House of Bishops leaving Taiwan with ‘hearts and minds expanded’

Seven-day meeting in Taipei shows ‘no diocese is too small or too far away’

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Sep 23, 2014
The House of Bishops and Spouses Choir rehearses prior to Eucharist Sept. 23 on the closing day of the house’s meeting in Taipei. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The House of Bishops and Spouses Choir rehearses prior to Eucharist Sept. 23 on the closing day of the house’s meeting in Taipei. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Taipei, Taiwan] Members of the House of Bishops are leaving their meeting here with an expanded view of ministry of the Episcopal and Anglican churches in Asia.

“This meeting has offered abundant opportunities to expand our vision of what is possible as we engage God’s mission,” Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in a written statement released at the conclusion of the Sept. 17-23 meeting, the first gathering of the house in Asia.

“We have built new relationships with our partners in Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and with our brother and sisters in Taiwan,” she said. “We’ve discovered new readings of the old, old stories and new theological perspectives rooted in different parts of God’s creation. With hearts and minds expanded, we know ourselves part of a body larger and with deeper bonds than we imagined.”

Jefferts Schori called the hospitality of the host Diocese of Taiwan “full measure, pressed down, and overflowing.”

“May God continue to richly bless this part of The Episcopal Church,” she said.

Shortly after the close of the Taipei meeting, Jefferts Schori released a statement saying she had decided not to stand for election to a second term as presiding bishop.

Diocese of Kansas Bishop Dean Wolfe, vice president of the House of Bishops, said in his statement that “all of us who have congregants from Asia have gained a deeper understanding of the context from which our brothers and sisters have come and a greater appreciation for the Christian witness along the Pacific Rim.”

Wolfe also addressed the issue of the reason for traveling to Taiwan. “We traveled a very long way and at no small expense to come to Taiwan to reinforce a principal which is dear to us; that every diocese is an essential member of our family of faith and no diocese is too small or too far away,” he said.

Diocese of Los Angeles Bishop Suffragan Diane Jardine Bruce, assistant secretary of the house, echoed that sentiment saying that “with the growing Asian community in the United States, especially on the West Coast including my home diocese of Los Angeles, having firsthand knowledge and witness of the context and content of ministry and mission, we are able to more directly address our mutual needs.”

And Bishop Todd Ousley of Eastern Michigan, co-chair of the house’s planning committee, evoked Archbishop Nathaniel Makoto Uematsu’s description the day before of how the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (the Anglican Church in Japan) has pledged itself to work for peace and reconciliation, grounded in repentance.

“I leave this meeting reminded that to be an apostle, one who is sent, and to invite others to be people sent to proclaim God’s message of peace and reconciliation, we must not rush headlong into action with programs and events,” Ousley said. “Rather, we must begin with self-examination and spiritual acts of repentance that ground our message and lend it integrity. Only then will our message of peace and reconciliation be received as the Good News that it indeed is.”

The complete texts of the bishops’ four statements are here.

Taiwan Bishop David Jung-Hsin Lai presides at the closing Eucharist Sept. 23 at the House of Bishops’ meeting in Taipei. The Rev. Stephanie Spellers and the Rev. Simon Bautisa Betances, chaplains to the bishops, assisted at Eucharist. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Taiwan Bishop David Jung-Hsin Lai presides at the closing Eucharist Sept. 23 at the House of Bishops’ meeting in Taipei. The Rev. Stephanie Spellers and the Rev. Simon Bautisa Betances, chaplains to the bishops, assisted at Eucharist. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Also on the concluding day
During a business meeting on Sept. 23, the final day of the seven-day gathering, the bishops asked Jefferts Schori to consult with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby “and seek ways that the communion could be agents of peace” in the rapidly changing situation involving Islamic militancy and its threats to Christians and others. Jefferts Schori said that she would be talking to Welby in a few weeks and would pass along the house’s concern.

Later in the business-meeting portion of the session, Diocese of Pennsylvania Bishop Provisional Clifton Daniel moved that the House of Bishops “express its thanks to our presiding bishop, for her witness, her life and her ministry as our presiding bishop and wish her Godspeed as her tenure in this position continues.”

“Is there a discussion?” Jefferts Schori asked, to laughter. “This is awkward.”

Vice President Wolfe stepped in to say: “All those in favor, signify by saying …” only to be interrupted by applause as the bishops rose to their feet.

Before the business meeting, the house met town hall-style during which individual bishops updated their colleagues on ongoing issues in their lives and dioceses. Among the comments made were:

  • Introducing himself as “the bishop of Ferguson,” Diocese of Missouri Bishop Wayne Smith told the house that the Aug. 9 racially charged fatal shooting of Michael Brown and the community upheaval in its aftermath had deep roots.“St. Louis city and county are a mess but we have been a long time getting to this place,” he said, explaining that when French Creole settlers came to what is now St. Louis 250 years ago they brought with them about 30 slaves.From that beginning, he said, “the dominant culture has been trying to rob African-Americans of their personhood and the dominant culture has prevailed, the dominant culture has won.”Smith reminded that Dred Scott, whom the U.S. Supreme Court said in 1857 was neither free nor a citizen, is buried three miles from Ferguson.

    “The means of robbing people of African descent, of their citizenship still exist and it is practiced very well in St. Louis city and county,” Smith said. “It’s called the criminal justice system now.”

    While there is a very high bar for that system to arrest and convict a white man such as himself of a felony offense, Smith said that bar is set very low for African-Americans in the St. Louis area. “And once that happens, you are no one,” Smith said. “The oppression continues.”

    He told the bishops that comments about Brown’s character, positive or negative, are not useful.

    “What’s important for people who look like me,” said Smith, “is to encounter the rage of the community in that aftermath and to be quiet. We have a great deal to learn from that rage – not the violence, but the rage. The rage is there; there’s a reason for that rage, 250 years’ worth.”

    Smith said he is proud of Episcopalians both lay and clergy in the diocese and beyond who respond to this “wound to our corporate life.”

  • Diocese of Newark Bishop Mark Beckwith reported that he has spoken often to Liberian Archbishop Jonathan Hart about the Ebola epidemic that is devastating his country.“The economy that was on a very slender thread to begin with has cratered because of this,” Beckwith said, noting that all schools are closed, including the diocese’s Cuttington University which has Liberia’s largest nursing school. A number of Cuttington graduates have died during the outbreak, he said. [ENS story here.]“The churches are open and they are offering worship with safety precautions they have not experienced before,” Beckwith said.During the country’s 20-year civil war people knew who the enemy was, Hart had told Beckwith. With Ebola, “the enemy” is not so obvious, Beckwith said, and “people are accusing folks in villages and towns of being carriers of the disease so social unrest is rampant.”

    The epidemic is “beyond what any individual diocese can do” in terms of material aid, Beckwith said.

    “The problem is so massive and our prayers are really what he is asking for most,” Beckwith concluded.

  • Haiti Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin told the house that his country is still trying to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake.“Some efforts have been made but not enough to give the Haitian people a real hope,” he said. “Political fighting, lack of infrastructure of all kinds, problems of education, health care, communications, electricity, unemployment, et cetera.”“However, the Haitian people always believe in a better future and it is what gives them joy even though they are suffering,” he said.In terms of the diocese, “we have always said that the earthquake has not destroyed the church but our buildings. Our community of faith is there, love and determination are there,” Duracin said, adding that all the diocesan churches and institutions are operating “even though the challenges are still there.”

    With the help of the wider Episcopal Church, the diocese has built new churches and rebuilt others since the quake, especially outside of Port-au-Prince.

    Fundraising for the cathedral rebuilding effort is moving forward but more money is needed, the said.

  • In response to a question from Rochester Bishop Prince Singh about budgeting for the next Lambeth Conference and speculation about when and if the gathering will be held, Jefferts Schori told the bishops that the conference will probably not happen in 2018, which would have fit the conference’s traditional 10-year cycle. No planning or fundraising has taken place for a 2018 meeting, she said.Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby “has been very clear that he is not going to call a Lambeth [Conference] until he is reasonably certain that the vast majority of bishops would attend. It needs to be preceded by a primates meeting at which a vast majority of primates are present,” she said. “As he continues his visits around the communion to those primates it’s unlikely that he will call such a meeting at all until at least a year from now or probably 18 months from now. Therefore I think we are looking at 2019, more likely 2020, before a Lambeth Conference.”Whenever the next Lambeth Conference occurs “it will have a rather different format,” she predicted. For intstance, it is likely that spouses will not attend “simply because of scale issues and regional contextual issues. Bishops’ spouses fill very different roles in different parts of the communion and the feedback from the last one was that it did not serve the spouses particularly well,” Jefferts Schori explained.

On Sept. 24, a number of bishops head to Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines or Korea to continue learning about the mission and ministry of the Anglican Church in those contexts.

The meeting is taking place at the Grand Hotel in Taipei. Some bishops are blogging from the meeting about their visit to Taiwan, including

Others are tweeting during the meeting using #HOBFall14. Those tweets can be read here.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.