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Jefferts Schori begins with shalom offer

08 November 2006

by Douglas LeBlanc

DR Katharine Jefferts Schori officially began her nine-year term as the Episcopal Church’s 26th Presiding Bishop in a vibrant midday service last Saturday at Washington National Cathedral.

At a poignant moment in the service, the Most Revd Frank Tracy Griswold III handed his successor the Primatial staff of office. “May Christ the Good Shepherd sustain you as you carry it in his name,” Bishop Griswold said, his voice showing emotion.

The new Presiding Bishop mentioned the concept of shalom 15 times during her sermon. Two letters that circulated only days before the service — one by the new Presiding Bishop, and one by the Episcopal Church’s Chancellor, writing on her behalf — suggest that Dr Jefferts Schori’s concept of shalom will not exclude clear and even blunt communication.

David Booth Beers, who has served as the Episcopal Church’s Chancellor for three consecutive presiding bishops, wrote to two conservative bishops in late October: the Rt Revd Jack Iker, Bishop of Fort Worth (Texas), and the Rt Revd Keith Ackerman, Bishop of Quincy (Illinois).

In the letters, Mr Beers noted that both dioceses had amended their constitutions “in some way that can be read as cutting against an ‘unqualified accession’ to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church”.

Mr Beers suggested possible consequences if the dioceses did not restore this “unqualified accession” to their constitutions. “If your diocese should decline to take that step, the Presiding Bishop will have to consider what sort of action she must take in order to bring your diocese into compliance.”

Mr Beers’s letter is consistent with remarks that Dr Jefferts Schori made in an interview with the magazine The Witness before the General Convention elected her as the new Presiding Bishop in June.

Asked about bishops “who seem bent and determined to leave or to wound the body if they don’t get their own way”, Dr Jefferts Schori said: “I think they need to be challenged, more so than they have been. I see signs of hope in the House of Bishops, an unwillingness to continue to put up with bad behaviour. We haven’t seen any action yet, but I think it is coming.”

A second letter, written by Bishop Jefferts Schori on 1 November, her first day in office, invited four of her fellow Primates to meet her during their visit to the United States in mid-November. The four are the Most Revd Peter Akinola of the Church of Nigeria; the Most Revd Dr Justice Akrofi of the Church of the Province of West Africa; the Most Revd Drexel Gomez of the Church in the Province of the West Indies; and the Most Revd Benjamin Nzimbi of the Anglican Church of Kenya. They will travel to the US for a board meeting of Anglican Relief and Development, a ministry of the Anglican Communion Network. They also will meet conservative Episcopalians who have expressed their desire for oversight from outside the Episcopal Church.

Dr Jefferts Schori expressed her hope that the four Primates “might be willing to pay a call on me, so that we might begin to build toward such a missional relationship”. Primates of the Global South, when they met in Kigali in September, expressed the view that some “will not be able to recognise Katharine Jefferts Schori as a Primate at the table with us” (News, 29 September).

Conservative bloggers protested that the Presiding Bishop was engaging in a public-relations effort by making her letter of invitation public. Liberal blogs, however, praised the new letter as a welcome example of decisive leadership. The letter presented Archbishop Gomez with a “particularly difficult choice”, wrote Jim Naughton of the diocese of Washington. “Gomez, as chair of the Covenant Design committee, can expect the calls for his removal from that position to intensify if he demonstrates that he is unwilling to deal fairly with representatives of every province in the Communion.”

At the time of writing, no official response to Dr Jefferts Schori’s letter had been made public.

Sermon extract, see Comment

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