COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Episcopalians, deeply torn over the issue of homosexuality and at odds with many other members of the Anglican Communion, are meeting here this week to debate how -- or if -- they can maintain the church's fragile unity.
At a packed hearing room on Wednesday (June 14) night, using language by turns intensely spiritual and parliamentarian, church members testified to the momentous decisions that face the church at its General Convention here this week (June 13-21).
"How wonderful it was that everyone was at the table," Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire, said in an interview Thursday morning.
Because he is openly gay, Robinson's 2003 election sent threats of schism shivering through the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church, as well as the worldwide 77 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion.
"Reconciliation isn't possible unless there is contact and communion," Robinson said, "And I intend to stay at the table until I drop."
A special church committee convened Wednesday's hearing in an effort to respond to concerns about the American church's left-leaning treatment of sexuality.
Specifically, the committee must respond to a report commissioned by the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion.
Known as the Windsor Report, the document calls for the American church to apologize for Robinson's ordination, and impose moritoriums on ordaining any more gay bishops and blessing same-sex unions.
On Tuesday, Williams wrote to delegates at the convention that "Windsor is not the end of the story, but it sets out a positive picture of what that might imply as together we strive to serve the mission of God."
Resolutions under consideration would express regret for any pain caused by the American church, but stop short of an outright apology. Likewise, the resolutions would only have Episcopalians exercise "very considerable caution" when considering gay bishops and blessing same-sex unions.
Conservatives took the floor Wednesday night to decry the resolutions, saying that they lack clarity and honesty.
"The language" of the resolutions "is a fudge," said the Rev. Kendall Harmon, a conservative theologian from South Carolina. "It's a dance away from what we've really been called to do."
The Right Rev. John Sentamu, the Anglican archbishop of York, crossed the Atlantic to tell Episcopal leaders that the Windsor Report was like a doctor that could heal the wounds between the American church and the worldwide communion.
But Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, the de facto leader of American conservatives, said the church has reached an "impossible moment" and will not be able to hold its conservative and liberal wings together.
What happens in the American church resounds throughout the worldwide communion, said Bishop Pierre Whalon of Paris, who oversees a small network of Episcopal parishes across Europe. "Because we are a global church ... and our decisions can't be America first," he said.
Still, Robinson said Thursday that keeping the church together is "only impossible if we decide it's impossible," and that "impossible moment" seems to be a "faithless term."
Moreover, Robinson said, there seems to be a double-standard when judging the Episcopal Church's actions against those of the rest of the Anglican Communion.
"I'm not aware of a single attempt by any other church to ask for our consent on something they might be doing," he said.