Bishop Calls for Penance

The Rt. Rev. William H. Stokes, Bishop of New Jersey, writes to the members of his diocese.

… all have sinned, all fall short of the glory of God … (Romans 3:23)

As many of you are aware, there has been a major crisis at The General Theological Seminary in New York on whose Board of Trustees I serve. This situation has been sinful, grievous and ugly in every way, harming the body of Christ within and beyond the walls of the seminary. In a very considered letter dated yesterday, October 19, 2014, and addressed to his diocese, my colleague in Christ, and fellow member of the Board of Trustees, The Right Reverend Andrew Dietsche, Bishop of New York, called for the “full reinstatement” of the eight members of the seminary faculty who had walked out on September 26.

In his letter, Bishop Dietsche rightly characterized the dynamic conversation and rigorous debate that took place during the course of the regular meeting of the Board this past Friday, October 17. This conversation and debate resulted in three resolutions which did not, and could not, represent the fullness of the conversation or capture the clear concerns about a variety of questions that were evident in the room when they were passed. Despite the unanimity of the votes, we were not all of one mind.

While I have been, and am, committed to reconciliation and reinstatement of the eight faculty members, I have, with some reluctance, supported the decisions of the Board, including the resolutions passed on Friday, even as I had concerns and reservations about them.

My support of a resolution that called for the eight faculty to be “provisionally” reinstated, as the resolution was worded, was based on my conviction that they ought to be returned to their positions, but also my deep concern that they have not, as far as I am aware, rescinded the ultimatums contained in their letters of September 17 and September 24 which were publicly issued, nor have they acknowledged their share and culpability in this matter which have played a major contributing role in this crisis. I continue to have this concern.

Similarly, the Board, its Executive Committee and the Dean have not acknowledged clearly the major and contributing responsibility and culpability we each share in this matter. There is, in short, a genuine need for public confession and repentance from all the major parties: Board and its Executive Committee, Dean, and Faculty.

Having stated this, I am grateful for Bishop Dietsche’s courage and leadership and for his attempt to create a clearer path toward reconciliation. I am willing to support his call for the faculty to be immediately and fully reinstated with the understanding that there continues to be a need for public confession, healing and reconciliation from all parties.

In addition to supporting his call for the reinstatement of the eight faculty members, I call for the Executive Committee of the Board to take immediate steps to contract with a mediator outside of the Episcopal Church, skilled in Christian healing to begin a process of dialogue, confession, reconciliation and healing for the entire General Theological Seminary community as quickly as this can be arranged. I commit myself to participating in such a process in humility, charity and love.

The Diocese of New Jersey has five students currently enrolled at General. These students, and all the students at General, have been pawns caught up in terrible circumstances over which they have had little or no control. Their lives and vocations have been profoundly affected. I offer my deepest apologies to them for my role in this and commit myself to supporting them in their own healing and in whatever ways are necessary as they proceed through their processes of formation for ordination. I pray the wider church will do the same for seminarians from other dioceses.

I also offer my apologies and sorrow to my fellow alumni/ae of General who have been grievously hurt by the wounds inflicted on our alma mater as well as the body of Christ these past few weeks and for my own part in inflicting these wounds. The General Theological Seminary holds a dear place in my heart and that of my family. I have the highest regard for its dean, faculty and staff. I was taught by a couple of those who have been embroiled in this crisis and continue to treasure them and the role they have played in my life and ministry. This has been a sad affair and we have hurt one another. I apologize to them for the hurt I have helped to cause. The fragility of the seminary at this point in its history is widely known. This current crisis has further damaged us. It will require great efforts on all of our parts to recover from this injury. I commit myself to this work.

It is my hope and prayer that all of us who are involved in this crisis will cease the vicious attacks and vilification that have marked these weeks, abandon entrenched positions, separate ourselves from legalistic posturing and protection, acknowledge our wrongs and, by God’s grace, open ourselves to the deep love and healing light of our Savior Jesus Christ who has power to restore us to wholeness and make all things new. The words of our seminary hymn have been my prayer these past few weeks:

Let works of darkness disappear
before thy conqu’ring light;
let hatred and tormenting fear
pass with the passing night.

Amen, let it be so. Please know that I keep you, the clergy and laity of the Diocese of New Jersey, and all who are members of The General Theological Seminary Community in my heart and in my prayers.

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