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Make the most of ’incredible moment,’ House of Deputies president tells South Carolinians


Bonnie Anderson, others urge Episcopalians to be informed and committed to mission.

House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson urged a group of Episcopalians in the Diocese of South Carolina November 3 to take advantage of an “incredible moment” in the life of that diocese to begin talking to people “whom you may not have talked to recently” so that together they might develop new models for mission.

The moment to which Anderson was referring was created when the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence, the diocese’s bishop-elect, recently received the canonically required consent to his ordination and consecration from a majority of the standing committees of the Episcopal Church dioceses and from a majority of bishops with jurisdiction.

“You have some opportunities for newness,” Anderson said told nearly 150 who attended the “Connecting with the Episcopal Church in 2007” event sponsored by the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina for which she was the keynote speaker. The meeting took place in Charleston at the Inn at Middleton Place.

Joining Anderson were her chancellor, Sally Johnson, and the Rev. Francis Wade, a member of Anderson’s Council of Advice and the recently retired rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church on the grounds of Washington National Cathedral.

South Carolina Bishop Ed Salmon spoke during the day-long gathering and participated in a question-and-answer panel that closed the day. Forum President Lynn Pagliaro read the letter of greeting from Lawrence in which the bishop-elect said in part that it was his “firm conviction that in Christ’s reconciling work we shall find the key to our unity.”

The day was marked by discussions of mission, canon law, the organizational behavior of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and the implications of the current tensions in the Episcopal Church.

Anderson has been visiting the small number of dioceses whose leadership is at varying stages of positioning their dioceses to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church. Not all of the members of the dioceses support their leaders’ plans. She had spent time in the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Rio Grande, and San Joaquin before her trip to South Carolina.

Connecting Richard Hooker to community, mission
Anderson urged the lay people present, whom she said are the “largest order in the church,” to remember their baptismal vows and their call to participate in the ministry of the church. She called for a circular model of ministry in the church rather than “an ideological triangle” that places bishops at the top, followed by the clergy and then laity.

Acknowledging that they are part of an Episcopal Church that is “alive and well and doing amazing work” in mission, Anderson reminded the participants that Jesus calls them to love their neighbors as themselves, adding that this call is a call to mission. Anderson urged her listeners to live fully into the missional call of their baptismal vows and not just be caught up in a “mission du jour.”

Spend time discerning your gifts and your particular call to ministry, to “find out what you are being called to do in this dynamite Diocese of South Carolina,” Anderson urged. She suggested that they connect with as many people in the diocese as they can and “invite them all into mission with you.”

Noting the feast day of Richard Hooker during her sermon for the day’s opening eucharist, Anderson described the relationships that develop in “this peculiar life we lead, this chosen life of being an Episcopalian, of being an Anglican,” as rooted in relationship and community.

“We are a society that hangs together in a peculiar way. Not as an assembly gathered, but as a society of believers, as a community of the faithful,” she said. "Looking for a difference of opinion, watching for another person who shares our unconventional visions of what it means to believe in and struggle with God, waiting for something new, kicking and screaming while we are drawn to changing and then embracing a new way of being as if we had always been that way.

“No wonder we have a hard time explaining who we are. You kind of have to be there, if you get what I mean. In fact, you do have to be there -- in community and relationship.”

Anderson added that God puts people in community where “we find ourselves transformed.”

“Community makes us who we are and who we are becoming,” she said. “It is hard work, and we can’t just walk away from it. To truly be in community we must make ourselves vulnerable to each other.”

Saying that Episcopalians and all Anglicans are related to each other through Hooker, a 16th-century Anglican theologian who argued that scripture, tradition and reason are the threefold Anglican sources of authority, Anderson said “we take strength from the community of saints, and from our community represented here.”

“God has given us each other and this peculiar life that we find ourselves in,” she said. “This peculiar life that draws us to each other and in some peculiar and holy way tangles us up with the Holy Spirit in a community and relationships that we probably would not choose, prods us into living out our religion and spirituality in that context and then, somehow makes us one.”

Salmon, who described himself as trying to live “graciously” as an Episcopalian “on the short end of the stick,” acknowledged that there is “profound disagreement” in the Episcopal Church and in his diocese, and predicted that no solution will make everyone happy.

He said he is convinced that the Episcopal Church will not change its stance and that people on all sides of the issues are “deeply convicted about the Gospel upon which they stand.”

“What we need to do is deal with each other on that basis,” Salmon said.

Facing the communion’s challenges
Wade told the gathering that one can think of the Anglican Communion as an “amphictyony,” a term which means “dwellers around” and describes a kind of community that is formed when various people gather around a common religious center. Saying that both the Hebrews of the Old Testament and the Anglican Communion have such a structure, Wade said that amphictyonies have little glue to them and are fragile when they come under pressure.

The response to pressure is often to attempt to make the center more solid, he said, citing the example of Israel during the times recorded in the Old Testament books between Joshua and Judges. First, he said, the Israelites wanted a prophet and then -- much to God’s initial displeasure -- a king. He suggested that attempts to give more authority to the leaders of the Anglican Communion’s provinces are another example of this sort of effort.

Wade reviewed the course of the Anglican Communion’s consideration of issues surrounding human sexuality and suggested that those who pose the debate’s questions in terms of orthodoxy or the authority of Scripture ask the wrong questions. Orthodoxy, he said, is not a constant, but instead “has a growing edge.” Questions on the authority of Scripture are often more focused on the authority of the persons who would enforce their own applications of Scripture, he said.

The right question, Wade suggested, is: “is God calling us to a new understanding of human sexuality?” While Wade said he is not certain how to answer that question, he noted that people of faith often arrive at such new understandings “slowly” and “badly,” in part because “the language of religion...draws its power from pastoral certainty” often despite “substantial evidence to the contrary.”

“What we need to do is to listen to each other and that’s very hard to do because our conversations are not dispassionate,” Wade said, adding that “God does call us to new understandings, but every new understanding is not God’s.”

Rules don’t suit all
Rules and canon law are ’major part of who we are“ and are ”nice to know before you are in the middle of a mess" Johnson said. She suggested that all Episcopalians ought to read the Episcopal Church’s Constitution and Canons at least once. Priests ought to read them every year and bishops, every six months, she added.

Those rules and canons, she told the gathering, also “reflect our beliefs,” but, she noted, to some it seems “heretical” to be “talking about rules rather than God.”

Johnson reviewed how the Episcopal Church determines membership of dioceses in the wider church, parishes in dioceses and people in parishes. The General Convention votes to accept dioceses into union with it or to allow them to leave, dioceses do the same for parishes, and members take actions to have their baptisms recorded in an Episcopal parish or transferred to another parish when they want to move.

While the General Convention has at times allowed dioceses to leave, Johnson said it is “highly, highly unlikely” that Convention would allow the dioceses currently in dispute with the Episcopal Church to break their union with it.

General Convention, she noted, holds much of the authority in the Episcopal Church, in large part by approving changes to the Constitution and Canons and The Book of Common Prayer. Convention cannot, however, change the doctrine of the Episcopal Church, she said.

Title IV of the Canons defines doctrine as “the basic and essential teachings of the church as found in the Canon of Holy Scripture as understood in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds and in the sacramental rites, the Ordinal and Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer.”

After nearly an hour and a half in which Anderson, Johnson, Salmon and Wade answered questions, many participants lingered after the event’s closing prayers to ask more questions and exchange information with each other.


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