Episcopal Church in the United States, beyond the Anglican Communion. They also involve our ecumenical relationships across the various churches with whom we are now in dialogue, as well as our interfaith conversations with non-Christian religions. They involve the mission and message of the Gospel.
The New Hampshire election should not be an occasion for those who oppose his approval as bishop to personally vilify Canon Robinson. I have known Canon Robinson for more than 30 years and know him to be a man of deep faith and prayer and committed to Christ. He is a well-known priest and leader within the Diocese of New Hampshire where he has served for more than 15 years. He is more than capable and qualified to do the job.
The election and now the forthcoming vote to approve or not approve the election, is about deeply held convictions and beliefs that are rooted in the interpretation of the Scripture, ‘popular religions tradition,’ societal norms, and cultural taboos. The election is about a change in our understanding the nature of sexuality, relationships, and sin. The election is about inclusivity, diversity, and the power of leadership. It is about our religious tradition and what our collective ‘reason’ will be as the Church speaks to us as the people of God in this age and time.
I ask your prayers for the deputation form our Diocese, for the unity of our Church, and the work of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Please pray for the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and for me as your bishop.
I believe that the Church will continue to grow in God’s grace as we are faithful and seek God’s will. I believe that God will bless us and give us wisdom, grace, and the ability to grow in His love. As your bishop, I commit myself to all the people of this diocese in our rich and wide diversity and in our desire to welcome all people gathered at our altars into the family of God. I pray that the hard decisions we make at this Convention are not seen or understood as invitations to exclude anyone from the fellowship of Christ’s Body.
In and through the love of Jesus Christ, I am
The Rt Rev Philip M. Duncan, II