A Pastoral Letter for the new CANA Congregations
December 19, 2006
My Dear Friends,
Welcome to your new home in the Anglican District of Virginia as part of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. Your congregational votes were a remarkable testimony to your desire to find a way to continue to remain true to your call as faithful Christians within the Anglican tradition. I am delighted that we will be walking together into an exciting future. A verse from Scripture that has meant a great deal to my wife Angela and me is from Paul's letter to the Christians in Corinth who were going through their own challenges — "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). This is a promise for all of us . . . the precise shape of the future may be uncertain but one thing we do know is that the God who has led us to this point will continue to show us the way to an even more exciting future.
Media coverage of our actions has been quite extensive. It has been prompted by the national and international implications of our decisions along with the reality that this is an unprecedented movement of congregations out of The Episcopal Church. As expected, not all of the media coverage was positive. I want to address one recurring untrue accusation concerning our attitude towards homosexual persons. Our vote was not an "anti-gay" vote. We affirm that as Christians we believe that every person, regardless of their sexual orientation, is made in the image of God, and deserving of the utmost respect. As the Dromantine Communiqué (issued by the Primates when they met in Ireland last year) states, ". . . we continue unreservedly to be committed to the pastoral support of homosexual people" and oppose "the victimization or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex." And we have and must continue to witness to these convictions by our words and actions. I have attached a recent letter from Archbishop Peter Akinola that addresses this same issue from his perspective. Please notice the difference between what he actually says and believes and the dismissive tag lines that are often attributed to him.
Another persistent untrue theme is the way in which we care for those who voted to remain in The Episcopal Church. As I have said repeatedly, and I am sure you have heard from your own clergy and lay leadership, everyone is welcome to participate in our common life regardless of their vote on this or any matter. We are not monochrome congregations but diverse communities whose unity is in Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If someone tells you that they voted against the resolution, then I encourage you assure them that they are loved and included as full members of the family of God in this place. If there is any way in which I can help in this matter please let me know. My calling is to provide for the care and nurture of every member of our growing fellowship.
You may have read a response to our actions from Bishop Peter Lee. While his disappointment was to be expected, I am saddened that his language seems strangely harsh. I am particularly troubled by the rather blatant attempt to create fear and division by the use of the phrase "Nigerian Congregations Occupying Episcopal Churches". This is not the Bishop Lee that I know and respect. I look forward to the return of his more usual tone of creativity and generosity. We all know that while we may have changed our ecclesiastical allegiance we remain loyal and faithful Anglican Christians in America. The character of our communities remains the same.
The question of property seems to loom large in many people's minds. I draw your attention to the following press statement that was released yesterday by Truro and The Fall Church, "Anglican Churches Comply with Virginia Statute Requiring Reports of Their Congregations' Votes." It clearly states our belief that we have a valid and compelling claim to the various church properties which we have for generations "occupied". We also believe that this should be handled in a respectful conversation with the leadership of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. We are trying to avoid both costly litigation and a media circus. Initial signs from the meeting of the Standing Committee and Executive Board are encouraging and we are preparing to engage in substantive conversation after the Christmas Holidays.
Finally let me assure you of the truth and wonder of this Christmas Season. We worship a God who entered this messy world as a vulnerable baby to demonstrate his abiding love for all of us. It is a miracle. God spoke his Word of Grace and Truth for all the world to see. My prayer is that through the events of the past few days we will all be able to bear witness to this Word of radical inclusion and profound transformation. I pray that we will look to the future, confident that God's love will continue to sustain and guard us . . . "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).
Angela and Rachel join me in wishing you Joy in Jesus.
Your brother in Christ,
Missionary Bishop of CANA