A Pastoral Letter
5 July 2006
James, Bishop of Dallas
To the People of the Diocese of Dallas
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Recently, a member of one of our parishes sent me an email in which she asked “What will become of us?” I think that is the central question for very many in our Diocese.
The Standing Committee, acting as my “council of advice,” has issued their statement. They have made their analysis of the recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church and its consequences. I concur with them.
There can be no question, given the facts as they have emerged since the Convention that the leadership of the Episcopal Church is set on a course that will not change. In recent years, this leadership has valued diversity almost to the exclusion of any other principle. This Diocese is quite diverse, of course. And we are proudly a member of the Anglican Communion which is one of the most diverse communities on the earth. And yet, without boundaries there cannot be a center, a via media if you like. I believe that the leadership of the Episcopal Church has now stepped beyond the limits of diversity and is leading us to division.
At the same time, a great gift was given to the whole of the Anglican Communion by the Archbishop of Canterbury, just days after the Convention. I believe his paper, The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today, has shifted the ground considerably. He has shared with all of us a vision for the Communion and the way to get there. I believe this paper deserves our most serious attention, and its goal deserves our commitment.
Many in our Diocese will greet the continuing direction of the Episcopal Church with joy and satisfaction. Many others have expressed to me their despair and pain at this path. Several vestries have communicated to me their distress at these developments and their need, for the sake of their mission, to distance or disassociate themselves from this course. Very many individuals have done the same.
“What is to become of us?” That is the question.
It is a question that can only be answered by the Diocese as a whole. Neither your bishop, nor your Standing Committee, nor any other part of this diocesan structure can do that. It seems inevitable to me now that the next Convention of the Diocese will have to make decisions about this Diocese’s response to the events of the General Convention and the direction the Diocese as a whole desires to pursue.
The Standing Committee has made several recommendations.
1. They ask that I provide the next Diocesan Convention with a thorough explanation of the Archbishop's plan. I completely concur with the commitment signaled by the Standing Committee to the vision and plan of the Archbishop of Canterbury. I will, with assistance, prepare a study guide so that our Clergy may help their people understand that plan. I think that all of us must read and study the Archbishop’s paper well before we come to our Convention.
2. They ask me to “appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury for a direct primatial relationship. . .” Several dioceses have called for “alternative primatial oversight,” as you will know through news reports. I will discuss a direct pastoral relationship with the Archbishop. This will be for the pastoral support of our mission, and assurance of our place in the Communion. I must emphasize that this relationship will be consistent with our Constitution and Canons, both of the Diocese and of the General Church.
3. The Standing Committee asks me to “lead the diocese” in pursuing several actions “in concert with all who support the Windsor Process.” These are matters which the House of Bishops must be responsible for, in the final analysis. But many “Windsor bishops” have already committed to do so, and I will join them, again consistent with our Constitution and Canons.
4. The last of these requests has to do with “realignment or, if it becomes necessary, an ‘orderly and mutually respectful separation’.” The last phrase comes from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s own document. I can only say, again, that any decisions with respect to this matter must be made by the Convention of the Diocese.
What I propose to do, as a matter of first importance, is to meet with the clergy and leadership of every one of our congregations – their vestries and delegates to Convention – in the weeks and months ahead to hear from them their concerns and desires. I will appoint a small panel of respected leaders in this Diocese, ordained and lay, to assist me in hearing and understanding these concerns and issue a report on this undertaking. In this way, perhaps we can all come to a deeper perspective.
Some concluding comments:
First, this Diocese, its bishops and conventions, have stood firm in this conflict over the past thirty years of its duration. If division it is, it is not a division of our making. I believe we have stayed on course.
Second, no decision is being made now. I hope all of us will hold together and engage one another between now and the Diocesan Convention. I ask that a regular day of prayer, each Tuesday between now and the Convention, be observed by each congregation and all our members for the sake of the Church. We must be open to the future God has in store for us, and walk together by faith.
Third, we have learned a great deal through the reconciliation effort we began almost two years ago. We have learned that respecting the dignity of those who differ from us does not mean agreement, but can mean genuine truth-telling, genuine esteem, and genuine growth in prayer. We will need to build upon and extend these lessons.
Fourth, I believe that, whatever happens, we will continue to be the Diocese we are now. We will be a welcoming place to all who seriously seek the Lord and who wish to follow and serve Him. All of us, whoever we are and however we see ourselves, are loved by God. All of us are invited to hear His Word proclaimed and receive His Holy Sacraments. All of us are called to give up our most cherished conceptions about ourselves and seek our true life in Him. All of us can be transformed by His Holy Spirit, and all of us can be forgiven by His grace. We must be generous, because God’s Word tells us that He is generous.
Finally, I assure all of you of my pastoral devotion to what lies before us. Bishop Jecko joins me in this. A bishop’s first charge is to “guard the faith.” That is what we seek to do. We ask your prayers for us and for the Church.
The grace, mercy and peace of God be with you all.