05 March 2007

Executive Council on the Primates' Meeting

The Executive Council has just ended its March meeting. For those of you on the east side of the Atlantic, the Executive Council is the church body that acts in the stead of General Convention between sessions of the GC. So in between our triennial Convention meetings, the Exec Council (made of bishops, other clergy, and lay people) manages budget and program issues for our church. They're also the logical body to provide preliminary guidance on matters that might require General Convention action. This group, along with the House of Bishops, will respond to the primates' requests from Tanzania. (Yes, I know the primates only asked our bishops to speak, but our polity ensures that the voices of all orders of ministry are heard in major decisions, as Bonnie Anderson recently reminded us.)

Anyway, as I predicted, the Executive Council is speaking up on behalf of our GLBT members. They won't let us sell them out to neo-papal demands. Here's the reminder of what we stand for, from the Executive Council's letter to the church:

We wish clearly to affirm that our position as a church is to welcome all persons, particularly those perceived to be the least among us. We wish to reaffirm to our lesbian and gay members that they remain a welcome and integral part of the Episcopal Church.

And this part means they're going to mull over how to respond to the primates' requests (and also how to juggle power with the House of Bishops):

Executive Council recognizes that the requests made by the Primates, directed to the House of Bishops and the Presiding Bishop, raise important and unresolved questions about the polity of the Episcopal Church and its ecclesiology. We have authorized the appointment of a work group to consider the role, responsibilities and potential response of the Executive Council to the issues raised by the Primates. The work group will make a report and recommendations at the June 2007 meeting of the Council.

There's this, too:

We are in a process of discerning what it means to be members of a global and multicultural Anglican Communion, autonomous yet interdependent, diverse yet living a common life as a family of churches.

I haven't spoken with any Council members yet, but I'm guessing (based on previous conversations) they are not likely to accede to unreasonable demands. Will they push for independence for ECUSA from the Communion? Of course not. They'll try to find a path that honors the Communique and that honors our GLBT members. The two sticking points, I suspect, will be the demand for a continued moratorium on bishops living in same-sex relationships and the demand that dissident groups re-align themselves with ECUSA in the form of a Primatial Vicar's oversight.

Same-sex blessings, I think, will not be much of an issue, for one simple reason. With one possible exception, no diocese has authorized Rites of Blessing. We can in good conscience say to the primates (especially of that diocese changes its policy, though that's unlikely) that we have no authorized rites to bless same-sex relationships. Meanwhile, many priests -- including yours truly -- will offer God's blessing to people who seek it, including those living in same-sex relationships.

So the big questions come up: what will happen with bishops? And what will our polity allow us to promise on that front? Will the dissident groups cease their illicit arrangements with Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, et al, and return to ECUSA? Will the Primatial Vicar be placed clearly within the structure of our constituation and canons?

Again, I'll say, I'm optimistic about the immediate future because I place great trust in the leadership of our Presiding Bishop and especially in our Executive Council. I believe that if we can keep the Communion together (to the extent it's not already ruined) until Lambeth 2008, things will look much better. More on that in another post.

(Photo by Dick Snyder / ENS)

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