Thursday, July 30, 2009

Commentary on the Commentary

Bishop N.T. Wright offers a further reflection on the article by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Bishop N.T. Wright

Bruce R.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

From Canterbury

I think I'm about done with this blog, but perhaps there will be at least a few more things to say as I do some reflections in post-Convention tranquillity.

I would post here a link to the Archbishop of Canterbury's comments, which I find very helpful.

Archbishop of Canterbury

Bruce Robison

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Morning After

A warm Southern California Saturday morning . . . .

At the end of the last Legislative Session on Friday afternoon I collected my luggage and caught a shuttle back to the airport. On the same minibus was our House of Deputy's Chaplain Frank Wade, of Washington D.C., and his wife Mary. They are both originally from West Virginia, just a short hop from Pittsburgh, and we had a bit of a chat about their memories of coming up to the city for special outings as children. At the airport I rented a car and drove on up to Burbank, where my sister and her family live. I'll be here until Tuesday morning, when I fly to Massachusetts to meet Susy for a few days of R. & R. before heading back home next week.

It will take a while to digest all that has happened over the past couple of weeks. I know I come away from Convention with some real sadness, and with a sense that we of the Episcopal Church are in terra incognita now in many ways. There are lots of predictions suddenly flying around--of amazing, joyful growth and mission about to burst on the scene for us, or of sudden, catastrophic collapse. Either may be true, and we'll all stay tuned. My guess is that the combination of instability and conflict internally and financial weakness will lead probably not to a sudden collapse but to a continuation of erratic decline. It will be uneven: in some places there will be a flourishing of life, in others rapid decompression. Whether there is light at the end of the tunnel is something we can pray about, but I don't think we can see yet for ourselves.

In any case, I would just say that it has been a privilege to serve as a member of the clergy deputation from the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. I entered and continued through this season with some deep prayer, and I made the best effort that I could to make decisions with integrity and seriousness, grounded in faith, hoping to honor our Lord and to act constructively for the wider Episcopal Church and for our diocese. I look back over a few moments, wishing perhaps that I could have been a tad more eloquent in those occasions when I spoke before committees or at the microphone on the floor of Convention. And I recognize that among dear friends some will not agree with every vote I cast. But overall I am content that I've done the best I could do, and we will all of course lift all the work of these days up to God, asking for his continuing perfection of our imperfect offering.

Bruce Robison

Friday, July 17, 2009

Last Morning

The Tenth Legislative Day will begin in a couple of hours over in the Convention Center. Between now and then I'll need to have my cheerios and then pack and take my luggage down to the concierge desk. Hotel checkout at noon, and my guess is that it will be late afternoon at the earliest before President Anderson drops the gavel on this 76th General Convention.

The day ahead will have a couple of key items on the agenda. Most prominently, we Deputies will receive from the House of Bishops their Resolution C-056--which allows bishops to authorize same-sex blessings and, in states where civil marriage is allowed for same-sex couples, to exercise a "generous" pastoral response. This last phrase is left deliberately ambiguous, but probably will result in some places in permissions for clergy to lead same-sex marriage ceremonies. The resolution also asks the SCLM (Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music) to collect "resources" being used--probably in some anticipation of a move at the next General Convention to authorize formal liturgical texts, perhaps for inclusion in the Book of Occasional Services.

This action will, in any case, and in some ways even more definitively than the action earlier this week on D025, on ordinations, be a direct rejection of a moratorium requested of the Episcopal Church in the Windsor Report. For the past three years the Episcopal Church has addressed this moratorium by saying that while the blessing of same-sex unions might be happening as pastoral acts of ministry, there was no formal authorization of them by General Convention. With C056 that argument will be behind us.

I'll take a deep breath and guess that the Deputies will approve the C-056 in a vote by orders, probably divided more or less 70% in favor, 30% opposed, which would be about the pattern of the House was in action on D-025 the other day. It may be slightly different, though, as our action in only narrowly approving the resolution yesterday on opposition to "Defense of Marriage" statutes might indicate that there are some deputies and deputations who are distinguishing between issues of inclusion related to ordination and those related to marriage. We'll just have to see how the numbers line up, but it will be interesting.

The second thing that will be of interest will be the return to the House of Deputies of the Resolution passed the other day that added transgendered persons to the list of protected classes in the anti-discrimination clause of the ordination canon. What the House of Bishops did was simply remove the long list of protected classes and replace it with the phrase, "all baptized persons." The essential meaning is of course the same, but I note the committee recommendation is "not concur." If we don't concur, then the original Resolution fails and the wording of the language of the canon will return to its previous, present state (with the list of protected classes, less transgendered persons).

Yesterday's morning and early afternoon sessions were devoted to a long debate over the triennium budget, which shows huge shortfalls of projected income and requires massive cuts in program and personnel. The Presiding Bishop in the Joint Session called it a "heart attack," and it may be a more accurate reflection of the actual State of the Church at the moment than some of the issues we have spent most of our time and energy on through the rest of the Convention. Although there are plenty of stories of flourishing parishes and dioceses (as, for example, I think I can speak very positively about our life at St. Andrew's in Pittsburgh), the aggregate numbers show not "decline" but something, across the wider Church, more like "implosion." Someone said, "If present trends continue, there will be no Episcopal Church by 2040." That's of course a rhetorical leap. But it is more true than many want to believe. The spirit around this General Convention is that the Episcopal Church is entering a new era, becoming something new. That may indeed be true. But the question we will leave with will be whether this new Church is a Church that people in the real world will find to be a place in which to live out their lives and ministries as Christians. On that topic I think the jury is still pretty much out . . . .

Bruce Robison

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Morning of Day Nine

And looking back on the significant events of Day Eight . . . .

This Thursday morning is Day Nine on the Legislative Calendar of the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. I'm taking part of the morning off--having exchanged status with our second Clergy Alternate, Vicente Santiago.

Our two Clergy Alternate Deputies (Vicente and First Alternate Lou Hays) have worked very hard and participated in an important way in the life of our deputation, and I'm glad they've both been able to spend a little time on the floor of convention as well.

A lot going on, of course. Continued reverberations over the approval of D-025 and, in the House of Bishops thus far, of C-056. The "hot button" issues of this Convention. I was very pleased yesterday with the passage of resolutions approving a new Health Insurance Program for the Episcopal Church and making mandatory a Pension Program, through the Church Pension Fund, for Lay Employees.

But the hot-button issues have certain taken center stage, and I think appropriately so. This has been a big deal.

Briefly, D-025 restated the non-discrimination language of our ordination canons for "all orders of ministry" specifically without reference to the contexts of Resolution B-033, as approved at the 2006 General Convention, or to the statement of the House of Bishops at New Orleans in 2007.

B-033, a response to the Windsor Report's call for "moratoria" on specific actions that have causes disruption to Communion life, urged bishops and standing committees to show "restraint" when considering consent to the election as bishop of any person whose "manner of life" would cause further distress in the wider Anglican Communion. The bishops at New Orleans reaffirmed this resolve, and indicated specifically that openly-partnered homosexual persons were included in the group referenced in B-033.

D-025 did not explicitly reverse or even mention B-033, and some comment from bishops and deputies in the couple of days since it was passed seems to suggest that some will hope to continue to urge that "restraint" is still our formal policy.

This seems something of a stretch, to me anyway. Speaker after speaker in support of D-025 in the House of Deputies referenced B-033 as a source of frustration and named D-025 as a vehicle that would allow the Episcopal Church to "move on." It seemed clear to me that the whole purpose of this resolution was to provide specifically the framework to push against any Windsor/Communion-inspired "restraint," if and when another openly-partnered homosexual person is elected bishop.

It's true that the moratorium on those consents will remain technically in place until such an event actually happens, but I think the spinning of D-025 as something other than a clear distancing from B-033 is mostly politics: bishops trying to mitigate whatever negative push-back might come from their more conservative or Communion-oriented clergy and people.

C-056, which was approved by the Bishops yesterday and which will come to the House of Deputies today, seems also to me to be a clear step back from the Windsor-inspired moratoria.

It has always been the case that priests have broad discretion in pastoral ministration, and in many places especially in recent years that discretion has included some kind of recognition and "blessing" of non-marital relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual. A priest might tell a story, for example, of being invited to a dinner at a home, with a gathering of family and friends, and then at the time of the meal the couple would share a few words of commitment, followed by a prayer and benediction by the priest. This essentially a private pastoral act.

When those recognitions and blessings have taken some kind of more formal liturgical action, as announced services at a church or in a public environment, they would by canon and rubric become subject to the oversight of the bishop of the diocese. At the General Convention in 2003 the Convention recognized that some bishops had given their clergy permission to conduct these more formal liturgical "blessings," and indicated a kind of general, neutral acknowledgment that this was happening in places in the Church, and that there would not be any negative disciplinary consequences for the bishops who gave their approval.

The Windsor moratoria asked that the "blessing of same sex unions" be left at least at the informal, pastoral level, and indicated that the trajectory towards a more formal, officially authorized liturgical form for these blessings would cause further stress in the Communion, as there was and is no broadly shared agreement in the Communion about how these relationships should be understood pastorally, theologically, or sacramentally.

C-056, under consideration now, in fact doesn't go so far as to authorize an official form or implied theological statement about these relationships for the whole Church. But it does specifically give a "generous" indication to bishops to begin and continue formal local authorizations, then calling for a study to be received at the next General Convention for further review.

Again, like D-025, C-056 doesn't actually "change" anything except context. Bishops in some parts of the Church have been "authorizing" liturgical blessings for some time. But it will now be the case that they are doing so as part of a formal process of development affirmed by General Convention, renewing movement along the trajectory which will doubtless result in strong efforts three or six years from now to authorize one or more same-sex union liturgies for use in the whole Church--and even to revise the order for Holy Matrimony in the Book of Common Prayer to allow for the "marriage of two people" for use in states where civil law allows such marriages.

In sum, then, the news from the General Convention 2009, spin aside, seems to me clearly to be that the official leadership bodies of the Episcopal Church have asserted an unwillingness to be restrained by the requests and counsel of the leadership of the wider Anglican Communion.

What the impact of this will be is as yet unknown. It seems to me, again, unlikely that there would be no impact. The Archbishop of Canterbury has already expressed his "regret" over the actions of Convention, and other world Anglican leaders are chiming in as well. Things won't happen uniformly or overnight, but I would imagine that in the season to come and the next months and years, absent an unlikely sea-change either here or elsewhere--we will see further distancing of relationships with many Anglican Churches and a re-ordering of the role of the Episcopal Church in the governing bodies of the Communion.

A friend of mine wrote last night that he felt that we as Episcopalians are charting a course away from a sense of our identity as a national Province and local expression of worldwide Anglicanism and toward an identity as an independent "denomination" informed by Anglican heritage. That's fairly nuanced, but I think it's about right.

For many American Episcopalians, who think of themselves essentially as belonging to a Protestant Church with a rich sacramental and liturgical life, this will be an easy course to follow. For those of us, though, who are more deeply committed to the catholic and Catholic character of Anglicanism, with a commitment to maintaining a living sacramental and theological connection to apostolic antiquity and to the discipline and gift of a diverse global Communion, it's going to be a way rougher road.

This will probably be especially true for us in Pittsburgh--and in other places where various separating groups have been establishing what I guess we might call "alternative Anglican" entities. After the passage of D-025 I overheard someone at a table nearby say, "Bob Duncan is sending out for cases of champagne," and I'm sure in any case that our former bishop, now the Archbishop of the new Anglican Church in North America, and the leadership of the congregations of that body, will seek to highlight the actions of General Convention as a way to try to appeal to more conservative congregations and individuals who may have thus far decided to remain within the Episcopal Church. Interestingly, one of the responses to D-025, by a minority, to be sure, at the General Synod of the Church of England, which has been meeting more or less simultaneously with our Convention, was to circulate a petition seeking to recognize Full Communion between the Church of England and the ACNA. For the moment that initative seems to have been set aside. However, I will not be surprised at all to see similar efforts in England and elsewhere in the time ahead . . . .

I would mention just in passing that if there is in any sense, optimistically perhaps, a "mixed signal" from this Convention, it would be found in the passage in the House of Deputies at the end of yesterday's afternoon session of D-020.

I had a hand in this resolution, as it was authored by my friend Dan Martins, a priest in the Diocese of Northern Indiana, and then co-sponsored by Chris Wells, a lay deputy from that diocese, and by me. (Each Resolution considered by the House of Deputies must have at least three sponsors.)

In our original language D-020 called for the Episcopal Church over the next three years to receive the Ridley-Cambridge draft of the emerging Anglican Covenant, to study it carefully, and to begin to order our life as a Church within its framework--which describes a more formally interdependent and mutually-accountable relationship between all the Churches of the Communion.

It is expected and likely that all Provinces of the Anglican Communion will soon receive from the Anglican Consultative Council a final version of the Covenant, with a request that it be either accepted or not accepted within a five-year timeframe--which puts it in front of the next General Convention.

It wasn't much of a surprise to me that the language we proposed didn't make much headway in the committee (World Mission) to which it was referred. But I was pleased that the committee did decide to work on a revision, which retained at least a part of our initial concern: calling on parishes and dioceses to receive and study the Covenant, and then to report to Executive Counsel their responses to that study prior to the next General Convention. I had the opportunity to speak briefly in favor of this "reduced" Resolution, and I was pleased that it was approved by a strong majority (though not unanimously) in a voice vote. It will go on to the House of Bishops, and I hope it will be approved there.

My guess is that the majority of my fellow deputies, deeply aware of the gathering storm of negative response about D-025 and C-056, wanted to be able to leave Anaheim with some token of a desire to "continue the conversation" in the wider Communion. I'm glad of that, of course, but I'm not really sure, even if D-020 gets us "to the table," that there will be much for us to talk about once we get there . . . .

Bruce Robison

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Monday Morning Update

A quiet Monday morning for me, as I hit the gym, had a bowl of cheerios in my room, went down to the Convention Center at 7:30 a.m. and changed status in the deputation with our first Clergy Alternate, Lou Hays--and then rolled a suitcase down to the coin laundromat. One of those practicalities for a long meeting like this, and I think now I'm set for the rest of the week . . . . I'll go back to the floor this afternoon with, well, a refreshed spirit--and clean socks!

The buzz around is mostly still on the action of the House of Deputies yesterday to approve (by about a 2-1 margin) the amended Resolution D-025.

The Resolution enmeshed three separate though related themes. First, it announced or re-announced the desire of the Episcopal Church to remain fully within the life of the Anglican Communion, and committed us specifically to continue to pay our portion of the Communion financial asking. Second, it restated resolutions from earlier conventions that had specifically recognized the importance of gay and lesbian members, including those in committed, life-long partnerships, to the life and ministry of the Episcopal Church. Third, and finally, it restated the non-discrimination clause of the Title III ordination canons, specifically without reference to the language contained in Resolution B-033, which was approved by both Houses of General Convention in 2006.

(B-033 urged bishops and standing committees, notwithstanding canonical provisions about access to the process of discernment, to exercise "restraint" in the consent to the ordination of bishops whose "manner of life" would cause scandal in the wider Anglican family. It was thought that this Resolution became the rationale that allowed the Archbishop of Canterbury to invite our new Presiding Bishop to the Primates' Meeting and the Bishops of the Episcopal Church to the Lambeth Conference last summer.)

The silence of 2009 D-025 on the matter of 2006 B-033 will be and is already being interpreted variously. Some will point out, truthfully, that there was in D-025 at least no explicit repudiation of B-033--which means, in a sense, that bishops and standing committees still have in the universe of their consideration a reminder that at least several years ago the General Convention urged them to pause and consider with seriousness the impact of ordinations in the wider life of the Communion.

But more will say simply that D-025 was in fact an intentional decision of the House of Deputies to say that B-033 is now "in the past," and that "we've moved on."

At least in the blogosphere this morning, the latter seems the most prevalent view. At the Church of England General Synod, gathered simultaneously with General Convention this year, the Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed his regret at the action, and there is a movement afoot to have the Church of England formally recognize the break-away Anglican Church in North America, led by our former Pittsburgh Bishop, now ACNA Archbishop Robert Duncan. Likewise Integrity, the Episcopalian Gay and Lesbian Advocacy Group, declares this morning, "B-033 is history."

Of course, much is still unknown at this early hour. Most importantly, it is still possible and some think even likely (I think it may be too close really to call) that the House of Bishops will fail to concur with D-025, which would mean that it would remain simply a statement by the House of Deputies but not the official position of General Convention or the Episcopal Church.

And additionally, Communion-minded leaders may in the season ahead, even if D-025 is approved by the Bishops, find ways to shift some emphasis away from the most extreme interpretation of the Resolution, and say that by not explicitly overturning B-033, it still has some moral force.

It might be that if that position were maintained, while at the same time the Episcopal Church were to engage with constructive energy in the continuing Windsor/Anglican Covenant process, at least some wind might be taken from the sails of those who seek to have the ACNA "replace" the Episcopal Church as the formally recognized expression of the Anglican Communion in North America. We'll just need to see how it all plays out over the next few years . . . .

Closer to home, of course, Our Pittsburgh deputation showed that it really is a new day in the culture of our diocesan life.

For so many years the "Pittsburgh vote" was a solid block. Now instead I think our very collegial and friendly little band of Pittsburghers seem to feel very relaxed and free and respectful with our diversity of perspective. In fact, neither of of our deputations, lay and clergy, were unanimous on D-025, the lay deputies voting 3-1 in the affirmative, the clergy deputies 3-1 in the negative.

[Correction, dated 7/22/09: I have been informed that the vote in our Clergy Order on the Concurrence with the House of Bishops on D-025 was 2-2, a "divided" vote which is counted as a "no" in calculating a majority. Our vote on the original Resolution was, indeed, 3-1 negative. These kinds of differences reflect different configurations of our Clergy Deputation, with Alternate Deputies sometimes sitting in for our regular Deputies. And to say again, 3-1 and 2-2 are both counted as "no" votes when determining passage of a resolution.]

And afterwards we gathered for refreshments and just a time of friendly conversation on the patio outside Lou Hays's room.

Well, about time now to head out to morning worship, lunch, and an afternoon of work on the floor . . . .


Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Convention Update

I've sent this along to our diocesan webmaster Andy Muhl for inclusion in the Anaheim Journal that he's keeping on our diocesan website, but I thought I'd post it here as well.

A Midcourse Reflection
Bruce Robison, Clergy Deputy #4
Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh

Friday, July 10, was Day Three on the Legislative Calendar of General Convention, and in the thematic organization of Convention this was the day that the overarching concept of Ubuntu (the African word meaning "I am because we are") was represented at the daily Eucharist by the word "Unity."

The centerpiece of this at the service was in the I think very fine sermon on Luke 10: 25-28 preached by House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson.

President Anderson's meditation on "Unity" began with a citation of Louis Armstrong's answer to the question, "What is jazz?" "If you have to ask," he said, "you don't know it."

Unity, then, not so much a formal agreement, not simply a sharing of common ideas, beliefs and values, but more deeply, "a spiritual practice." Unity as a way of life, intentionally leaning toward the other, with an openness to personal change, a sense of receptivity, a willingness to let go. An acceptance of the possibility of transformation, of death and resurrection.

(I believe her sermon is or will be available on the General Convention website--as all the sermons from these daily services are or will be--and I encourage folks to take the opportunity to read the whole thing . . . .)

The theme of Unity was represented at the service as well by the presence as Eucharistic Concelebrant, the Rt. Rev. Hopeton Clennon, a Bishop of the Moravian Church.

(One of the very interesting topics we will be addressing legislatively at Convention next week will be a proposal to enter into a formal Communion relationship with the American Moravians.)

It was also very nice to be lead in worship--these always very energetic, colorful, and interesting services--by a combined Children's Choir from the Diocese of Los Angeles, and I would just note as a side comment that the ethnic and cultural and linguistic diversity of the Episcopal Church here in Los Angeles has been very much an enrichment of the "Ubuntu" theme.

On the floor of the House of Deputies President Anderson's idea of "Unity as spiritual practice" was certainly in play--in the sense that we were reminded that Unity is indeed not a steady state experience, but something uneven, to be worked toward, often three steps forward, two back. Perhaps sometimes two steps forward, three back.

It had seemed to me that there was the potential for some real ironic dissonance in naming so persistently these themes of unity in a time of so much stress, so many fractures and threatened fractures of relationship. And we may still get to some of that irony. But thus far, I think the expression has felt authentic.

One of the major events of our time in the House of Deputies in this first week, something that I suspect will be known as one of the highlights of this 76th General Convention, was a special order for the House to become a Committee of the Whole for the discussion of the personal and corporate impact of Resolution B-033, adopted at the 2006 General Convention.

B-033 specifically called on Bishops and Standing Committees to exercise "restraint" when considering the consents to the election of candidates to the episcopate whose "manner of life" might further stress the relationship of the Episcopal Church to the wider Anglican Communion. This consideration of restraint was focused principally on the concerns about the possible election and consecration of any futher partnered homosexual bishops, following the consent in 2003 to the election of the Bishop of New Hampshire.

The Committee of the Whole had three different parts.

The first began on Thursday evening with an extended reading by Deputy Gay Jennings of Ohio, the Chair of the House of Deputies Committee on World Mission, of a history of Resolution 2006 B-033. (I believe it also is available on the General Convention website.)

Deputies were then asked to move from our tables, to find a conversational partner, and to share together our personal perspectives on B-033, and our concerns for the Church as we move forward.

I was very pleased--blessed, really--to have as my partner the Rev. David Ota, the Chair of the Clergy Deputation from the Diocese of California. (David's name was vaguely familiar to me, and we discovered that we actually had overlapped for a year, my Junior, his Senior, at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific back in the early 1980's. We also discovered that we have many friends in common. Such is the family of this Church!)

David and I were both present at General Convention in 2006, he on the floor as a Deputy, I in the gallery as a representative from the Network of Episcopal Clergy Associations. We shared our memories of the events surrounding B-033's passage and our thoughts about the way forward now.

It's probably fair to say that David and I don't have exactly the same thoughts about the best way forward for the Church now. But what I do think was really clear to both of us was that in the midst of some differences we share a deep love for the Church and an openness and a sense of respect as we try to sort through our differences. It was a fun and interesting conversation.

Finally, on Friday morning, in an extended final session of our Committee of the Whole, a randomly selected group of 30 Deputies were given the opportunity for (exactly) two minutes each at a microphone to share their stories and perspectives with the whole house.

Though the selection was random, I am glad to say that in this presentation there was a good and I think proportionate representation of different views about how the Church should go forward in the context of B-033.

Really without exception the speakers were articulate, thoughtful, careful, respectful. In my view it was a very dignified and graceful expression of the life of our Church. I was of course pleased to hear a number of speakers well-articulate some of my own thoughts. But I think even more I was thankful to have the opportunity to hear from those whose way of thinking about the challenges we face are different from mine. I learned a great deal from them, and I was moved by the sense of sincerity and real Christian discernment that all the speakers reflected.

So, "Unity" on Day Three in Anaheim. There clearly are a lot of very important items on the agenda between now and next Friday, and certainly with the possibility in the midst of things for some passionate disagreement as aspects of our different conversations come before us again in the form of specific resolutions and other legislation. But I think, perhaps unlike a few of the more recent Conventions, there is a healthful sense that, well, "we're all in this together."

It is a great privilege to be here representing our Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, and I do want to share that many times each day people come up to me and to all of our Pittsburgh deputation to say, "we have been praying for you," and to express friendship and encouragement. That has been nice to hear.

It is also so much fun to share this time with my colleagues and friends in our clergy deputation--Jim Simons, Scott Quinn, Harold Lewis, Lou Hays, and Vicente Santiago--and with our lay deputies: Steve Stagnitta, Dave Laughlin, Joan Gundersen, Mary Roehrich, and Gwen Santiago. It has been good as well to spend time with Bishop Johnson, who is of course a very active member of the House of Bishops, the other body in our bicameral Convention.

We all share many hours ever day in very concentrated work. And we also have had some very enjoyable dinners and social events (including, for some of us, a quick trip out to Anaheim Stadium to see the Angels get thumped by the Texas Rangers on a lovely California evening). There is a great spirit--I think reflecting the spirit of good health that has emerged over this past year across our continuing diocese. I know all of us will look forward to getting back to Pittsburgh and, as summer moves toward fall, to sharing more of our thoughts and experiences with our diocesan family.


Bruce Robison