Frank Tracy Griswold III

The 25th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

For the House of Bishops

November 11, 2003
Frank T. Griswold

My dear brothers and sisters:

The consent by the House of Deputies and bishops holding jurisdiction to the ordination and consecration of the Bishop-Coadjutor of New Hampshire has had consequences that are continuing to unfold, and we are each experiencing them in a variety of ways.

In my view, the consecration itself was an occasion of sober joy without any note of triumphalism. The Bishop-Coadjutor, in brief remarks, acknowledged that there are people “for whom this is a moment of great pain.”

We are all well aware that there are many points of view regarding homosexuality in the life of the church, and also a great deal of confusion.  However, our canonical process brought us to a moment of having to say yes or no, and we now live as a church in which differing points of view have been brought into sharp relief.  The work which must engage us all now is the work of reconciliation: releasing one another from judgment and recognizing that persons of deep and authentic faith can read the same Scripture and arrive at different conclusions.  Here I think of our work as a House of Bishops over the past years and how we have been equipping ourselves as a community to deal with the demands of the present moment.  How we deport ourselves at this time will be a very important word, both to our church and to the larger community that has been watching us so closely since the days of General Convention. 

Each of your dioceses has its own character, and it is within that very specific context that you seek to exercise your ministry of care and oversight.  I remember some years ago Charles Duvall and I, when he was the Bishop of the Central Gulf Coast and I was the Bishop of Chicago, were asked to model a public conversation around different views of sexuality as part of a meeting of the House of Bishops.  One of the most telling points was how different the cultures of dioceses are, and how much they can shape and form pastoral attitudes and responses.   Different regions of our country have their particular colorations, which play themselves out not only in politics but in religious attitudes as well. 

These various colorations are playing a part in determining the prevailing attitude in the places we each find ourselves.  Many look upon the consecration as a proper and appropriate step in a still unfolding process of discerning the presence of Christ in those who have heretofore lived on the borders of the church.  At the same time, we know that pain and a profound sense of loss are present in our dioceses in varying degrees.  We are hearing our brothers and sisters voice their anger and distrust, anxiety and fear.  As chief pastor, these feelings concern me deeply, and I know they concern each of you as well.

Many of us find ourselves in settings where almost everyone we talk to shares our point of view and reaction to the consecration. This may not be a source of difficulty for those hearing mostly positive voices.  However, I know it is difficult for those of you who are hearing a preponderance of negative voices. In my own life, I am well aware that the negative has the power to dominate my consciousness and color everything around me.  I would urge all of you, whatever your point of view, to enlarge your sense of the present moment and, in a very concrete way, seek to share more fully the ministry that belongs to us all by having conversations with bishops whose contexts and opinions may be very different from your own. Seek out your brother and sister bishops: for information, for mutual encouragement and as an active way of sharing the burdens and joys of episcopal ministry.

One particular concern for me – and all of us – is that some lines are being drawn and walls being erected that make it difficult to work together in those areas in which there is no disagreement.  Particularly as our areas of agreement constitute the vastly greater part of our common life in Christ.  Just as baptism establishes an indissoluble bond between Christ and the members of his body, so too baptism creates an indissoluble bond between the baptized.  It is not always easy or comfortable to recognize the presence of Christ in one another.  Even so, we are bound together in the same body, like it or not.  And what is more, with our very differences, we are for one another’s salvation.   This, I believe, is particularly true for those of us who have been called to share the ministry of episcopé.  It is only through our deep and abiding availability to one another that, beyond our points of view, we can properly oversee the life and work of the church.    

A point of clarification: I have been asked on a number of occasions how it was that I participated in the development of the statement following the meeting of the primates last month and then appear to have acted in contradiction to the text.  As the statement was being carefully crafted, the primates quite purposefully included the phrase “as a body…” in acknowledging their “deep regret” about actions of the Episcopal Church, intending the phrase to allow for a variety of opinions, while at the same time acknowledging the sentiments of the group as a whole. The statement was an effort by the primates to be descriptive of our collective concerns.

Though the primates had a range of opinions about the various points made in the statement, we shared a common sense of mission. We spoke in our statement of “a deep commitment to work together,” and went on to say “…we affirm our pride in the Anglican inheritance of faith and order and our firm desire to remain part of a Communion, where what we hold in common is much greater than that which divides us in proclaiming Good News to the world.”

What is most important for us now as the Episcopal Church is to recover the overall energy and direction of the General Convention and its call to engage God’s mission, which our Prayer Book describes as restoring all people to unity with God and one another in Christ.  It is this Godly work – engaged personally, ecclesially, and globally – that is so clearly the direction in which we must move.  Such a common focus will allow us to work together in the service of the gospel beyond our differences and to become an authentic sign of God’s power to work the work of reconciliation, for the sake of our fractured world. 

By our March meeting life in our dioceses may have settled somewhat, and we will have had the opportunity to enter into the new church year and give thanks once again for God’s profligate and unbounded love for us realized in the Incarnation.  With this in mind, I look forward to our coming together as a body of brothers and sisters who are “called to be one with the apostles in proclaiming Christ’s resurrection and interpreting the Gospel, and to testify to Christ’s sovereignty as Lord of lords and King of kings.”

This comes, as always, with my deep gratitude for each one of you and the grace and graciousness with which you have sought to minister to the people and clergy of your dioceses.

Yours ever in Christ’s love,

Frank T. Griswold
Presiding Bishop and Primate