Reconciliation and Reform

Bishop Franklin and Carmela in Quito Cathedral. Bishop Greg Rickels of the Diocese of Olympia is at the far right.

I spent September 14-21 in Quito, Ecuador, for the fall meeting of the House of Bishops, accompanied by my wife Carmela.  Bishop Michael and Carol Garrison were part of the meeting, as were Canon Barbara Price who is Chaplain to the Bishops’ spouses, accompanied by her husband Al Price.  So Western New York was well represented and active in the work that took place during these days in Quito.

Quito is just 15 miles from the equator at an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet. Carmela and I both experienced a bit of altitude sickness during the days we were there.  It was our first visit to South America.  The worship with the Ecuador Episcopal community at our cathedral in Quito, conversations with the people of the diocese, visits to the splendid and simple buildings of the city all opened a new world to us that we had never known before.  The experience reminded me once again that as Episcopalians we belong to an international church.

Reconciliation was at the heart of this meeting.

The fall gathering took place in Quito partly because the Diocese of Central Ecuador has experienced serious conflict between the bishop and the Standing Committee and a majority of the clergy. (See

This was a complex dispute ultimately resolved by the resignations of the bishop and all the officials of the diocese. For now, the Presiding Bishop has appointed a provisional bishop for Central Ecuador, and her action is supported by the House of Bishops.

The meeting included two days of discussion of Liberation Theology, a conversation led mostly by South American theologians, economists, and bishops.

In his important book A Theology of Liberation, the Peruvian priest and scholar Gustavo Gutierrez indicates how liberation theology consciously aims at binding social liberation and our Christian faith together.  He says: “The liberation of our continent means more than overcoming economic, social, and political dependence. It means, in a deeper sense, to see the becoming of humankind as a process of the emancipation of the human in history.  It is to see the human in search of a qualitatively different society in which men and women will be free from all servitude, in which men and women will be artisans of their own destiny.  It is to seek the building up of a new human.”

You will find more on the Christian movement of Liberation Theology at this link:

I had come to believe that Liberation Theology was a dated movement that had run out of spiritual power.  The new insight I gained in Quito by listening to the witness of our Latin American Episcopal bishops and their theologians is that Liberation Theololgy is very much alive. The South Americans gave me new insights into the theme of Christian humanism, a concept which I believe is important for the mission of our own Diocese of Western New York.

Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and Bishops' Spouses' Chaplain Barbara Price administering communion in Quito.

With the strife in the diocese of Central Ecuador and our focus on liberation theology, which has deep roots in South America, it was highly significant for a meeting of the House of Bishops to be taking place in a diocese outside of the continental United States.

We also gathered for an “Indaba” discussion, an off the record exchange of views about a draft of a theological statement and liturgical text that the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music will present to the 2012 General Convention on the blessing of same gender relationships.  I shared what our experience has been with the integration of the New York Marriage Equality Law into the life of our diocese.  The mood was one of careful listening on all sides and prayerful work to keep our entire Episcopal Church together as we go into the future.

The most important aspect of the House of Bishops meeting came at the end when Bishop Stacey Sauls, former Bishop of Lexington, Kentucky, and now the Chief Operating Officer of the Episcopal Church at the Church Headquarters in New York City, presented a proposal for reforming the structures and governance of The Episcopal Church. Rather than sum up what Bishop Sauls said, I provide for you here a link to Bishop Sauls presentation and other resources on structural reform of our Church.

Bishop Sauls’ powerpoint presentation: here:

Bishop Greg Rickels:

Episcopal Cafe:

When I first heard about  Bishop Sauls’ proposals at a small gathering of bishops, I thought, “Wow, he’s really on to something!” He is starting a process of reform of the institutions of the national church that is similar to our process of reform of the institutions and structures in our own Diocese of Western New York.

I encourage you to read the proposal Bishop Sauls has made and then add a comment to this blog sharing your own opinion about the proposed reform of the national structures of the Episcopal Church.  Perhaps you would answer one of these questions on the response section of this blog:

  • Would you feel your role diminished if the General Convention met less often?
  • Would your congregation embrace becoming the kind of church Bishop Sauls envisions?
  • What thoughts and feelings does this proposal prompt in you regarding the future of the church?

I myself have approached the question of the authority of the General Convention in an article which The Living Church published just this week in its September 25 issue which you can read at this link:(here add link).

These topics are all very important for us here in Western New York because all of these materials provide a context for our own discussion of reform of the structures of our diocese which is going on in the many advisory committees that are already beginning to meet and will be continued to be formed in the next weeks. These advisory committees include:

  • Structures and Management
  • Education for Formation for Ordained and Lay Ministries
  • College, University, and 20/30’s Ministries
  • Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations
  • Education for Youth and Children
  • Domestic and Foreign Missions
  • The Historic Preservation of Our Buildings
  • The Diaconate
  • Ministry for Retired Clergy
  • Liturgy and Music
  • Clergy Collegiality
  • Evangelism

And this will be the theme of our October Diocesan Convention and the pre-convention workshops, which start in each of the Deaneries of our Diocese on October 9.

The link between reform at the national level of the church and here in our diocese is summarized by Bishop Sauls in these words:

“The administrative and governance structures of The Episcopal Church have grown over the years so that they now comprise approximately 47% of the churchwide budget and sometimes hinder rather than further this Church’s engagement in God’s mission. Reform is urgently needed to facilitate this Church’s strategic engagement in mission and allow it to more fully live into its identity…in a world that has changed dramatically over the years but that also presents an extraordinary missional opportunity.”

It is an exciting time as our Church enters into this momentous conversation about the future. I invite your thoughts.

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