The Episcopal House of Bishops, meeting behind closed doors in Texas yesterday, came up with a compromise resolution on how conservative congregations in a liberal diocese can get ministry from an outside bishop.
In a document titled “Caring for All Churches,” 160 bishops crafted a complex plan on how to accommodate conservative Episcopal parishes marooned in liberal dioceses that approved the Nov. 2 consecration of V. Gene Robinson as the denomination’s first openly homosexual bishop.
“I could not possibly be more proud of our bishops, who with great care and deliberation sought to articulate our shared ministry of reconciliation in ways that are generous toward those who feel themselves in some sense alienated from our common life,” presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said.
A tenth of the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church opposed the consecration and any leadership by the 62 bishops who voted for Bishop Robinson at the Episcopal General Convention in August.
The document was supposed to have been approved during the weekend, but extra sessions were required on Monday and yesterday to produce a final draft that still did not have unanimous approval.
What spurred bishops to come up with the document was a speech by Bishop Mark Dyer, part of the 18-member Eames Commission that is the international body dealing with the fallout over the Robinson consecration. Bishop Dyer, sources said, demanded a compromise document he could present at the next Eames Commission meeting in June at the Virginia Theological Seminary.
The document stipulates that any congregation that invites a conservative bishop to minister to them first must get the approval of their diocesan bishop, a formality that displeases many conservatives.
“This document will only work where it’s not needed,” said the Rev. Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, the second largest congregation in the Diocese of Virginia. “It’s very bureaucratic, and I’m very disappointed. I think they ducked the whole issue. It’s not an issue of reconciliation; it’s an issue of truth.”
Any rector of a congregation seeking a visit from a conservative bishop must get approval from two-thirds of the church’s vestry, or governing board. After the vestry and the rector have a “conference” with their diocesan bishop, the bishop must suggest a replacement.
If the congregation rejects that suggestion, it must meet with the bishop who oversees the province — a regional grouping of dioceses. The provincial bishop can call in several other bishops for advice and recommendations.
Even if the process results in a bishop who pleases the conservative congregation, this arrangement, the document says, is only temporary pending “full restoration” between the congregation and its liberal diocesan bishop.
“This is a solution that shows almost no awareness of the depths of the problem,” said the Rev. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian for the Diocese of South Carolina. “This is only a minimal structural change for an enormous crisis.”
The document does not deal with liberal bishops who refuse to ordain conservatives to the priesthood or will not grant a conservative parish a priest of its own choosing, he said.
“Under what conditions and by what criteria does a bishop invite someone?” Mr. Harmon asked. “Parishes that are being oppressed by bishops have to go to the person oppressing them, meet with them and then they may provide another bishop for you.”