On Monday the House of Bishops continued its engagement with evangelism through a series of provocative presentations. Bob Honeychurch, Episcopal Church Evangelism officer, Donald Romanik of the Episcopal Church Foundation, Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook of Claremont School of Theology, Jim Lemler, Rector of Christ Church, Greenwich, and Barbara Wheeler of Auburn Theological Seminary each offered challenging perspectives on the issues of leadership and evangelism.
On Tuesday, we spent the morning considering our sense of what God is doing in our contexts and what the challenges are for our work as bishops. We were aided in our conversation by presentations by Bishops Dabney Smith (Southeast Florida), Prince Singh (Rochester), Tom Ely (Vermont) and Mary Gray Reeves (El Camino Real). Each offered reflections on their own contexts and the work their dioceses were doing to advance the mission of God. I think the bishops found these reflections thought-provoking and encouraging.
Tuesday afternoon the various concerns of the week came together in the resolutions offered in our business meeting. A draft pastoral letter on immigration and an accompanying resource for teaching had been received and reviewed earlier in the week. It was presented again with much sharper, tighter language and was adopted unanimously. The bishops believe that the immigration crisis is one of the most profound social issues of our time, and a place where the church must confront the powers and principalities with the love of God. [read the pastoral letter on immigration]
A pastoral letter on the environment was presented by the House of Bishops Theology Committee. Its call for spiritual renewal in relation to the environmental crisis was well-received. However, it was returned to the Committee for presentation at the Spring 2011 meeting with the request that the direct and concise language of the immigration pastoral be used as a model.
We then turned our attention to the complex pastoral crisis created by the return of Bishop Charles Bennison to the Diocese of Pennsylvania. A call for some sort of response had been raised by several bishops. The Presiding Bishop created a small ad-hoc task group of senior bishops to address this concern, and the group presented a mind of the House resolution calling for Bishop Bennison to resign. The House gave the letter intense and prayerful consideration. There were several minor amendments. Although the bishops recognized that the situation in Pennsylvania goes beyond the matters addressed in Bishop Bennison’s trial, we felt compelled to assert the primacy of the church’s care for the vulnerable and to confess our participation in a disciplinary system that still needs work. [read the Bennison resolution here]
Our meeting concluded with the adoption of a resolution incorporating the College for Bishop in order to secure and stabilize funding for the College and a resolution recommitting us to the Millennium Development Goals.
Our time together ended with the Eucharist and a powerful sermon by Arizona bishop Kirk Smith on confronting the powers and principalities unleashed by the immigration crisis with non-violent action. At our closing dinner, retiring bishops and spouses were honored.
The fall meeting has traditionally been one at which spouses and partners join the bishops. This was no exception. About 80 spouse/partners attended their own program, including a trip to the Sedona Desert and work in a local food pantry. The spouses also shared some of the worship with the bishops, although there were problems coordinating schedules. The bishops renewed their commitment to meeting with the spouse/partners.
There were a number of new bishops present, and I increasingly appreciate the way that new bishops are welcomed into the House and encouraged to find their voices. The culture of the House encourages bishops to speak openly and to think out loud without concern about censure. Conversation was remarkably unguarded throughout, and bishops on all sides of the various matters spoke about their convictions and their concerns for the life of the church. I think this openness and mutual respect has been nurtured by the work of College for Bishops and strengthened by the presence of so many new and often younger bishops. I think it’s a hopeful sign for the church.
After a long day of travel, Gretchen and I arrived back in Maine on Wednesday night. It’s good to be home.