[Episcopal News Service] Saying that they “lament and have cried over the widely reported mass shootings” in the United States, the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops said March 12 that they are also “outraged by the too often unseen and unacknowledged daily massacre of our young people in cities such as Chicago, Newark, Baltimore, Port-au-Prince and Tegucigalpa.”
“This carnage must stop,” bishops said in a “Word to the Church” issued from the Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, North Carolina (Diocese of Western North Carolina) at the end of their March 8-12 meeting.
The bishops said they “embody a wide variety of experiences and perspectives with respect to firearms,” including as “hunters and sport-shooters, former members of the military and law enforcement officers.
“We respect and honor that we are not of one mind regarding matters related to gun legislation. Yet we are convinced that there needs to be a new conversation in the United States that challenges gun violence,” they said. “Because of the wide variety of contexts in which we live and our commitment to reasoned and respectful discourse that holds together significant differences in creative tension, we believe that The Episcopal Church can and must lead in this effort. In fact many in this church are already doing so, for which we thank God.”
A specific commitment “to lead a new conversation in our nations as to the appropriate use and legislation of firearms” and to commit to “specific actions to this end,” is, the bishops said, in keeping with their episcopal ordination vows to “boldly proclaim and interpret the Gospel of Christ, enlightening the minds and stirring up the conscience.”
They also called all Episcopalians “to pray and work for the end of gun violence.”
The theme for the bishops’ meeting, which was styled as a retreat, was “Godly leadership in the midst of loss” and the sessions included prayer, daily Bible study, reflection and worship.
Some bishops initially viewed the theme as a “downer,” Diocese of Eastern Michigan Bishop Todd Ousley, vice president of the house’s planning committee, said during a press briefing towards the end of the meeting. That feeling changed as reflections from various bishops opened up the theme, he said.
“Without any coordination between those bishops, they really touched on the same things,” Ousley said, namely the call to bishops to “be present; we are to stay connected in relationship and that that really is what leadership is.”
The meeting was the first since General Convention last met in July 2012, and the first meeting of the bishops outside of convention since their last retreat during March 2012. The bishops generally meet in both March and September in the years when General Convention does not meet.
A total of 137 bishops registered for the retreat, according to retired Ohio Bishop Suffragan Ken Price, who is secretary of the house. Eleven of the bishops were new since the last retreat meeting, according to Price, who said in the briefing that the deaths of eight bishops were also noted.
“The house is in continuous flux but in the 18 years that I have been coming, I can honestly say that this meeting gave more space, more time to tend to ourselves than any other one,” Price said of the retreat format. “I think we’re all going to leave refreshed and grateful for the time of reflection.”
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori echoed that sentiment, calling the gathering a time of “good fellowship and deep conversation” and describing the March 12 afternoon session as “the most minimal business meeting I can recall.”
“We did do the business of tending to our souls and that is a great blessing,” she said during the briefing.
While the bishops were meeting, it was announced that a written agreement had been forged and accepted by Jefferts Schori over complaints from the Diocese of Quincy Standing Committee against Bishops Peter Beckwith (Springfield), Bruce MacPherson (Western Louisiana) and Edward Salmon (South Carolina), and from the Diocese of Fort Worth Standing Committee and an individual complainant against Bishops Maurice Benitez (Dallas), John Howe (Central Florida), Paul Lambert (Dallas), William Love (Albany), Daniel Martins (Springfield), Edward Salmon (South Carolina), and James Stanton (Dallas).
The “conciliation process,” also described as a mediation process, took place under Title IV.10 of the church’s canons.
“’Conciliation’ is a bizarrely inappropriate word to describe what has happened,” Martins wrote after the March 8 release of the agreement. “Today, I think it’s safe to say that all nine of us are processing some degree of anger and are feeling substantially alienated from those who brought the charges against us. We feel manipulated and victimized. We are nowhere near happy about this outcome, even though we stand by our decision to accept the Accord.”
Martins, who attended the retreat at Kanuga, also called the tone of the agreement “derisive and hostile” and “abusive.
Asked if the accord and Martins’ reaction came up during the retreat, Ousley said the meeting’s tone “was one of being very attentive to our relationship across the spectrum.”
He said “minimal questions” were raised when the accord was reported to the house. “Our focus was not on that, but rather on how much we value our relationships with one another and a recognition that we have all experienced loss” as some members of the Episcopal Church have chosen to leave.
The gathering involved a lot of informal conversations among bishops, Diocese of Kansas Bishop Dean Wolfe said during the briefing, adding that he did not have a sense of the feelings Martins described from the bishops involved in the process. “There was a lot of good humor, good conversation and a sense that we were moving forward and not looking backward,” he said.
Jefferts Schori noted that the conciliation process is included in the church’s Title IV disciplinary canons and that “it’s a step towards reconciliation; it doesn’t achieve full reconciliation but it’s a step in that direction.”
Members of the public and the news media were not allowed to observe the sessions. Some bishops blogged and tweeted during the retreat.
Among those tweeting, using the hashtags #HOB2013 and #HOB13, were Diocese of Central Florida Bishop Greg Brewer, Diocese of Washington Bishop Marrian Budde, Diocese of Vermont Bishop Tom Ely, Diocese of Texas Bishop Andy Doyle, Diocese of Connecticut Ian Douglas, Diocese of Texas Bishop Suffragan Jeff W. Fisher, Diocese of New Hampshire Bishop Rob Hirschfeld, Diocese of Maine Bishop Steve Lane, Diocese of Rhode Island Bishop Nick Knisely, Diocese of Springfield Bishop Dan Martins, Diocese of Arizona Bishop Kirk Smith, Diocese of Western Louisiana Bishop Jake Owensby and Diocese of Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright, who noted that Knisely had advised him that he should start tweeting.
In past meetings, some bishops have raised issues of confidentiality in response to their colleagues tweeting and blogging about their conversations. Wolfe said during the briefing that the bishops have agreed not to tweet from confidential portions of their meetings. In other parts of the meeting “we’re enjoying a more relaxed set of rules,” he said.
“It’s just important we have some time where bishops feel that they can share creatively and openly without fear that their words will be broadcast to the world,” Wolfe said.
Price agreed that “we need those times when we just talk with one another,” but, “on the other hand, when we really do want to communicate, we have lots of tools to do it really effectively and we’re catching up with the world.”
He noted that many of the newer bishops “are younger and have been using various forms of social media very comfortably for a long time.” He added that one informal gathering involved some of those bishops teaching others about how to more effectively use social media.
Ousley said the bishops’ agreement also calls for using social media “primarily to report our own words and our own impressions, rather than the words coming from others.
Tweets using #HOB2013, the most widely used of the two, can be found here.
— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.