What the Supreme Court said #pisky #GC78

I happened to be be in Ireland just after the Constitutional Referendum on Same-Sex Marriage.  So it has been interesting to be in America when the Supreme Court delivered its ruling on the same issue.  This was particularly important – in effect, it forces the hand of the minority of States which have not already made provision for Same-Sex Marriage.

The rulings are interesting.  The majority view was expressed by Justice Anthony M Kennedy:

“Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right,” Kennedy wrote. He was joined in the ruling by the court’s liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The judges who dissented from the majority view each wrote a separate opinion.  The common theme in their dissents was that judicial activism on the part of five members of the court had usurped a power that belongs to the people.

Justice Roberts wrote:

“If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision.  Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.’

It seems to me that this fits into the pattern of profound and very rapid change which we have seen in Scotland, England and Wales and in Ireland.  Northern Ireland is the only part of the British Isles which has not made this change.  It seems to me entirely reasonable that, in a secular society, government should make these changes.  It is almost inevitable that this affects the thinking of churches and other faith communities.

But in our General Synod I said, ‘Because society changes, we don’t have to’

General Convention will address these issues next week.  The mood is calmer than it has been – partly because of the departure of many who disagree.  They are the poorer for that.  Legislative processes in the Episcopal Church don’t necessarily move all that quickly.   We’ll wait to see what happens next week

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So what did you do today.  #pisky #GC78

I thought I might share what I did today.  Some of it is about making contacts on behalf of the SEC.  Eyes light up when Scotland is mentioned.   Some of it is about roles I occupy in the Anglican Communion – in Continuing Indaba and in the Standing Committee.   It’s networking and relationships – and it’s a great privilege.  I know enough people here to be able to function as slightly more than an outsider.

The day began with a Breakfast Briefing at 8.00 am – followed by the ‘bring your devices’ Eucharist.  Then I nipped upstairs to record a greeting – part of the farewell to Bishop Katharine, the outgoing Presiding Bishop.
Lunchtime I went to a lecture by Bishop Graham Kings who is the Anglican Communion’s Mission Theologian.  More about that another time

Then I went to the exhibition centre and met the people on the stand for Sewanee, where I received an honorary degree last year.  We recorded a video in which – you’ve guessed it – I said how important America is to the life of the Anglican Communion.  And I went on to record another video for Living Church in which we talked about how the SEC is responding to same-sex marriage issues.  And I said how important America is to the life of the Communion, etc.  And I carried on making contacts with American theological seminaries – possible partners and contacts for our own Scottish Episcopal Institute,

I had a quick meeting with the Rector of Holy Trinity, Wall Street – at his request.  Did I mention that it is the wealthiest parish in America?  Then the international guests went to the House of Bishops to be officially welcomed

On to the Dinner to mark the 125th Anniversary of the United Thank Offering.  We listened to a remarkable group of young people talking about what they had done with support from the fund.  We also listened to a virtuoso African-American preaching performance from Bishop Michael Curry who is one of the nominees for Presiding Bishop.  Readers from the Church of Ireland will understand when I say that he is the Tom Keightley of the Episcopal Church.  Best lines of the night – Jeremiah – why he was a Baptist.  But Isaiah was an Episcopalian doing well in his church career until God ….    And his comment on why Sarah laughed at the idea that she and Abraham might found a great nation at the age of 62.  She was laughing because she knew what Abraham could do!

And a nightcap with some of the staff of Virginia Theological Seminary – another possible link for us in our ministerial training

Oh – and it’s breakfast at 6am tomorrow with Bishop Dean Wolffe of Kansas.  Dean is the Deputy to the Presiding Bishop in the House of Bishops.   But of course what we are really going to talk about is how he found the experience of staying in Blogstead after the last General Convention

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Elephant in the Room.  #pisky #GC78


This article in Episcopal Herald is worth looking at

What preoccupies General Convention here in Salt Lake City.  I think the answers to that question are probably:

  • The election of a new Presiding Bishop
  • A review of their structural life and the processes of General Convention
  • Questions of Canonical change in the area of marriage

This article is closer to some of the questions which I raised about whether the Presiding Bishop candidates were given the opportunity to develop a real narrative for the future of this church – a narrative which arises out of Gospel and also out of history and context.

None of this is easy.  We face similar challenges in Scotland.   Most churches show some signs of institutional tiredness.  But somehow we have to find ways of setting out a vision which is fresh and authentic because it is gospel-rooted but which also arises from an intelligent and sympathetic understanding of and critique of the past

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Come and bring your devices!    #pisky #GC78

General Convention is paper-less.  Since there will be anything up to 6000 people here, that’s a lot of trees.  So we headed for the Eucharist today with the rather intriguing request, ‘Bring your devices’. This is yet another of those ‘divided by a common language’ moments – devices being tablets and smartphones.

Of course they hadn’t made it easy.  Wifi in the Convention Center (sic) is very flakey so the congregation were trying to get signal to download the Order of Service before they went in.  

‘Bring your devices’  produces a rather ‘heads down’ worship experience.  
The Intercessions carried this instruction 


Throughout the General Convention, God’s people near and far are submitting prayer requests in words and images through social media. All of these prayers can be read and prayed online: on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and through prayersofthepeople.org. Add your prayers using #prayersof and a hashtag for each day’s theme —for example, tomorrow’s theme will be #prayersof #thanksgiving.

And then there was the ‘do I bring my IPad when I go to receive the sacrament?  The consensus seemed to be ‘No’

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Electing the new Presiding Bishop    #pisky #GC78

Four candidates – I know two of them.  The new Presiding Bishop will be elected by the House of Bishops for a nine year term and the appointment is ratified by he House of Deputies.  So we got to sit in yesterday to listen to the candidates being put through their paces in front of the House of Deputies.

There is plenty here to keep those who like revising our Canon 4 occupied.  For example, the presentations began with a short video about themselves prepared by each candidate – the brief being to do it on an IPhone.  It all went on for a long time and people obviously wanted us to realise how important it was and how good it was as a process.

I think that the challenge in any process like this is to find a way in a candidate can set out a coherent vision for the future of their church.  That means understanding history and context.  It means sharing a vision which challenges but which also builds hope and confidence.  It means showing how the church as an institution can be aligned with that vision.  It means connecting all that back into a picture of Christ-centred faith which touches hearts.

It takes time to do that.  And the major problem yesterday was that this lengthy process didn’t give the candidates the time they needed.  There is a clear move for change here.  A period of sharp conflict is coming to an end.  The church is in decline and there is a missional challenge.  America is a troubled place – racially and economically – and  the church needs to respond to that.  We need to know how TEC can play a creative role in the reconciliation of the Anglican Communion.  Plenty to talk about

It’s going to take a special person to provide that kind of leadership.  They are going to lock the bishops in the Cathedral and not let them out until they have an answer which has been ratified by the House of Deputies

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Presiding Bishop.  #pisky #GC78

General Convention gets under way tomorrow.  There’s much business to discuss – but a lot of interest will focus on the election of a new Presiding Bishop to follow Katharine Jefferts Schori.  Like us, they are a bit unenthusiastic about hierarchy – hence a Presiding Bishop like a Primus rather than an Archbishop.  However in this case the Presiding Bishop doesn’t have diocesan responsibilities.

I’m looking forward to hearing the four candidates – I know two of them – sharing with Convention their vision for the future of the Episcopal Church and their understanding of leadership in the church.

There is a growing debate about the role and what the church wants to see.  Katharine has been well known for being constantly ‘on the road’.  She has travelled throughout the church ceaselessly.   She has also had the misfortune to hold office and have to defend the church through a period of sharp conflict.  The mood seems to be for leadership which sees in new times opportunities for reconciliation – a more eirenic style.

We’ll see what happens and how much of that debate about the role may have resonance in Scotland

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With the Ancestors.   #pisky #GC78

  Airfares vary greatly from day to day so I have a day in hand.   Having done the tourist things in Salt Lake City, it’s probably a bit unkind to say that I’m glad that I don’t have two days in hand.  But this is the world centre of the Morman Church and that means that it is an extraordinary place for genealogical records.

If you wander in, volunteers step forward to help and in no time at all you are busy putting your family tree together.  It’s extraordinary – half an hour got me back to my grandfather’s great-grandparents.

I couldn’t resist a friendly question about the theology which lies behind all this – and that led to what seemed to me to be a slightly dubious conversation about those who have passed beyond the veil.  But if they are to be measured by friendliness and helpfulness, these people are exceptional.

 And since we are on ancestors – sign of age maybe on my birthday to be thinking about family trees and the like.  My paternal grandfather, Canon David Hare Chillingworth, has been on my bookshelf for a while so I thought he deserved an outing on the net.  A gentle, gentle priest.  Not sure what he would have thought of me.

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Off to the General Convention.  #pisky #GC78

This morning I’m off to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City.  This is their three-yearly meeting and it is huge.  I’m not much into special relationships.  But we have a special relationship with the   American church.  It’s partly history.  They crave history and we have plenty to spare – and the crossover is the consecration of Samuel Seabury,    

We also are alike in many ways.  In culture, they are a church of many small and independent (minded) congregations.  They are also a bit like us in polity.  No archbishop – but a Presiding Bishop a bit like our Primus.  Part of the interest in this meeting is that it will see the election of a new Presiding Bishop to succeed Katharine Jefferts Schori.  That decision will tell us a little bit about the future direction of travel of TEC and there are implications for the life of the Anglican Communion in that.  General Convention is remarkably unconnected internally – I see my friend Bishop Andy Jennings quoting Convenor Rev Gay Jennings as saying that it is time to consider a unicameral legislature.  At present it is amazingly unconnected internally and that might just mean that bishops become more powerful than they should be.

I’m sort of at home with the American Church.  I did what they call their ‘Bishop School’ so I am part of the Class of 2009 with a wide range of friends and contacts.  I’ll also be doing a bit on behalf of the Anglican Communion and Continuing Indaba – sometimes called Living Reconciliation – while I am there.  And there will be the year group reunion …

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Diana’s Ordination to the Priesthood. #pisky

A wonderful day yesterday as we celebrated Diana Hall’s Ordination to the Priesthood at St Andrews, St Andrews.  It’s a great privilege – I stand in the middle of moments like this and listen to the quality of what is happening around me.  And the future looks full of hope

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Same-Sex Marriage – writing for the Herald #pisky

I was glad to have the opportunity of writing this article for the Herald yesterday.

I think it is important to try and explain why it is that churches have difficulty with this issue. It’s partly straightforward divergence of view. But it’s also because we have sustained our traditional teaching on marriage to some extent on behalf of society. We are now in a time of significant change – we are in part recognising changes which have already happened all around us.

But we need to make a case for change – and this article begins to set out for a wider readership how we do that.

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