The 25th Presiding Bishop

The 25th Presiding Bishop

Griswold Image
January 10, 1998
Tagged in: Frank T. Griswold

Grace and peace to those of you who are present in this sacred space representing the Episcopal Church, our world-wide Anglican Communion, the ancient churches of the East and West, the churches of the Reformation, and the two other faith communities -- Judaism and Islam -- who, together with us, call Abraham our father in faith. And grace and peace to those of you who are far off, participating in this liturgy by means of electronic communication at various sites around the country. Think of where ever you are as a chapel, an extension of this vast cathedral church, and of yourselves as members of this worshipping assembly.

As some of you are aware, today is the commemoration of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury: a Primate of the 17th Century whose views ecclesiastical and political, not to mention what we might call his leadership style, led to his being beheaded. Upon reflection I decided that it might be somewhat inauspicious to do more than include him discreetly among the saints and worthies in the eucharistic prayer.

I want to begin our new life together with a story. It is a story about myself, but it is also a story about us, the people of God.

Well before the General Convention of last July and the election of a new Presiding Bishop, I accepted an invitation to participate in a conference in Italy sponsored by the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, an international program of spiritual formation which profoundly honours the religious intuitions and experience of children. The fact that the gathering was to be held in Assisi, the city of Francis and Clare, made the invitation all the more attractive. Once it became clear that I was to be a nominee, I looked forward to the conference, which was to take place in September after the election, figuring that it would either be a consolation, or a respite before the beginning of a new chapter.

"Let Assisi be your atrium," we were advised upon arrival. "Atrium," in the parlance of the Catechesis, is the classroom, or more accurately the environment, the space, which serves to foster and support encounter with the sacred mystery of God. "Let Assisi be your atrium," I said quietly to myself that first evening as I set out from my hotel for the Church of Sta. Chiara only a short distance away.

Entering the church, I saw a sign over a doorway in the south wall. It read: "The crucifix that spoke to St Francis." "Ah, yes," I thought. "Of course. The crucifix from the Church of San Damiano where Francis prayed at the beginning of his conversion. The icon cross which has been reproduced over and over again. I have a copy of it on my desk at home."

Moved more by curiosity than devotion, I passed through the door and entered a darkened chapel. There the crucifix was, larger than I had imagined, illuminated by a single spotlight. As I sat in the darkness contemplating the figure of Jesus as one might a work of art that one has read about and is seeing at last, I found myself drawn to the cross as though it were a magnet. I moved from observer to participant, and from a pew to a prie-dieu at the foot of the cross. After some moments I looked down and saw that a prayer in four languages had been affixed to the top of the kneeling desk. It was, as I later learned, a prayer written by Francis himself before this very cross. Having been drawn to the cross, I now found myself drawn into the prayer: "Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me, Lord, a right faith, a certain hope, a perfect charity. Give me, Lord, wisdom and discernment, so that I may carry out your true and holy will. Amen."

In the silence of the chapel, the prayer spoke to me about what lay ahead: It begins with the plea that God enlighten and purify our hearts. It says that the right faith, certain hope and perfect charity are not the result of our own psychological effort or active imagination, but the fruit of a transformed and undefended heart, a heart of stone which has become a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). It asks God to search out the secret places where fear and bias, anger and judgement lurk unacknowledged and unrecognised. It is only by such a radical act of God's piercing mercy that authentic faith, hope and love can be born.

Each morning of the conference I got up early and made my way to the cross. Without explanation, I simply had to be there and pray the prayer. Part way through the week I found myself wondering, "What did the crucifix say to Francis?" Though I had read an account years before, I could not remember what the figure of Christ had said. Then one afternoon I wandered by chance into a small square and noticed a plaque on a nearby wall. As I read it, there wad the answer to my question. Christ had said, "Francesco, va ripara la mia chiesa - Francis, go rebuild my Church." I was overcome and found myself in tears - tears of recognition that this was the call, the invitation, the strange attraction of a 12th Century crucifix.

>At the same time, I was sceptical. How like my romantic soul to create a moment of high drama and emotion. Did it come from an overwrought Frank Griswold who had had too much Assisi, or did it come from the Spirit?

Later that evening I began to share what had happened with a Roman Catholic nun. I got no further than saying, "I was praying in front of the San Damiano crucifix," when she pointed at me and declared, "That's it; that's what your vocation is all about. Repair my Church." Hers was the confirming word I needed before I was able to allow Christ's words to Francis to find a home in me.

As the words from the cross took hold of me I found myself overwhelmed. Me rebuild the church? What arrogance, what an unbearable burden, what an impossibility, what an invitation to fantastical projections and unrealisable expectations. I wanted to confine Christ's daunting declaration to the life of St Francis where it properly belonged. But then I have learned over the years that moments of resistance and unsettlement are almost always invitations to deeper prayer and greater availability to the Spirit. And so I gave the words to Francis freedom to be addressed to me, "Francis (Frank), go rebuild my Church." What I heard this time was a voice that said, "This task is not yours alone, it belongs to everyone who has been baptised into my death and resurrection. You are all called to rebuild my church."

Why have I told you this story? Because, as I said earlier, it is about us. Because it speaks of what we are to do together, and of what we are to be together.

What does it mean to rebuild the Church? There are, of course, many possible answers. What has become most clear to me is that the Church is not an object or an institution to be fixed or a building to be repaired as Francis himself thought at first. Instead the Church is a relationship to be lived: a relationship of communion established by God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit which finds expression and is made incarnate -- is earthed and given flesh -- in our communion, our fellowship, with one another. As such, the Church is always, in every age, being rebuilt and reformed out of the struggles and witness and compromised fidelity of its members. The same is true now and the same will be true at the end of nine years.

Baptism, which is the ground of today's Liturgy, is about communion, our being related to Christ after the manner of limbs and organs to a body. Each of us has been given some gift or manifestation of Christ's fullness which contributes to the building up of the body, to our growth as one body to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of the risen Christ (Ephesians 4:13). What more dynamic or intimate or essential relationship can there be than that, than growing together through the gifts of one another into the fullness of who, only in Christ and only together, we can become?

Or again, through baptism we become living stones (1 Peter 2:4ff) integral to the building up of a spiritual temple not according to our own whims and fancies, but according to God's ever active and boundless imagination which, like the peace of God, passes all understanding.

This communion, this spiritual fellowship, also makes us permeable to truth: truth which is discovered in a living way through the sharing of the truth which is embodied in each of us, in what might be called the scripture of our own lives. Each one of us is a bundle of agony and idiocy, of grace and truth caught up in Christ. Who I am by the mercy of God is the gift I have to share, is my unique contribution to the ever expanding mystery of communion. "My brother (my sister) is my life", observed one of the desert monastics of the 4th Century, which is to say that it is not by accident but by divine intention, and it would seem at times by divine humour, that we, in a phrase from Bishop Rowan Williams, have been "caught up" by baptism "in solidarities we have not chosen."

Communion is not a human construction but a divine gift that is not always easy to accept. Because of our sinfulness we find all sorts of ways, often noble and high sounding ways, to stand against it. Communion is realised only through a costly and excruciating process of conversion and a radical transformation of consciousness. "Be transformed buy the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God," Paul tells us in the Letter to the Romans (12:2).

This renewing of the mind is largely a communal enterprise whereby your truth and my truth address one another and give room to one another. In the process something happens between us which enlarges the truth each of us previously held. Such is the nature of the sacred enterprise we innocently call conversation which carries within it the possibilities of conversion, of being turned in a new direction by the word, the truth, of the other.

What would happen if instead of leading with our options fully formed and our conclusions smartly arrayed, we addressed one another as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, knit together by one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; one God and Father of all? What would happen if instead of defensively declaring where we stand, we asked questions of one another such as, "Who is Christ for you?" "What does the church mean to you?" "How have you been challenged to live the Gospel?" Are we afraid that if we asked such questions we might have to modify our position and make room for the ambiguity and paradox another person's truth might represent?

And yet, a capacity for ambiguity and paradox is part of the glory and frustration of the Anglican way. Richard Hooker, possibly the greatest theologian in the history of Anglicanism observed, as Paul Avis reminds us, that though we long for "the most infallible certainty which the nature of things can yield," we proceed, in actual fact, by way of "probable persuasions."

The Anglican Tradition because of its "graced pragmatism" -- its reasonableness formed by Scripture and Tradition -- possesses a unique capacity for diversity, and the ability to discern and welcome truth in its various forms. Through the subtle yet exacting rhythms of our common prayer the diverse and the disparate, the contradictory and the paradoxical are woven together in the risen Christ through the ever unfolding and always challenging mystery of communion. As a result, different dimensions of truth, different experience of grace, can meet together, embrace one another, and share the Bread of life.

What we as the Episcopal Church shall be as we look to the future has yet to be revealed. I for one am immensely hopeful. Hopeful because of the good will and generosity of spirit which meets me almost everywhere I go; hopeful because of the vitality and faithfulness of congregations large and small; hopeful because of the deep desire on all sides to move beyond threat and accusation to a place of conversation, conversion, communion and truth: truth as is discovered in and through and with one another, truth as it is in Christ, who is himself the truth (John 14:6).

I spoke earlier of the need for a purified and transformed heart if our faith and hope and love are to be real, our communion authentic, and the continuing work of rebuilding the Church, which involves us all, is to go forward.

What is a purified and transformed heart? St Isaac of Nineveh, a witness from the 7th Century, gives us this answer: "It is a heart that burns with love for the whole of creation -- for humankind, for the birds, for the beasts, for the demons, for every creature - for the reptiles too -". It is a heart from which "a great compassion - rises up endlessly." In more contemporary terms, it is a heart open to the paradoxes and contradictions of life; it is a heart that can embrace and reconcile the birds and the beasts, as well as reptiles and demons, however we might define them. A transformed hearty is a heart that has been cracked open by God's love; it is a heart willing to have its tendency towards accusation and judgement overruled by the same voice Jesus heard at his baptism, a voice that speaks to each one of us and says, "You are my daughter, my Son, my Child, my Beloved, my Chosen One in whom I delight, in whom I rejoice, with whom I am well pleased simply because you are. Live on in my love; enter into my joy; abide in my peace."

A transformed heart is therefore compassionate in the strength of God's own compassion, which was made manifest in Jesus the Compassionate One, and is poured into our own hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5).

A compassionate heart is a baptised, born again heart, a purified and transformed and discerning heart open to everyone and everything, a heart of communion that can embrace all sorts and conditions of humanity and the world around us, a heart that burns with God's own love for the whole mix and muddle of the world. It is a faithful heart capable of rebuilding the Church in the service of the Gospel for the sake of the world, over and over and over again.

May we, as a community of faith, as a church, be given the grave of such a heart. In a few moments we will give thanks over water to recall the mystery of our baptism. We will then renew our baptismal promises, our willingness to be caught up as limbs into Christ's risen body, built up as living stones into a spiritual house, the dwelling place of a compassionate heart.

At the end of his life, as Francis looked back over all that had been accomplished by the Order he had brought into being, he cried out, "My brothers, we must begin to serve our Lord and God. Until now we have done very little. Let us begin again."

My dear sisters and brothers, in communion with one another and sustained by our Anglican way, let us begin again, with the joy and courage of a transformed heart, to serve our Lord and God. Amen.

The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA

Grace and peace to those of you who are present in this sacred space representing the Episcopal Church, our world-wide Anglican Communion, the ancient churches of the East and West, the churches of the Reformation, and the two other faith...
April 12, 1998
Tagged in: Easter

Resurrection is profoundly unsettling, because it is an overturning of reality as we perceive it and an entrance into what St. Paul can only describe as dying and rising in union with Christ, which is tantamount a "new act of creation."

In the Eastern tradition the mystery of resurrection is celebrated in an icon which shows the risen Christ standing on the battered-down doors of Hell, below which are to be seen locks and chains and other signs of bondage and imprisonment. His arms are extended to Adam and Eve. And, grasping them firmly by their wrists, Christ is literally pulling them out of their boxlike tombs into the full force and freedom of his risen life.

As I contemplate this icon, I am put in mind of a poem by George Herbert, The Dawning:

Arise sad heart; if thou dost not withstand,
Christ's resurrection thine may be;
Do not by hanging down break from the hand
Which as it riseth, raiseth thee…

The question I am then bidden to ask myself is, "How am I resisting Christ's grasp? In what ways do I prefer the security of my limited and constricted vision of life, of the Church, of my own place in the risen Christ's ever-unfolding and all-embracing ministry of reconciliation, reordering and making all things new? In what ways do I resist being forcibly pulled out of my places of confinement into the deathless freedom of Christ?"

In an ancient Easter homily Christ addresses Adam and Eve with these powerful words: "Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise. Let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated… the banquet is ready…the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity."

As we celebrate the Paschal mystery, may we as limbs of Christ's risen Body and members of the Anglican Communion, be firmly held in Christ's resurrection grasp and rise up, leaving fear and self-preoccupation behind, and enter into the treasure house of God's new creation. The banquet is ready. Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.

The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA

Resurrection is profoundly unsettling, because it is an overturning of reality as we perceive it and an entrance into what St. Paul can only describe as dying and rising in union with Christ, which is tantamount a "new act of creation." In the...
April 14, 1998
Tagged in: Pastoral Letters

Canterbury Cathedral
My brothers and sisters in Christ:

Canterbury CathAs your Presiding Bishop and Chief Pastor I write you as the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops has just concluded in Canterbury, England.

On one of the final days of the conference, I called together our House of Bishops for a time of prayer. Our chaplain, the Rev. Martin Smith, Superior of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, observed that it is as if the bishops have each taken mental photographs of the conference that have yet to be placed in the developing solution. Our negatives must be processed. During these next days of quiet I will I begin to put in perspective and process in prayer the gathering of bishops. I will have more to say in the autumn, and also look forward to sharing impressions with other bishops after they too have had time for reflection.

However, I write now with a pastoral word, knowing that many in our church are concerned about the vote of the conference on sexuality. I want to assure you all of my continuing concern for and commitment to all members of the Episcopal Church who recognize themselves as gay and lesbian.

For me, homosexuality is not primarily a cause or an issue: it is a matter of men and women I know, respect and love, and whose lives bear ample witness to the fruits of the Spirit as enumerated in Galatians 5:22. It is about people with whom I have shared ministry and friendship, whose many gifts have enriched my life and continue to bless and upbuild the Church.

Though the Lambeth Conference is not a legislative body, each of the four subject "sections" brought forth "resolutions" which were debated and voted in plenary. A resolution on sexuality was brought forward by the section working on this topic.

Their resolution was based on the careful report they had crafted over more than two weeks of intense conversations. This group of persons of widely diverse opinions opened themselves to show one another the deep sense of the action of God in their lives and particular circumstances, and offered to the conference the fruits of their efforts. Their resolution was amended during the plenary discussions.

I chose to abstain during the vote. I did so because I found parts of the resolution positive both in tone and content, particularly when considered in relationship to the nuances of the report on which it is based. At the same time, I took exception to other parts and believe that we must explore more fully the whole question of what is compatible and "incompatible with Scripture." It must be noted that faithful persons in our church, who see themselves as under the authority of Scripture, do not all interpret the Bible in the same way.

It is my hope and prayer that the Lambeth resolution commitment "to listen to the experience of homosexual persons" will lead to a broader conversation which will more fully reveal God's lived word of grace at work in the lives of gay and lesbian Anglican Christians.

In the days ahead, I will do everything I can to foster a climate of frank and respectful conversation which will allow different points of view to address and hear one another, not only within our own Episcopal Church, but more widely in the Anglican Communion.

With the prayer that the Spirit of Truth will guide us, and with gratitude for the life we share as members of Christ's risen body, I am

Yours in Christ,

The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA

Canterbury Cathedral My brothers and sisters in Christ: As your Presiding Bishop and Chief Pastor I write you as the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops has just concluded in Canterbury, England. On one of the final days of the conference, I...
May 21, 1998
Tagged in: Ascension Day

The Ascension is in some ways a cruel event. For a period of forty days after the resurrection the Apostles and the community of faithful followers enjoyed the assuring and strengthening presence of the risen Christ. He appeared to them, ate with them, instructed them, and in large measure healed the terrible memory of his crucifixion and the awful emptiness of the three days that followed. And now, just when they had gotten used to his being around again, albeit in a new and risen way, he up and leaves them. To be sure he has promised that the Holy Spirit will come upon them, but here they are again thrown back upon their own meager resources, having to wait for what is yet to come.

In scripture, periods of time involving forty are seasons of preparation for some new or fuller expression of divine intent. Noah, Moses, the Children of Israel, Elijah and Jesus were all prepared for the stretching demands of God's desire by forty days or forty years of testing and being made ready. Christ's forty day sojourn with the apostolic community after the resurrection was such a season.

It was a time for the Apostles to be drawn more deeply into Christ's risen life with all its risks, demands and unimaginable possibility. It was a time in which they experienced over and over again that burning of heart which the disciples on the road to Emmaus experienced when the risen One opened the scriptures and made himself known to them in the breaking of the bread.

It was also a time in which the question was asked of Peter, and doubtless of the others as well, "Do you love me?" The very question itself provoked a "yes" which overrode the guilt and shame of having denied him and run away into the night: a "yes" which rose up from the very depths of each of the Apostles in response to the summons of Christ's deathless love. Their "yes" was then greeted with a command: "Feed my sheep."

As the forty days unfolded, the risen Lord met the deepest and most personal truth of his close friends with the livingness of his own truth. Christ thereby prepared them to receive the confirming and enabling Spirit: the Spirit of truth who, as Jesus had told them, would guide them into all the truth. "[The Spirit] will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:12-15)."

Here we are faced with a paradox: What the Apostles perceived as Jesus leaving them once again, this time not by way of the cross but by way of ascension, was in fact a prelude to a deeper, fuller and more substantial knowing of the risen One mediated by the Spirit.

Knowing Christ is not therefore confined to an encounter with the historical Jesus --- "If only I had been there and seen him and heard him speak!" --- but can occur anytime or in anyplace through the agency and quite unpredictable imagination of the Holy Spirit. For it is the Spirit who works the presence of Christ in us using the events and circumstances of our lives and experience. And by virtue of the Spirit's driving yet subtle motion, we find ourselves caught up into what William Law, an 18th Century Anglican Mystic calls "the process of Christ."

The ascension spells the end of the Apostles' knowing Christ as a physical presence, a fixed object that they can "touch and handle." It leaves them on the threshold of a new kind of knowing in which Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life is known inwardly and with such force that they will, in time, be able with St. Paul to cry out, "The life I now live is not my own, but the life Christ lives in me."

Here I am put in mind of an observation made by Carl Jung that "the Western attitude, with its emphasis on the object, tends to fix the ideal --- Christ --- in its outward aspect and thus to rob it of its mysterious relation to the inner man." "Too few people," he observes, "have experienced the divine image as the innermost possession of their own souls. Christ only meets them from without, never from within the soul…"

Christ's ascension opens the way for a new mode of being present, being with. And the agent of that presence is the Holy Spirit. "It is to your advantage that I go away," Christ told his apostles, "for if I do not go away, the Advocate --- the Helper, the Spirit of truth --- will not come; but if I go, I will send him to you." "He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you." What the Spirit takes from Christ is not information but life, life expressed as love and realized in the intimacy of communion whereby Christ dwells in us and we in him. In this way the Spirit works the "process of Christ" in us, not all at once but over time. Again and again we are shaped and shattered, transformed and conformed, by the events which overtake us, the choices we make, the struggles we endure, the responsibilities we bear, the joys that surprise us. "By means of all created things, without exception, the Divine assails us, penetrates us and molds us." This sentence from Teilhard de Chardin bears witness to the ever unfolding process of Christ unleashed by the Ascension and carried out unremittingly by the Spirit, in us, in others and in the whole of creation.

Christ's going away does not stand on its own; it is part of the larger reality of resurrection whereby all things, including our lives in their complexity and ambiguity, are caught up into Christ. Rising from the dead, ascending to the Father and sending the Holy Spirit are all one continuous act of being present to, with, and through the apostles. And it is as Christ's disciples live out Christ's command to "Feed my sheep" that they, in the very act of speaking or acting in Christ's name, know that Christ is with them and that they are in Christ.

One hundred and fifty two years ago, in the one hundred and forty ninth year of the life of this parish, on May 21, being the Feast of the Ascension, this great building was consecrated. Its primary purpose then as now is to stand as a witness to the Christ who is, and to provide a place where men and women and children can encounter the risen One. This encounter takes many forms. The baptismal font and the altar bear witness to Christ's relentless insistence that, according to Paul, we become limbs and thereby extensions in time and space of his risen and ever active body, and that our life be "hid with God in Christ" in such a way that the healing, reconciling, truth revealing Christ is present in and through us. The eucharistic meal deepens and strengthens this fundamental and ever unfolding relationship, as Christ takes to himself all that we are and have yet to become, and makes our lives the medium of his ongoing self-disclosure. Christ does this by incorporating and making use of our limitations and imperfections, and when we protest he gently but firmly informs us, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." It is not our perfection, but our availability that Christ seeks.

This building contains other signs of encounter as well: the lectern and pulpit where the risen One meets us in the proclamation and opening of scripture and causes our hearts to burn within us as the word which is "alive and active and sharper than a two-edged sword" pierces us and speaks to our heart. Then there are the people and the various ministers of the liturgy who together represent Christ's risen body, and are ministers of Christ's real presence to one another. The exchange of the Peace bears witness to this truth: it is a ritual way of saying, "I greet the Christ in you in the name and power of the Christ who dwells in me." The Peace is also a way of reminding ourselves that as important as this magnificent building may be we are, by virtue of Christ's dying and rising and all that flows from it, "living stones" being built into a "spiritual house." This means that the church is us and is constituted and built up by what we allow the risen and ascended Christ to in live out in us.

As we keep this feast and give thanks for the dedication of this church, and for all the life and faithful ministry that have flowed from it, may Christ draw us anew into the full force of his risenness, give us the courage to welcome his presence in all its paradoxical and ever stretching and expanding forms, and may he imbue us through the Spirit with his own urgent longing to heal and make whole the broken world in which we live. Amen.

The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA

The Ascension is in some ways a cruel event. For a period of forty days after the resurrection the Apostles and the community of faithful followers enjoyed the assuring and strengthening presence of the risen Christ. He appeared to them, ate with...
June 1, 1998
Tagged in: Sermons

We experience around us a yearning for meaning in the face of life’s precariousness. The signs are everywhere. This yearning is variously addressed in ways both healthy and unhealthy, more and less effective. Attention to the life of the spirit is among them. Unfortunately, some of this attention is in the nature of a passing fancy, unmoored from the received tradition or the wisdom of the ages. Our Anglican heritage is a rich treasure for us in these times, to take ever more deeply to ourselves, and to share with a searching world.

Anglican spirituality is a fruit of our profoundly incarnational theology, and has to do with what the 18th century priest-mystic, William Law, calls "the process of Christ." Through daily encounters with the risen One in word and sacrament, and in the events and circumstances that challenge and mold us, we are transformed and conformed to the pattern of Christ.

Anglican spirituality places an emphasis on the developmental nature of grace and therefore attends carefully to time. The day, the week, the season, the year, the span of a person’s life are all ordered to the "process of Christ." Put differently, Christ happens to us over time. The One who makes use of water, bread and wine to mediate his presence can make use of the stuff of our lives and relationships to address us and draw us more deeply into his life, death, and resurrection.

For Anglicans, our various prayer books provide for the ordering of time in such a way that we meet Christ in the unfolding of our lives both personally and corporately. Baptism--whether as infants, or as adults after a lengthy catechumenate--constitutes our being "born again," our being incorporated in Christ’s risen body by sharing symbolically in his dying and rising. From that point on, until the moment of our actual death, we are growing in maturity in Christ. [Ephesians 4:13] As St. Augustine of Hippo put it "we become who we are," namely extensions of Christ in time and space by virtue of our being limbs of his body, the Church, of which he is the head. The eucharist, then, becomes the sign and symbol of our "growing up into Christ." It represents one regular and sustained encounter with Christ in the power of the Spirit.

Because Jesus Christ is the incarnate and glorified Word of God, fundamental to all spirituality is the capacity and willingness on the part of persons of faith to listen. "Oh that today you would hearken to his voice!" we are counseled in Psalm 95, which is used throughout the Anglican Communion as an Invitatory at Morning Prayer. As each day begins we are invited to listen to the words and events which lie ahead "as those who are taught." [Isaiah 50:4]

Because Christ is the Word of God, it is Christ who addresses us through the word of Holy Scripture. Indeed the Bible broadly conceived is a sacrament: it is "alive and active, sharper than a two edged sword" because Christ is alive and active and truly present in the scriptural word. The risen One who opened the scriptures to his downcast disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24) continues to make our hearts burn within us as the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, draws from what is Christ’s (John 16:14) and makes it known to us in the context of our own life and experience. The fact that Jesus had more to "say" to his disciples than they could presently bear or assimilate (John 16:12) makes it clear that God’s world in Christ continues to "go forth" in its ever creative potentiality, and to reveal new meaning and to speak to new situations in our lives personally and as communities of faith with our distinctive cultures, histories, and challenges.

In Hebrew "word" carries with it notions of occurrence as well as speech. Words therefore happen; they take place. The sacraments and sacramental rites are therefore enacted words whose force and power once again derive from the risen One. "You have revealed yourself to me, O Christ, face to face. I have met you in your sacraments." These bold words of St. Ambrose underscore the formative and developmental effect of our sacramental participation in season and out of season, and at the different turnings of our lives.

Listening to the Word who is Christ also involves listening to our lives, to the events and circumstances, momentous and ordinary. Each and all are shot through with meaning. We are required as well to listen to the continuously unfolding life and experience of our national churches and the larger Anglican and world communion of which we are a part. Our careful listening to one another moves, then, from an expression of polite interest to a theological enterprise of the first order.

In the Acts of the Apostles we are told how "the word of God "spread" and "grew mightily" [13:49; 19:20] and how the apostles safely circumscribed world of 1st century Judaism was turned upside down and inside out by manifestations of Christ and the Holy Spirit in unlikely and high problematical circumstances which defied all precedence and reduced the apostolic community to proclaiming, "for it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us." (Acts 15:28)

Anglican spirituality also involves a "graced pragmatism," a reasonableness conformed to the mind of Christ, a capacity for "testing the spirits" (1 John 4:1) of our contemporary world and existence in order to hear and be faithful to Christ the Word who can speak and reveal himself in the scripture of our own lives and experience as well as the Bible, the sacraments, and the ongoing life of the Church.

As we live "the process of Christ" and "become who we are" our most ordinary and seemingly random experiences give intimations of the divine. This is the gift of Anglican spirituality— our gift to receive with gratitude, and to share.

Go to the Lambeth Conference Web Site

The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA

We experience around us a yearning for meaning in the face of life’s precariousness. The signs are everywhere. This yearning is variously addressed in ways both healthy and unhealthy, more and less effective. Attention to the life of the spirit...
August 16, 1998
Tagged in: Anglican Communion

Bishop John Spong's ringing indictment (Anglicans Get Literal, Op-Ed, Thursday, August 13, 1998) of what he calls the Anglican Church, which is in fact not a church but a communion of largely self-governing national churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, sounds similar to voices heard some years ago when the ordination of women was approved in the Episcopal Church. That moment too was regarded by some as the death of Anglicanism.

The truth is that Anglicanism is far more resilient than any one action would suggest, and Lambeth Conferences, which are advisory not legislative, have with the passage of time changed their mind on a number of sensitive and controversial subjects. I rather doubt, therefore, that we have heard the last word on the subject of homosexuality, inasmuch as the pertinent resolution states that "while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture," at the same time "we commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons." That process of listening, which is well under way in some places of the Anglican Communion, has yet to begin in others, particularly those in which homosexuality is viewed as a Western phenomenon.

Just as Canterbury Cathedral, the symbolic center of the Anglican Communion, is a unity made up of a broad diversity of architectural styles representing different historical moments, and the whole building is held together by a dynamic of stress and counterstress, so too is the Anglican Communion: its various distinctive parts press against one another and thereby sustain each other in a creative tension which is integral to its unity.

The context in which one church or province of the Anglican Communion seeks to interpret and live the gospel may be very different from the context and application of that same gospel in another province. What appears to be good news in one culture may be perceived to be bad news elsewhere. This is not to suggest that a particular culture determines the truth of the Christian message, but rather to make the point that our life experience is the lens through which we read the Scripture and assess the tradition that has sustained the Church throughout its two thousand years of history. We see this in Scripture itself: Time and again historical circumstances provoked a fresh reading and new and usually more hospitable interpretations of the very texts and traditions by which the community of faith has previously understood itself. And so it is even unto our own day; and so it will be in the future, as God's boundless imagination continues to draw us into an ever-unfolding future.

Because the Episcopal Church in the United States is part of the larger Anglican Communion, it does not exist of and to itself. Its own struggles to discern God's authentic desire in the midst of all the stresses and strains which are part of our national life must always be placed in a larger context which includes the more drastic struggles which are confronting our Anglican brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. The burden of international debt which is crushing so many developing nations was a major consideration at the Lambeth Conference, sadly overshadowed in the press by sex.

As a national church it is important that we both bear witness to what we perceive God is up to in our own country and faith community, while at the same time being open to receive what God is working out in other parts of the communion as well.

Such a stance requires patience, humility - the willingness to receive from the truth of the other - mutual affection and an authentic desire to meet Christ in one another. God's truth is multifaceted and larger than any one person's or local church's experience. In order to move toward the fullness of truth, which for Christians is found in humanity in Christ, we need one another. Seeking truth is a corporate enterprise and therefore as a church and as a communion, we must discern truth together guided by the Spirit of truth who, according to the Gospel of John, draws from what is Christ's and makes it known in fresh ways and new contexts.

What is so sure and seemingly decided today may, as the future unfolds, become a new question which can only be answered by being lived over time in fidelity to the motions of the Spirit and the concrete circumstances in which it presents itself. Sexuality may be one of those questions, one which the Church has always found difficult because sexuality is not an abstraction, an "it"; sexuality is a fundamental aspect of who we are and how we understand ourselves as persons.

With regard to Bishop Spong's declaration that this year's Lambeth Conference marks the sunset of the Anglican Church, I can only respond with some words of an Anglican poet, T.S. Eliot. They come from his play Murder in the Cathedral which was performed several times in Canterbury Cathedral during the conference: "This is but one moment/But know that another/Shall pierce you with a sudden painful joy/When the figure of God's purpose is made complete."

What the Anglican Communion under God has yet to become I do not know, but if part of its vocation is, as I believe, to live and struggle openly with the questions which confront the age in which we live in the light of Scripture, reason and tradition in a context of worship and common prayer, then I am confident that God's purpose will ultimately be made complete not in a sunset, but in a moment of joy.

The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA

Bishop John Spong's ringing indictment (Anglicans Get Literal, Op-Ed, Thursday, August 13, 1998) of what he calls the Anglican Church, which is in fact not a church but a communion of largely self-governing national churches in communion with the...
August 17, 1998

As the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, I am moved to comment on Review and Outlook for Friday, August 14, 1998, and its assessment of the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops recently held in Canterbury, England.

It is, of course, easy to pit liberal against conservative and end matters there. The truth is that many profoundly orthodox Christians have taken seriously the fact that Christ is present in human lives and more particularly in "the least" who live on the edge or beyond the accepted norms of society.

The early Church with its Jewish heritage had to acknowledge the presence and activity of the Spirit of Christ in the lives of non-observant Gentiles outside the community, and in so doing was obliged to reread its Scripture and reorder its inherited traditions of purity and impurity, of inclusion and exclusion.

The bishops of the Lambeth Conference "while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture" also committed themselves "to listen to the experience of homosexual persons." The fruits of such listening, particularly in parts of the Anglican world where sexuality is seldom if ever publicly discussed, cannot be predicted, but it is a process to which the bishops of the Anglican Communion have obligated themselves. Meanwhile, Lambeth resolutions dealing with international Debt and Economic Justice, the Environment, Religious Freedom, and other concerns about which there was unanimity need to receive a substantial portion of the attention and energy which have been thus far spent on issues of sexuality, lest a legitimate concern become an obsession and distract us from attending to those more urgent issues upon which we are all agreed.

The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA

As the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, I am moved to comment on Review and Outlook for Friday, August 14, 1998, and its assessment of the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops recently held in Canterbury, England. It is, of course, easy...
September 1, 1998

The bishops of the Anglican Communion meeting this past August for the Lambeth Conference tried to embrace diverse articulations of the Gospel in reference to the question of homosexuality. A group of bishops holding widely divergent views succeeded, after two and one-half weeks of intense conversation and study, in putting forward unanimously a resolution that embraced the breadth of their concerns and perspectives. Their capacity to recognize one another's integrity of faith, and to listen to one another's experiences in the light of the Gospel made it possible for each of them to make room for points of view other than those with which they had arrived. "It is a miracle that we have arrived at a resolution we can all support," declared the chair of the subsection. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity for the rest of the bishops to enter into that same process of struggle and listening. Therefore, we were reduced to having to deal with the question in a legislative manner.

Amendments were put forward to the resolution that had been so carefully framed by the subsection , and while I voted against the amendment which read "while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture," when faced with the overall resolution which contained another amendment "we commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual people," I found myself torn between what I could not endorse and the commitment to listen and learn which is absolutely essential, considering the cultural and theological diversity of the Anglican Communion's bishops.

The process of listening, and therefore opening one's mind and heart to learn, will be a difficult encounter for many bishops from parts of the world where sexuality, let alone homosexuality, is a forbidden or unacknowledged topic. The resolution clearly states that homosexual persons are full members of the body of Christ in virtue of their baptism. While this is self evident in some parts of the Communion it is, I regret to say, a challenging notion in others.

The agenda for the future in this area is very clear. Rather than settling the matter once and for all, the Lambeth Conference has brought the subject of homosexuality into the public discourse of the Communion, something which would have been impossible at the last Lambeth Conference ten years ago.

The resolution also requests "the Primates and the Anglican Communion Council to establish a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion and to share statements and resources among us." Listening to the experiences of homosexual people - which include celibacy and abstinence as well as long-term, enduring relationships - becomes, along side the reading and interpreting of Scripture, one of the tasks that lies before us a Communion, a task to which I am committed.

My hope in the work called for by the resolution, and my belief that we continue to be led by the Spirit of Truth, led me not to vote against the final text on the basis of one clause, but to abstain.

The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA

The bishops of the Anglican Communion meeting this past August for the Lambeth Conference tried to embrace diverse articulations of the Gospel in reference to the question of homosexuality. A group of bishops holding widely divergent views...
September 1, 1998
Tagged in: Lambeth Conference

Having just returned from the Lambeth Conference, I am still in a time of sorting and sifting the events of those weeks in Canterbury with my brother and sister bishops. I have written a first letter to the church about one aspect of the conference, and will have more to share in the autumn about various learnings and impressions.

Now, I might simply say that during those weeks at the conference I felt that a metaphor for our common life in Christ is to be found in Canterbury Cathedral itself, the great cathedral church which was in constant sight by day and by night during the conference. Looking down from the hillside above the town it appeared as a serene and unified structure. But once you drew close, once you entered the church, you found that the unity is made-up of an incredible diversity of architectural styles representing a multiplicity of historical moments. Norman gives way to early gothic and naïve architectural experiments are artfully worked into later more confident and assured developments of pillars and arches. One portion has been added to another, and the ever- expanding whole is bonded and knit together through a dynamic of stress and counterstress, by one stone pressing against another and thereby producing an overall state of equilibrium and concord.

That which is true of Canterbury Cathedral is also true of that spiritual temple not made with hands of which God in Christ, through ceaseless working of the Spirit, is the architect and builder, namely the Church. Through baptism we become, each one of us, "living stones," incorporated by God's grace and desire, into a spiritual house of which God alone knows the ultimate design.

How we all fit together, how our singularities are made sense of, how our divergent views and different understandings of God's intent are reconciled passes all understanding. All that we can do is to travel on in faith and trust, knowing that all contradictions and paradoxes and seemingly irreconcilable truths - which seem both consistent and inconsistent with Scripture -- are brought together in the larger and all embracing truth of Christ, which, by Christ's own words, has yet to be fully drawn forth and known.

Meanwhile, in our desire for certitude, for answers to deliver us from the pain and uncertainty of living the questions, we declare that we have arrived at our destination - the answer - only to find that what we considered resolved and settled continues to present itself and refuses to go away until the Spirit of Truth, who draws all things from the mind and heart of the risen Christ, leads us "into all the truth," and we find that all the contradictions and divergent perspectives are reconciled in Christ who is the truth.

Patience, mutual affection, the willingness to bear one another's burdens and to make room for one another's truths, are all part of our being built up into the spiritual house of God's design. These qualities are all integral to our growing up into Christ and coming to full maturity in the Spirit.

Saxon and Norman. Gothic early and late, decorated and undecorated, stress and counter-stress are all caught up into one soaring structure at unity with itself. So it will be with the Church and with our Anglican Communion if we are faithful and allow ourselves to be built up in love.

This is one moment
But know that another
Shall pierce you with a sudden painful joy
When the figure of God's purpose is made complete.

So observes Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury in T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, which was performed during the conference in the Cathedral undercroft. They are words I am called to reflect upon over these next weeks, along with some other words spoken by one of Thomas' priests: Even now in sordid particulars the eternal design may appear.

Each one of us has his or her part to play, and together we support and challenge one another as God's design, revealed in Christ, becomes -- through the driving motion the Spirit -- the desire and joy of our hearts. My brothers and sisters, may we be faithful to this process, this journey of grace and truth.

The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA

Having just returned from the Lambeth Conference, I am still in a time of sorting and sifting the events of those weeks in Canterbury with my brother and sister bishops. I have written a first letter to the church about one aspect of the conference...
September 1, 1998
Tagged in: Lambeth Conference

Recognizing the importance and urgency of issues of international debt and economic justice, this Conference adopts the following statement:

We see the issues of international debt and economic justice in the light of our belief in creation: God has created a world in which we are bound together in a common humanity in which each person has equal dignity and value. God has generously given to the nations immense resources which are to be held in trust and used for the well-being of all and also offered us in Christ Jesus liberation from all that which destroys healthy human life - a pattern of giving which God desires all to follow. The healthy pattern for relationships is of mutual giving and receiving of God's gifts. Borrowing has its place only in as much as it releases growth for human well being. When we ignore this pattern, money becomes a force that destroys human community and God's creation. The vast expansion in the power and quantity of money in recent decades, the huge increase in borrowing among rich and poor alike, the damaging material and spiritual consequences to many, bear testimony to this destructive force.

Mindful of the work done by the political leaders, finance ministers, church leaders and people of creditor nations, we welcome the framework provided by the historic Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative (HIPC) of 1996. We particularly welcome the approach of bringing all creditors together to agree upon debt relief, and the emphasis on debtor participation. We welcome unilateral initiatives taken by governments to write off loans owed to Overseas Development Departments; and initiatives by governments and international financial institutions to strengthen the capacity of debtor nations to manage debt portfolios, and to co-operate together. We welcome the commitment by leaders of the eight most powerful economies (the G8) in Birmingham May 1998; to consider withholding future taxpayer-subsidized loans intended for arms sales and other unproductive purposes .

While recognizing these achievements, we wish to assert that these measures do not as yet provide sufficient release for the hundreds of millions of people whose governments are diverting scarce resources away from health, education, sanitation and clean water.

We have heard and understood the point of view that poverty reduction is more important than debt cancellation. Nevertheless we conclude that substantial debt relief, including cancellation of unpayable debts of the poorest nations under an independent, fair and transparent process, is a necessary, while not sufficient precondition for freeing these nations, and their people, from the hopeless downward spiral of poverty. Because indebted nations lose their autonomy to international creditors, debt cancellation is also a necessary step if these governments are to be given the dignity, autonomy and independence essential to the growth and development of democracy. We believe it vital that all of God's people should participate, on the basis of equal dignity, in the fruits of our interdependent world.

The need for debt relief for the poorest nations is urgent. Children are dying, and societies are unraveling under the burden of debt. We call for negotiations to be speeded up so that the poorest nations may benefit from such cancellation by the birth of the new millennium. The imagination of many, rich and poor alike, has already been gripped by the stark simplicity of this call. This response can be harnessed for the cause of development.

We call on the political, corporate and church leaders and people of creditor nations: to accept equal dignity for debtor nations in negotiations over loan agreements and debt relief; to ensure that the legislatures of lending nations are given the power to scrutinize taxpayer-subsidized loans; and to devise methods of regular legislative scrutiny that hold to account government-financed creditors, including the multilateral financial institutions, for lending decisions; to introduce into the design of international financial systems mechanisms that will impose discipline on lenders, introduce accountability for bad lending, and challenge corruption effectively, thus preventing future recurrence of debt crises; to introduce measures that will enable debtor nations to trade fairly with creditor nations. Fair trade will allow debtor nations to develop their domestic economies. This in turn will allow them to pay those debts which remain and to take their rightful place in the community of nations; to ensure that each of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) nations honor their commitment to set aside 0.7% of their GNP for international development.

We call on political leaders, finance ministers, corporate executives traditional rulers, religious leaders and the people of debtor nation: to accept independent, fair and transparent procedures for agreeing debt relief; to adopt much greater transparency and accountability in the process of accepting and agreeing new loans, particularly as the burden of repayment of these loans will fall largely on the poorest; ensuring proper scrutiny by legislative bodies of each loan contract signed by government ministers; to adopt measures for disciplining elected and paid government officials who corruptly divert public funds and also to provide for sanctions against private sector persons and bodies who act corruptly; to adopt measures for ensuring that additional resources generated from debt relief are allocated to projects that genuinely benefit the poorest sections of society.

We call on political leaders and finance ministers in both creditor and debtor nations to develop, in a spirit of partnership, a new, independent, open and transparent forum for the negotiation and agreement of debt relief for highly indebted nations. In particular, we call on them to co-operate with the United Nations in the establishment of a Mediation Council whose purpose would be: to respond to appeals from debtor nations unable to service their debts, except at great human cost; to identify those debts that are odious, and therefore not to be considered as debts, to assess, independently and fairly, the assets and liabilities of indebted nations; to determine that debt repayments are set at levels which prioritize basic human development needs over the demands of creditors; to hold to account those in authority in borrowing countries for the way in which loans have been spent; to hold to account those in authority in lending nations for the nature of their lending decisions; to demand repayment of public funds corruptly diverted to private accounts; to consult widely over local development needs and the country's capacity to pay; and to ensure, through public monitoring and evaluation, that any additional resources made available from debt relief are allocated to projects that genuinely benefit the poor.

We, commit ourselves to supporting the objectives outlined above, in the countries in which we live, whether they are debtor nations or creditor nations. We will seek also to highlight the moral and theological implications. Mindful of the wisdom held within other faith traditions we shall work with them, as we are able, to examine the issues of credit and debit and the nature of the economy.

Furthermore we call upon members of the Communion to co-operate with other people of faith in programmes of education and advocacy within our dioceses, so that we may help to raise public awareness of these vital economic issues that impact so deeply on the daily lives of the poor.

Finally, we call on all Primates to challenge their dioceses to fund international development programmes, recognized by provinces, at a level of at least 0.7% of annual total diocesan income.

Lambeth Conference 1998
Resolution V.2, On International Debt Cancellation and the Alleviation of Poverty

This Conference:

Noting that the beginning of a New Millennium affords the Church of Christ a timely opportunity to propose concrete, Christ-centered means by which to combat poverty, disease, unemployment and other forms of human suffering especially in the developing world, and that cancellation of the unpayable International Debt by poor countries is one such means; aware that many countries in the developing world suffer under the weight of unpayable external debt, unable to provide essential services; believing in the principles championed by the Jubilee 2000 Coalition; convinced that developed lender countries, institutions and individuals have the capacity and means to cancel this crippling, unpayable debt, given the necessary concern and goodwill; therefore calls upon all concerned to join hands with our Anglican Communion in exploring together the possible cancellation of debt, as well as other ways and means of enabling the poor at grassroots level to escape the poverty cycle, for example by sponsoring projects which will equip and empower the poor to provide for their families; and noting that revolving micro-credit projects such as those managed by Opportunity International, Grameen Bank, and ECLOF and others equip the poor with the credit needed to start small businesses and create jobs with dignity, commends the efforts of these various development agencies. It further welcomes new initiatives such as the Five Talents Project, a micro-credit development initiative designed to combat world poverty, and commends it for its implementation.

The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA

Recognizing the importance and urgency of issues of international debt and economic justice, this Conference adopts the following statement: We see the issues of international debt and economic justice in the light of our belief in creation: God...