2019 was not an especially remarkable year in the life of the church. For the most part, this years important stories were continuations of last years stories. In some notable instances (bishop of Albany, ahem) nothing very much has changed at all this year. But here are some of the stories and issues that generated the most interest here at the Cafe in the last year.
Since 1868, the Archbishop of Canterbury has invited, every ten years, bishops from around the world in the Anglican tradition who were in communion with him (it’s still a “him”) to a conference at Lambeth Palace. For most of this century, the bonds of the Anglican Communion have been stretched nearly to breaking, primarily over issues related to full inclusion of LGBT+ persons. In the 2008, all Anglican Communion bishops, except one – Gene Robinson, the only openly gay bishop. Due to tension and threats, the 2018 conference was postponed to 2020. In a clumsy attempt to avoid the controversy over not inviting Gene Robinson, the Archbishop decided to invite all bishops, regardless of sexuality, but to only invite spouse of heterosexual bishops. Not surprisingly, everyone saw this attempt at Solomonic wisdom for what it is, a weaselly dodge.
Despite the “compromise” offered by the Archbishop of Canterbury, several GAFCON churches are opting to not attend and encouraging others to do the same. In their communications, GAFCON is becoming even clearer that the point of formal division inches closer. The ACNA, whose Presiding Bishop is the current GAFCON chair, was also put out that his invitation was only as an observer.
Bishop Love of Albany Defies General Convention
After General Convention passed Resolution B012 in 2018, which was meant to push the issue of marriage equality down to the individual parish level, Bishop Love of Albany issued a pastoral directive that, in the diocese of Albany, the diocesan canon against performing same-sex weddings would remain in place and would be enforced. Following the Title IV process, complaints were made the churchwide intake officer.
In January, The Presiding bishop restricted the ministry of Bishop Love concerning the enforcement of the Canon while a Title IV process took place. Now, a year later, the case stands where it has since then. The case is apparently moving forward, but there has been no public statements or hearings. Though everyone recognizes the importance of this case; defying a General Convention resolution is not one of the enumerated violations of Title IV and that a year later there is no progress suggests there will not be as clear a resolution as many have hoped.
Responding to Border Detentions
“Grace Cathedral in San Francisco has launched a petition responding to the ongoing turmoil at the US southern border. The letter takes the form of a mandatory report of child abuse; though its intended recipients are President Trump and California’s senator, Dianne Feinstein. The cathedral’s website encourages other clergy to sign on.”
Marking 400 Years Since Slavery’s Introduction
This year marked the 400th anniversary since the importation of the first slaves into what would become the United States. In a year that witnessed horrific, unapologetic, white-supremacist violence and the continuing re-emergence of blatant racism into the cultural conversation, the anniversary was marked solemnly.
Heather Cook Released from Prison Early
“It was announced earlier this week that Heather Cook, a former suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Maryland, will be released from prison later this month after serving just over three and a half years of a seven year sentence stemming from a December 27, 2014 traffic accident in which she struck and killed a cyclist and fled the scene.”
Presiding Bishop Curry Received Broadcasting Award
Bishop Curry’s stirring sermon at the royal wedding in 2018 of Harry Meghan has launched him into the wider cultural imagination like no other Presiding Bishop ever. In 2019, he received the 2019 Sandford St Martin Trustees’ Award in recognition of the huge media impact generated by his royal wedding sermon which helped to bring a better understanding of religious belief and its modern relevance to a new audience.
Methodists Struggle Over LGBT+ Inclusion
For many years, the Episcopal Church and United Methodist Church have been moving towards a full communion agreement. That dialog group unveiled a proposed agreement this year; unfortunately timed to find the UMC on the edge of a huge breakup over issues of LGBT+ participation in the full life of that church. A special General Conference of the UMC had been called for 2019 to deal with issue once and for all. That was probably a naïve hope, and it should be no surprise that little beyond acrimony and disagreement resulted. In the interim, the conservative anti-LGBT voices have prevailed but the issue is far from settled and many voices are calling for a breakup of the world-wide denomination in one form or another.
What might 2020 hold?
Honestly, I have no idea. More of the same probably. But in a world sorely in need of Jesus’ message of reconciliation and hope, I fear the 2020 election and the Lambeth Conference will each bring further division and retrenchment that will overwhelm our willingness to live in unity and concord.
While we’re rightfully concerned with the Bishop of Albany’s rejection of resolution B012, it would be great to see some indignation over the church center staff’s rejection of 2012-D016 that called for the church center to sell its building at 815 2nd Avenue and to move out of New York City and I’m sure the seminaries would love to see the implementation of 1982-A125 that called for each parish to donate 1% to support theological education. Too often, we talk a good game about building for the future, but most of the time we prefer either apathy or a refusal to acknowledge our old ways no longer work. I believe a reckoning is due about the effectiveness of General Convention, as currently structured, to be the vehicle of substantive change – though it needs to be.
I don’t expect 2020 to be the point where we truly begin to grapple with the needed transformation of how our church works and holds together. Heck, I don’t even expect much from the next General Convention in 2021. But I am confident that the groundwork for that transformation (and the formation of the needed leaders) is already underway and I remain confident in the future of an Episcopal Church. Churches are hard things to kill, we have overcome far worse with fewer resources, and I believe God hasn’t finished with us yet.
So, happy new year and blessing on your 2020!