The Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina
The Right Reverend Clifton Daniel, 3rd, D.D., Bishop
March 12, 2007
Dear fellow pilgrims with Christ in the Diocese of East Carolina,
In this Lenten season which calls us to prayer, fasting and self-examination, Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:7b).
I write now to offer some thoughts and reflections to you in this period between the conclusion of the annual meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion and as I prepare to go next week to a regular meeting of the House of Bishops of our own Episcopal Church to be held at Camp Allen, Texas.
While we are very much in the early and often cloudy season of seeking consensus in the Anglican Communion around various matters (such as human sexuality, a proposed covenant for member churches of the Anglican Communion, Biblical interpretation, just to name a few), I note that it appears to me that at their recent meeting the Primates acknowledged by their actions that a new consensus of practice has emerged in our Communion around the ordination of women and the place of women in leadership roles within the Anglican Communion. Despite the pre-meeting anxiety voiced by many, our new Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, was indeed greeted, accepted and seated as a sister Primate by her brother Primates. She was subsequently elected by them to serve as a member of the Primate’s Standing Committee. Since the Anglican Communion is a fellowship of thirty eight self-governing national churches, not all member churches of the Communion ordain women (as our Anglican tolerance of diverse practices among member churches allows), and no church is required to. It is also true that even within our own Episcopal Church there are some bishops and dioceses which do not ordain women. Now, in the sixty of so years since Li Tim Oi was ordained priest in China in the late 1940s, we as an Anglican Communion have come to a consensus of practice around the ordination of women. That consensus was affirmed by the reception and seating of our Presiding Bishop at the Primates Meeting in February. I rejoice at this consensus and am deeply thankful for the leadership and rich ministry of ordained women both in The Episcopal Church and in other parts of the Anglican Communion. It took many years of conversation, prayer, disagreement and prophetic action for this consensus to emerge in our life as The Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. No doubt, as time goes on, new consensus will emerge within our Communion around various matters now the subject of intense discussion if we are willing and prayerfully patient to give Holy Spirit the space necessary for the conversation to continue.
Our traditional Anglican way of consensus-building through prayer, conversation, and often holding contradictory theological positions and differing interpretations of Scripture is a slow, steady and sometimes fractious way of seeking broad consensus over an extended period of time. Our Anglican experience has shown us that, as slow and frustrating as this method can be, it is much preferable to heeding the urgency to speak too hastily on important matters. This traditional path has served our Episcopal Church and our Anglican Communion well through the years. It will no doubt continue to do so if we can create within ourselves the godly patience and humbleness to continue in this way in the face of the various issues that face our Church and Communion today. Anglicanism does not promise easy, quick or (sometimes) even definitive answers at the intersection where the Good News of the Gospel meets the realities and complexities of human life and experience in this broken and sinful world. Our traditional Anglican way of consensus-seeking has served us well in the past. We can trust it to serve us well in our own day. If we do not do all that we can to preserve this hallowed and time-tested Anglican tradition, it will be our children and grandchildren who will suffer its loss.
Our own Presiding Bishop and the Archbishop of Canterbury have called us to a season of generous and patient listening and speaking to one another as Episcopalians and Anglicans, and I urge us all to heed their call. We do not further the cause of the Gospel or the mission of the Church by calling for the violent casting out of others from the life of the Church or Anglican Communion or by saying to others, “I have no need of you.” (I Corinthians 12:21)
Some have characterized the Primates Communiqué as laying out demands and setting deadlines for The Episcopal Church. I remind myself, and all of us, that in the traditional Anglican Communion, none of the Instruments of Communion (i.e., the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates Meeting) have the authority or jurisdiction to make demands of one another. The Primates have issued a request, in my estimation, and it now behooves us as The Episcopal Church to take that request and our response to it seriously. I do not expect the House of Bishops to respond in any full or complete way to the Communiqué at the conclusion of its March meeting. Indeed, an authoritative response from The Episcopal Church will require the consideration and action of the General Convention since our polity as Episcopalians requires full participation of all orders of ministry – lay persons, deacons, priests, bishops – in the decision making process.
Many of the gay and lesbian members of The Episcopal Church and other churches of the Communion have voiced their concern, hurt and dismay in recent days as well as their fear that they are being dismissed and rejected by the church. I sympathize with their feelings. I also acknowledge and give thanks for the faithful and fruitful ministry of the many lay and ordained gay and lesbian members of our own Diocese of East Carolina and assure them of their place in the full life and ministry of this diocese.
Be assured, too, that what it means to be in communion takes place on many levels beyond that of the Primates Meeting. The Episcopal Church remains fully engaged and welcomed to share in the life and mission of provinces and dioceses throughout the Anglican Communion, including provinces that have voiced their displeasure with The Episcopal Church. At heart, the Gospel is always about relationships: a personal relationship with a loving and merciful God who expressed the depth of divine love by offering his own Son as a sacrifice to our obstinate human sinfulness; a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, God’s Son who took on our humanity so that, through his death and resurrection, we might share in his divinity; relationships with one another as chosen and beloved by Christ, bound together in relationships not of our own choosing as brothers and sisters through the waters of baptism.
In this Lenten season, I remind us all of our Baptismal vows (The Book of Common Prayer, pages 304-305): You and I are called to proclaim by word and deed the Good News of God in Christ; to seek and serve Christ in all persons; to love our neighbor in the same way we love ourselves; to strive for justice and peace among all people; and to respect the dignity of every human being. Pray that God increase all of these in our hearts and lives in this Lenten season.
In closing, I urge us all not to allow the urgent and demanding voices around us to distract us from our mission as a Church. I urge us all to turn our hearts toward one another as brothers and sisters in Christ and toward all people as we strive to fulfill the mission given us by our Lord: to feed the hungry, heal the sick, free the oppressed, clothe the naked, care for the prisoner. To that end, I urge each Episcopalian and each parish to undertake works of mercy which seek to minister in one of the areas named by the Millennium Development Goals. (www.er-d.org/mdg)
God bless you in this season of Lent, and let us look forward to the joy of Easter.
Clifton Daniel, 3rd
Bishop of East Carolina