By Len Freeman
The House of Bishops’ Fall meeting in Minneapolis closed yesterday by drafting and approving a response to Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s decision not to invite the spouses of bishops in same-sex marriages to the 2020 Lambeth Conference. They also discussed plans for creating simplified parochial report forms and some bishops stepped out of the meeting for a statement and prayers in solidarity with the Global Climate Strike.
The statement, entitled A Message of Love and Solidarity from the Bishops and Spouses to The Episcopal Church, emphasized that Welby’s invitation decision had been hurtful. It reads, in part, “The Lambeth Conference 2020 intentionally recognizes and underscores the important role bishops’ spouses play in the ministry of the episcopate. And yet, spouses of bishops in same-gender marriages have received no invitation to participate. Their exclusion wounds those who are excluded, their spouses, and their friends within and beyond the House of Bishops.” The statement was consistent with a Mind of the House resolution passed at last spring’s House of Bishops’ meeting, which expressed concern about the “use of exclusion as a means of building communion.”
The statement also referenced the different ways in which bishops are discerning how to express their concern about the decision, the subject of an extensive public conversation earlier in the gathering. “After faithful soul-searching,” the message says, “each bishop and spouse will arrive at a decision about how best to respond in the name of Christ. Some will attend and offer loving witness. Some will opt to stay at home as a different way to offer loving witness.” The text adds that “the community of bishops and spouses supports and stands together in solidarity” with these differing responses. Many bishops said they plan to attend, but will mark their disagreement with the decision in some way.
Thomas Brown, the newly consecrated Bishop of Maine said he is still deciding whether to attend with his husband the Rev. Tom Mousin, “To only remain silent potentially misses an opportunity for the rest of the communion to hear our reality. Part of the blessing of Lambeth is for us all to share and learn from each other’s realities … as I would be able to learn or be reminded of their realities.”
Some bishops questioned the wisdom of a further message. “The call is for us to listen … this sounds like preemptive talking,” said Andrew Waldo of Upper South Carolina. Bishop Greg Brewer of Central Florida warned, “it will be seen by others in the Communion as another official statement, whether it is called a letter or message.” Anne Hodges Copple, Suffragan Bishop of North Carolina, disagreed: “I hear this as addressed for those we are called to shepherd here in our Episcopal Church … a love letter to our church, rather than the a statement to the whole Communion.”
After amendments clarifying that the document was not a statement of the entire group, but a message from the majority of bishops and their spouses, the motion passed 60-17, with 3 abstentions.
The Bishops also met with the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church, a body tasked by General Convention 2018 with developing “a simplified parochial report relevant to the diversity of the Episcopal Church’s participation in God’s mission in the world.” House of Deputies President Gay Jennings chose only Gen-X and Millennial Episcopalians to serve on the Committee and gave them a broader charge to identify “the most significant opportunities to innovate and experiment so that we are equipped for 21st century mission and ministry in our congregations, communities, and countries.”
The Rev Chris Rankin-Williams of the Diocese of California, chair of the 18-member body, told the bishops, “We’re called to be gathering data and developing potential solutions for innovation and adaptive change by looking at the adaptive interventions emerging around the church and technical solutions to meet them.” He added, “Our job is take make sure that the church is not just a technical solution to a gospel challenge. It was the Pharisees who were the technocrats of their day. Jesus [was] the adaptive challenge and solution. Only leaders who are trusted can lead through adaptive challenges.”
Members of the committee met with bishops in table groupings to gather data and insights about how they are fostering adaptive change, and what opportunities for innovations they are observing in the communities where they serve. The discussions will be followed up with post-meeting surveys, as the committee prepares and publishes resources for the wider church in keeping with its charge to serve as “an energetic think tank and incubator for adaptive thinking, innovative ideas, and fresh approaches.”
In the afternoon, over 100 people stepped out of the meeting in solidarity with this weekend’s Global Climate Strike, a movement arising from the advocacy work of Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg.
Bishop Marc Andrus of California announced the formation of a new group called the Green Bishops Coalition. “Tens of thousands of young people are mobilizing at this moment in New York and across the United States, standing up for climate action and climate justice. … We, a group of Bishops of The Episcopal Church, have stepped out of our Fall meeting here in Minnesota to voice our support for this youth mobilization,” he said.
Prayers were offered by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who emphasized that John 3:16’s declaration of God’s love for the world included the physical environment—the earth and all of creation. Carol Gallagher, Assisting Bishop in the Diocese of Massachusetts, and the first indigenous female bishop in the Anglican Communion, offered a chant entitled A Prayer for Our Time and for the Earth: “Dear God, Creator of the earth, this sacred home we share,” she said, “give us new eyes to see the beauty all around and to protect the wonders of creation. … Give us new hands to serve the earth and its people and to shape beloved community. For you are the One who seeks the lost, binds our wounds and sets us free.”