The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, will be visiting Diocese of Central Pennsylvania in early September 2009. In advance of her visit, she responded to questions from the York (PA) Daily Record, in which she made her first public response to recent criticisms made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the world-wide Anglican Communion. Here is a part of that interview:
Q: Some who have left call the church’s stance on homosexuality unbiblical (at a July convention, Episcopalians voted to allow gay bishops and blessings for same-sex unions). How concerned are you that people will continue to leave the church over these issues?
A: People have always decided to pursue their spiritual journeys elsewhere — some people — at times of controversy. Certainly, the same kind of thing happened when the church began wrestling honestly with the place of African-Americans in the church and the place of women in the church. At the same time, we tend to attract others who find our stances positive, so there is a give and take.
Q: On Thursday, 10 Episcopal nuns from a convent in Catonsville, Md., 55 miles south of York, joined the Roman Catholic Church, saying they left in part because of the recent decisions on homosexuality. How did you respond to their departure?
A: I know that one of them did remain within the Episcopal Church. I note the interesting dilemma that that situation raises. They would not have the freedom to make that kind of a decision once they were in the Roman Catholic Church. They do have the freedom to make that kind of a decision within the Episcopal Church. Religious orders are independent bodies within the Episcopal Church, they’re not like a congregation or a diocese, and they can vote to affiliate with another body. Once they’re in the Roman Catholic Church, they will not have that ability.
Q: The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the global Anglican Communion, wrote on his Web site just after the U.S. church voted to allow same-sex blessings and to gay bishops in late July. He suggested that perhaps the church might have to accept a two-tier model in which believers hold different opinions about gay clergy and same-sex unions. What do you think of that model?
A: It’s an idea that’s found some traction in some parts of the worldwide Anglican Communion but not a great deal of traction in other parts.
Q: Is there anything you see in that model that you like or don’t like?
A: The Anglican Communion is composed of 38 individual church bodies. Each of those provinces in the Anglican Communion is autonomous. … it governs itself. It’s in relationship with other members of the Anglican Communion because of our shared heritage, because of our shared form of worship and to a large degree to our shared theology and understanding of Scripture and tradition. We don’t all believe everything in the same way. We never have and never will. There are parts of the Anglican Communion that don’t ordain women and think it wrong to do so, yet we remain in communion and relationship and in mission partnerships together. We’ve always had a variety of ways of being in relationship together, and I don’t think that will change.
Q: It did seem like the archbishop was implying that the Episcopal Church and others like it might have a reduced role if the communion were on a two-track system. I understand it couldn’t represent the Communion in, say, ecumenical discussions or hold seats on the Communion’s governing body. Did you read it that way?
A: It’s an idea that he has promulgated. He doesn’t have the authority to impose it. No individual body in the Communion really has the authority to impose a structure like that. It simply is his theorizing about what he thinks the future may hold.
Q: Episcopalians in the dioceses of Minnesota and Los Angeles are each preparing to elect a bishop from candidate pools that include priests in same-gender relationships. As church members approach these elections, should warnings from some Anglicans overseas to not elect more gay bishops affect their decision?
A: Well, the decisions about consent to such elections happen across the church. They come from diocesan bishops and from standing committees of the diocese of the church. Each of those bodies or persons make its own decisions, and if such a person were to be elected we would have to wait and see what the consent process produces.
Q: For all the things they’re considering and taking into consideration though . . .
A: Each diocese in producing a slate for an episcopal election is very careful in thinking about the qualities of the person they seek in their next bishop, their particular gifts, leadership capacity, the ability of that person to be a holy example for the people of that diocese. I assure you the diocese in electing processes are very careful about that work.
Q: I realize that each church is different, but I wondered if it was comforting to you at all when the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, another large, mainline Protestant group in the U.S., last month took similar steps toward rostering gay clergy this summer? Does it comfort you that you’re not alone out there anymore?
A: These issues are facing all Christians, all people of faith, and the Jewish community has wrestled with this as well. They’re not going to go away. Particularly in the North American context, they are significant. They’re not issues we can ignore. . . .
Q: Why in the North American context in particular?
A: It’s simply the state of the cultural discussion and the church’s engagement in that. It’s not a matter of such import or open conversation in parts of Africa. It is in South Africa — the Anglican church in South Africa is having similar kinds of discussions. The church in Japan, Mexico and New Zealand and Australia is also having these conversations. It depends on where you are. . . . For the same reasons that issues of polygamy are of significant import to the church in Kenya or the church in Uganda but not to the church in North America.
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