Episcopal dioceses that have relationships with the Episcopal Church of Sudan have begun to respond to a letter recently released by Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, in which he rescinded an invitation to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to visit with his church.
Bishop Jeff Lee of the Diocese of Chicago said in a letter to the diocese:
“The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago and the Episcopal Diocese of Renk in the Church of Sudan have enjoyed a highly collaborative and deeply enriching mission relationship for ten years. We have visited frequently with them, and they with us. More than two dozen of our congregations work directly in partnership with parishes in Renk to build and support schools, churches and hospitals that provide essential services to people whose country was torn by war for decades and is now newly independent and fragile. Here in Chicago, we have been blessed beyond imagining by the steadfast faith and courage of our sisters and brothers in Renk.
“The political seasons of the Anglican Communion come and go, and tensions sometimes boil over. That appears to have happened last week when Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul chose to withdraw an invitation to visit that he had previously made to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. This was regrettable, but disagreements among primates who are often playing to audiences we are not aware of should not disrupt relationships among Anglicans working together in mission.
“We stand with the people of Renk, just as we stand with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christians around the world, especially in places where they suffer violence and persecution. We will not allow communion politics or matters of theological interpretation to keep us from following the Gospel with any of our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
The Diocese of Missouri posted a story on its website which begins:
With a joy and fellowship filled 4 weeks time with the Diocese of Lui’s new bishop Stephen Dokolo and his wife Lillian just concluded, diocesan members were stunned to read this past weekend’s letter from Archbishop Daniel Deng Bull, primate of the Episcopal Church of Sudan.
“What we know right now,” said Wayne Smith, Bishop of the Diocese of Missouri, “is just the contents of this letter. I would encourage the people of this diocese to avoid the rush to judgment until all facts are in, especially since the inner workings of ECS are often complex.” Smith has calls in to the Presiding Bishop’s office; to Suffragan Bishop David Jones of Virginia, president of AFRECS (American Friends of the Episcopal Church in Sudan) and who was at the November meeting of the ECS Bishops; and Bishop Stephen Dokolo of Lui Diocese– and will advise this diocese as more is learned.
For what it is worth, the Church of Sudan has felt it necessary in the past to distance itself from the Episcopal Church in public statements that have had no particular impact on the relationships between partner dioceses. To get a sense of the depth of the relationship between the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Episcopal Church of Sudan, visit the homepage of American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan.
A visit to the Diocese of Virginia’s homepage (and possibly a little patience with the rotating photo display) reveals that Bishop David Jones and the Rev. Andrew Merrow of St. Mary’s, Arlington actually attended the November synod of the Church of Sudan, and posed for a photograph with a smiling Archbishop Deng.
All of which is to say that it would be wise, at the moment, not to read too much into this disinvitation.