Bishop MacPherson’s Response To the +ABC’s Advent Message

A message from the Rt. Rev’d D. Bruce MacPherson
A word to the diocese …
I have reflected much upon the Advent message sent out by the Archbishop of Canterbury, a message which many of you have read. His epistle was long awaited, and much hope and anticipation awaited the release of it, a release that came about on December 14, 2007. The reaction across the diocese was similar to that of the larger church, disappointment.
Personally, I also was disappointed to a degree in the broad brush terms of that which was presented. The fact that it wasn’t more succinct and stated with greater clarity contribute to this. Some important things were said, and that which many were waiting to hear went unsaid, and simply summed up with his words, “So we have no consensus about the New Orleans statement.” His statement was clearly underscored by the “remarks of individual bishops in The Episcopal Church who either declared their unwillingness to abide by the terms of the statement or argued that it did not imply any change in current policies.”
The response of the bishops did indicate some progress, and this due to the fact that we did not have bishops declaring in mass that what was taking place, didn’t apply to them. It is important to note however, that at least one of these bishops permitted that which has contributed to the fracturing that has taken place in the church, to take place in his diocese while our meeting was in session. It is no wonder that we find ourselves as a church in the state of great division this day, or in the Archbishop’s words, “that all of us will be seriously wounded and diminished if our Communion fractures any further.”
Looking now to that which was shared in the Advent message, albeit vague to a degree, the Archbishop did state some things about a full relationship of communion that need to be heard.
1. “The common acknowledgment that we stand under the authority of Scripture as ‘the rule and ultimate standard of faith’, in the words of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral; as the gift shaped by the Holy Spirit which decisively interprets God to the community of believers and the community of believers to itself and opens our hearts to the living and eternal Word that is Christ. Our obedience to the call of Christ the Word Incarnate is drawn out first and foremost by our listening to the Bible and conforming our lives to what God both offers and requires of us through the words and narratives of the Bible. We recognize each other in one fellowship when we see one another ‘standing under’ the word of Scripture. Because of this recognition, we are able to consult and reflect together on the interpretation of Scripture and to learn in that process.
Understanding the Bible is not a private process or something to be undertaken in isolation by one part of the family. Radical change in the way we read cannot be determined by one group or tradition alone.”
2. “The common acknowledgment of an authentic ministry of Word and Sacrament. We remain in communion because we trust that the Lord who has called us by his Word also calls men and women in other contexts and raises up for them as for us a ministry which can be recognized as performing the same tasks – of teaching and pastoral care and admonition, of assembling God’s people for worship, above all at the Holy Communion. The principle that one local church should not intervene in the life of another is simply a way of expressing this trust that the form of ministry is something we share and that God provides what is needed for each local community.”
3. “The common acknowledgment that the first and great priority of each local Christian community is to communicate the Good News. When we are able to recognize biblical faithfulness and authentic ministry in one another, the relation of communion pledges us to support each other’s efforts to win people for Christ and to serve the world in his Name. Communion thus means the sharing of resources and skills in order to enable one another to proclaim and serve in this way.”
He goes on to say, “It is in this context that we must think about the present crisis, which is in significant part a crisis about whether we can fully, honestly and gratefully recognise these gifts in each other.”
As I ponder the foregoing, the examination of the Baptismal Covenant resonates in my mind as the words of that which we profess to believe lead us into the promise of continuing in “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers; the reminder that we are to resist evil, and when we do fail, to repent and return to the Lord; the proclamation by word and example of the Good News of God in Christ; that we are to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as our self; and yes, we are to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being.”
All of these things are very much a part of the Windsor Principles that we as a diocese have affirmed support of, and that will lead to the development of the Anglican Covenant.
The issue before us is not one of sexual orientation, but rather that which is being done within the church that is contradictory to Scripture. Archbishop Williams states in his Advent letter “that it is a part of our Christian and Anglican discipleship to condemn homophobic prejudice and violence …” 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1:10 reminds us of the importance of Christian charity and pastoral sensitivity to everyone, and I have been
and remain committed to this. But again, as the Archbishop of Canterbury has stated, “Insofar as there is currently any consensus in the Communion about this, it is not in favour of change in our discipline or our interpretation of the Bible.” This was stated clearly by an overwhelming majority of those in attendance at the 1998 Lambeth Conference in the context of Resolution 1:10, and remains so today.
Looking at this in relation to the actions of our General Convention, the Archbishop states, “Where one part of the family makes a decisive move that plainly implies a new understanding of Scripture that has not been received and agreed by the wider Church, it is not surprising that others find a problem in knowing how far they are still speaking the same language. And because what one local church says is naturally taken as representative of what others might say, we have the painful situation of some communities being associated with views and actions which they deplore or which they simply have not considered. Where such a situation arises, it becomes important to clarify that the Communion as a whole is not committed to receiving the new interpretation and that there must be ways in which others can appropriately distance themselves from decisions and policies which they have not agreed.”
Also of importance is the point made by Archbishop Williams with respect to the role of bishops within The Episcopal Church and this being with regard to the voice that decisively belongs to the bishops, yet has been relegated by many to the decision making process of General Convention. In the words of the Archbishop, “It raises a major ecclesiological issue, not about some sort of autocratic episcopal privilege but about the understanding in The Episcopal Church of the distinctive charism of bishops as an order and their responsibility for sustaining doctrinal standards.” As bishops, we have been charged to “guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church” [BCP p.518], not relinquish it to a structure of elected governance, and to this responsibility I stand firm.
In continuing to look at points made, he further addresses the fact that he has “not seen any reason to revisit” his decision with respect to the absence of an invitation to the Bishop of New Hampshire, and has “underlined in his letter of invitation that acceptance of the invitation (to Lambeth) must be taken as implying willingness to work with those aspects of the Conference’s agenda that relate to implementing the recommendations of Windsor, including the development of a Covenant.”
What hasn’t been said is when the continued extension of conversations and meetings will come to an end and a definitive decision made. What also has gone unstated is when is The Episcopal Church going to be called to a place of accountability by the wider Anglican Communion. Lambeth 2008?
Sadly, some have given up waiting for the answer to these questions and have sought to affiliate elsewhere. But going elsewhere at this time is not the answer, for those who have left are yet without a clear sense of direction or destination. This is why I have repeatedly called us to a place of ministry, and to not allow ourselves to be caught in trenches on either side of the road. But rather, to take the road that leads to the
fulfillment of the mission of the Church, and this being the restoration of “all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” [BCP p.855]. To ensure the continuation of the apostolic tradition that has been handed down to us through the ages; and through the faithful teaching and fellowship of the apostles as we make witness to a Living Christ through the proclamation of the Gospel under the Lordship of Jesus.
My position as a committed proponent of the Windsor principles and development of an Anglican Covenant are widely recognized, and I have endeavoured to maintain a connectedness to the wider Church and those with whom our concerns are shared. This has been evident through my participation in a variety of dialogues, and in my presentation to the Primates in Dar es Salaam. I will confess these past few years have been difficult, but it is with care and love for all of you that I have sought to lead the diocese forward in the midst of vast creative tension in the Church.
The “Windsor compliant” position of our diocese has lent much to affirming the missional direction we have sought to take. This has also brought recognition that many in our diocese are not in support of the direction being taken through the actions of General Convention, and the recognition by other churches in the Communion as representing the common mind of the Anglican Church. Thus, we are seen clearly as in fellowship with the Communion. “The practical challenge then becomes,” in the words of Archbishop Williams with respect to the dioceses in this position, is “to find ways of working out a fruitful, sustainable and honest relation for them both with their own province and with the wider Communion.”
Over the past four and some half years I have endeavoured to be aware of what is taking place in the church and wider Communion, and how this impacts us. This has involved meetings with clergy and laity, and with colleagues in the House of Bishops and bishops beyond our borders. Throughout all of this I have stated that we needed to follow the process that would prayerfully lead to resolution. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel before us? I can’t answer this specifically, but do know and have shared that in order to remain informed of all that is taking place, and the options that may well come before us, we must remain a part of the conversations.
To continue to build on this, I have shared with the Standing Committee, Diocesan Council, and many others, I will be attending the Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem in June 2008. This meeting will take place the month before Lambeth Conference 2008, and I pray will help form an understanding of how we as a worldwide Communion, can continue forward in our ministry shared.
It is my prayer that through the meeting in June and the Lambeth Conference that we will emerge with a clear sense of what God is calling us to be about in the Diocese of Western Louisiana. As to the future, as I have said before and repeat here, the Diocesan Convention of October 2008 will need to provide this direction.
In the interim, may our prayer be “O God, each of us is haunted by questions we have
addressed to you. Like Elijah we meet with silence. Sometimes it is a silence in which we discern your answer; sometimes the silence is an absence that yields no reassurance. We ask that in your time you would make plain the answers to our questions. We ask the faith and patience to wait until you reveal them to us. Lord Jesus, grant us in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in your light we may see light, and in your straight path may not stumble; for these things we pray in your precious name. Amen.” [Drawn and adapted from the Book of Common Prayer and All the Seasons of Mercy].
Faithfully in the Light of Christ,
The Rt. Rev’d D. Bruce MacPherson, D.D.
III Bishop of Western Louisiana

1 Response to “Bishop MacPherson’s Response To the +ABC’s Advent Message”

  1. 1 Rt. Rev. Bruce MacPherson « Lent & Beyond Trackback on February 6, 2008 at 3:59 pm

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