This appears on the website of St Peter’s Pittsburgh (http://stpetersbrentwood.org/community/rector/the-division-in-the-episcopal-church/). We’d love to post statements from other Evangelical parishes staying in PECUSA; please send yours in.

The 2009 General Convention and its aftermath

At the 2006 General Convention the Episcopal Church passed a resolution saying dioceses should not elect as a bishop anyone living in a sexual relationship other than marriage. At this year’s Convention a few weeks ago it passed a resolution saying all orders of ministry, including bishop, are open even to people in such a relationship, and you’ve all read the newspaper stories about this.

There have been various opinions expressed as to what this actually means, and the Presiding Bishop has written a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, admitting that ‘this action is being variously interpreted by different individuals’, that it’s ‘more descriptive than prescriptive in nature’, that ‘we are still not all of one mind’, that ‘Some within our Church may understand [the] Resolution… to give Standing Committees… and Bishops with jurisdiction more latitude in consenting to episcopal elections. Others… will not.’ In short, there is deep confusion in our church at the moment, and many people, even bishops, don’t appear to be sure what they believe or should believe. Some of the bishops who voted for this resolution even signed a statement the next day against any change in the church’s teaching on the matter! In other words, no one knows whether the new resolution is contradictory to the last one, whether it superseded the last one, or what was the point of what the Convention just did, and what we have in the church now is anarchy, with bishop, priest and local church all doing what is right in their own eyes.

Dr Williams has replied to the Presiding Bishop, and his letter to her makes it clear that even if PECUSA is not sure what it has done, the fact that some in our church will be free to interpret this as giving them permission to elect bishops or ordain priests who are sexually active outside marriage will put our church out of communion with the other Anglican churches around the world. You can read his letter at http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/2502.

The Archbishop makes it clear that those in leadership in the Episcopal Church need to read their Bibles in order to see whether what they are doing is God’s will, and then convince the rest of the Anglican Communion that they have read the Bible correctly. Until they have done this ‘most painstaking biblical exegesis’, they cannot expect to stay in communion with the rest of the church. Those in PECUSA who remain faithful to the teaching of the Anglican Communion on this subject, however, whether dioceses, parishes or individuals, will be given a way to be recognised as still in communion with the wider church, although exactly how this will be done remains to be decided.

I am very grateful to Dr Williams for his patience with our church, and for his refusal to back down in the face of PECUSA’s intransigence. He has been the subject of some very vicious criticism since he wrote his letter, both from people in our church and in the Church of England who want to depart from the tradition of 2,000 years on their own authority and without consequences, and from people who think he should just abandon the Episcopal Church. Please pray for continued strength for him, for the faithful who are staying in the Episcopal Church, and in particular for those in leadership in our church who are unwilling to live by God’s word, that God will turn their hearts to the truth and their lips to repentance, for Jesus Christ’s sake.

The Revd Philip Wainwright

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