Bishops inspiring

By one of those remarkable coincidences I came across the addresses (or reports) of three bishops to their dioceses. They are very different in content, context, and tone, but each in its way, is inspiring, offering hope for the future, and reflective of an Episcopal Church that is mission-focused and forward looking.

From Bishop Shannon Johnston of Virginia, the remarkable story of his developing relationship with the Rector of Truro Parish, one of the congregations that left the Diocese of Virginia.

From the Diocese of North Carolina, Bishop Michael Curry’s convention sermon. If you think Episcopalians can’t preach inspiring sermons, have a listen. I heard him preach a powerful sermon at a conference a year ago. If you ever get a chance to hear him in person, jump.

And from Bishop Andy Doyle of the Diocese of Texas, a report on the innovative ministries and mission that are occurring their under his guidance: council13-bishops-report. I’ve blogged about Bishop Doyle before and I commend his book, Unabashedly Episcopalian.

One of the things Bishop Doyle mentions very late in that report is his effort to recast the role of the Bishop: as preacher, teacher, communicator. Looking at the episcopacy from below, it seems to me that for the Episcopal Church to thrive in the present moment, such re-visioning of the bishop’s office is crucial. (Recasting the role of rector is equally crucial, especially when the tendency is to focus on the administrative tasks at hand (I say this after a day spent in a two-hour executive committee meeting, followed by a couple of hours dealing with issues that grew out of that meeting as well as the ordinary tasks that cross my desk and my email inbox each day). Still, Bishop Doyle is right on. I don’t know if he’s aware that in articulating those areas of teaching, preaching, and communicating, he is returning to the Early Church’s notion of the bishop’s office, as well as the importance of those particular roles in later reform efforts. Such refocusing is needed today, and the three bishops I direct your attention to are doing that to great effect.

Blessings of Same Gender Unions–latest developments

A bombshell (well, I think it is) from Bishop Andy Doyle of the Diocese of Texas. He has produced a lengthy document in which he charts a way forward for his diocese. With a foreword by former Secretary of State James Baker III, the paper does not attempt to change minds or force clergy and parishes into actions they don’t want to take.

Doyle begins with the premise that General Convention 2012 will approve Blessings of Same Gender Unions. Given that starting point, Doyle plans to permit one parish in Houston and one in Austin to offer same gender blessings, and also to permit clergy to offer them outside of parishes. Here’s the heart of his proposal:

1. Congregations may choose to take no action, one way or the other.
2. Traditional congregations/rectors may state that they will not conduct or participate in rites for blessing persons of the same gender, sponsor for ordination anyone or employ any clergy who are in a non-celibate relationship outside holy matrimony.
3. Following General Convention, one congregation in Houston and one congregation in Austin will be granted permission to bless same-gender covenants. Both the rector and the congregation must support such a liturgy and must complete the congregational education portion of the process. Additional congregations may request permission in the future. A provision for clergy who wish to do blessings of same-gender covenants outside the church is also included.Meanwhile, the government in the UK is proposing legalizing gay marriage. This has led to considerable debate in the Church of England. It’s worth eavesdropping from this side of the pond for several reasons. First, it’s inconceivable that a Republican administration would propose anything of the sort in the US in the foreseeable future.

The Rev. David Boyd, Rector of St. David’s Austin, has this to say.

This is significant news, a bombshell, even, because it may signal a tipping point. For a diocese the size of this one, and one not known for its leadership on progressive issues, to prepare for the blessing of same-gender unions suggests that Bishop Doyle, at least, expects that outcome from General Convention. Whether that result now becomes more inevitable remains to be seen.

It’s significant in another way, however. For bishops who have been reluctant to allow clergy and parishes to bless same gender unions, this action may offer them a way to approach their own situations. For those who have feared repercussions from conservative parishes and clergy, Doyle’s proposal may leave them with little wiggle room. It’s likely that progressive clergy and parishes will demand from their bishops the same sort of accommodation Doyle has offered his diocese. In other words, Bishop Doyle has roiled the waters.

Speaking of roiled waters, it’s not just the Episcopal Church that will be facing these issues at General Convention. The United Methodists are also on track for a lively debate.

There’s a comparable debate taking place in the United Kingdom as the ruling government proposes legislation for “civil marriages.” It has provoked an outcry from conservative Christians (including some Anglicans). But many in the Church of England welcome the development:

The Bishops of Norwich have weighed in on the debate. They challenge the UK government’s proposal to distinguish “civil” from “religious” marriage and conclude:

We are sympathetic to the full inclusion of gay people in our society and the provision of appropriate means to enable them to maintain stable and lasting relationships.  We believe, however, that the redefinition of marriage itself in the law of the land raises other important issues about the nature of marriage itself.  The way in which the Government is going about it appears to create a new and ill-defined phenomenon called religious marriage, a novelty liable to generate more problems than the present legislation will solve.

The Bishop of Salisbury has also weighed in:

So, increasingly, there is an evangelical imperative for the Church to recognise that covenantal same sex relationships can be Godly and good for individuals and society; that they are at least like marriage for heterosexuals, and this is a development that many Christians in good faith warmly welcome. For LGBT people it raises question about whether marriage is what they want, but for us as a Church there are things to affirm in this development. It is a disaster that we have allowed the Church to be seen as the opposition to equal civil marriage.

A group of Bishops wrote a letter to The Times(of London) in support of civil marriage:

It is our belief that the Church of England has nothing to fear from the introduction of civil marriage for same-sex couples. It will be for the churches to then decide how they should respond pastorally to such a change in the law.