Thursday, March 25, 2004

Bishops Propose Plan

I must interrupt my terribly verbose definitions for a bit of news.

The House of Bishops have proposed a plan for delegated episcopal pastoral oversight.

I can't find the text on the net, so here it is;

Caring For All The Churches

A Response of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church to an expressed
need of the Church:

The church is the Body of Christ. Our life in this Body is a continuing
action of God's grace among us, by whose power alone we are "joined
together" in Christ and grow "into a holy temple in the Lord" (Eph. 2:21).
Through the church's common life in Christ, God intends to signify to the
world the beginning of a new and reconciled creation.

We know the unity with God that Christ has won for humanity, he won through
the victory of his passion. We are mindful of the suffering of Jesus who, on
the Cross and through his resurrection, reaches into every corner of
alienated human life, reconciling and restoring to the household of God all
who come to him in faith. By God's grace the church is continually called,
in repentance and hope, to be a trustworthy sign to the world of this costly
reconciling power of God. We understand that, in obedience to Christ and
putting our whole trust in him, we may share in his unity with the Father
through the Holy Spirit. Communion in the Trinity is the salvation of the
world. The church, thus, exists for the sake of the world. Therefore, for
the sake of the world, we have been called "to serve before God day and
night in the ministry of reconciliation", (BCP, p.521) which is to be
carried out "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one
another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the
bond of peace." (Eph.4:2-3)

We as bishops are not of a common mind about issues concerning human
sexuality. Different points of view on these matters also exist within our
dioceses and congregations. In some instances there are significant
differences between congregation(s) and the bishop and few of our
congregations are themselves of one mind. As we exercise pastoral leadership
in our dioceses, we pledge ourselves to work always towards the fullest
relationship, seeking, as the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, "the
highest degree of communion." We are grateful for his leadership and share
the pastoral concerns expressed by the Primates of the Anglican Communion in
their statement of October 2003, "for those who in all conscience feel bound
to dissent from the teaching and practice of their province in such
matters." We have committed ourselves to living through this time of
disagreement in love and charity and with sensitivity to the pastoral needs
of all members of our church.

In the circumstance of disagreement regarding the actions of the 74th
General Convention on issues of human sexuality, we commit ourselves to
providing and to making provision for pastoral care for dissenting
congregations, and we recognize that there may be a need for a bishop to
delegate some pastoral oversight. Oversight means the episcopal acts
performed as part of a diocesan bishop's ministry either by the diocesan
bishop or by another bishop to whom such responsibility has been delegated
by the diocesan bishop. In other Anglican Provinces, the term "pastoral
oversight" signifies what we mean by "pastoral care." In our Episcopal
Church polity, "oversight" does not confer "jurisdiction." We are aware of
current examples of the delegation of pastoral oversight in the gracious
accommodations which have occurred in some dioceses.

As we together commit to a process for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral
Oversight, we also recognize the constitutional and canonical authority of
bishops and the integrity of diocesan boundaries. We are in accord with the
statement of the primates: "Whilst we affirm the teaching of successive
Lambeth Conferences that bishops must respect the autonomy and territorial
integrity of dioceses and provinces other than their own, we call on the
provinces concerned to make adequate provision for episcopal oversight of
dissenting minorities within their own area of pastoral care in consultation
with the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the Primates."

Sensitive pastoral care does not presuppose like-mindedness. Bishops and
congregations have frequently disagreed about particular articulations and
interpretations of scripture and the Creeds while being able to transcend
their differences through common prayer and celebration of the sacraments of
the new covenant. The notion that the bishop's views must be in accord with
those of a particular rector or congregation for the bishop to be received
as chief pastor opens the way to undermining the bishop's pastoral ministry,
which must embrace all and "support all baptized people in their gifts and
ministries." Our theology and practice hold that ordination and consecration
provide the gifts and grace necessary for the sacramental acts of a bishop
to be effectual. (See article XXVI of the Articles of Religion: Of the
Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the

As bishops we share a ministry of episcope as stewards of the mystery of
faith that none of us possesses alone. We believe it is our particular
charge to nourish, guard and represent in the church this "unity of the
Spirit in the bond of peace." We understand this to be for the sake of the
world and in fidelity to our Lord who gave his life to restore all to unity
with God. We recognize and repent of our failures of charity towards one
another in this shared ministry of episcope, and we pledge ourselves to a
sacrificial ministry with one another, valuing in each the presence of the
Crucified and Risen Christ. While our unity may be strained, we continue to
strive for godly union and concord. Our task requires humility, charity,
mutual respect and a willingness to make every effort to maintain the unity
of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

In March of 2002 the House of Bishops adopted the following covenant:

"We believe that the present Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church
are sufficient for dealing with questions of episcopal oversight,
supplemental episcopal pastoral care, and disputes that may arise between
the bishop and a congregation. We encourage that their provisions be used
wisely and in the spirit of charity."

"The provision of supplemental episcopal pastoral care shall be under the
direction of the bishop of the diocese, who shall invite the visitor and
remain in pastoral contact with the congregation. This is to be understood
as a temporary arrangement, the ultimate goal of which is the full
restoration of the relationship between the congregation and their bishop."

Expanding on this previous agreement, and working always towards "the
highest degree of communion," we offer the following recommendations in
order to provide Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight. We expect that the
first priority in a relationship between a diocesan bishop and congregation
is a striving for unity. As such, it is incumbent upon both the bishop and
the rector/congregation to meet together, with a consultant, if needed, to
find ways to work together. If for serious cause in the light of our current
disagreements on issues of human sexuality, the bishop and
rector/congregation cannot work together, we propose the following process
for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight.

1) In the spirit of openness, the rector and vestry, or the canonically
designated lay leadership shall meet with the bishop to seek reconciliation.
After such a meeting, it is our hope that in most instances a mutually
agreeable way forward will be found.
2) If reconciliation does not occur, then the rector and two-thirds of the
vestry, or in the absence of a rector, two-thirds of the canonically
designated lay leadership, after fully engaging the congregation, may seek
from their diocesan bishop, (or the diocesan bishop may suggest) a
conference regarding the appropriateness and conditions for Delegated
Episcopal Pastoral Oversight.
3) After such a conference the bishop may appoint another bishop to provide
pastoral oversight.
4) If no reconciliation is achieved, there may then be an appeal to the
bishop who is president or vice-president of the ECUSA province in which the
congregation is geographically located, for help in seeking a resolution.
Those making such an appeal must inform the other party of their decision to
5) When such an appeal has been made, the provincial bishop may request two
other bishops, representative of the divergent views in this church, to join
with the provincial bishop to review the situation, to consider the appeal,
and to make recommendations to all parties. If an episcopal visitor is to be
invited, that bishop shall be a member in good standing in this Church.
6) When an agreement is reached with respect to a plan, it shall be for the
purpose of reconciliation. The plan shall include expectations of all
parties, especially mutual accountability. The plan shall be for a stated
period of time with regular reviews.

The provincial bishop shall periodically inform the Presiding Bishop, the
Presiding Bishop's Council of Advice, and the House of Bishops at its
regular meetings of the progress and results of this process.

As bishops of this church, we pledge ourselves to pray and work for patience
and the generosity of spirit that can enable a pastoral resolution as we
live with our differences. As well, we will strive for Godly union and
concord as together we seek to be led by the Spirit of truth who, as Jesus
tells us, "will guide us into all the truth." (John 16:13)

The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church
23 March 2004

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