CHRISTIANS are meant to engage crisis as opportunity, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, told its triennial General Convention in California on Tuesday.
In a strong opening address, which emphasised putting essential things first, she warned that underlying all the debates on the needs of the poorest and the inclusion of those who did not have full access to the Church, was “the reality that we do not have the same financial resources to address them that we had three years ago — that is another kind of crisis, both local and global.”
The overarching connection in the crises facing the Church had to do with “the great Western heresy — that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God”, she warned. “It is caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in a place that only God can occupy, at the centre of existence, as the ground of all being.”
On the global financial crisis, she said: “The sins of a few have wreaked havoc with the lives of many, as greed and dishonesty have destroyed livelihoods, educational possibilities, care for the aged, and multiple forms of creativity.”
Ecumenists might twitch at the word subsidiarity, but the Church as a whole should not be doing mission work that could be done better at a more local level, she suggested. She made an oblique reference to the sexuality debate: “We might also consider putting in that category the big-picture issues we can’t yet agree on — the ones for which we have many, more local, and varied understandings, recognising that different contexts may require different responses.”
The President of the House of Deputies, Bonnie Anderson (News, 3 July), also reiterated the Episcopal Church’s determination to address wider global issues at the Convention, especially the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
“Our time right now is tough, but it is marked by another type of tough times, marked by terrorism and the declining economy. . . In June, it was announced that the first half of 2009 pushed another 105 million people into hunger, raising the total number of hungry people in the world now to more than one billion.” She commended the 50 per cent of Episcopal churches that have embraced the MDGs as a mission focus.
Fifteen Primates, including those of Congo and Burundi, are among more than 70 international guests who are observers in both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. The Archbishop of Canterbury was scheduled to address the Convention about the economic crisis, on Wednesday as the Church Times went to press.
Recent tensions over human sexuality could be calmer if the Anglican Communion understood that bishops were not the sole deciders in the Episcopal Church, where lay people and clergy had the upper hand, observed the Bishop of Northern Zambia, the Rt Revd Albert Chama, on the first day of the meeting.
The Convention also heard by letter from the Archbishop of the Sudan, Dr Daniel Deng Bul, describing the trials facing his country. “My Church . . . is working tirelessly with God’s help to tackle them,” he said.