60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley's profile of Bishop Gene Robinson was a good introduction to the man -- especially for anyone who has lived in a cave since Robinson's election last summer. The story touched all the familiar bases: first openly gay bishop elected last June, heated debate at the Episcopal Church's General Convention in August, dissents at Robinson's consecration in November, pew-level responses ranging from anguish to elation since then. Where is this story going next? Two words: episcopal oversight. More specifically, the bishops of the Episcopal Church will soon discuss what the primates of the Anglican Communion meant when they wrote these words last October:
We have a particular concern for those who in all conscience feel bound to dissent from the teaching and practice of their province in such matters. Whilst we reaffirm the teaching of successive Lambeth Conferences that bishops must respect the autonomy and territorial integrity of dioceses and provinces other than their own, we call on the provinces concerned to make adequate provision for episcopal oversight of dissenting minorities within their own area of pastoral care in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the Primates.
What will the Episcopal Church care for members and clergy who do not consider Robinson's election and consecration legitimate? The American Anglican Council and the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes have repeatedly stressed adequate episcopal oversight. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and most other bishops who have written on the matter have favored supplemental episcopal pastoral care.
What's the difference? The AAC/Network concept involves supplanting the local bishop in relation to a dissident parish that has sought adequate episcopal oversight. The Presiding Bishop's concept would require the local bishop's approval for any care from outside the diocese. An unhappy parish could appeal to higher authorites -- namely, other bishops in the same province, or region. Bishops tend to protect their own.
One fascinating angle in recent weeks: Two bishops who gave approval to consecrating Robinson have extended their permission for parishes to receive alternative episcopal oversight.
Bishop Mark MacDonald of Alaska agreed to let Terrence Buckle, an Anglican bishop from Canada, to provide oversight to All Saints, Anchorage, for a year. "When the temperature outside is 50 degrees below zero, you don't have many enemies," Bishop MacDonald told The Living Church magazine. "I'm not really sure how to describe this arrangement. It doesn't really fit any of the existing categories, but it's a win-win situation for all of us."
And Bishop Catherine Waynick of Indianapolis granted a one-year license to the Rev. Robert Giffin to function in her diocese for a year.
"There's a group of people who have made it clear they want to remain connected with the (Worldwide) Anglican Communion but they don't want to be completely connected with ECUSA," Waynick told the Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press. "I'm an Anglican bishop, so I have done what I can to make it possible for them."
Bishops of the Episcopal Church will meet on March 18 to 24 at Camp Allen conference center in Navasota, Texas. If the bishops exercise even minimal wisdom at that meeting, they'll seek ways to emulate MacDonald and Waynick.