Of holy orders and the Holy Spirit

At the last General Convention in 2006, a famous (or infamous) resolution was adopted in the final hours of the Convention. We now refer to it by its legislative ID, “B033.” This resolution called for restraint in the consent to elections of persons whose “manner of life” posed a challenge to the Anglican Communion.

Where to begin?! The House of Deputies concurred with this resolution at the pleading of the Presiding Bishop, hoping to keep the Episcopal Church at the proverbial table in the Anglican Communion. It was a heart-wrenching vote, with many tears. No one really liked it. I found it objectionable on many fronts, not the least of which was the fact that it prevented GLBT people from ordination to the episcopate without actually naming them. If you are going to demand sacrifice, you should at least name those who are being sacrificed.

The resolution may have had some value. Our bishops (most of them, anyway) attended the Lambeth Conference, and they offered witness of a vital Episcopal Church to others. I have heard personal testimony of changed hearts from bishops in other provinces. That said, the resolution was — on balance — not one I favored.

My principal objection to B033 was that it circumscribed whom the Holy Spirit might call into holy orders, especially to the office of bishop. It seems unwise to pretend that we can limit God in this way. Our church — through its Constitutions & Canons — has a clear discernment process for all persons who may be called into holy orders. I prefer to leave things to discernment and to trust God to guide us into all wisdom.

We could also note that the Episcopal Church is perhaps the only province in the Anglican Communion that has been “Windsor compliant” — that we’ve adhered to the moratoria called for by the Windsor Report. Other provinces, especially the most conservative bits of the Anglican Communion, have ignored the moratoria, especially in crossing jurisdictional lines to set up parallel churches.

Today the House of Deputies concurred with the bishops in adopting resolution D025. This resolution is an outstanding statement of where our church is today. In particular, it suggests that God may call people — including GLBT people — into all three orders of ministry. Suppose someone is nominated by a diocese to be its bishop. That diocese will prayerfully conduct an election. In turn, other bishops and Standing Committees will be asked to consent to the election. There are plenty of opportunities for discernment by many people. Only those who are called will be ordained as bishops.

Have we repealed B033? In a way, yes. On the other hand, the resolution does not explicitly say this. In Anglican fashion, there’s a bit of wiggle room here. But in all this, we should not overlook the first three “resolved” paragraphs in the resolution, which call for sustained engagement with our sisters and brothers in the Anglican Communion.

I am grateful we passed this resolution today, making room for the Holy Spirit to act as she will in calling people as bishops. But we must not rest complacent. Make no mistake, this will strain relationships with others in the Anglican Communion, and those relationships are worth preserving. We must now dedouble our mission connections with others, especially in developing countries. We must get on planes and meet people face-to-face. Through personal friendships, we will rediscover that what unites us in Christ’s body is much stronger than any divisions we may perceive.

Let us give thanks, and then let us quickly get to work. As brightly colored t-shirts said here at General Convention, let us all say, “Here am I, send me.”

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7 Responses

  1. John-Julian, OJN says:

    That’s great! Thank you.

    John-Julian, OJN

  2. leon d berg says:

    Great thoughts and explanation for us non Anglicans who follow your ministry.

  3. Bob Chapman says:

    I don’t see where the 2006-B033 has been repealed. It discusses consents at the end of the process.

    Meanwhile, 2009-D025 talks about entry to the process, according to our canons.

    Our canons are explicit about ordination not being a right, even if admitted to the process.

    If a bishop is a sign of unity within the whole church, then the wider view must be looked upon–whether or not 2006-B033 is there.

    There is an elephant in the room that no one is talking about: the episcopal election in Western Michigan. That process has made it easier from now on for consents to be denied. We used to be too polite to deny consents. Not any more.

    Whether B033 really is there or not, our Anglican ties will be considered whenever a GLBT candidate for bishop is presented. This is true whether the next candidate is 10 months or 10 years from now.

    My problem with 2006-B033 and 2009-D025 is that canonically both did nothing. Both only yank on emotions. We need to find a way to get beyond emotions on this.

  4. obadiahslope says:

    What about the second moratorium: public rites of blessings? Take for example the weddings in california authorised by Bishops Bruno, Beisner and Andrus during the recent period in calfornia when SS Marriages were legal.
    Here’s an account from a resoected source http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_14_125/ai_n27926573/

    John Sandeman

  5. Scott Gunn says:

    Dear John,

    Interesting point, see my next post responding to Tom Wright. As a church, the Episcopal Church has not yet authorized rites for same-sex blessings. (Their creation for trial use may be authorized at this General Convention.)

    Some bishops have authorized rites in their dioceses, but until General Convention does something, there are no official rites here. This is precisely the situation in England, by the way, where thousands upon thousands of same-sex blessings have taken place in churches around the country. Local pastoral provision is routine, even while the C of E has not authorized official rites.

    This technically does not violate Windsor moratoria, though I concede it may violate WR in practice. If so, however, England would be subject to similar sanctions.


  6. Amen. There’s more work to be done.

  7. Tom says:

    I am really so proud of the episcopal church, and think that you are are managing to act gracefully in this whole debate, despite the mud that is being slung around.
    I hope you know that there are many many of us here in the UK who are with you in prayer and spirit through all this.