Apart from the sundry business of registration, the big event this week is the visit of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA, Katharine Jefferts Schori. She is one of the most polarizing figures in the Anglican Communion at the moment, with conservatives dubbing her the devil incarnate (alongside her fellow Americans Gene Robinson and Jack Spong) and liberals praising her as a firm and visionary figure. An oceanographer and pilot by training, she was the Bishop of Nevada before being elected to this post.
The Bishop’s visit is unfortunately not being picked up by the mainstream press, which is perhaps a good thing, because there is potential for a storm here. After all, her views on gays and lesbians are more unpopular here than in the States, and if we were part of the US, I will not be surprised if a majority vote Republican. And the fact that she is an ordained minister is itself a source of both pride and controversy. I do hope that a polite reception will be given by all concerned, but I will not be surprised if in some circles, they will whip out 1 Timothy and other classic “no women” verses.
On the other hand, I do hope the local church will be polite to tell her the truth, that while they may welcome ECUSA’s help in some things, they should be careful not to compromise on ethics and theology. The sad thing, and I will be blunt, is that unlike in England, there isn’t a significant proportion of the Bench of Bishops who does theology—and I mean the reflective kind—and it hurts their witness, to be honest. Ford Elms, a commentator on Thinking Anglicans, is right when he says that the liberal side of the argument, while in a sense less demonizing, lacks a theology that cannot be reduced to sociology.
And I do hope that she can take the time to listen to different voices from the ECP, who are not going to be on message and tell her that what is needed is a wake-up call. Once again, as a United Methodist pastor told me, “I believe in autonomy because I know what autonomy means.” If they want a local rector for a largely expat parish, for instance, they have to raise the bar, big time.