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Response to the Consecration of Bishop Rodgers
30th January, A.D. 2000
TO ALL CLERGY AND LAY LEADERS OF THE DIOCESE:
Beloved in the Lord,
Word has been received by news reports from Singapore concerning the consecration there yesterday of John Rodgers of Ambridge and Chuck Murphy of Pawleys Island (South Carolina) as missionary bishops for the United States. Since this involves one of our own so directly, I think it both wise and necessary that you have a letter from me as your diocesan bishop.
It seems to me that this is but another in the spiral of events of the last thirty years by which the fabric and the direction of our Episcopal Church are being tested and shaped. A copy of a press release, which says a bit more about this interpretation, accompanies this letter.
Our focus here in Pittsburgh needs to remain where it has been: on our local mission, chiefly carried out by all 72 of our missionary congregations. Anxious reaction to events outside will do little for the spread of the gospel. Our aim must be to continue to support and strengthen one another across congregational lines despite our differences. We must continue to aim at God's vision for us as "one Church of miraculous expectation and missionary grace."
For two and a half years I have been calling on this Church to deal with its divisions by some kind of gracious, internal and temporary letting go. This began "at home" with my pastoral letter of August 1997. I offered my moral and theological teaching (both then and following Lambeth), and held up the possibility of alternative episcopal oversight, should that ever become the best way forward for a congregation within this diocese. I have also offered ways for individuals to progress toward ordination where I could not affirm them on our standards or in our process here. In September of 1997 I challenged the Pennsylvania House of Bishops to work together to find a way through our ever deepening divisions. I have renewed this challenge repeatedly (as recently as two weeks ago), but have been regularly rebuffed by some, though not all, of my Commonwealth colleagues. In January of 1999, a group of American Anglican Council bishops sent an envoy (the Bishop of Albany) to our Presiding Bishop, with a document drafted by me, asking that we might discuss some path forward within the whole House of Bishops. This appeal was made again to Bp. Griswold last March and last September (at gatherings of the House of Bishops), in what had by then become the Jubilee Bishops Initiative, but with no general discussion (dialogue or conversation) yet allowed.
Last Sunday night John Rodgers called me to say that he had been asked to come to Singapore. We discussed his letters dimissory, and as is his right, a request that they be sent to Archbishop Moses Tay, if that became necessary. It was not yet clear whether there would be any consecrations. I have had no contact with any of the Anglican primates, other than our own Presiding Bishop, since Kampala in November.
At the Kampala conference in November, four American bishops were asked to report on our analysis of the state of the American Episcopal Church. This followed the "Come and See" visits initiated by our Presiding Bishop and his Council of Advice. We stated, as we have stated many times before, that we saw no hope of reform of the Episcopal Church without the international primates and the wider Anglican Communion calling us to some reasonable accountability. We discouraged a plan brought by the First Promise organization to establish an additional Anglican province here in North America. We did say that the situation of the "frontline parishes in hostile dioceses" was increasingly intolerable. We bishops did not go with any plan, nor come away from Kampala with any sense that the "orthodox" primates had yet developed a strategy, other than that of taking the whole matter before the meeting of all Anglican primates in Portugal in March, 2000.
John Rodgers is one of the finest, humblest, brightest and most gracious priests I have ever known. He is now a missionary bishop. His home is in Ambridge. He will be welcomed by me as the leader and friend he is. As with Bishop Hathaway (or any other bishop who might reside in this diocese) any episcopal function within the congregations in union with this diocese should have my prior knowledge and approval. I do not expect that Bishop John will spend very much of his time serving here. You will want to know that Bishop Ed Salmon of South Carolina anticipates a similar relationship with Bishop Chuck Murphy. These are anomalous situations for anomalous times.
It is reported that both the Archbishop of Rwanda, Emanuel Kolini, and the Bishop of Shyira, John Rucyahana, participated in the consecrations. If so, these actions may be very costly in relation to the unanimous support expressed by our November Convention for partnership with Rwanda and Shyira. We were not asked by our partners about whether these ordinations should take place at this time.
As congregations and individuals attempt to work out how they want to respond to Rwandan involvement, three aspects of the Rwandan context may prove instructive. Two of them are direct quotations from the archbishop, quotations which were long ago indelibly seared in my memory. Once he said to me: "We Rwandans have been refugees all our lives. We will always respond to the plight of refugees." On another occasion Archbishop Kolini said: "At the genocide in 1994, the whole world stood back and no one came to Rwanda's aid. We will never stand back when others are similarly threatened, physically or spiritually." The third factor in understanding our partners, however much some may disagree with them is this: Most members of the previous Rwandan House of Bishops were removed by action of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the East African House of Bishops as "unfaithful bishops" for their complicity in the genocide. It was those like Emanuel Kolini and John Rucyahana who were called out of their long exiles (in places like Zaire and Uganda) to assume those morally vacated sees.
Our connection as the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, encouraged by the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury and many others, to the Episcopal Church in Rwanda is not about the sorting out of the American crisis. It is about relief and development and mission in a corner of the world that most of the world has endeavored to avoid. It is about a place where one of every eight people was murdered in 1994, and where today there are 300,000 orphans.
We need to pray daily for our Church, and especially for our Presiding Bishop and all our bishops. The primates meet in Portugal from the 22nd to the 28th of March. Our own House of Bishops meets in Los Angeles from the 30th of March to the 4th of April. I will continue to do what I can to help us to find a "more excellent way" through all of this turmoil nationally and internationally. But most of all I will continue to focus on this portion of the vineyard which it has pleased God to place in my care, that we would mostly be known as "one church of miraculous expectation and missionary grace" rather than for our fractiousness and hardness of heart.
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