Saturday, 15 July 2000  

There was no Convention Daily produced today. We think there should have been, so we have produced this edition. It is, of course, entirely unofficial and entirely produced by Anglicans Online. Writing is by ENS reporters and convention volunteers. Other days' issues are here.

Bishops approve plan for monitoring women's ordination
By David Skidmore

After a grueling two-hour debate on the final afternoon of the convention, the bishops decided July 14 to concur with the deputies in pressing for implementation of the canons regarding women's ordination. The approved resolution (A045) specifically calls for compliance in three dioceses, two of which still do not ordain or accept women priests.

The resolution, approved by the deputies July 13, recognizes the progress made by the Diocese of San Joaquin on accepting women priests, and notes the "lack of progress" by the Fort Worth and Quincy dioceses. It calls for the House of Bishops and Executive Council to continue monitoring the three dioceses' movement toward accepting women priests, and for the council to appoint a task force to "visit, interview, assess and assist" the three dioceses in their efforts to comply with canonical mandates on women's ordination. The task force is to make semi-annual reports on the dioceses' efforts to meet a Sept. 1, 2002 deadline for compliance with the canons.

Substitute offered

Much of the day's debate centered around a less adversarial approach proposed in a substitute motion by Bishop John Lipscomb (Southwest Florida). Lipscomb's substitute recommended giving the presiding bishop, in consultation with the Executive Council, the responsibility for monitoring compliance with the canons. The substitute also called for the presiding bishop to sponsor and oversee a dialogue with the three dioceses on their acceptance of women into the ordination process. Though Lipscomb's motion was narrowly defeated, the house approved it as a mind of the house resolution after concurring on A045.

During the debate, both liberal- and conservative-minded bishops argued that the third resolve of the original resolution, which calls for a task force to monitor compliance in the three dioceses, was at variance with the jubilee theme of the convention, and also with the bishops' ongoing emphasis on conversation.

"This is the absolute antithesis of everything we have been hearing, celebrating and attempting to cultivate these ten days in terms of jubilee consciousness, graceful conversation, [and] respectful listening," said Bishop John Howe (Central Florida). The message being sent in the resolution to the three dioceses, he said, is "that we don't think you are making progress fast enough and we are going to come and straighten you out."

Assistance not wanted

The reference to the task force providing assistance to the dioceses in developing a plan for compliance is disingenuous, he said. "Assistance that is neither requested or desired is not assistance. It is imposition," Howe said.

Bishops are teachers as well as chief pastors of their dioceses, he pointed out. Dispatching bishops to other dioceses to educate the standing committees and membership on church policy is not a custom of the Episcopal Church, he said. "We don't do that without each other's invitation and permission. We are not emissaries from Singapore," said Howe in a reference to the irregular ordination in January of two missionary bishops to the Episcopal Church by Archbishop Moses Tay, the recently retired archbishop of Singapore.

Bishop Peter Beckwith (Springfield) also referred to Singapore when he argued that the church should have learned that "forcing its will on others" is both ineffective and counterproductive. "If we pass this original resolution, we will give a new handhold to Singapore on our province," he warned.

The most impassioned argument against A045 came from Bishop Donald Parsons (Quincy) who labeled the resolution a recipe for the disintegration of the Diocese of Quincy and its bishop, Keith Ackerman.

"The Diocese of Quincy, to tell the truth, is hanging on by its fingernails. I don't exaggerate," said Parsons. The task force proposal in the resolution constitutes an invasion that will generate enough turmoil and distress "to push it over the edge," he warned.

Bishop Keith Ackerman has a great love for the church and the people of Quincy, said Parsons, who added that Ackerman was making a significant difference in the diocese's work in evangelism. But if the provisions in the resolution are carried out, he warned, "the diocese would be destroyed." Parsons expressed concern about the stress the resolution was placing on Bishop Ackerman, who "takes things so seriously… the bishop is very likely to end up in a coffin."

Added Parsons: "I don't exaggerate. I mean absolutely everything I say. And I don't want to pay either one of those prices for a very slim victory."

Some women bishops support substitute

Ironically, several women bishops argued for Lipscomb's resolution. Bishop Geralyn Wolf (Rhode Island) noted that she has an outside bishop ministering to a parish in her diocese opposed to women's ordination. Wolf said that her accommodation on the issue has made a difference in her relations with the parish's traditionalist members. That parish, St. John's, Newport, has invited her to visit on four occasions, demonstrating, she said, the difference that a tolerant, pastoral approach can make on this issue.

Though it "breaks my heart," said Wolf, "I will step up once again and find an accommodation that we can live with."

Bishop Catherine Waynick (Indianapolis) agreed with Wolf, stating that she felt Lipscomb's proposal represented an acceptable compromise.

Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish (Utah), stating that she was torn over the original resolution, also agreed. "How we do things is as important as what we do," said Irish, adding that the Lipscomb substitution represents "a small incremental step."

"I do trust the presiding bishop to handle this matter with pastoral care," said Irish.

Others support implementation

Bishops Barbara Harris (Massachusetts) and Catherine Roskam (New York) were less willing to give ground.

Labeling it "déjà vu all over again," Harris said that while it was great that Wolf was able to reach an accommodation in her diocese, her concern was for women "who don't have that authority or that ability."

If the house does not concur on the resolution, Harris warned, then "we are going to find ourselves having this same conversation in Minneapolis in 2003 and wherever this convention chooses to go in 2006." That is obvious, she said, since "we have seen all the progress we are going to see out of the dioceses in question."

Stating that jubilee can work both ways, Roskam issued a fervent plea to the bishops of the dioceses in question to follow the example set by Chicago's Bishop James Montgomery in the 1980s. Montgomery permitted women to be ordained by his suffragan, even though he was unwilling to ordain women to the priesthood.

"I ask for nothing more than what Bishop [James] Montgomery did so gracefully a quarter century ago, which was to declare jubilee and lift the barriers for all women without ever having been coerced to ordain them himself," she said.

Though rejected in favor of the original resolution, Lipscomb's substitute, altered by a friendly amendment from Bishops Richard Grein (New York) and Carolyn Irish (Utah), was adopted as a mind of the house resolution following concurrence on A045. The mind of the house resolution affirms "that to achieve further visible progress" in implementing the canons on women's ordination there should be "a non-adversarial conversation" in the style of the human sexuality dialogue. It also affirms that both opponents and supporters of women priests are being "loyal to the Anglican tradition," and cites the need for courtesy, tolerance and mutual respect among the bishops.

Originating with the Executive Council's Congregations in Ministry Committee, the original resolution as approved is a response to the 1997 General Convention's action (A053a) calling for a progress report from the three dioceses on their efforts to implement Canons III.8.1 (barring discrimination against female aspirants and candidates for holy orders), III.16.1(d), III. 16.2, and III.17.3 (barring sex as a factor in licensing priests or calling rectors). The convention's cognate committee on ministry amended the resolution by adding the provision for a task force to review and report on efforts toward "full compliance" by Sept. 1, 2002.

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