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Presiding bishop hopes church can move beyond condemnation and labeling

Posted on: October 9, 2003 3:39 PM
Related Categories: USA

by James Solheim

[ACNS source: Episcopal News Service] In an October 3 letter to bishops of the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold expressed his gratitude for their "pastoral sensitivities, wisdom and grace-filled leadership" in what he described as "very unsettling and uncertain days."

"Regardless of your own views about the consent to the New Hampshire election" of Gene Robinson as the church's first openly gay bishop, or the resolution on blessing of same-sex relationships, "you have had to deal with varying opinions and those who disagree with you, and my own observation is that this has been done with great grace," he wrote.

Bishop Griswold said that he has refused to speculate about the meeting of the American Anglican Council in Texas, or the Primates' Meeting in London October 15-16, but said that he is convinced "whatever the outcome may be, we will be able to live it with the awareness that the church is never something we can possess and shape according to our own liking."

Among his hopes are that the "strong focus of our recent General Convention on engaging God's mission both at home and throughout the world may become our shared passion and common task."

And he said that he hopes "all of us might move beyond a spirit of condemnation and reaction," using a vocabulary that avoids labeling each other. "I hope the events which have caused rejoicing in some quarters and great unhappiness and confusion in others may continue to provide, as they have done in many places, new opportunities for clergy and laity to explore the various dimensions of the faith we share."

Bishop Griswold concluded, "I hope that in this world, so full of hate and so in need of love, the reconciling energy of the divine compassion may flow through our church and our whole Communion, witnessing to a way of being that gives hope to our world."


Text of the letter:

October 3, 2003

For the House of Bishops

My dear brothers and sisters:

We are living through some very unsettling and uncertain days which are making heavy demands on our ministry of care and concern for all the churches. I have been in touch with many of you and know something of the pressures you have experienced since the General Convention. Over these last weeks I have had the opportunity to meet with a number of you - both at the meeting of the 10 bishops here in New York that I wrote to you about and also at two consecrations. I have also read many of your pastoral letters and communications to your dioceses. I cannot possibly put into words how grateful I am for the pastoral sensitivities, wisdom and grace-filled leadership you have shown to the people and clergy who are part of your diocesan communities. Regardless of your own views about the consent to the New Hampshire election or resolution C051, you have had to deal with varying opinions and those who disagree with you, and my own observation is that this has been done with great grace.

It is very important that you know my own views with regard to these two matters. First, it is my very strong opinion that the consent to the election of the bishop-coadjutor of New Hampshire does not settle the questions concerning human sexuality with which we have been dealing for longer than I have been a bishop. Instead, the number of questions has increased. It is our responsibility as teachers to assist the church in addressing them. It is also my strong view that resolution C051 regarding the blessing of same sex unions is not about approval but rather the acknowledgment that there are a variety of pastoral practices within our common life.

As the events of these days unfold I am constantly besieged by reporters to predict the future. The meeting of the American Anglican Council in Dallas and the gathering of primates in London are immediately before us, and there have been many views expressed regarding the possible outcomes of both of these events. For myself, my answer to those who ask me to speculate is always the same: that I do respond to hypothetical questions. I have found that an opinion can occasion heated response which may directly affect what I have been asked to comment upon. This I know: whatever the outcome may be, we will be able to live it with the awareness that the church is never something we can possess and shape according to our own liking. The church always exceeds our understanding because it is shaped and formed by the mind of Christ.

Though I avoid speculation, I am not without particular hopes. I hope the very strong focus of our recent General Convention on engaging God's mission both at home and throughout the world may become our shared passion and common task. I hope that there may be an enlargement of our sense of what it means to be the body of Christ made up of diverse members who, in faith, hold divergent points of view. I hope that all of us might move beyond a spirit of condemnation and reaction. I hope we can speak to and about one another with a vocabulary that avoids limiting categorizations such as liberal/conservative, reactionary/progressive, orthodox/revisionist. I hope there may emerge among us a renewed sense that we are bound together through baptism in "solidarities not of our own choosing," as the Archbishop of Canterbury has reminded us. I hope the events which have caused rejoicing in some quarters and great unhappiness and confusion in others may continue to provide, as they have done in many places, new opportunities for clergy and laity to explore the various dimensions of the faith we share. I hope the conversations many of you have set in motion throughout your dioceses may draw people together and be occasions of reconciliation, not necessarily with respect to opinions and points of view but on the level of the heart, which is where Christ most deeply meets us and where the Spirit of communion and truth binds us together in love. I hope that in this world, so full of hate and so in need of love, the reconciling energy of the divine compassion may flow through our church and our whole Communion witnessing to a way of being that gives hope to our world.

Please keep me in your prayers as I keep you in mine. "May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit."

Yours ever in Christ's love,

Frank T. Griswold
Presiding Bishop and Primate

[James Solheim is director of Episcopal News Service]