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Mar 31, 2011

House of Bishops Ends with an Eye Toward the 21st Century Church

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops concluded its six-day retreat meeting at the Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, North Carolina, continuing the theme "selection, recruitment and formation of young leaders," preparing the church for the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century.


"We talked about recruiting, forming and educating young leaders, and that has a great deal to do with inviting members of the church and leaders to get outside church buildings and structures to meet seekers," said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori during a closing news conference on March 30. "That was a significant part of our conversation."


During their March 25-30 meeting, the bishops addressed several themes, including the relationship between Christianity and Islam, how to reach young adults with the gospel, and the Anglican Covenant, a set of principles intended to bind the Anglican Communion in spite of cultural and theological differences.


The bishops welcomed three international Anglican primates -- Archbishop Fred Hiltz of Canada; Archbishop Henri Isingoma of the Congo; and Archbishop Paul Kim of South Korea -- to observe the sessions and to share their perspectives with the house.


During the news conference, Jefferts Schori, who is also the HOB president, described the meeting as "very full" and said the bishops were "blessed" by the participation of the international bishops, who were there to share the experience, offer insight into their own contexts -- including how their churches developed -- and to share their thoughts on the Anglican Covenant.


"We invited them to speak about their experience with the covenant not knowing what they would say to us," she said during the news conference.


When asked by a reporter "does the covenant have a prayer" of passing during the 2012 General Convention and what it would mean to the future of the Anglican Communion if it doesn't, the presiding bishop said she couldn't speculate, but added that conversations started by the Windsor Report and the covenant have "produced more significant relationships," and that relationships across the communion have "deepened and expanded" in number, with more communion partnerships now than 10 years ago. 

During the news conference, Kansas Bishop Dean Wolfe, HOB vice president, said he'd been "moved to tears" by Kim's introduction, and that there was a "deep sense of resonance" from the Congo and Canada, as well. "We felt like they were brothers in Christ," he said. 


The Episcopal Church's Office of Public Affairs issued daily accounts that provided a brief overview of the discussions and activities of the House of Bishops. The account for March 30 is published in full below.


Although the meeting was billed as a retreat, and members of the public and the news media were not allowed to observe the sessions, some bishops blogged and tweeted at times during the sessions.


During the news conference, Wolfe said the bishops are working on how best to use electronic media, how to be transparent, and still leave room for conversation and dialogue.


Arizona Bishop Kirk Smith used the social networking service Twitter to share live updates for much of the meeting, but ceased posting messages when issues of confidentiality were raised by some members of the house. Smith continued to blog throughout the meeting.


"There is a real tension between using the technology we are all becoming used to, and the confidentiality of the house and particularly sending out electronic communication quoting specific people when, in fact, we are simply partway through a discussion and may have reached no conclusions," retired Bishop Christopher Epting wrote on his blog..


"It's a real issue and I intend to be sensitive to how I 'blog' here. Certainly, I do not intend to fire off half-baked ideas in the midst of ongoing discussion. But I do think it appropriate to send out this kind of summary as our days unfold."


During the Anglican Covenant discussion on March 29, Atlanta Bishop Neil Alexander delivered a paper and raised the question about whether the proposed covenant "would substantially alter Anglican ecclesiology, specifically by inaugurating -- for the first time -- a more centralized authority than we have ever had before," Epting wrote.


The three international primates each delivered responses to Alexander's paper, Epting wrote. "I was surprised to note that all three have serious reservations about the covenant and whether it will indeed be of any use at all in resolving some of the conflict in the Anglican Communion."


The covenant first was proposed in the 2004 Windsor Report as a way that the Anglican Communion and its 38 autonomous provinces might maintain unity despite differences, especially relating to biblical interpretation and human sexuality issues.


But some Anglicans have raised concerns about the covenant being used as an instrument of control, particularly in section 4, which outlines a method for resolving disputes in the communion.


"There seems to be general agreement that Parts 1, 2 and 3 of the covenant are an acceptable description of Anglican history and ecclesiology but that Part 4 really does not accomplish its goal of providing a way constructively to manage or respond to disagreements across the communion and may even perpetuate them," Epting wrote.


He noted that the primate of South Korea expressed a concern from his House of Bishops about "the vestiges of colonialism" in section 4 "with decisions being made about a local church (province) outside that local church about its internal decisions."


Epting said that everyone attending the meeting "seems prepared to continue to discuss and work with the proposed covenant" but noted that some bishops suggested finding a "third way forward since many of us in the West, in Latin America, and Asia are having trouble voting for it … All in all, it was a respectful and thoughtful conversation which should provide much grist for the mill as we move forward."


On his blog, Smith wrote about the visiting bishops' thoughts on the covenant.


"They shared with us their thinking about the needfulness of the proposed covenant. I was surprised that all of them had serious reservations about it, in varying degree," he wrote.


"My experience back home is that most folks in our pews either don't know or care about the Anglican Covenant," he added.


During the March 28 discussion on Christianity and Islam, the bishops heard presentations from the Rev. William L. Sachs, executive director of the Center for Interfaith Reconciliation in Richmond, Virginia; Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University in Washington D.C.; and Eliza Griswold, author of the book The Tenth Parallel, an examination of Christianity and Islam in Africa and Asia.


According to a daily account from the public affairs office, Bishop Joe Burnett of Nebraska presented a film and spoke about the Tri-Faith Initiative in Omaha, Nebraska, a five-year project calling for the sharing of a campus for an Episcopal Church, a Muslim mosque, a Jewish synagogue and a shared, multi-service educational building.


During the news conference, Wolfe said he was excited by the Tri-Faith Initiative and that it offered "an enterprising way of reaching out to different faiths … if they are doing it in Nebraska, we can do it in Kansas," he said.


In another expression of reaching out to people of different faiths, according to the daily account, "Bishop Tom Shaw of Massachusetts talked about the Boston cathedral opening its basement to allow space for Muslims to adhere to their prayer order. He shared that he met a Muslim man who has prayed at the cathedral since before September 11, 2001, and how the community felt protected in the aftermath."


During the news conference, Pittsburgh Bishop Ken Price, the HOB secretary, pointed out that 10 of the 11 deans of Episcopal seminaries were at the meeting and that their presence added a "different concept of ministry."


Earlier in the meeting, the bishops were led in a discussion about ministry with and to young adults by Lisa Kimball from Virginia Theological Seminary, the Rev. Arrington Chambliss and Jason Long from the Diocese of Massachusetts.


Epting wrote on his blog that "care was taken not to treat young adults as "a demographic" and to start with the fact that they are children of God and that we have an awful lot more in common than we have differences, even though they do inhabit a radically different environment than most of the bishops in this house grew up in."


"Many of us believe that the Episcopal Church is positioned to enrich, and be enriched by, the lives of many of these young people -- but it will take commitment, flexibility, risk-taking, and the willingness to fail -- as well as to succeed -- to make it happen."


On March 27, the bishops observed a day of Sabbath and shared Eucharist with five bishops from the Moravian Church, with which the Episcopal Church recently entered into a full communion relationship.