Bishop Miller’s letter to the Diocese of Milwaukee

the full text is available here.

A portion of it is quoted here:

As was to be expected the issue that received the most attention in the press was the adoption of Resolution A049 which authorized for provisional use a liturgy and other materials related to the blessing of same-sex unions. l voted against the resolution in accordance with the position paper published on my blog site This paper was sent to the bishops of the Church and many forwarded it on to their dìocese’s deputations. Still the resolution passed and the rites may be used beginning on the first Sunday of Advent with permission ofthe diocesan bishop.

Prior to General Convention wrote and shared with you that “I have learned, in my almost nine years as bishop, that there will be plenty of opportunity to discern how best to respond and follow through on the decisions of General Convention following General Convention, for it is only after convention that we would know what has been approved ond mandated.”

We are now in that time of discernment. To that end I invite the clergy of the diocese to meet with me to begin this discernment. These meetings will again follow the indaba format we used when we gathered before General Convention to discuss this resolution. The first of these sessions will be heid at Good Shepherd, Sun Prairie on July 31st and at St. Bari:’s in Pewaukee on August Elm from 3 to 5 pm. on both dates. I realize that vacation plans may keep some from attending these first sessions. Additional sessions will be scheduled in the near future. It is my hope that every priest of the diocese will be involved in these discussions over the next few months. I also look forward to hearing from other members of our diocese in the months ahead.

In conclusion, 1 would like to remind you of these words from my earlier letter, “As your bishop, I am confident that we will go forward together regardless of what is or is not decided at General Convention. This ability to go forward together may in fact be our most important witness to a world which is more and more divided along economic and ideological lines. Remaining in community with each other is a crucial witness of our understanding of what it means to be the Body of Christ, even when (or maybe especially when) we disagree an certain issues.

Today’s items of note from the Episcopal Blogosphere

Laura Toepfer has some ideas on how to use the recent publicity concerning the Episcopal Church to welcome newcomers.

The Curate’s Desk on what really matters:

It may sound nonsensical or naive but I truly think the most crucial task for the Church is not growth, justice, discipleship, survival, nor restructuring. The most crucial task facing the Church is worship. We must strive anew for a way of being the Body together. The world’s, and the Church’s, desperate need now is for that expanded awareness of the presence of God – the enlarging of the Eucharistic action to encompass relationships that desperately need healing, hearts that are broken, hopes that are shattered, memories that are fraught with pain, and even nations that seem lost.

Frederick Schmidt: “Why Convention 2012 doesn’t matter:” “It’s the ecclesiology.”

A rather different perspective on General Convention. From Nick Knisely, who’s been a deputy since 2003, was elected Bishop of Rhode Island this spring, and moved from his seat in the House of Deputies to the House of Bishops:

A number of people asked me about the differences between the House of Bishops and of Deputies. There are two strong impressions. One is that the people in the House of Bishops know that they will be coming back to the next convention. Unlike the deputies who are re-elected each triennium, the bishops are members of their House for the rest of their life. That automatically gives a different rhythm to the conversation. The bishops all know each other, they respect each other even when they disagree and they take collegiality very seriously. One of the bishops mentioned to me that he thought the particular charism of the office of bishop was “unity”. It took me a while to agree with that, but having watched the House of Bishops stress the importance of their communal life which is meant to serve as an icon to the rest of the Episcopal Church, I eventually came to understood his point.

Let’s Get Busy! Moving forward from General Convention

I had an email exchange with a clergy colleague yesterday in which we talked about how the decisions of General Convention might play themselves out in the diocese of Milwaukee and locally. In the course of that exchange, he suggested that I might be anxious about those developments. I quickly responded assuring him that I have no anxiety about what might happen here. I am quite excited about the future of the Episcopal Church and the path that has been laid out from General Convention 2012.

Of course there are those who are anxious and worry about what it might mean. There are clergy who are concerned about how GC’s decision might play out in their parishes. Some worry whether there is a place for them in the Episcopal Church. I share their concerns and will work to make sure that the Episcopal Church remains a place where people can disagree about important matters and still come together to worship God and struggle together to discern God’s will.

There is much that could lead to anxiety, not least reports in the media. But those reports are not the story of the Episcopal Church. The story of our church is our story. It is the story we tell about ourselves. It is what we experience when we worship together, when we gather in fellowship, or to serve Christ by feeding the hungry or clothing the naked. It is the story we live when we baptize babies or mourn the faithful departed.

Ron Pogue has written a thoughtful essay in which he encourages us to embrace what General Convention has done: “Now is a perfect time to be unapologetically Episcopalian.”

Let’s be who we say we are. – We really have nothing to fear about this decision.  We have every reason to rejoice as we learn to live into the new opportunities it presents. We can hold up our heads and with humility, generosity, and without apology, we can do even more than ever to manifest God’s love.  We are stewards of important, life-transforming work that God wants accomplished specifically through our Church.  We are Episcopalians!  And, as someone has pointed out, there is no asterisk on those signs that say, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You!”

On the other side of the pond, the Church of England is also struggling with restructuring and with the fall-out from its own General Synod, at which the decision in favor of the ordination of women bishops was deferred. Sam Charles Norton writes with insight and passion about what he believes the debate over women’s ordination teaches us about the church:

The dying of a church is not a management problem, it is theological and spiritual. In my view, the real issue is that there is is a hole where our understanding and practice of the gospel should be.

Norton is writing with an eye to the difficult adaptation the Church of England is having to make to the realities of changing culture in England.

The context is different here. I wouldn’t characterize ours as a “dying church.” It could die, if we do not adapt to the culture in which we live. It will die if we are unable to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ

This is a point on which Ross Douthat and I agree:

The defining idea of liberal Christianity — that faith should spur social reform as well as personal conversion — has been an immensely positive force in our national life. No one should wish for its extinction, or for a world where Christianity becomes the exclusive property of the political right.

Proclaiming the good news is not hard. It takes courage, persistence, and deep faith in God. It takes a willingness to try new things and the freedom to fail. General Convention has given us some new tools. Let’s get busy.

Setting the record straight: The Episcopal Church and the Press

Articles in various news media, most recently The Wall Street Journal (owned by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp), have painted a salacious and distorted picture of the Episcopal Church in general, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts Schori and General Convention in particular. One might almost conclude that there is a coordinated campaign.

The articles, especially the WSJ example, have not gone without response. George Conger, himself no friend of the progressive wing of the Episcopal Church, offers a measured indictment.

Arizona Bishop Kirk Smith has also responded, as has Margaret Waters.

But what it means to be church is not our infrastructure. It is how we serve the world in the name of Christ, who commanded his disciples to love each other as he loved them and to take that love and his gospel to the world. To my little parish, which is twelve miles south of Austin, Texas and worships only about 150 people a week, that means filling the shelves of food pantries, adopting four refugee families in the last two years, adopting an underfunded elementary school, driving for Meals on Wheels, teaching literacy in our local prison and taking care of each other and pretty much anybody who shows up on our doorstep with a broken heart. Jesus cares about that. He doesn’t give one hoot what kind of cross Bishop Katharine carries. Nor does he care about the address of the building from which we do the business that must be done.

And from Scott Gunn:

Alas, since Episcopalians didn’t provide any rude behavior for the media, the media need to try to invent some retroactively. You’ll never see a WSJ headline, “Episcopalians experience grace in listening” or “Christians practice their faith by treating one another well.” Pity.

If the Wall Street Journal wants to attack the Episcopal Church, they are welcome to do so. We can handle it. But I do wish they would use actual facts. I would encourage any Wall Street Journal staffer or reader to visit an actual Episcopal Church. I’ll guarantee you two things. First, it won’t be perfect. After all, the church is filled with humans. But note the second thing, and note it well. It won’t be the rancorous caricature that Mr. Akasie loves to write about.

The Episcopal Church welcomes you! Even error-prone reporters from the Wall Street Journal.

In a very different tone, The New York Times has published an article on the retreat ministry of the Society of St. John the Evangelist.

The day after General Convention

When Madison Episcopalians met in May to talk about General Convention, we highlighted several issues that we thought we be at the top of the agenda for the triennial meeting. The issues we selected were same-sex blessings, the Anglican Communion and Covenant, the budget and restructuring. As we met that month, we added another item to the list, communion without baptism.

We guessed correctly. All of these issues were discussed and to some degree shaped the convention’s narrative. The larger culture took note of General Convention because of the decision to approve liturgies for same-sex blessings but for the life of the church, for its future, it may be that other decisions will have a greater long-term impact.

Certainly, the task force on restructuring that was established has the potential to transform the church on all levels. The full story from Episcopal News Service is here. I’ve had a great deal to say about restructuring on this blog. It is a crucial element in our effort to transform and adapt the Episcopal Church for the twenty-first century. We are in a period of rapid change. The old structures and institutions are in crisis across the board (not just religious institutions) and we are developing new ways of organizing ourselves and relating to one another. Christianity has seen such change before in its history and has responded creatively, although often that change has come at great cost (the Protestant Reformation, for example).

In fact, the biggest story out of General Convention may have nothing to do with the things that were voted on. Instead, the biggest story may be the restructuring and reorganizing that took place on the edges of convention. Twitter was alive with the hashtag #gc77, creating networks and relationships, building community in cyberspace. The Acts 8 movement, begun by three bloggers, has already become a community geared toward transformation. Read Nurya Love Parish’s post here. More about the Acts 8 moment here.

It’s far too early to judge the significance of this General Convention. We may not know for a decade or two whether what was set in motion in Indianapolis will transform the church. No doubt some of what was ventured during the last two weeks will fail. But there was passion, excitement, and hope, not only in Indy, but among those of us who participated in the conversations from afar. There is also God’s grace and God’s working in the world. I pray that our church will be a channel of that grace.

From the Episcopal News Service: Re-envisioning the Church for the 21st century

From Andy Jones

General Convention is over!

And now comes the commentary, picking up the pieces, and jockeying around various decisions. The fun won’t stop; it just won’t be quite as intense.

One of the last decisions made was on the controversial proposal for “communion without baptism.” The House of Bishops amended the resolution and passed it as follows:

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, that The Episcopal Church reaffirms that baptism is the ancient and normative entry point to receiving Holy Communion and that our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to go into the world and baptize all peoples. We also acknowledge that in various local contexts there is the exercise of pastoral sensitivity with those who are not yet baptized.

The italicized sentence was struck. After some debate (it was coming down to the final minutes of the final legislative session), the House of Deputies concurred with the Bishops, so that the resolution as passed reaffirms traditional teaching and practice. I doubt it will change anything in those parishes that already practice “communion regardless of baptism.” And no doubt this debate will return in three years.

I’ll have more of my reflections on General Convention at a future date, when I’ve had at least a few hours to ponder all that occurred.

Is there room for diversity in the Episcopal Church, cont.

Among the news tidbits from yesterday at General Convention was word that the deputation from the Diocese of South Carolina departed. Their official statement is here:

Due to the actions of General Convention, the South Carolina Deputation has concluded that we cannot continue with business as usual. We all agree that we cannot and will not remain on the floor of the House and act as if all is normal. John Burwell and Lonnie Hamilton have agreed to remain at Convention to monitor further developments and by their presence demonstrate that our action is not to be construed as a departure from the Episcopal Church. Please pray for those of us who will be traveling early and for those who remain.

I won’t make comment on that action but I believe it does speak directly to the question I raised in a previous post. I don’t have an answer but I think it is crucial that we struggle with it on all levels of the church.

Two other pieces address the question in different ways. Rod Dreher quotes a commenter:

It’s more that the Episcopal Church looks to all three of those sources of authority, and is stuck in between them, and can’t decide which it trusts most. And, stuck in the middle, it flounders, without securely committing either to rely on tradition, on scripture, or on the personal guidance of the Holy Spirit. In too many churches, the faith isn’t presented in such a way that it provides a genuine challenge to the culture: not in terms of sexuality, not in terms of economics (which is much more important to me: capitalism seems like a much bigger violation of Christian ethics than homosexuality, contraception, premarital sex, etc.), and most of all, not in terms of the naturalistic, rationalistic ethic that too many people have nowadays. Too many Episcopal parishes no longer preach on the miracles of Jesus, on the spiritual realities underlying the material world, on the existence of the angelic and the diabolic, and most of all on the greatest miracle of all, the literal conquest of death.

And an open letter of apology from Katrina Hamilton to conservative Episcopalians:

I am honored by your presence. You are the faithful remnant. When others gave up, you stayed. I do not envy your position, and I can’t imagine what it’s like to walk into that room knowing you are the minority and will not win the vote. And now that we have passed this resolution, you have to go back to your diocese and explain why you couldn’t stop it. Explain that you did all you could. Explain the small victories you were able to accomplish. And I’m sorry.

Today’s must-reads from General Convention

Kathy Staudt on generational tension at General Convention and in the Church (she’s commenting on a post by Steve Pankey):

But for boomers there will probably always be more inclusivity to pursue: The way to this is through our struggles to be a community in diversity. I also grew up assuming that the Church, as instsitution, would be a voice for change in the public square. This has been the heritage of mainline denominations at their best, often, in my experience, allied with a progressive political agenda that focuses on the needs of the poor and the marginalized. This is the positive ideal that I was rasied with, and reflects perhaps, assumptions that the boomer generation operates with that are not necessarily the assumptions of a younger generation.

It is interesting to me that Steve, speaking from a generation that came of age in the “bubble” economic years of the 80s and 90s, hears what I have thought of as language about the church’s mission as language that can become laden with “shame,” “guilt” and “partisanship” — and I think it is true that we can get hung up on the work that remains to be done. In his post I hear a longing for the reclaiming of a sense of common mission centered in Christ. I’m not sure whether there is a “fundamental” generational divide here or just a difference of context that we need to process more thoughtfully. This of course would mean including multiple generations in our common conversation The more that that happens, I think, the more exciting the future of the Church will be.

Here’s a presentation on the demographics of the House of Deputies. It’s very interesting on a number of levels. There are only 46 deputies under 40 years of age (almost 20% of deputies failed to give their age, so this isn’t precise). The lay deputies skew much older than clergy. For example, of those in their 50s, 78 are lay, 137 clergy, while of those in their sixties, 152 are lay, 89 are clergy.

Tom Ehrich on the sale of “815:”

Rather, I see this as an important opportunity to do two things that badly need doing: liberating church life from its obsession with physical facilities, and opening the doors for insiders to look outward.

And a roundtable on the “Acts 8 Moment

Today at General Convention: Historic events

It was a momentous day at General Convention today and not just because of the closely-watched vote over the proposed liturgies for same-sex blessings. Other matters were decided as well, including The Episcopal Church’s response to the Anglican Covenant, an important proposal on restructuring the church, and an election for the President of the House of Deputies. I will have more to say about several of these matters, but for now, let me simply note the results.

The proposed liturgies for Same Sex Blessings passed by a wide margin. The implications of that vote for the Diocese of Milwaukee remain to be seen. Stay tuned.

The House of Deputies voted to continue the conversation around the Anglican Covenant.

Gay C. Jennings was elected President of the House of Deputies.

The proposal on restructuring passed unanimously, and the House of Deputies burst into song after the vote.

I’m wondering which of these decisions of will have the greatest impact on the church in the long run.

Is there still room for diversity in The Episcopal Church?

Anglicanism has long claimed to be the via media. In its origins, that meant trying to keep a Church united across the divide of Catholic and Protestant. Today there are other issues. In England, for example, there is continuing controversy over the ordination of women to the Episcopate. An attempt by the Church of England’s House of Bishops to offer a compromise for those who cannot accept the ordination of women has failed, and they will try again in three months to find a way forward for the ordination of women to the Episcopacy. More here.

In the US, the debate over women’s ordination ended long ago. However, given that women make up a tiny minority in the House of Bishops today, it’s clear that significant barriers remain. Still the question of keeping the Church together remains. There are significant issues that divide us, not only on matters of sexuality though they may be the most prominent. Given decisions made at this General Convention, The Episcopal Church needs to ask itself whether it continues to seek to be a via media, whether is room in our church for a diversity of theological viewpoints and approaches to scripture.

I hope so. If we value inclusion and diversity, we have to value it for conservatives as well as progressives. Ian Markham, Dean of Virginia Theological Seminary, on the need for genuine diversity in the Episcopal Church:

Living with disagreement is tricky. The desire to make the Church pure is so strong. We are so sure we are right that we don’t welcome conservatives. We are so sure that our progressive stance will be vindicated that we insist that those who want to “move less quickly” are ignorant appeasers.

Let us try to recover our commitment to genuine inclusivity. Let us continue to welcome our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as an intrinsic part of the Church; but let us also extend a warm and affirming welcome to our conservative brothers and sisters. Let us try something new: Let us try to resist the tendency for purity and separation and instead live in a place that is more ragged and interesting.

Bishop Andrew Waldo (Upper South Carolina) statement following the House of Bishops vote (explaining his vote, and providing text of his statement during the debate).

Anthony Clavier also asks whether there is room for him in the Episcopal Church:

There are, of course, measures which could be taken to encourage those of us who are now on the margins of what was once a generous Catholicity. They would be radical, newfangled, untidy, would break traditions of jurisdiction and authority, but such problems haven’t deterred us from the revisions we have adopted during the past half century. Inclusion means more than a minimal tolerance for those deemed intolerably unenlightened. Inclusion means encouragement, it means refusing to erect barriers to growth and survival.