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The Episcopal Church is a welcoming Church. We do not ask anyone who comes into our doors if he or she is "good enough," or the "right sort," or "like us." We do not exclude anyone from the fellowship of the Church who seeks God, or who seeks spiritual nourishment, or just a safe community in which to touch the deeper parts of their souls and lay down their burdens.
The Episcopal Church is a place where the beauty of worship and the proclamation of God's Word are the central values. We seek to know Christ and to make Him known. We seek to follow Christ. And each in his or her own way is encouraged to make a commitment, to listen and to learn, and to make a wholehearted response to God.
The Episcopal Church is a place where young and old, strong or weak, rich or poor may hear God's Word read, and receive God's sacraments for their comfort, strengthening, mercy, and peace.
The Episcopal Church is the place where the apostolic teaching is the foundation of our common life; where our unity with our brothers and sisters is not just a local affair, but binds us to one another across our communities, our nation and our world. We know ourselves to be rooted in a common heritage, bound to a common commitment, called to a common future in Christ. We are accountable to one another, no matter our color, our place of origin, our language, our learning, our status in life, our sex or our self-identity. In Christ we are called beyond all things that divide us, and invited to surrender our very selves to become like Him.
In Christ, the doors of communion with the Father and Creator of all are opened to us. And all that is required of us is the willingness to trust in His person and follow in His way.
The General Convention of the Episcopal Church this week has not been true to its calling to "uphold and propagate the historic Faith and Order" of the Christian Church. It has provoked a crisis in the larger Anglican Communion to which we belong. It has exhibited to the world an all too typical trait of American hubris, the sense that we know better than anyone else where God is leading and how the Church may respond.
But the General Convention is not "the Church." Not even the Episcopal Church as a denomination, whose traditions we love and cherish, is "the Church." The Church is the Body of Christ. It is the community of those who are centered on the apostolic teaching, It is the communion of bishops and archbishops connected with each other and committed to the common mission of proclaiming the biblical faith and rightly and duly administering the sacraments of the Gospel.
It is the visible expression of those persons who bear faithful witness to the teaching of Jesus, and are obedient to His commandments.
This General Convention has erred. We will wait patiently and expectantly for the rest of the Communion of which we are a part to render judgment on what we have done.
But for the moment, I ask each and every one of you who have pledged your commitment to Christ in this Church to consider this: Are you being fed with spiritual nourishment in your parish family? Are you hearing the Word of God proclaimed? Are you being challenged to give more of yourself to God where you are? And are you finding the true and living God in your prayers, in your worship, in your service, in your family, and in yourself?
Do not concern yourself at this point with whether or not the General Convention of the Episcopal denomination has been faithful and true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ask rather whether you have been faithful and true. Each and every one of you has found God in your local community of worship and ministry. If that were not true, I suspect that you would have moved on or out by now.
But if it IS true, nothing the General Convention has done or can do can change that.
I wait with expectation that our brothers and sisters in the worldwide Anglican Communion, many of whom have been wounded far more deeply than any of us has by this recent action, will stand with us and render their judgment on the action of the General Convention of 2003.
We are tiny portion of a vibrant and faithful body of Christians around the world who know the living God, who live out His Word, and who speak the truth with a love and power that is Spirit filled. They stand with us even now. I have heard from many in the last many hours. And I am encouraged by their call to remain faithful and steadfast.
I am reminded that St. Paul faced conflict and division in the Church he founded at Galatia. Some of his people began to reinterpret and twist the Gospel of Christ to their own uses. What he wrote to them seems to speak particularly to us in this hour:
"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven should proclaim a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned." (Galatians 1.6-8)
My brothers and sisters, the same gospel which teaches us to love each other teaches us also to be committed and obedient to the commands of Jesus our Lord and the teaching of His apostles. When we depart from either, we do damage to the communion we share with God and each other, and we endanger our souls. The truth of God and of His Christ is not subject to a vote, even in the General Convention.
In this moment I ask you to stand firm in your faith, constant in your prayers, faithful to the Scriptures, and open to the future which God has in store for us.