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TEXAS: Bishop Wimberly Requests Shelving of Four Resolutions

Episcopal bishop requests shelving of 4 resolutions

Houston Chronicle Religion Editor

Bishop Don Wimberly will ask delegates to the Episcopal Diocese of Texas' annual meeting next week to shelve four resolutions that concern biblical sexual morality and the national church's approval of an openly gay bishop.

In his address to the council, Wimberly also plans to declare out of order a proposed amendment to the diocesan constitution and canons that would nullify any national church assembly action that was "contrary to Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Teaching of the Church."

More than 1,100 clerical and lay delegates will begin meeting in Tyler Thursday to act on diocesan business and policy matters. It will be their first meeting since the national church's General Convention voted in August to approve the consecration of V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as bishop of New Hampshire.

Not everyone is happy about Wimberly's request on the resolutions.

"There is an elephant in the room, and I wonder if we as a church have to have courage to address it," said the Rev. Lanny Geib, who is among the clergy who submitted the resolutions for council consideration.

"There is a great exodus out of this church right now because people are so disgusted because we don't have the courage of our convictions," said Geib, who has lost 10 families from his 300-member congregation at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Katy over the Robinson issue. Another four families are ready to leave, he said.

"They are sick and tired of it," Geib said.

Nonetheless, Geib said he would not bolt the Episcopal Church.

"I am not leaving the church," Geib said. "Never. I will stand and fight this thing until I can't preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified. Period."

Robinson's consecration provoked a firestorm of controversy in the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church in this country and the worldwide Anglican Communion. Several national Anglican churches have broken ties with the American church and have threatened to leave the worldwide communion if Robinson is not ousted.

In his pre-published council address, Wimberly, who voted against Robinson's consecration, asks delegates not to bring to the floor resolutions that:

Call for affirmation of sexual intimacy between a man and a woman only in marriage.

Repudiate the General Convention's approval of Robinson and acceptance of the blessing of same-sex unions.

Commend the August vote of Diocese of Texas delegates who opposed Robinson and the blessing of same-sex unions.

Affirm historic Anglican doctrines and policies that state Scriptures trump actions of human councils.

"If we learned anything at General Convention, it is that voting against one another will only divide this house further instead of allowing us to name our concerns, fears and opinions in a healthy forum," Wimberly says in the address.

"Bringing them to the floor of Council will only mire us in parliamentary maneuvering rather than addressing the state and welfare of the church as a whole," he states.

The bishop asks delegates to air their differences instead in a special hour-long "conversation."

"We must engage one another in a loving, respectful and honest manner," the address says.

The Rev. Susan Bear, rector of St. George's and St. Patrick's Episcopal Church in Houston, is one of the 30 clergy endorsers of the resolutions. But she said she was willing to heed Wimberly's call to lay them aside.

"Part of my ordination vows is that I will be obedient to my bishop, and I trust Bishop Wimberly's judgment," Bear said. "I may have my own ideas in mind, but he is my bishop and I will listen to what he has to say at this council.

"As long as there will be room for some dialogue and some discussion, and it is my understanding that is what we will have," Bear said.

The Rev. Laurens "Larry" Hall, rector of St. John the Divine Episcopal Church, is a leader of traditionalist diocesan clergy. His church has recently aligned with the conservative American Anglican Council.

But Hall said he supports the bishop's position. Hall believes the bishop and the church worldwide are waiting for the titular head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, to issue a statement on the Robinson issue this fall.

"In some ways, everybody is waiting for somebody else to make some kind of decision," Hall said.

The Rev. Helen Havens, rector of progressive St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Houston's Montrose area, will support the bishop's request.

"He is simply suggesting, as many people have suggested, that we would be far better off sharing our ideas, praying together, listening to each other, being civil to one another rather than duking it out in a legislative battle on the floor," Havens said.

The Rev. Joe Reynolds, dean of Christ Church Cathedral and a progressive, said debating issues is part of church tradition.

"That is the nature of the Episcopal Church -- we like to fuss," Reynolds said. "I don't think anyone will say the Episcopal Church is terribly united right now. But I don't think the Council will be divisive."

The annual meeting will begin with a service Thursday night at Tyler's First Baptist Church, the only church in the East Texas City large enough to accommodate the delegates. Business sessions will be held Friday and Feb. 14 at Harvey Convention Center.

Wimberly also will ask the diocese to focus on missions and outreach. He plans to convene a diocesan-wide gathering with a goal of increasing average Sunday attendance by 10 percent.

The council will also vote on a $5.6 million diocesan operations budget and a $3.2 million missionary budget, which funds missions, outreach and other programs, said Ron Null, diocesan treasurer. About $400,000 will go to the national church, slightly less than last year, Null said.

The overall missionary budget is down 5 percent from last year's $3.4 million budget. He said that reflects continuing economic woes and some parishes' displeasure with the national church's actions.

"It is not anything that is crippling the ability of the diocese to do good missionary work," Null said.


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