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US Convention ends with warning from next Presiding Bishop

03 July 2024

ENS/Randall A. Gornowich

The Presiding Bishop-elect, Dr Sean Rowe (centre), is pictured with two former Presiding Bishops, the Most Revd Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the Most Revd Michael Curry

The Presiding Bishop-elect, Dr Sean Rowe (centre), is pictured with two former Presiding Bishops, the Most Revd Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the Mos...

THE next Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania, Dr Sean Rowe, has warned that the next few years will be full of uncertainty, requiring sacrifice and the letting go of grievances.

Dr Rowe preached at the closing eucharist of the 81st General Convention in Kentucky last Friday, two days after his election (News, 28 June). “We have to get it together”, he said, even though he praised the prophetic leadership and struggle against racism of his predecessor, the Most Revd Michael Curry.

Dr Rowe compared today’s Church with the Church in Ephesus: “small, countercultural . . . [with] cults in out midst”. He said that the Church was going to stand firm in the wake of these “cults”: “We’re holding fast to our promise to uphold the full inclusion of LGBTQI+ persons as children of God. We’re proclaiming and investing in our longing to become a Beloved Community. We’re committing to caring for God’s creation and respecting the dignity of every human being.

“And we are not backing down in our proclamation of the gospel just because other people who understand it differently are bigger or think they’re more powerful or louder or have a vision that denies humanity.”

The Convention dealt with 390 resolutions in its six days; some of the most hotly debated concerned the attacks by Hamas on Israel and the subsequent war in Gaza. There were two demonstrations and a prayer service for Palestine, and fierce debate over the use of words including “apartheid” and “genocide”.

A passage accusing the Israeli government of pursuing “an apartheid policy against the Palestinian people” was removed from a resolution condemning both the 7 October attacks and the Israeli government’s response (News, 28 June). A reference to “ongoing genocide” was removed from another resolution calling for a ceasefire.

A third resolution was amended to deplore both the Hamas attacks on 7 October and the Israeli government’s “acts and laws that result in fragmentation, segregation and dispossession against the Palestinian people and the Occupied Territories”.

The Convention also examined its own structures, and agreed to four changes to merge dioceses to allow for greater co-operation and streamlined diocesan structures. In an additional change, the Navajoland mission was elevated to a missionary diocese, which means that it could now elect its own bishop.

Dr Rowe pointed to experiments under way in his own dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York, which have voted to share a bishop and staff. He has called previously for a “decentralised and networked” Church.

“We know that we cannot continue being the Episcopal Church in the same way, no matter where we live,” he said. “It’s time to reorient our Church . . . to support dioceses and churches on the ground, where ministry happens.”

His installation will be a “scaled back” event at the headquarters of the Episcopal Church, in New York, instead of Washington National Cathedral, it was announced. The event will be livestreamed, and Dr Rowe said that the decision was a way of showing “care for God’s creation by reducing our collective carbon footprint”.

He will be installed on 2 November, just three days before the US Presidential election.

The Convention also approved changes to the definition of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) as “those liturgical forms and other texts authorized by the General Convention in accordance with this article and the Canons of this Church”.

The resolution was the second reading, because the changes it proposes require the approval of two consecutive meetings of General Convention. When the first reading was passed in 2022, it was intended to establish a constitutional foundation for elevating to Prayer Book status liturgies that are not yet in the BCP. Some of the intent behind the change was a desire by some to incorporate same-sex marriage rites into the BCP, which has not had a full-scale revision since 1979.

The vice-chair of the deputies committee on prayer book, liturgy, and music, Ruth Meyers, said: “The resolution allows us to hold on to what we cherish in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and opens us to adding other materials that address contemporary concerns.”

The resolution will take effect from January next year.

Delegates also declined to take any action on another resolution, which would have reviewed the requirement that a person be baptised before receiving holy communion (News, 24 May).

On the fringes of the Convention, there was a panel discussion on the part played by the Church in running Indigenous boarding schools, which included hearing from two survivors. The session was attended by hundreds in the room, and 2000 more online.

Thousands of children are believed to have died in the boarding schools, which attempted to assimilate Native Americans into the dominant white culture. Many pupils suffered sexual and physical abuse. Several schools were run by churches, including 34 operated by the Episcopal Church.

“Our ancestors stood tall, and it’s because of them I’m around today,” the Revd Jonathan Old Horse, Vicar of Woyatan Lutheran Church, in Rapid City, South Dakota, and a boarding-school survivor, said during the panel discussion. “Every sacrifice that they gave for us — their lives, their minds — for us to be here. As survivors, we have to do everything in our power to always honor what they did for us, for us to be here.”

The General Convention has previously set up a fact-finding commission to research the Church’s historic involvement with the schools, and another committee focusing on advocacy work.

A rally of bishops and delegates also protested against gun violence, during the Convention, led by Bishops United Against Gun Violence, and members of Youth Working to End Gun Violence.

The Bishops group is a network of more than 100 Episcopal Bishops, including the presiding Bishop-elect. Many of the bishops attending the rally wore orange stoles: the colour of gun violence prevention.

The Convention passed a resolution declaring gun violence a national health crisis, just a day after a mass shooting two miles from the conference centre resulted in one death at a nightclub and seven injured.

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