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Bishops End Session With Hope

Episcopal leaders meet as they await word from an international panel on homosexuality issue.

September 29, 2004|Larry B. Stammer | Time Staff Writer

SPOKANE, Wash. — The nation's Episcopal bishops concluded a five-day meeting here Tuesday, saying they were anxious but hopeful that their church would remain part of the worldwide Anglican Communion despite the Americans' liberal stands on homosexuality.

The meeting here came just three weeks before an international church panel appointed by the archbishop of Canterbury was scheduled to make public recommendations on the future relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. That panel was formed after the Episcopal Church, which is the American arm of Anglicanism, consecrated an openly gay priest last year as bishop of New Hampshire and allowed local bishops the option of permitting same-sex blessings in their dioceses.

Some conservatives around the world reportedly are pushing for a strong rebuke of the American church, possibly forcing it out of active membership into some kind of observer status or even outright expulsion.

The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, said his members must be ready for a strong, even indignant, international response from the panel, called the Lambeth Commission.

"We must be prepared to meet the other not with confident self-assertion, which is so characteristic of the American way, but with a genuine availability to the other, and a willingness to receive what is proffered, even if it comes clothed not in purple and fine linen, but in anger," Griswold said in a sermon here Sunday.

On Tuesday, several bishops said Griswold in closed-door sessions had urged them not to overreact when the Lambeth report was released. "That to me says he feels like the report probably has things that this church is not going to like," Bishop Edward L. Salmon Jr. of South Carolina said.

Bishop John Chane of Washington, D.C., added, "There is a sense of anxiety here because none of us know what it really says."

The bishops issued a statement Tuesday pledging to receive the Lambeth Commission recommendations "in a spirit of humility and ... a willingness to learn how we might best be faithful and responsible partners in the Anglican Communion."

The bishops said they would meet in January to issue a formal response to possible rebukes.

Since the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson was consecrated bishop of New Hampshire last year, 12 to 18 of the 38 Anglican national churches or provinces have downgraded or broken their relations with the American church, according to the conservative American Anglican Council. Last month, three conservative Southern California parishes broke away from the Los Angeles diocese.

Controversy over homosexuality was underscored Tuesday by an African bishop who received part of his training in America.

"There's a sense in which you are very much part of me and a very serious sense of being part of you," said the Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga, Anglican bishop of Southern Malawi in Central Africa who opposed Robinson's elevation to bishop. "I come from an angry people. I come from a very frustrated church, a church that feels it has been betrayed by its brothers and sisters," he said, referring to the dispute with the Americans.

The Rt. Rev. Catherine Roskam, suffragan bishop of New York, said it was unjust, in effect, to force a choice between Tengatenga and Robinson.

"It is a Sophie's choice, and I refuse to make it. My friendship is there for Gene. And my friendship is there for James," Roskam said. "By God's grace, we'll work it out."

Despite an official theme of reconciliation, several conservative bishops boycotted the event.

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