The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church has agreed to discuss the idea of providing "sustained pastoral care" to conservative parishes at odds with their liberal bishops. In a Dec. 13 letter to bishops, Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold said he wants to explore ways to allow oversight that crosses traditional geographic boundaries when the House of Bishops meets in March in Texas.

The proposal, pushed by conservatives upset with the church's liberal drift, was endorsed by the leaders of the world's Anglican churches when they met last March. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the 70 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion. The so-called "flying bishops" proposal might be similar to a system in England, where conservative parishes are overseen by a bishop who is theologically and socially more in line with the parish. Griswold traditionally has been cool to the proposal.

Griswold said the discussions would address "what forms it might take, and our role as reconcilers, questions of schism and how best to address them." During his tenure as presiding bishop, several dozen parishes have left the church and sought oversight from a breakaway group, the Anglican Mission in America.

Conservative bishops said they were pleased with the planned discussions, but want them to be more than a "token gesture." "It is unfortunate that it took so many years to make it to the agenda, but perhaps we bishops can now begin to work together to find a way to restore at least some degree of peace and unity in our church," said Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, a leader in the conservative American Anglican Council.

The Rev. David Anderson, a California pastor and president of the American Anglican Council, called the proposal a "moderate and reasonable step forward" but said Episcopalians would have to change how they see the church. "It would mean that we would need to view our church as a body comprised of people like you and me, rather than as a collection of institutional and hierarchical structures," he said.

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