Bishops share impressions, invite members to Aug. 13 hearing

With the Episcopal Church’s triennial General Convention having concluded last week, the Diocese of Massachusetts’ bishops today wrote to diocesan clergy and lay leadership to share some impressions and an invitation to an Aug. 13 hearing.  The text of the letter follows.  

July 24, 2009

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

With the Episcopal Church’s triennial General Convention having concluded last week, we write to share some of our impressions, our hopes going forward and an invitation to an Aug. 13 hearing.

As a diocese we were well represented by an experienced and active deputation, for which we are deeply grateful.  We want you to know that your prayers for the work of your church in convention were sustaining to us over the nearly two weeks of hard work in Anaheim by your bishops, deputies, staff and so many other committed members of our diocese, clergy and lay, who participated as visitors, volunteers, advocates and witnesses—all of us together, with you, reflecting St. Paul’s understanding of the body of Christ, all of us playing a role, all of us needed, in order to be Christ’s presence in the world.

“Ubuntu—I in You and You in Me” was our convention theme and we often witnessed and experienced efforts to present our true selves, in all of our diversity, to one another throughout our worship and work together.  Both deputies and bishops, in our respective houses and in joint sessions, took time out from parliamentary procedure when necessary in order to make room for conversational engagement with difficult issues.  In doing so, hearts were moved and minds were sometimes changed, and we were able to move forward, not in lock step, but in love and respect.”

At a time when budgets are hard pressed at all levels, our church made some difficult decisions about how and where to devote limited resources, choosing to cut staff positions and change some ways of doing business so that our commitment to joining God’s mission in the world might be abundant.  Convention reaffirmed and renewed that commitment, most notably, through reinstated funding for the Millennium Development Goals aimed at ending extreme global poverty, hunger and disease, as well as by dedicating funds for a new domestic poverty initiative and for strategic Latino/Hispanic outreach.  Also of real importance to our local church communities is the convention’s adoption of a revised clergy disciplinary canon (Title IV), and the adoption of mandatory denominational health insurance and lay pension plans provided singly by the Church Pension Group for eligible employees of the Episcopal Church.

Of particular interest to our diocese, and indeed to many across our church and communion, were the two actions recognizing the ministry (D025) and pastoral needs (C056) of persons in same-sex committed relationships.  These measures were prayerfully and painstakingly crafted and deliberated upon, and deserve your careful reflection so that our summarization here, and the various interpretations being offered elsewhere, do not do injustice to the careful work that preceded their adoption.

D025, “Commitment and Witness to the Anglican Communion,” reaffirms our church’s commitment to mission and an ongoing listening process within the Anglican Communion, and it recognizes that lay and ordained ministry is being exercised by persons in committed, same-sex relationships in response to God’s call.  It acknowledges that we in this church and the broader communion are not of one mind about these matters.  We voted for this resolution as a descriptive rather than prescriptive statement, and as such, we see it as a truth-telling contribution to the ongoing conversation in our communion. 

C056, “Liturgies for Blessings,” calls for the collection and development of theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same-gender relationships, and acknowledges the church’s need to provide pastoral response to couples in same-gender marriages and unions, particularly in places such as our own state of Massachusetts where we are ministering in the midst of a discrepancy between what our civil law allows and our church canons do not.

Before we venture an interpretation of what this action of General Convention means for us here in the Diocese of Massachusetts, and before we can form any plans for how we might proceed accordingly, we feel it is important to take some time to speak, listen and pray with diocesan clergy and leadership, including the Standing Committee, as well as with our brother and sister bishops in similarly affected dioceses, so that how we ultimately go forward in Massachusetts not only responds with integrity to the pastoral needs in our local context but also takes into account, with what we hope can be some kind of consistency, the situations of our neighboring New England dioceses.  All of this we do within the bounds of our wider Episcopal Church, which took this action in unity but not unanimity.  We remain mindful that what we do locally and how we do it has implications for the wider body of which we are members.

As a first step toward formulating a diocesan policy, we invite members
of the diocese to offer input and ideas at a hearing on Thursday, Aug.
13, 6-8 p.m., at Emmanuel Church (15 Newbury Street) in Boston. Please
share this invitation with those in your congregations who may wish to
participate.

Together met, together bound, we come away from General Convention with
a renewed sense of God’s mission unfolding through the breadth of
ministries across our church. God’s blessing and Christ’s peace be with
each of you as we continue in the inviting, forming, sending and serving
ministries we share together as the Episcopal Church in eastern
Massachusetts.

Faithfully,
/s/ Tom Shaw
/s/ Bud Cederholm
/s/ Gayle Harris

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