Every effort to make a collective statement requires the addition of material which does not satisfy the discriminating writer, much as making sausage often includes binders and fillers that appall. Persons of discriminating taste ought not watch while sausage, law or group communications are being produced. Having been part of several drafting committees I can speak from personal experience on the matter.
In the past two days there has been considerable discussion in the press and on the blogs about just what is going on at the Bishops Meeting in New Orleans. The Bishops have felt it incumbent on them that they respond to the Primates queries, which were as follows:
" In particular, the Primates request, through the Presiding Bishop, that the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
1. make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention (cf TWR, §143, 144); and
2. confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent (cf TWR, §134);
unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion (cf TWR, §134).
The Primates request that the answer of the House of Bishops is conveyed to the Primates by the Presiding Bishop by 30th September 2007.
If the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion."
In addition the Bishops have been considering a variety of matters having to do with the development of an Anglican Covenant although a major piece of that work has been given over to the Executive Council. They have also had a variety of experiences that have brought new perspectives to a wide variety of concerns.
A drafting committee has been working on these matters, made up, it appears, of at least the following people: (from the Living Church) -" ...Wayne Wright of Delaware, chair, Thomas Breidenthal, Southern Ohio; Nathan Baxter, Central Pennsylvania; Joe Burnett, Nebraska; Thomas Ely, Vermont; Victor Scantlebury, suffragan, Chicago, and Dena Harrison, suffragan, Texas." TLC said, "it is unknown whether the seven comprise the entire writing group."
A second group was first reported by Stephen Bates, made up, it appears, of Bishops Jenkins, Chane, Bruno and Parsley. Bishop Bruno from that group and Bishops Howe, Sauls, and Wolf were joined to the writing committee. It was noted by TLC that "Bishop Jenkins did not join the drafting team. Instead he left in order to bless the dedication of a new health facility."
So, on this Tuesday it appears there is one drafting /writing group, but a greatly revised drafting effort. It is hard to say if the first draft, presented yesterday, will have much to do with the final product, or if the addition of new members to the group means they really have to start over again.
It appears that "up front" object of the exercise is to answer the questions the Primate raise, to more widely address the issues of life in the Anglican Communion and a general to "report out" the House of Bishops meeting. It may be that two sorts of reports will come from this. Andrew Gerns seems to think so. Alternatively it may be that the two will be incorporated into one document, just as the writing group and the second concern group seem to have been melded.
At every point there seems to have been a real effort to draw in concerns from across the House. This will make it hard for the document or documents to satisfy everyone. Indeed the sausage that comes out may be inedible. Never the less the bishops will have to try to grind out something.
Unless of course they decide that simply because the Primates want answers does not mean that there are answers. Unless of course they decide that an Anglican Covenant may or may not be a good idea but the examples so far produced are bad sausage. Unless of course they come to the conclusion that they do not need to save the Episcopal Church and therefore do not have to have a definitive answer to life's unanswered questions.(See Keaton's "Mood Music for a Response Statement.")
I believe the House of Bishops is working hard at being and doing what is expected of them. Perhaps it is all our fault in expecting them to be and do too much. Some of us out here in the church have forgotten, along with some of them, that the work we do as The Episcopal Church (as opposed say to the diocese, or the parish, or the youth group) is cycled on a general three year plan. General Convention, the great sausage machine of The Episcopal Church, takes in all our concerns raised over three years and produces sausage which is then consumed (with greater and lesser gusto) in the years following. This in turn feeds into the next round. And so it goes.
It is perhaps too much to expect that the House of Bishops will produce definitive statements at this point. Some of us do not think they ought to do so. (See the Consultation statement.) In any event the House of Bishops, what ever they do today, deserve our thanks and prayers. Believing that it is necessary to make sausage, they are hard at work. Whether or not it is eatable remains to be seen.