Thursday, August 24, 2000

The Jubilee Initiative

The Jubilee Initiative

Why We Need It, What It Means, and Will It Work?

By Stephen Noll

In October, we published in Encompass the Jubilee Bishops Initiative, which had been circulating informally among some bishops since last March. (The text follows below.) Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold has invited a group of bishops to consider this proposal and has asked that it not be called a "bishops’ " initiative. Fair enough. It is no longer a matter for bishops only to ponder. Episcopalians of every order ought to have the opportunity to discuss the ideas behind it, although most of its proposals clearly will go nowhere without the cooperation and implementation of some bishops.

Why We Need It

The biblical Jubilee "release" presumes a situation of oppression, burden, and debt. Many Episcopalians feel terribly weighed down today. Congregations feel their identity threatened. Aspirants for seminary wonder if they will be blocked because of their beliefs. Clergy feel alienated from peers in their diocese. And many of us fear we are just one Resolution away from a very difficult decision: can we in good conscience remain in the Episcopal Church?

The Jubilee Initiative seeks to proclaim liberty "until more normal days return to a renewed and reformed Episcopal Church." The Presiding Bishop is also calling for Jubilee as a time of releasing one another from "the patterns of relation-ship whereby we hold one another hostage." If he really be-lieves this is the situation Episcopalians find themselves in, he must make himself vulnerable to the risks that the Initiative entails. So must we all.

The Jubilee Initiative clearly calls for a change of attitude among liberal and conservative Episcopalians. On the part of liberals, it involves the willingness to let the present formularies and liturgies stand and to allow conservatives to follow their sense of godly conscience. For conservatives, it means a willingness to live in a radically pluralistic church without continually acting and speaking defensively, but rather mobilizing congregations to spread the Gospel.

The Jubilee Initiative breathes the spirit of the Jewish elder Gamaliel who advised the Sanhedrin to let the apostles go their way "if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" (Acts 5:34) For both sides, the Jubilee Initiative will require tremendous trust of an unknown future. This was characteristic of the biblical Jubilee, where rich and propertied men were asked to restore everything in society to an equal playing field.

Will It Work?

The Jubilee Initiative could lead simply to more in-fighting that would hamper genuine mission and renewal. It could lead to a de facto division of the Church, with every parish and individual choosing up sides.

On the other hand, it is just possible that God will use the space created, the modus vivendi provided, for conscientious Episcopalians with very different worldviews to find a way forward. What options do we have, other than to carry on the way we have been for the past 25 years? I for one am willing to give it a go.


For a Free, Vital, Missionary and Enduring Episcopal Church

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

Because he has appointed me to bring good news

to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,

And recovery of sight to the blind,

To let the oppressed go free,

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Luke 4:18-20; Isaiah 61:1-4; cf. Leviticus 25:8-55.

OUR Presiding Bishop has called us to a season of Jubilee, a time of freedom and recovery. This is to be a "fiftieth" year in which the sinful and oppressive structures we humans establish are suspended and we are enabled to experience, however briefly, the liberating order we will know when God's kingdom comes.
Ours is no ordinary time. We bishops of the Episcopal Church - if we are to recover for our Church its liberty, vitality, purpose, and unity - believe that we must commit ourselves to this season of Jubilee, of release. Consistent with Scripture's description of Jubilee, we believe that old controls must be suspended and new models must emerge for these extraordinary days. We are prepared to ask ourselves and others whether there is any alternative to the patterns by which bishops rep-resenting opposing views in the Episcopal Church have dominated one another and our congregations.
As bishops, each one of us will continue to witness and work for the fullness of gospel Truth, as we individually understand it. Yet we also declare ourselves committed to the unity of our church, the Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
In light of the foregoing, we are personally prepared to consider the following courses of action; we are also desirous of inviting all our fellow bishops into prayer and deliberation about these matters:

1.1 A pledge to our Presiding Bishop and to each other to work to deepen the unity of the Episcopal Church in the United States;
1.2 A commitment to refrain from the development of, or participation in, coercive national legislation within the General Convention;

2.1 A willingness to release congregations in our own dioceses to alternative episcopal oversight in cases where these congregations believe that their mission would be better served by having a more supportive bishop;
2.2 An openness to consider whether to allow the diocesan assessment of a congregation under alternative episcopal over-sight to be directed to the diocese of the overseeing bishop; 2.3 A commitment to finding ways through the ordination process for the "theological minorities of our dioceses;

3.1 A renewal of the mission of the Episcopal Church in the 21st century through evangelism, and ministry with the poor and oppressed - especially through the agency of vital congregations;
3.2 A willingness, when invited by both bishop and congregation, to provide alternative episcopal oversight for congregations in other dioceses where that will enhance or support the mission and ministry of those congregations;
3.3 A commitment, where congregations state an intention to leave the Episcopal Church, to work with them to exhaust all possible alternatives to such an action;
3.4 An openness to debating whether resorting to civil courts in battles for church property is destructive to the life and witness of the diocese;

4.1 A pledge to mutual support, partnership, and account-ability within the global Anglican Communion;
4.2 A determination to focus our energies as bishops on mission and evangelism, not on issues of control;
4.3 A continuing call to our brother and sister bishops to join us in proclaiming liberty throughout the land in this season of Jubilee until more normal days return to a renewed and re-formed Episcopal Church.

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look
favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the
effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquillity the plan of
salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things are made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the
unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


Collect at the Ordination of a Bishop, Book of Common Prayer, p. 515.

Michaelmas, A.D. 1999

I wrote this editorial for Encompass, the newsletter of the American Anglican Council, which appeared in December 1999.

Copyright 2000 Stephen F. Noll.

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