I have just returned from a most amazing Consultation. A group of Anglicans, working for the full inclusion of all members of the Church in the life of the Church and the Anglican Communion have just completed a three day consultation in the Chicago area. The Chicago Consultation, a gathering of lay and ordained people, including diocesan and parish leaders, seminary and university faculty, journalists, members of other Provinces of the Anglican Communion, deputies to General Convention and several members of Executive Council met at Seabury - Western Theological Seminary, December 5-7 to strategize concerning the work ahead.
The theological, ecclesial and historical context for common work and discussion was provided by Professor Marilyn McCord Adams, Bishop Stacy Sauls ( his paper was read in his absence, as he was unable to attend because of weather related travel problems), Dean Jenny Te Paa, The Rev. Fred Quinn, and the Honorable Byron Rushing, and by information sharing from a panel from other Provinces of the Communion and from Church of England participants. The major papers of this consultation will, I hope, be available on the Episcopal Café in coming days.
By coincidence the Chicago Consultation took place as the Diocese of San Joaquin was in the lead up to a vote on whether or not to attempt a break from the Episcopal Church and the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) was tooling up for the ordination of four new bishops for its effort to establish a new and improved Anglican presence in North America. Both of these are coming up this weekend. Both seem profoundly exclusive efforts – to delineate the followers and leaders of the "faith once delivered of the saints" from all the rest of us, the supposedly apostate Episcopal Church.
The Chicago Consultation, however, was not about exclusion. Rather it was about encouraging the Church to be true to its incarnational character, in which both creation and commitment are honored. Working on ways in which to support the full participation of all members of the Church in faith and witness, the Chicago Consultation has been looking to the Lambeth Conference and the 2009 General Convention as the next occasions to make its case.
It is interesting to note that one hundred twenty-one years ago the Chicago House of Bishops meeting of 1886 and proposed the Chicago Quadrilateral later known (with some revision) as the Chicago- Lambeth Quadrilateral. The purpose of the Quadrilateral was to provide a basis for conversations moving to Christian unity. The Quadrilateral has also become a way by which Anglicans have identified the essentials of their own unifying identity.
In stressing the full and inclusive engagement of all the baptized in the ministry and life of the Church, the Chicago Consultation is carrying forward the hope that Anglicans can be in reality a fellowship of churches grounded in Scripture, formed by Creedal faith, sustained in Sacraments and sent in mission by Apostolic guidance.
The papers of this Consultation are powerful statements that encouraged us to "press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil 3:14) That call impels us, I believe, toward life together, not apart.
In the lead up to Lambeth and General Convention we need to press on to see that all baptized members of the church are at liberty to explore God's call to them and that all are treated with fairness, having an equal share in the call to service in Jesus Christ and an equal share in blessing.
The specifics of the action plans and strategies that arise from the Chicago Consultation will be in part the subject of a press release from the Steering Committee of the Chicago Consultation. When that is published I will add its precise wording here.
My sense is that in the effort to press for honest and full inclusion we will learn a great deal about faith in Jesus Christ from those who have been outcast, miscast, or diminished by the church's exclusionary past and present.
There will, no doubt be a good bit said in the coming months about the Chicago Consultation and its work. For the moment, having returned to Lewes, the village by the Delaware Bay, I can only say that I was honored and delighted to be with this community of faith struggling with what it means to be part of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion in these days.