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From the ECUSA House of Bishops, A Report to the Church

Posted on: September 30, 2005 9:25 AM
Related Categories: USA

From the ECUSA House of Bishops, A Report to the Church

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

We, the bishops of the Episcopal Church, greet you in the name of the compassionate and merciful Christ, remembering that, "it is not ourselves that we proclaim; we proclaim Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants, for Jesus' sake." (2 Cor. 4:5)

Our regular fall meeting of the Community of Bishops and Spouses convened in Puerto Rico at the gracious invitation of Bishop David and Senora Maryleen Alvarez. At the 2003 General Convention, the Diocese of Puerto Rico was received with great enthusiasm as the newest diocese of the Episcopal Church. The spirited and warm hospitality extended to us and the tremendous mission being carried out by this community of 37,000 members encourages us greatly. Their ministry to the poor and the homeless, to the aged and the dying, and to all who are living on the edges of our common life inspires us. The hospitals and medical centers established by this diocese are the premier institutions for healing and wholeness in Puerto Rico. The Diocese of Puerto Rico is the third largest private sector employer on the island. Our spirits have been enlightened and lifted by the grace of the Lord so evident in this portion of God's vineyard.

We arrived in Puerto Rico with the suffering from Hurricane Katrina foremost on our hearts and minds. Hurricane Rita deepened our concern all the more. We altered our agenda in order to focus on this ongoing crisis and our response. On our first day we heard from Duncan Gray, Bishop of Mississippi, Charles Jenkins, Bishop of Louisiana, and Philip Duncan, Bishop of the Central Gulf Coast, who described the devastation in their respective dioceses. Six churches and nine rectories in Mississippi were destroyed. In Louisiana a significant percentage of churches were damaged, some likely beyond repair. Bishop Duncan reminded us of the impact of Hurricane Ivan, one year ago, and the continuing challenges now added by virtue of Katrina and Rita. In the face of such tragedy, we weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn.

We also heard accounts of valiant and generous responses to this life-altering crisis, reminding us of God's grace in action and calling us to heightened action ourselves. We are grateful to God for the outpouring of generosity throughout our Episcopal Church and through the work of its agencies. Robert Radtke, President of Episcopal Relief and Development, reported ERD has raised nearly $6 million to date. Richard Parkins, Director of Episcopal Migration Ministries, described their work in assisting those displaced by Katrina and offered ways for us to share in that ministry. George Packard, Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies, told us of the heroic work being done by Episcopal Church chaplains who are responding to emergency needs in the Gulf Coast area. We are profoundly grateful to them for their compassion, courage, and service, both here and in other parts of the world. Bishop Packard also announced plans for We Will Stand With You, a response system that will assist dioceses, congregations and institutions wishing to partner with congregations in hard-hit disaster areas. More information about this system and other resources is available at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/help.

Our response to the devastation caused by Katrina and Rita, like our response to the Tsunami, will need to be sustained for years to come. As bishops we pledge our church and ourselves to join with our brothers and sisters in this long process of resurrection. The epistle read this past Sunday reminds us to, "look to each other's interests and not merely to your own. Let your bearing towards one another arise out of your life in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 2: 4-5)

Spouses of bishops meeting together framed a response to the needs of those affected by Katrina, including raising funds for the purchase of merchandise certificates for clergy families. We rejoice in this expression of compassion and commitment.

The harsh wind of Katrina exposed fundamental injustices and environmental neglect and abuse, and blew away any pretense that the inequities of race and class have been overcome in our nation or among ourselves. As a Church we must act on our commitment "to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being." (BCP 305) Toward this end, we adopted a resolution "expressing our opposition to the suspension of the provisions of the Federal Guidelines of the Davis-Bacon Act, which call for the paying of prevailing wages in federal contracts for relief and rebuilding areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita." A crisis like Katrina strengthens our resolve to challenge racial, economic and other social injustices, and to respond to unmet needs around the world, as well as close to home.

Professor Philip Sheldrake of the University of Durham, England, invited us to consider reconciliation and discernment not as tasks to be accomplished, but as processes in which we suspend pre-judgment of others and ourselves for the sake of learning to embody God's reconciling action in the world. Such processes invite individuals and communities of faith to turn our hearts towards one another in all circumstances, even when our minds may not be in agreement.

We heard encouraging and challenging stories from several bishops concerning their recent visits to churches in Africa. In addition, Catherine Roskam, Bishop Suffragan of New York, gave an account of the June meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Nottingham, England. She reported on the presentation made by the committee appointed by the Presiding Bishop in response to the Windsor Report's invitation to explain "from within the sources of authority that we as Anglicans have received in scripture, the apostolic tradition and reasoned reflection, how a person living in a same gender union may be considered eligible to lead the flock of Christ." (Windsor Report # 135) We commend this report entitled To Set Our Hope on Christ (available from Episcopal Books and Resources) to the members of the Episcopal Church and indeed to the Anglican Communion as part of our ongoing conversation regarding human sexuality. We continue to encourage the Church to read and discuss the Windsor Report, and will re-engage our own conversation about this report at our meeting in March of 2006.

From Phoebe Griswold we heard a troubling reminder about the overall status of women in the Anglican Communion, especially within its decision-making structures. Among the "Instruments of Communion" (The Archbishop of Canterbury, Anglican Primates, Lambeth Conference of Bishops, and the Anglican Consultative Council) only 30 of the more than 800 persons involved in those ministries are women. Therefore, many concerns of women go unheeded, and their ministries are under-affirmed and not fully supported. In response the Anglican Consultative Council adopted a resolution which affirms, in part, the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of equal representation for women in governance at all levels.

We were greatly blessed by the presence of Michael Nuttall, retired Bishop of Natal of the Province of Southern Africa, Khotso Makhulu, Archbishop Emeritus of Central Africa, Michael Baroi, Moderator of the United Church of Bangladesh, and Andrew Hutchison, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. These eminent guests from around the Communion contributed to our conversation by their witness of courageous faith and insight that challenge our understanding of the bonds of affection which unite us. Our Communion-wide relationships deepen and strengthen our shared life in Christ and our mission in the world. For this we are profoundly grateful.

Throughout this meeting, we have been reminded that in sharing the grief of so many along our nation's Gulf Coast, and in considering our relationships one to another and within the larger Church, we do so always bearing hopeful witness to the power of the Resurrection. The everlasting love of God, in raising Jesus from the dead, embraces the world's grief within the very heart of God. The Resurrection of Christ shows us the power of God the Holy Trinity to bridge every divide and division. The abiding Communion of the Trinity undergirds our common life and sustains us, together with you, for the service of God's mission in the world. "Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to God from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever." (Eph. 3:20-21)


From ENS: Report to the Church from the House of Bishops September 27, 2005 - San Juan, Puerto Rico