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Kind Moments Before a Tough Debate

By Matthew Townsend

On the eve of a vote that could further divide Episcopalians theologically, a diverse panel gathered at the JW Marriott in Austin to consider how to maintain “Communion Across Difference.”

The event, sponsored by TLC and hosted by its editor, Christopher Wells, featured Honduras Bishop Lloyd Allen, Central Florida Bishop Gregory Brewer, Canon Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale of the Diocese of Indianapolis, Canon Carrie Boren Headington of the Diocese of Dallas, Long Island Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, and Missouri Bishop George Wayne Smith.

Wells asked panelists what invigorates their ministries. The question prompted answers that revealed the tensions of General Convention, especially about same-sex marriage in the church and struggles to translate testimonies and legislation into Spanish.

Brewer spoke about seeking evangelical moments with hospitality staff. He said that being open to the opportunity to build a relationship that invites the possibility of prayer excites him.

Addressing disagreements about same-sex marriage and attempts to pass an amended Resolution B012, he shared a story of interviewing for a position in the Diocese of Pennsylvania with Bishop Allen Bartlett.

“Allen and I were, at that point in our lives, complete theological opposites in a lot of ways,” he said. During the interview, when Bartlett asked about Brewer’s position, “I said, ‘Allen, you and I actually don’t really know each other. If you and I have that conversation now, what will inevitably will happen is that there will be a division between us. You know where I stand, I’ve not been shy about it. And I know where you stand, you’ve not been shy about your position, either. I really want to have that conversation with you, but I really would rather … defer that conversation until you and I have actually gotten to know each other so that we would have a basis to be able to talk.’”

Bartlett welcomed him to the diocese.

“This convention has been a mixed experience so far,” Boren Headington said. “The focus on evangelism and racial reconciliation … to see Jesus back in the center of our common life together, has been absolutely exhilarating,” she said.

She said hearing Province IX deputies and Bishop Allen about their sense of exclusion has been difficult, but she has been inspired, by their speaking up: “Hearing him share… that they feel their voice has not been heard and that they have not been respected and they have not received translations, to hear them has been powerful and also heartbreaking.”

Allen followed with an answer in untranslated Spanish.

Muy buenas tardes. ¿Cómo están? Nos alegre estar aquí esta tarde y noche. Es una oportunidad para comparitr mi experiencia con Uds. en un ambiente de gran preocupación,” he said. Then he asked, “How do you feel?” — a question that raised nervous laughter.

Allen, whose efforts to shed light on translation problems have included open protests in the House of Bishops, added that deputies from Spanish-speaking countries can find proceedings equally overwhelming. He said efforts to remove episcopal authority on same-sex marriage, combined with translation problems on this and other issues, make him wonder what he will tell other Hondurans upon returning.

A question about the meaning and desire of “mutual flourishing” — a phrase in proposed Resolution A227-Communion Across Difference, which would charge a task force to build relationships amid this disagreement — raised some of the most emotional exchanges of the evening.

Provenzano told the gathering that he had made same-sex marriage available to his parishes as soon as it was legal in the State of New York — a move at the time that “horrified” Albany Bishop Bill Love. Love was in the audience for the TLC event.

Provenzano said he helped develop the initial draft of resolution B012 because of Love, “because I can’t imagine being in this church without him. And I know that we could have, very easily, by the movement of the majority, watched bishops like Bill and Greg and a few others just walk away,” he said. “The ministry of the Episcopal Church at this moment has the audacity to believe that by God’s grace we can work through these differences, and show the world that we’re supposed to be serving, as part of God’s mission, that we can find ways forward in the midst of our differences and brokenness.”

Likewise, Smith mentioned Love and praised “one of the sweet spots” of Anglicanism — “that is, that we are just extraordinarily skeptical to any claim to inerrancy,” he said. “A modest kind of self-understanding provides room for the other. I honestly don’t know if I’m right and you’re wrong, Bill, so I have to provide a place for you on that contingency. And God actually will sort it out on the last day.”

O’Sullivan-Hale discussed his experience of talking with a priest who was opposed to gay marriage — O’Sullivan-Hale is in a same-sex marriage — and the two became friends after trust and honesty developed.

“This is different from him and me having two views on what marriage is and isn’t. This is about being able to share the foundational story of where our faith comes from,” he said. “It’s a measure of a trust in the integrity of the other that I can trust that you are sincere in where you’re coming from if you have an opposing view, and I would hope that there’s a trust that I am sincere as well. And that is a basis on which to build a relationship.”


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