“You cannot work as effectively as colleagues if you are not also friends, and there is emotional and relational capital – spiritual capital – that’s generated in these gatherings that we depend on at other points in the life of the House of Bishops,” Diocese of Kansas Bishop Dean Wolfe, vice president of the House of Bishops, said March 25 during a telephone news conference.
Diocese of Eastern Michigan Bishop Todd Ousley, co-chair of the House of Bishops Planning Committee, agreed. “As we continue to embrace the spring meeting as a time of retreat and reflection, we’re growing together as a house more deeply in that embrace with each successive meeting,” he said.
The bishops, Ousley said, are “beginning to deepen our appreciation for one another” and, by way of hearing reflections from their colleagues, are building bridges between “our own personal spirituality and the spirituality of what it means to be a bishop serving in the church at this time.”
The retreat began March 21 at the Camp Allen Conference & Retreat Center in Navasota, Texas (Diocese of Texas), and is due to conclude March 25 after a town-hall style meeting and a short business session, followed by a closing Eucharist and dinner.
Bishop Ken Price, secretary of the House of Bishops, said during the news conference that the retreat has had one of the largest attendances in recent years with 148 bishops present. He noted that the house has changed a lot in the 20 years since he was ordained and consecrated, with 180 bishops added during that time.
During their business meeting, the bishops will formally recognize retired Diocese of Massachusetts Bishop Suffragan Barbara Harris with a resolution honoring the 25th anniversary of her ordination and consecration as the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion.
“Where we have come in that time is amazing,” Price said.
On the opening day of the retreat, the house heard briefings from two General Convention-mandated studies. The Rev. Brian Taylor of Rio Grande and Joan Geiszler-Ludlum of East Carolina presented the work to date of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. And, Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church members Bishop Andy Doyle of Texas, Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves of El Camino Real, Bishop Sean Rowe of Northwestern Pennsylvania/Bethlehemand Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina presented the task force’s work to date.
“There’s been lots of conversation about the need for more time for conversation,” Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said during the news conference of both presentations. “I know we will come back to both issues in our fall meeting.”
Price said that, despite the lack of time for in-depth discussion and the acknowledgment that the task force still has a lot of work to do, there was a “very positive reception” of what was presented.
Ousley said both initiatives “represent in a very tangible way a very positive move by the church as a whole into working intentionally to gather the voices of all of God’s people in the church on important matters.”
“Finding appropriate opportunities” for the voices of laity, deacons, priests and bishops to be brought to the table is “part of a large trend that we’re seeing in the church of trying to see how all of us can be together in decision-making, in wrestling with how our future unfolds,” he said.
Price agreed, adding that “there is an overriding feeling from people that we’re entering a time in which we need to find new ways of being in relations which one another and not just worry about the legality of being a church.”
The bishops were asked about the cost of the house’s plan to hold its September meeting in Taiwan. Jefferts Schori noted that the Diocese of Taiwan is the easternmost part of the Episcopal Church and is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.
Bishop David Jung-Hsin Lai’s invitation “seemed like a remarkable opportunity for the bishops in this church to learn something about the Asian context in which the church has relationships, and also increasingly from which other parts of the Episcopal Church are receiving migrants,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to expand on the theme of this meeting, which is singing the Lord’s song in a strange land. Yes, it costs something to go there. It costs something of each bishop in terms of openness to new experience and to discerning the presence of God in other contexts.”
Wolfe said that the house has been trying to hold down its meeting costs this triennium and added that “either we are going to be an international church or we are not, and if we are that’s going to … require some cost both in terms of travel expenditure and as Bishop Katharine points out also the cost of being willing to engage new cultures and different experiences.”
The theme of the Taiwan meeting will be “expanding the apostolic imagination,” Ousley said.
“What better way for us to expand our imagination than to be within a culture that by its very distance forces us to think differently, to listen and hear differently, and be able to translate those experiences back to our own culture. I am excited that we’re going to be there,” he said. “As far as the cost is concerned, being faithful in church is not just a question of economic issues but rather it’s about who is God calling us to be and what is God calling us to do. That is always a part of the equation that we must consider.”
Members of the public and the news media were not allowed to observe the sessions. Some bishops blogged and tweeted during the retreat using #hobspring14. Those tweets can be read here.
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.