Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut:
We expect that you have seen media reports on the gathering of primates of the Anglican Communion at Canterbury Cathedral in England that has recently ended. Many of those reports seem to imply that The Episcopal Church has been banned or suspended from the Anglican Communion. While this is definitely not the case, we recognize that the news painfully reminds us that we in the Anglican Communion still have much work to do in God's Mission of restoration and reconciliation in this broken world.
It might be helpful to share a bit of background on the structures of the Anglican Communion. As you know, the primates are the presiding bishops and archbishops of the thirty-eight regional or national churches of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Our voice at this table is Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of The Episcopal Church. The primates meet every few years to pray and worship together, and take counsel for the Anglican family churches. The Primates Meeting is considered one of the four "instruments of unity" of the Anglican Communion. The other three instruments of unity include: the Archbishop of Canterbury, currently the Most Rev. Justin Welby; the Lambeth Conference of worldwide Anglican bishops, which traditionally meets every ten years; and the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC).
The Anglican Consultative Council is the only officially constituted representative body of all the churches of the Anglican Communion, made up of lay people, priests and deacons, and bishops. It is served by a Standing Committee that meets at least annually. The ACC's brief is "to promote the unity and purposes of the churches of the Anglican Communion in mission, evangelism, ecumenical relations, communication, administration, and finance." Bishop Ian is the bishop representative from The Episcopal Church on the ACC, and the Rev. Gay Jennings and Ms. Rosalie Simmonds Ballentine are the clergy and lay representatives from The Episcopal Church, respectively. In addition, the 14th Meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in 2009 elected Ian to serve on the Standing Committee.
Sadly, the primates in Canterbury seemed to be preoccupied with the decision of the General Convention of The Episcopal Church in July 2015 to change our canons allowing for the marriage of gay and lesbian persons. And differences between Anglican churches on the place of LGBT people in the life of the church created significant tension at the primates' gathering. In their Communiqué, "Walking Together in the Service of God in the World," the primates acknowledged the distance that has emerged between them over matters of human sexuality, while at the same time professing their "desire to walk together." An addendum to the Communiqué states: "It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years TEC (The Episcopal Church) no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision-making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity."
It is not clear if the primates have the authority to recommend such action for, as noted, the Anglican Consultative Council is the officially constituted representative body of the Anglican Communion. For a helpful discussion of the intricacies of the polity of the Anglican Communion see: "No, the Episcopal Church has not been suspended from the Anglican Communion" by the Very Rev. Andrew McGowan, Dean of Berkeley Divinity School and Editor of the Journal of Anglican Studies. Please do keep Bishop Ian in your prayers as he travels to a meeting of the Standing Committee and the 16th Meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Lusaka, Zambia in April 2016 where he will engage these issues directly.
While discussions and debates in inter-Anglican bodies are important, we must never lose sight of our baptismal vocation to participate in God's mission of restoration and reconciliation. The Episcopal Church is deeply committed to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the life of our church and we affirm the dignity of every human being created in the image of God. In Connecticut, we are fully supportive and stand behind the positions taken by The Episcopal Church with respect to LGBT sisters and brothers. We are grounded in the love of God who invites all people, and all creation, to the fullness of life in Jesus. Our passion for sharing the vastness of God's love for all people is at the heart of our participation in God's mission.
Yet too often we fall far short of the fullness of the love of God in Jesus. We repent that the church has caused pain and persecution for LGBT people, and we welcome the primates' recognition "that the Christian church and within it the Anglican Communion have often acted in a way towards people on the basis of their sexual orientation that has caused deep hurt. Where this has happened they express their profound sorrow and affirm again that God's love for every human being is the same, regardless of their sexuality, and that the church should never by its actions give any other impression." We applaud the primates' condemnation of homophobic prejudice and violence, and their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people around the world.
As bishops we appreciate that the structures of the Anglican Communion, including the Anglican Consultative Council, the Lambeth Conference, and the Primates Meeting, provide important venues for conversation, prayer, and discernment among the churches of the Anglican Communion. We believe, however, that the real "instruments of unity" are the countless ways that parishes, dioceses, and individual Christians in the Anglican Communion connect across our differences through common participation in God's mission. Relationships in Christ fostered by: building schools and medical clinics together, visits through companion/link dioceses, missionaries sharing their lives in service, bind us together in deep and profound ways. The real unity of the Anglican Communion is embodied in our connection and common action as together we serve God's mission of restoration and reconciliation in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the Episcopal Church in Connecticut we are blessed with dozens of parish-based partnerships in God's mission around the world from Kenya to Nigeria, from Haiti to Ecuador. Through the Companions in Mission Network, Sustainable Development Grants, Companions in Mission for Publication and Communication Grants, and countless other ways, the Episcopal Church in Connecticut engages in lasting and transforming mission relationships with sister and brother Anglicans around the world. We give thanks for these relationships and encourage all Episcopalians in Connecticut to become even more involved with, and connected to, our worldwide family in the Anglican Communion. To learn more about what you and your parish can do in God's global mission we invite you to attend our annual ECCT mission conference: "Walking Together: Living God's Mission" on Saturday March 5, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at St. Paul's Church on the Huntington Green. Registration and additional information can be found here: http://2016missionconference.eventbrite.com.
As your bishops, we are acutely aware of how blessed we are to serve with you in the mission of God - wherever God is calling us to be missionaries of Christ's redeeming love. Please do keep the Anglican Communion, The Episcopal Church, and the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, in your prayers that we will always be faithful to God's mission of restoration and reconciliation walking together as Anglican sisters and brothers.
The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, Ph.D. The Rt. Rev. Dr. Laura J. Ahrens
Bishop Diocesan Bishop Suffragan
Bishops' Letter on the January 2016 Primates Meeting
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut: