Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A thoroughly pastoral Pastoral Letter

What a great andidote to the purple-people-double-speak coming from across the pond ... this thoughtful, thorough, thoroughly pastoral Pastoral Letter from Bishop of Central Pennsylvania Nathan Baxter.

A Pastoral Letter from Bishop Nathan Baxter
to the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania:
Regarding Consent for the Consecration of the Rev. Mary Glasspool
The Eve of the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord
February 1, 2010

I am writing to share with you my decision to give my consent for the consecration of the Rev. Mary Glasspool, bishop suffragan elect, in the Diocese of Los Angeles. What follows address both the considerations of my decision and also my interpretation of related Resolutions of The Episcopal Church, including C056 and D025 of the 2009 General Convention. In the consent process of an Episcopal election, the Church asks all bishops with jurisdiction and all Standing Committees to review the election process and discern the candidate’s suitability as a bishop for the entire Church. Only in a few cases are there questions about the suitability of a candidate or the election process. On such occasions, it has been my custom to inform the diocese of my conclusions.

Throughout her 30 years of ordained ministry, the Rev. Mary Glasspool has been faithful and consistent to the ministry, doctrine and teaching of the Episcopal Church. This includes her current ministry (since 2001) as Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Maryland. In the one area where there is controversy, she has been unquestionably faithful to the spirit of the Church. I have known her for many years, and I have known her to be an excellent priest, pastor, administrator and servant of the church. What I have read of her writings, her preaching, her guidance of parishes in discernment for either deployment or congregational development of their mission has deeply impressed me. Her efforts in formal theological continuing education have reflected a desire to grow theologically as a leader in the Church. Her commitment to Jesus Christ has always been clearly expressed in her ministry.

As I have been in discernment about consent for consecration, I have had extended conversation with bishops with whom she has served. It is their experience that she has been effective and well received by all clergy and parishes of her diocese, including those of decidedly conservative convictions. Canon Glasspool has been invited to lead vestry retreats and mutual ministry reviews in all parishes of the diocese. She has gained a common and mutual respect with all church leaders in her diocese.

On the matter of her sexuality and life-style, the Rev. Glasspool is faithful to the spirit and prayerfully determined direction of our church. While the Church has not officially defined a rite of same-sex blessing, it has affirmed the marks and characteristics by which such unions might be determined sacred. For 18 years, she and her partner have lived in witness to the marks the church has expected of all persons in committed intimate relationships (including traditional marriage): fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and holy love. Although their relationship has not been a secret, their life has not been used as a cause célèbre. They have lived as faithfully to one another and the Church as the Church would allow, always being sensitive that there were other good faithful people for whom their personal realities represented conflict.

Although the Church has not formally approved rites of blessings for same-gender unions, over several decades its theological discernment and spiritual direction has become increasingly clear. The 2009 General Convention made even clearer the destination of its spiritual direction in resolutions C056 “Liturgies for Blessings” and D025 “Commitment and Witness to the Anglican Communion”. Resolution C056 is clear its direction, stating that “the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops, collect and develop theological and liturgical resources and report [to the next General Convention].” This same resolution further resolves that “bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church….” I will respond to this passage of the resolution in a separate pastoral letter.

General Convention Resolution D025 takes into account the larger conflict our direction in this matter presents for some of our sister provinces in the Anglican Communion. The resolution makes great effort to affirm The Episcopal Church’s sincere and continued commitment to the Anglican Communion. However, it also recognizes that, given the witness to which we as a Province believe we are called (i.e. full inclusion of gay and lesbian members), we cannot assure a balance on this particular matter which would be acceptable to all Anglicans and Episcopalians.

Yet, the resolution makes clear we are committed “to the highest degree of communion possible.” Although there may be penalties and even retribution from Communion members, our resolve includes “encouraging dioceses, congregations, and members of The Episcopal Church to participate to the fullest extent possible in the many instruments, networks and relationships of the Anglican Communion…[including reaffirming its financial commitment….in the Inter-Anglican Budget].”

I have considered resolutions of earlier General Conventions which have informed our current and continuing discernment as a Church. The most recent actions of General Convention witness to the fact that The Episcopal Church has actively honored the call of three Lambeth Conferences (1978, 1988 and 1998) to “listen to the experiences of homosexual persons.” In 2000 General Convention Resolution D039 acknowledged that “through our own listening the General Convention has come to recognize that the baptized membership of The Episcopal Church includes same-sex couples living in life long committed relationships ‘characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God’.” This clause acknowledges that faithful witnesses and examples of same gender holy commitments have been evident among us for generations, even though not publicly acknowledge.

Additionally, Resolution B033 is still the formal position of the Church on consents in such matters. This resolution, which was passed in the very last moments of 2006 General Convention to address the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates of the Communion (the Windsor Report), is still the formal position of The Episcopal Church. It states: “Resolved, That this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”

While not rescinded at the 2009 General Convention, resolutions C056 and D025 make moot the intent and spirit, if not its formal status. In addition to biblical and theological convictions on this matter, I believe herein lay the core ambiguity, and even conflict, for bishops and Standing Committees who would earnestly discern the consent for Canon Glasspool’s consecration.

Resolution D025 passed at our 2009 General Convention not only reaffirms this conviction but addresses the matter of ordination of persons in committed same-gender unions with this clause: “Resolved, That the 76th (2009) General Convention recognize that gay and lesbian persons who are part of such relationships have responded to God’s call and have exercised various ministries in and on behalf of God’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and are currently doing so in our midst; and be it further resolved, That [General Convention] affirm that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry the Episcopal Church….”

After prayerful discernment and various contexts of consultation, I have determined that the House of Bishops would be enriched and be represented more holistically as a symbol of unity to the Church (as no one bishop in his or her self be an exclusive symbol of unity for the entire Church or interpretations of its core tradition) if Mary Glasspool were a member of that House. I also believe in this time of continued discernment and definition of full inclusion, that having the witness and wisdom of persons who are unquestionably faithful in the core theology of the Church, knowledgeable and respectful of the Church’s traditions, and pastorally sensitive to all its people, will only enrich the journey to which I believe the Spirit is continuing to call us.

I respect that these conclusions will not be those of all bishops or the all the faithful we represent; nor do I assume that those whose discernment has lead them to a different conclusion are necessarily homophobic, theologically uninformed, or enemies of justice. But this is the conclusion to which my discernment has led me; and I have given my consent for the consecration of the Rev. Mary Glasspool as a bishop.

Faithfully,
The Right Reverend Nathan D. Baxter, Bishop
Diocese of Central Pennsylvania

9 comments:

netterjb said...

Beautifully expressed. I am praying that her call and Diane Bruce's will be sustained.

Martin T. said...

Big mistake Bishop Baxter. Hopefully there are more that don't share your reasoning.

IT said...

I really, really hope she makes it. She is extremely well qualified for this position, and i will be a travesty if she is rejected.

That said, you have a terrific candidate in Diane Jardine Bruce too. I hope that her accomplishment and contributions are not TOO overshadowed by the "identity" politics around Glasspool. I'm sure Glasspool is mortified by the attention to just this one part of who she is.

Martin T. said...

If Glasspool+ and +Robinson had a shred of love for this Church they would never have went for the position that represents unity, the chair of bishop. Thanks to them they brought on the destruction of the Anglican Communion...all for a miter.

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

REMEDIAL READING ASSIGNMENT FOR ALL COMMENTERS:

Please re-read the "comments about comments" above. We're moving into ad hominem land -- which is precisely why Jesus invented the "delete comment" button.

DavidJustinLynch said...

I agree with his message, but a picture of Bp. Baxter in cope and miter would have presented it more credibly to me and other Anglo-Catholics. If there is anything progressive Christians need today, it is to sound more sure of ourselves and where we stand.

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

And wearing a pointed hat will do that? Prioritizing what bishops wear or whether or not clergy sling incense around instead of what they say, do, pray and advocate on behalf of just feeds into the stereotype of Anglicans as "all show and no go."

I'll take a bishop with a backbone over one in a miter ANY day.

DavidJustinLynch said...

In the tradition from which I come, that of Progressive Anglo-Catholicism, the symbols are as important as the message it. Symbols communicate. That's their purpose. A bishop who looks (to me) like a bishop has more credibility (for me). A good example is the late Paul Moore, who was bishop of New York. There was never any doubt in anyone's mind that he was both progressive AND Anglo-Catholic. Not only did he say what needed to be said, he dressed as a bishop should as well.

JCF said...

...and then we could have expected complaints from Low-Church Evangelicals, DJL?

I used to live in that diocese. It's not High-Church by any means. As we believe the Diocese of Los Angeles should (led by the Holy Spirit) choose a bishop that fits their context and community, should not the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania have a bishop which fits theirs?

[FWIW, I have NO doubt such cope&mitre'd pics of Bishop Baxter exist. This one---did he even choose it, to accompany this pastoral letter?---looks like he's just off for Lambeth. If that's not "Anglican" enough for anyone, I don't know what is! ;-/]