Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Difficult Conversations

I'm just back from the reception that several bishops of Province I hosted to introduce the Bishop of New Hampshire. About 20 bishops from around the church, including several from England, Australia, Latin America and India, attended. The reception began with hors d'ouvres in an outdoor courtyard. The program moved indoors for a brief presentation by three bishops about the process of electing, confirming and consecrating bishops in the Episcopal Church. Then two bishops spoke about why they voted for and against Bishop Robinson's consecration. There followed a brief DVD introduction by the Diocese of New Hampshire, and then Gene spoke. After his talk, people asked questions or made statements. Bishop Robinson was his usual warm, passionate and articulate self. Two of our guests spoke about how difficult this matter is in their context, and Gene empathized with their concerns and shared their hopes. The gathering ended with prayer.

Both my Bible Study and Indaba group began to have more searching conversations today. It's taken us two weeks to get to the point where there is sufficient trust to talk frankly. There is a great deal of misunderstanding about decision-making in the Episcopal Church. People expressed anger that the Episcopal Church has not respected decisions of the 1998 Lambeth Conference and has forced the whole Communion to deal with our issues. It is hard to convey that it's not only our process that's democratic, but our culture as well. Matters of sexual orientation are on the table because gay and lesbian persons are baptized members of the church and, in our church, every member has a voice. For us it's not an "issue," it's people - faithful members of the body of Christ and leaders of our congregations. We are trying to keep faith with people in our own church. Yet in this era of instant communication, people far away suddenly feel drawn into the conversation.

The good news in these difficult conversations is that we may all be learning that the context for our ministries is crucial. Quite frankly, in a number of places issues of sexual orientation have no traction and will not be discussed. In those places, issues of hunger, human trafficking, HIV/AIDS, relations with other religions, and the education of women and children occupy the agenda. Yet I think folks are hearing that in our context issues of sexual orientation are matters of membership and justice. The hope is that we can find room for one another and the capacity to remain in relationship as try to reach a common mind.


+Gene and +Steve - who served together as Canons to the Ordinary in the Dioceses of New Hampshire and Rochester prior to their elections - share a light moment before +Steve's consecration in Maine on May 3, 2008.
(photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette)

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