On Friday 19 March, the Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt Revd Gene Robinson took part in his first meeting of the Episcopal Church‘s bishops in Navasota, Texas.
The bishops met behind closed-doors to focus on reconciliation within the Episcopal Church and the international Anglican Communion. It was not a legislative meeting and no major policy decisions were taken. The bishops discussed the current dilemma: how to respond to conservative parishes that don’t want to leave the Episcopal Church but cannot accept the authority of bishops who favour gay clergy. The proposed solution is to provide dissenting parishes with special conservative bishops from outside their dioceses. At the Primates’ meeting in London last October, the Archbishops urged the American church to grant dissenters “adequate provision for episcopal oversight.”
The Presiding Bishop if ECUSA, Frank Griswold, and his Council of Advice then proposed a plan allowing outside bishops to work with conservative parishes — though only with approval from the local bishop as required by church law, allowing for appeals to regional bodies in case of disagreements. Conservatives have rejected that. They don’t want the local bishops to keep their veto power and claim liberals control the regional bodies that would hear appeals. Griswold presented a rewritten plan at Navasota. Conservative leaders complained that they weren’t consulted and bishops weren’t given the text to study in advance. Bishop Griswold repeated that any plan must honour local bishops’ powers under existing church law.
The leading conservative bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, moderator of the network formed to unite Episcopal dioceses and parishes opposed to same-sex relationships, said some conservative bishops boycotted the Navasota meeting, some participated fully, and some — like himself — stayed offsite and attended only the sessions dealing with the church fracture. Duncan said the church must “come to its senses” and help conservatives because “the present course is a suicidal course, or at least a fratricidal course.”
Duncan said that if the Navasota meeting didn’t heed conservative appeals there will be “continuing chaos,” not only Akron-type protests but congregations leaving the Episcopal Church. Bishop Griswold’s Council of Advice said the five bishops broke church law, since Grew did not approve the confirmations, and appealed for unity against forces that “seek to sow the seeds of division.” Grew said the Akron service might have been an attempt to “manipulate” the Navasota meeting while Griswold suggested the event was intended to “co-opt the bishops’ agenda.”