The Episcopal Church's 75th General Convention faced two major assignments as it convened in Columbus, Ohio: Respond to the Windsor Report (issued in 2004 by global Anglican leaders), and elect a new presiding bishop. The convention's presiding officers announced in advance that they wanted the convention to deal with the Windsor Reportwhich called on the church to adopt moratoria on blessing rites for same-sex couples and on any further noncelibate gay bishops.
Instead, a large committee spent most of the convention tweaking more than 10 Windsor-related resolutions. By the end of the convention, most of that tweaking was thrown out.
On the penultimate day of convention, after the moratoria resolution was defeated soundly in the house of deputies, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold announced that he would call bishops and deputies into a joint session.
Griswold told the joint session on Wednesday that the Episcopal Church had to offer a substantial response to the Windsor Report if it expected to have any continuing voice in Anglican discussions about sexuality.
"Humility is not an easy virtue, but it is very much required in this season," Griswold told the more than 800 deputies and more than 100 bishops seated before him. "Humility requires at times a stance of restraint in order that something larger can happen. There are times when what may appear to be a step backward may be called for in order to go forward."
The step backward, at least for the Episcopal Church's advocates for gay and lesbian inclusion, was a resolution asking standing committees and diocesan bishops "to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."
After two failed attempted revisions by liberal bishops, the house of bishops approved the resolution on a voice vote.
The resolution faced a slightly more difficult path in the house of deputies, where representatives attempted to scuttle it with procedural objections about revisiting a resolution that was already rejected.
Katharine Jefferts Schori, bishop of Nevada and the presiding bishop-elect, addressed both housesduring the brief debate in the house of bishops, and as an invited guest in the house of deputies, which tends to make gestures of indulgence whenever a bishop dares step onto the floor of the senior house, as deputies call it.
In both houses, Jefferts Schori picked up on a remark by Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana, who had said the Episcopal Church is one church with two minds. She took the image further, imagining the church as conjoined twins who should not be separated unless they can live apart in good health.
"This creature, this body of Christ, is not wholly one and not wholly two," Jefferts Schori said. The house was noticeably still and quiet as she spoke.
Some liberal deputies tried to stop the resolution as a betrayal of the church's gay and lesbian members. Louie Crew of the Diocese of Newark, founder of the church's gay and lesbian caucus, Integrity, was the first deputy to speak against the resolution.
"It's a bit like telling Samuel that he must choose only from the first that Jesse brings out," said Crew, who is chairman of Newark's episcopal search committee. "I speak against this because it attempts to cut the tongue out of the Holy Spirit."
Newark's search committee will announce its nominees on June 28.
Deputies passed the resolution passed handily.
In the hallways of the Columbus Convention Center, Integrity members called the vote a response to fear and conservatives said the resolution was an inadequate response to the Windsor Report. Unlike previous iterations of the resolution, this one made no mention of blessing rites or other unspecified acts of pastoral care for gay and lesbian Episcopalians. Nor did it pretend to declare a moratorium on such rites, as requested by Windsor.
Conservatives also pointed out that the Rev. Canon Barry Beisner, whom the General Convention approved as the next Bishop of Northern California, could not serve as a priest in some U.S. dioceses because of his two divorces and three marriages.
Both Presiding Bishop Griswold and member bishops of the Anglican Communion Network mentioned recent phone conversations with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Some Network bishops issued a statement that calls on the Archbishop of Canterbury and his fellow primates to intervene in the Episcopal Church's divisions. Nigerian archbishop Peter Akinola, speaking on behalf of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, said Thursday that he and his fellow African primates were "saddened that you are unable to embrace the essential recommendations of the Windsor Report and the 2005 Primates Communiqué necessary for the healing of our divisions."
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Previous coverage of the General Convention includes:
General Convention Brushes Against Its Deadline | Conservatives, liberals can't agree on response to the Windsor Report. (June 21, 2006)
Conservatives Stunned by Bishop's Election | The new church leader supports same-sex marriages, vows to bend over backwards for those she disagrees with. (June 20, 2006)
Episcopalians Elect Female Nevada Bishop as Top Leader | Conservatives see election as confirmation of church's 'revisionist theology,' while one diocese appeals for alternative oversight. (June 19, 2006)
Gays in the Church Debated | Conservatives press Episcopal convention to repent of gay bishop's consecration. (June 16, 2006)
Weblog is linking to ongoing mainstream coverage of the convention.
Our full-coverage of the division in the Anglican Communion is collected on our site.