Presiding bishop holds up church's 'diverse center'
- July 30, 2003
Presiding bishop holds up church's 'diverse center'
By David Skidmore
Episcopal News Service
[ENS] On the eve of what promises to be historic debate on the
Episcopal Church's doctrine and order, Presiding Bishop Frank
Griswold emphasized the importance of listening to the
church's "diverse center" in the convention's opening news conference.
"One thing I am deeply aware of in our churches is what I like to call
the 'diverse center' in which different perspectives, a presence of
the overarching sense of, like it or not, we are members of one body
and that is our larger value," said the presiding bishop. "It is
unfortunate that most of the air time is claimed by those on either
In the airing of these polar views, the church's moderate yet diverse
center is forgotten, he said. Yet, he said this center "is the
fundamental reality of the church." Although holding different
opinions on issues facing the church, these lay members and clergy
are able to stay in fellowship, grounding their identity through
With rhetoric building in the church and media over consent to the
election of the Rev. Gene Robinson as bishop coadjutor of New
Hampshire,the church's first openly gay bishop-elect, and over
consideration for developing rites for blessing same-sex unions, the
presiding bishop's role and views on these matters is under intense
scrutiny. Askedrepeatedly by reporters on how he might vote on the
Robinson consent,Griswold said to do so would be "premature and
He does not want to shortchange the work of the Holy Spirit which
often can move people to surprising changes, he said, recalling a
Dallas deputy coming to the 1976 convention opposed to revising The
Book of Common Prayer and ending up the one making the motion to
adopt the revision.
Griswold, acknowledging that he is among the bishops voting on the
bishop-elect consents because he oversees the Convocation of American
Churches in Europe, also cited the influence of his office as a reason
to keep his views private. "I am the overseer of a process. I will
have my own perspective and my own opinions," he said. "But I think
it would be singularly unhelpful to my brothers and sisters in the
House of Bishops to state my position."
His statement was in stark contrast to the nation's leader, President
George W. Bush, who just hours earlier during a White House news
conference expressed his hope for legislation defining marriage as
limited to a man and a woman. "I believe in the sanctity of marriage.
I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman. And I think we
ought to codify that one way or the other. And we've got lawyers
looking at the best way to do that," said Bush after a reporter asked
him on his opinion on homosexuality.
As to the possibility of a rift or schism in the Anglican Communion
were the convention to consent to Robinson's election or authorize the
development of proposed rites for same-sex blessings, Griswold echoed
some of the same points he made in a letter to Anglican primates
before the convention. Each province must interpret the Gospel in
light of its own context and culture, he wrote the primates, and
interpret scriptural passages in light of its particular reality.
In his response to reporters at the news conference, Griswold noted
that the role of gays and lesbians in the church's life is perceived
through different filters. One perspective is "a deep sense that
these people are part of our reality" and "co-ministers in the
mission of Christ." For others, the notion of having affections for a
person of the same sex runs contrary to Scripture. Yet, it is
important to note, he said, that scripture "is never read neutrally.
All readings of Holy Scripture encompass interpretation."
On the matter of same-sex blessings, Griswold corrected what he
termed a consistent misrepresentation in the press over the
California resolution on developing rites for blessing committed
relationships of two people living outside holy matrimony. It is not
a resolution on blessing same-sex unions, as reported in the media,
he said. The resolution calls for the Standing Commission on Liturgy
and Music (SCLM) to develop rites for consideration at the next
General Convention in 2006, and until that decision three years from
now "all of this is open to debate and
Joining the presiding bishop were Bishop James Jelinek of Minnesota,
host bishop for the convention; the Rev. Canon George Werner,
president of the House of Deputies; and the Rev. Rosemary Sullivan,
the convention's executive officer.
Asked about the impact of the landslide vote for Robinson in New
Hampshire, Griswold said the church has historically tended to honor
the persons chosen by dioceses for their bishops, citing the example
of bishops receiving consents who are opposed to the ordination of
women. Despite opposition to their views, "their elections were not
In response to a question on the few women preaching and presiding at
the convention Eucharists, Griswold noted the number of slots were
limited since he would be preaching at four services and had also
asked Werner and Sullivan to preach. By tradition he also presides at
the opening and closing Eucharists. Two women are presiding in
addition to Sullivan preaching, he added.
Sullivan said her office strove to ensure there was diversity of
gender, age and order in liturgical ministry and thought the
mix "will work very well given limitations of a 10-day process."
Werner, who has attended conventions since 1970, noted that it can be
difficult to predict how the convention may act on crucial issues. At
the 1976 convention, the resolution opening priesthood to women nearly
failed by just three votes in the House of Deputies, he said.
Admitting the process can be frustrating and "many times sinful," it
is also often graceful, he said, and much preferable to a system
where a presiding bishop or pope is vested with sole authority.
"We will enjoy our house," said Werner. "We are the house of passion
and fun and unexpected things."
-- David Skidmore is Director of Communications for the Diocese of
Chicago, and a volunteer reporter for ENS General Convention news