February 24, 2015

The Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh Celebrates 150 Years

The Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh has revamped its Web site. Its new incarnation is less cluttered, but I haven’t attempted to inventory everything that’s there and that isn’t. I found particularly interesting the pastoral letter from Bishop Bob Duncan. (The letter is also available here as a PDF file.)

Duncan begins by asserting that the diocese is celebrating its sesquicentennial, i.e., its 150th anniversary this year. He concludes his remarks about this milestone with this somewhat garbled sentence: “The sesquicentennial adaptation of our logo—used for the first time in this letter’s letterhead—will also serve us as a reminder of the great foundation on which we continue to build.” Is the logo one to be used during this year only or, is it going to be used beyond 2015, possibly with a different number in the center? I don’t know. Here is the logo to which he refers:
Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh logo
Everything in black is new. The rest of the graphic has been in use since before the 2008 schism in the diocese. After the news about the sesquicentennial, Duncan discusses other diocesan issues, about which I will make no further comment.

Several things need to be said about this logo. First, there is some honesty in the legend “REALIGNED A.D. 2008.” The Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, like breakaway groups elsewhere in The Episcopal Church, have tried to maintain the fiction that it is the same diocese that existed before conservative conspirators broke with The Episcopal Church and walked off with the property. Likewise, the Episcopalians left behind were said to have organized a “new” Episcopal Church diocese. This view was always a hard sell in Pittsburgh, in part, because one member of the Standing Committee was not part of the conspiracy and represented continuity in leadership. In any case, the Anglican diocese has continued to number its conventions from the first Episcopal convention, rather than starting over after 2008. At least the 150th anniversary logo acknowledges that something significant happened in 2008.

Then, there is the curious legend “‘FAMOUS FOR GOD.’” Syntactically, this is a classic misuse of quotation marks. Quotation marks are most commonly used in three contexts: (1) to set off quoted material, such as speech; (2) to name certain things, such as chapter titles; and (3) to indicate that something is not quite what the word or words suggest. In the logo in question, neither case (1) nor case (2) applies. This suggests—though it is surely not intended—that the diocese thinks it’s famous for God, but really isn’t.

I suspect that “Famous for God” is a reference to the work of the Rev. Sam Shoemaker, who spoke of Pittsburgh at some time in the future being as famous for God as for steel. (In a certain sense, that has been achieved, but not how Shoemaker intended.) It is ironic that Shoemaker was rector of Calvary Church, whose lawsuit against Duncan and his colleagues many years later is largely responsible for keeping most of the assets of the diocese in the hands of Episcopalians and keeping the question of whether a diocese can secede from The Episcopal Church out of the courts. In any case, Shoemaker was speaking of Pittsburgh, not the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, and surely not the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

I think that the Anglican diocese is famous for Duncan and for conservative subversion of The Episcopal Church. Make of that what you will. I am reminded of my many visits to Episcopal churches outside the area before the diocesan schism. I would introduce myself as a visitor to the rector after the service, and the rector would ask where I was from. His or her face immediately turned noncommittal when I answered, “Pittsburgh.” After giving assurance that I was a loyal Episcopalian, I was invariably offered sympathy. Our diocese was famous, but not for God. Of course, those who left The Episcopal Church for what has become the Anglican Church in North America may have a different view,

The founding year of the Anglican diocese of Pittsburgh is really 2008, but I will grant that the organization shares a history before then. Just as the Christian Church found it useful to claim continuity with the ancient Jewish religion, which provided more respect in the eyes of Romans, the Anglican diocese finds it useful to claim it is older than it actually is. All things considered, a more honest logo might be the following:
An Episcopalian’s take on the logo

February 19, 2015

A Long-forgotten Curve-stitch Design

A couple of days ago, I had occasion to look for a curve-stitch design I made years ago. I had to search through files I had backed up but never transferred to my current computer. In the process, I found some designs I had completely forgotten about, including the one below.

Click on image for a larger view

I tweaked this figure before posting it here, and it could be improved by adjusting line widths to be more uniform, but I really like the design. Anyone familiar with curve-stitching will be able to recognize how unusual it is.

February 16, 2015

Islamic State

With the beheading of the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by the so-called Islamic State, IS seems to be continuing its campaign  of offending every country on earth. Egypt is only the latest implacable enemy that IS has created by its outrageous behavior.

President Obama is asking for authority to target IS and its allies. Opponents of granting such authority assert that IS does not represent an existential threat to the United States and that our country should not be the world’s policeman. There is some validity to those points, of course. And yet, when Hitler began what would become World War II, it was not clear that Nazi Germany was an existential threat to the U.S. As it turned out, it was.

Once before, Islamic militants overran most of the Western world. Arguably, it’s happening again.

February 14, 2015

Absalom Jones

Yesterday, February 13, was the day the church celebrates the life of Absalom Jones, the first black priest in The Episcopal Church. Jones was born on November 7, 1746, and died on February 13, 1818. The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh had its Absalom Jones Day celebration a week ago. I was very much struck by the story of Jones, which was recounted in the service bulletin. His story is quite dramatic. Wouldn’t that story make a great opera? Is there a composer out there who would like to take on that project?

Here is the summary of Jones’s life, taken from Holy Women, Holy Men:
Absalom Jones was born a house slave in 1746 in Delaware. He taught himself to read out of the New Testament, among other books. When sixteen, he was sold to a store owner in Philadelphia. There he attended a night school for Blacks, operated by Quakers. At twenty, he married another slave, and purchased her freedom with his earnings.

Jones bought his own freedom in 1784. At St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church, he served as lay minister for its Black membership. The active evangelism of Jones and that of his friend, Richard Allen, greatly increased Black membership at St. George’s. The alarmed vestry decided to segregate Blacks into an upstairs gallery, without notifying them. During a Sunday service when ushers attempted to remove them, the Blacks indignantly walked out in a body.

In 1787, Black Christians organized the Free African Society, the first organized Afro-American society, and Absalom Jones and Richard Allen were elected overseers. Members of the Society paid monthly dues for the benefit of those in need. The Society established communication with similar Black groups in other cities. In 1792, the Society began to build a church, which was dedicated on July 17, 1794.

The African Church applied for membership in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania on the following conditions: 1, that they be received as an organized body; 2, that they have control over their local affairs; 3, that Absalom Jones be licensed as layreader, and, if qualified, be ordained as minister. In October 1794 it was admitted as St. Thomas African Episcopal Church. Bishop White ordained Jones as deacon in 1795 and as priest on September 21, 1802.

Jones was an earnest preacher. He denounced slavery, and warned the oppressors to “clean their hands of slaves.” To him, God was the Father, who always acted on “behalf of the oppressed and distressed.” But it was his constant visiting and mild manner that made him beloved by his own flock and by the community. St. Thomas Church grew to over 500 members during its first year. Known as “the Black Bishop of the Episcopal Church,” Jones was an example of persistent faith in God and in the Church as God’s instrument.
Additional information about Absalom Jones can be found in the Wikipedia article about him.

The Rev. Absalom Jones
"Absalom Jones" by Raphaelle Peale, Delaware Art Museum


January 28, 2015

How Does the Anglican Communion Office Count?

Anglican Communion News Service announced January 19, 2015, that the Anglican Church of Melanesia adopted the Anglican Covenant at its November General Synod. ACNS noted that Melanesia “is the 12th Province to adopt or subscribe the Covenant.” The story also provided a link to what I take to be the official Anglican Communion Office tally of Covenant acceptances and rejections.

The Living Church dutifully picked up this story two days later under the headline “12th Covenant Affirmation.” Interestingly, Episcopal News Service ignored the development.

As Episcopal Church Convenor and Webmaster for the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, I was naturally interested in the story out of Melanesia. At the very least, I needed to update our own reckoning of decisions about the Covenant in the various Anglican churches.

I had assumed that updating the status table on the No Anglican Covenant Web site would be quick and easy. A little spot checking, however, made me realize that many of our links documenting the progress of actions involving the Covenant were no longer available on the Web. I therefore embarked on the lengthy project of fixing broken links. In most cases, I was able to retrieve a page from the Internet Archive. In a few cases, I had to delete a link or link to a different page. To the best of my knowledge, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition’s status table is now correct and up-to-date.

The Coalition’s tally differs in some significant ways from that of the ACO. Most conspicuously, the Coalition has attempted to document all the steps leading to a final decision on the Covenant, something that is not an objective of the listing on the Anglican Communion Web site. We note the current status of the Covenant in The Episcopal Church, for example, citing two General Convention resolutions, a resolution from a diocese, and three pages documenting resolutions proposed for the 2012 General Convention. The Episcopal Church has not yet made a decision about the Covenant, and this fact is unreported by the ACO. Fine, that’s not the purpose of its listing.

Two omissions from the official list of Covenant decisions are notable, however. Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines voted against Covenant adoption in May 2011. This has not been especially well documented or explained—but see this story—and we have taken this to be a Covenant rejection. More distressing is the omission of the Church of England’s rejection of the Covenant. There seems to be an unwillingness to admit that the Mother Church of Anglicanism has, in fact, failed to endorse the project so ardently supported by its former Archbishop of Canterbury. No doubt, the rejection of the Covenant by a majority of English dioceses is somehow deemed less than definitive by the ACO. The church could reconsider, after all, but so could a church that has unambiguously adopted the Covenant.

Most distressing, however, is the claim by ACNS that 12 churches have adopted the Covenant. Even counting in the most generous fashion, the Anglican Communion Web page lists only 11 adopters! The Coalition, on the other hand, counts 9 unquestioned adoptions and 2 ambiguous ones. Our listing for the Church of Ireland notes
The Ireland church “subscribed” to the Covenant on 13 May 2011. The General Synod intended to make it clear that the Covenant did not supplant existing governing documents of the Church of Ireland. Source
Is the action taken by the Church of Ireland substantially different from a simple adoption? Who knows? Only time will tell.

Our listing for the Church of the Province of South East Asia is the following:
The church “acceded” to the Covenant and published an explanation of its understanding of the action on 7 May 2011, which seems to go beyond the Covenant text itself.
The South East Asia’s “Preamble to the Letter of Accession” reviews Covenant history and recent Anglican Communion conflicts from a conservative, Global South perspective. It also sets out expectations of churches adopting the Covenant, expectations not contained in the Covenant text itself. Moreover, the Preamble asserts that “our accession to the Anglican Communion Covenant is based” on those extra-covenantal expectations. We therefore believe that South East Asia’s acceptance of the Covenant is conditional.

Even if Ireland and South East Asia are counted as adopters, the page from the ACO shows that only 11 churches, not 12, have adopted the Covenant. A screenshot from the page, on which I have highlighted adoptions in green, rejections in red, and ambiguous adoptions in orange, is shown below. (These are the colors we use on the No Anglican Covenant page.) Click on the image for a larger view. A PDF file showing the entire page, annotated as in the image below, is here.

Partial page from Anglican Communion Web site

So, can the minions of the Anglican Communion Office not count, or are they willing to engage in sleight of hand to promote the Covenant? Who knows?

January 27, 2015

Ultracrepidarian

I learned a new word the other day—ultracrepidarian. I haven’t yet been able to work it into conversation, but I look forward to doing so. The word describes a person who offers opinions, judgments, etc., beyond his or her expertise. As a noun, it refers to such a person.

Ultracrepidarian is such a great word to describe Republicans who pontificate on subjects such as human reproduction, climate change, or economics. In fact, by extension, I think one might refer to the Republican Party as the ultracrepidarian party.

January 25, 2015

The Anglican Covenant, Yet Again

The Very Rev. Kelvin Holdsworth
The Very Rev. Kelvin Holdsworth
Photo by Gordon Smith. Used by permission.
Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, has written an excellent essay lamenting the Church of England’s deal with the Devil that has simultaneously brought women bishops and bishops who believe that God forbids women from having authority over men as permanent fixtures of that church.

On one hand, the Church of England has declared that it is “fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender.” At the same time, it not only vowed to tolerate those who are unequivocally committed to the view that only males should be ordained but also “committed to enabling them to flourish [emphasis added] within its [the Church of England’s] life and structures.” Once again, in the name of unity, the Church of England has institutionalized internal conflict with the apparent intention to nurture that conflict in perpetuity.

I think the craziness attendant the approval for women bishops in England is, at least in part, the product of establishment. The established church, which views itself as besieged in a sea of indifference, has abandoned its mission of providing moral leadership for the nation in favor of pursuing the quixotic goal of making everybody happy. Hardly anyone is happy.

My purpose here is not really to cover the same ground as Holdsworth. He does an admirable job of pointing out the foolishness of the path being taken by the church to his south. What I want to do instead is to consider the Church of England’s actions with respect to the Anglican Covenant.

For those who have forgotten about the Anglican Covenant or, mercifully, have never heard of it, you can read it here. Various churches of the Anglican Communion have adopted the Covenant; others have rejected it; some have not acted definitively one way or the other. The status of the agreement in the various churches can be found here. The Covenant states that it becomes effective for a church (i.e., binding) upon adoption by that church. No time limit has been imposed on adoption, and it is possible that some churches will defer the adoption decision indefinitely.

The Church of England has rejected the Covenant, though some would dispute the fact. The previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was a strong advocate for the Covenant; Justin Welby, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, not so much. To my knowledge, Archbishop Welby has never mentioned the Covenant in public. He has certainly not promoted its adoption. The Church of England, then, has no obligation to adhere to the requirements of the Covenant. But what if it did?

According to Paragraph 3.2.3 of the Covenant, action by a church that will be controversial, new, or otherwise problematic should be “tested by shared discernment in the life of the Church,” and (according to Paragraph 3.2.4) the church should “seek a shared mind with other Churches, through the Communion’s councils, about matters of common concern.” The Covenant goes on to say that “[e]ach Church will undertake wide consultation with the other Churches of the Anglican Communion and with the Instruments and Commissions of the Communion.” In Paragraph 3.2.5, churches pledge “to act with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy,” and in Paragraph 3.2.6, churches are required “in situations of conflict, to participate in mediated conversations, which involve face to face meetings, agreed parameters and a willingness to see such processes through.”

The Church of England did none of this before authorizing women to be consecrated bishops. Moreover, many inside and outside the church, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, saw providing for women bishops as an urgent need. The Covenant-mandated consultation would have taken years, perhaps decades. The Church of England did not need consultation with other Communion churches to determine if its action was going to be controversial. Some Communion churches remain opposed to the ordination of women generally, and unhappiness with the authorization for the consecration of women bishops was expressed both before and after the final steps were taken by the English church. Even in churches that could be expected to celebrate the Church of England’s attempt to treat male and female clergy alike—in The Episcopal Church, in the Anglican Church of Canada, and in the Scottish Episcopal Church, for example—there is surely unhappiness in the manner in which England has institutionalized opposition to a theological position it purports to hold. (This is what Holdsworth expressed so clearly.)

If the entire Anglican Communion had adopted the Anglican Covenant and took it seriously, the Church of England would be in hot water now. Section 4.2 provides for the Standing Committee to request that a church defer a controversial action. Obviously, it is too late for that. After the fact, however, and after widespread consultation, the Standing Committee could recommend that the Church of England be subjected to “relational consequences” (Paragraph 4.2.7) for taking action “incompatible with the Covenant.” Neither of these terms is precisely defined in the text of the Covenant, and their meaning alone would likely be a source of conflict. Widespread discussion of the Church of England’s action would surely lead only to more controversy and chaos in the Communion, rather than any “consensus fidelium” (Paragraph 3.1.4).

Isn’t it time for Anglicans to ask themselves if God would be more pleased if the Anglican Communion focused on policing its member churches to insure that those of Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, England, and the United States articulate an identical theology and ethics, or if churches concentrated on preaching the Gospel to their neighbors, worshiping God, ameliorating human suffering, seeking justice, and protecting our environment? The answer, as the song says, is blowin’ in the wind.

One impetus for writing this essay is the recent news that the Church of the Province of Melanesia adopted the Covenant a couple of months ago. It seems, on one hand, that the time for the Covenant has passed, and many have written it off as dead (or have considered doing so). The passionate essays for and against the pact are no longer forthcoming. Nonetheless, the number of adopters is very slowly increasing, raising the possibility of non-adopters saying “what the hell” and taking the plunge. The effect of Covenant adoption to date, after all, has been precisely nil.

The Covenant was born of an angry pressure-cooker era in which the Anglican primates seemed to be meeting every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It has now been a while since the primates have met, and, although there have been many angry meetings sponsored by conservative Anglicans, it isn’t clear that the rest of the Communion is paying them much attention. In a recent New York Times interview with Justin Welby, reporter Michael Paulson noted
He [Welby] has declared the Church of England, which he leads, to be declining in numbers and influence, and has deemed the Anglican Communion, where he is viewed as first among equals of bishops around the world, to be so fractured over gender and sexuality that it is not worth trying to meet collectively any time soon.
Welby, I suggest, has figured out that what the Communion really needs is not engagement, but disengagement, exactly the opposite of what the Covenant strives to achieve. Let the churches do mission as they understand it and refrain from trying to correct the perceived errors of one another. The Covenant is not so much about how Communion churches can get along as it is about how they should fight. Why fight to begin with?

Finally, this brings me to the upcoming General Convention of The Episcopal Church, which will be held in Salt Lake City this coming summer. General Convention has a lot on its plate this year. It will be electing a new Presiding Bishop; figuring out what to do with resolutions from the Task Force on Reimagining The Episcopal Church (TREC); considering whether something is to be done about seminary education, which seems to be in crisis; and examining whether, in light of the Bishop Cook debacle, we need to change our procedures for selecting bishops—all this in addition to “normal” business like approving a budget. No one, it seems, is thinking about what our church should be doing with the Anglican Covenant. Frankly, some Covenant opponents think that’s just fine.

I am not among them. Our last General Convention passed a timid resolution asserting that Episcopalians were too divided on the question of Covenant adoption to make a decision at that time. This was a farce. If every issue before the Convention were treated the same way, nothing would ever be passed, since there are always dissenting voices. The reality is that there is no significant enthusiasm in The Episcopal Church for the Covenant, but our pathological Anglican niceness makes it difficult to acknowledge the fact.

We need a 2015 resolution rejecting the Covenant less to protect The Episcopal Church, the church that, along with the Anglican Church of Canada, the militant traditionalists in the Communion love to hate, than to send the message that the Covenant project is destined to fail. If The Episcopal Church decisively rejects the Covenant in 2015, Canada will like follow suit when its General Synod meets in 2016. At that point, the Covenant will be useless, which is much better than malevolent, which it now has the potential to become.

I hope that Episcopalians will realize that they have an obligation vis-à-vis the Covenant and the Communion. General Convention can help save the Communion from the misguided Covenant project and point the Communion back to mission, its real purpose.

One could imagine a General Convention resolution that acknowledges in detail the position in which we find ourselves three years after we ducked rejecting the Covenant in 2012. On the other hand, the resolution proposed by the No Anglican Covenant Coalition would do just fine. You can find it here,