December 23, 2007

Welcome to my church...

The Episcopal Church has been much in the news in the past few years, but it is difficult to be thankful for all the publicity. Whereas, historically, The Episcopal Church has been notable for its ability to accommodate diverse points of view, even on important matters of theology, one could easily get the impression from reading the New York Times or the Washington Post that we are an especially contentious lot. Well, perhaps, we’ve always been that, but we have usually stayed together in spite of our passions.

The prospects for staying together in my own diocese, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, however, are not good. Our bishop, the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, has made it clear that he wants to remove the entire diocese from what he sees as a heretical church. That isn’t going to happen, of course, if only because many Pittsburgh Episcopalians are quite happy with our church, if not with our angry bishop and his angry followers.

Thinking that people in our diocese needed to hear from local Episcopalians who are content to be in The Episcopal Church, an ad campaign called “Welcome to my church...” was launched in October. The ads, which have appeared in the weekly church sections of three newspapers in Southwestern Pennsylvania, each picture an Episcopalian talking about his or her church and what it means to him or her personally. Each ad features a different church. There have been seven such ads so far, and more are on the way.

Here is sample. This one features my own church, St. Paul’s, in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania:

Welcome to my church... ad
A new Web site has just been unveiled that shows all the ads and, in addition, contains links to information about The Episcopal Church. You can click here to have a look. Perhaps a similar campaign could build goodwill for The Episcopal Church in your diocese.

December 12, 2007


The big news in The Episcopal Church (and, I suppose, in the Anglican Communion) is the Diocese of San Joaquin’s alleged “realignment” to become a diocese of the province of the Southern Cone. This was engineered by the diocesan bishop, the Rt. Rev. John-David M. Schofield, SSC, though not without with a good deal of arm-twisting within the diocese and conspiring with other “orthodox” bishops bent on schism and empire-building outside it.

The ugly events in Fresno this past weekend inspired me to write one of my occasional limericks today. I reproduce “Schism” below. For an illustrated and annotated version, click here to read and read about the poem in the poetry section of Lionel Deimel’s Farrago.
by Lionel Deimel

There once was a bish in the valley

Who asked his convention to tally

Its votes to secede

That would make his church bleed

Causing right-wing schismatics to rally.

Of course, I don’t think my modest effort here can compare to the new hymn composed by Susan Russell, “Come, Thou long expected Schism.” I’m not sure what tune Susan had in mind, but the Charles Wesley hymn “Come, thou long expected Jesus” is paired in Hymnal 1982 with Stuttgart. Appropriately, Wesley’s is an Advent hymn, as is Susan’s, in a manner of speaking.

December 10, 2007

Quick Monday Morning Thoughts

In light of the Diocese of San Joaquin’s reputed transfer from The Episcopal Church to the Southern Cone this past weekend, I find myself wanting to write long essays on a variety of related subjects. Since I do not have time to do that just now, permit me to offer a few quick takes on the situation.

First, I am wondering why Bishop Schofield has not yet been charged with abandoning the communion of The Episcopal Church under Canon 9 of Title IV. Surely, this time, no one can argue that an abandonment charge is being misused. This is exactly the sort of circumstance for which it was designed. (The charge would be brought against Schofield, of course, for his actually leaving, not for his fomenting schism, which, though an appropriate allegation under Canon 9, is a rather more abstract one.) The Presiding Bishop warned that an abandonment charge would be the result of Schofield’s following through with his plans. It is time for +Katharine to act. In fact, it is long past the prudent time to act.

An interesting question that has been bandied about on several blogs (on Preludium, for example) is the status of the now Bishop-elect of South Carolina, Mark Lawrence. Lawrence has been canonically resident in San Joaquin, and Bishop Schofield has declared that all clergy in the diocese are in the Southern Cone. He did, however, give them the option of staying in The Episcopal Church or taking time to think about it. Perhaps Lawrence’s canonical residence is in ecclesiastical limbo at the moment, but I would argue that he should immediately declare what province of the Anglican Communion he wants to be in. He cannot be in the Southern Cone and be consecrated Bishop of South Carolina.

What really set me off this morning, was an item on The “Lead”:
“Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has not in any way endorsed the actions of the Primate of the Southern Cone, Bishop Gregory Venables, in his welcoming of dioceses, such as San Joaquin in the Episcopal Church, to become part of his province in South America,” a spokesman for the Anglican Communion said.
Such a courageous declaration! The Archbishop is clearly more interested in evading personal responsibility for the current mess than he is in preserving anything that looks like order in the Anglican Communion, which has become an ecclesiastical Wild West under his “leadership.”

The big question, from my own vantage point in Pittsburgh, of course, is whether we are seeing the future of our my diocese unfolding in California. I hope not.

December 8, 2007

Now what?

This weekend, I watched the convention of the Diocese of San Joaquin on Anglican TV, as, with some jubilation, it changed its constitution and canons and declared itself free of The Episcopal Church. At the same time, the diocese declared that it had joined the Southern Cone, a small, South American province of the Anglican Communion. Now what?

The ENS story on the convention repeated the now-familiar message:
If Schofield is considered to have abandoned the communion of the church, he would have two months to recant his position. Failing to do so, the matter would be referred to the full House of Bishops. If the House were to concur, the Presiding Bishop would depose the bishops and declare the episcopates of those dioceses vacant. [There seems to be a lapse in editing here, as the story is supposed about only the Diocese of San Joaquin.] Those remaining in the Episcopal Church would be gathered to organize a new diocesan convention and elect a replacement Standing Committee, if necessary.

An assisting bishop would be appointed to provide episcopal ministry until a new diocesan bishop search process could be initiated and a new bishop elected and consecrated.

A lawsuit would be filed against the departed leadership and a representative sample of departing congregations if they attempted to retain Episcopal Church property.
This all sounds so cleverly well thought-out and straightforward, but is it really?

Consider Step 1: if someone thinks Bishop Schofield has abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church—am I the only person who concluded hours ago, without an iota of doubt, that this has certainly happened now, if not years go?—charges could be brought against the bishop and, if the three senior bishops of the church and the Presiding Bishop agree on the matter, Schofield could be inhibited, which prevents him from performing episcopal acts, such as confirmations, but does not prevent him from administrative actions, such as moving trust funds offshore. Inhibition is not necessary for the House of Bishops to consider whether Schofield is guilty as charged, and one might ask if it really even does any good. If charges are pressed, the church is likely to hear from the likes of Archbishops Venables, Akinola, et al., and their words are likely to be—how shall I put it?—unkind. Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury can be relied upon to make another of his now-famous ill-conceived statements guaranteed, likely inadvertently, to make the situation markedly worse.

And Bishop John-David Schofield will, I assure you, say that he is beyond the reach of the discipline of The Episcopal Church because he is a bishop in good standing in the province of the Southern Cone. He is not going to pay the slightest attention to the Presiding Bishop, Title IV Review Committee, or any vote of the House of Bishops.

The Episcopal Church has only one recourse: sue. It will, and the case will likely drag on for a long time. The outcome, irrespective of which side is in the right—I have no doubt that The Episcopal Church is right here—will, for years, perhaps, be in doubt. The publicity will not be especially good for evangelism.

Step 2 is interesting: organize a new diocesan convention to reconstitute a Standing Committee. (The Standing Committee of the Diocese of San Joaquin will, presumably, be running the diocese that continues to be headed by Bishop Schofield.) In this step, the church will be winging it, constitutionally speaking. By organizing a new convention, will the church be admitting that the diocese has (or, even, could) leave the church? Under whose rules will the convention operate: under those of the departed diocese or under some other rules? The church must argue, I think, that the real Diocese of San Joaquin has been hijacked and must, somehow, be returned to its rightful stewards. Meanwhile, we are likely to have what might best be described as “Dueling Dioceses of San Joaquin.”

Step 3, appointing an assisting bishop, presumably with the concurrence of the newly constituted Standing Committee, should be easy enough, but the appointed bishop seems unlikely to have much of a flock. The convention votes were, to put it delicately, overwhelming.

Step 4, suing, as noted above, should probably be Step 1 or, to provide more rationale for the action, Step 2.

The question that must be asked is why has the church not acted against Bishop Schofield before now. Charges against the bishop, before today, could not so easily have been ignored. Of course, abandonment of the communion charges were brought against Schofield last year and were dismissed. A presentment could have been brought against the bishop, which, though it involves rather messier procedures, also allows greater latitude in the charges. In any case, The Episcopal Church has a bigger mess to clean up today than it did yesterday.

Of course, I am especially interested in the situation in San Joaquin, as the Diocese of Pittsburgh is planning to do exactly as San Joaquin has done. The Presiding Bishop threatened Bishop Duncan—as, in fact, she did Bishop Schofield—about moving forward with constitutional changes just before the 2007 diocesan convention. He was unmoved, and the diocese, on November 2, did what Duncan asked it to do. It is now December 8, and the Presiding Bishop has not acted. Is the church going to wait until Pittsburgh follows San Joaquin into the South American sunset?

November 30, 2007

A Pittsburgh Lament

My friend and fellow parishioner at St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, Jane Little, has written a reflection on the current situation in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. I want to share “What to Do with a Bishop,” but, particularly for those outside of the diocese—and, perhaps, for those who do not know Jane—some words of introduction will be helpful.

Readers likely know that Pittsburgh is known as a “conservative” diocese, although this has not always been so. The Rt. Rev. Robert W. Duncan is the present diocesan bishop, and he has not only moved the diocese to the right—very much with the help of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry (TESM), I hasten to add—but he has also been working to remove the diocese completely from The Episcopal Church, an impossibility, in the same sense that removing money from banks at gunpoint is an impossibility.

It is less well known that Bishop Duncan came from a family perhaps best described as dysfunctional, and that he was elected bishop somewhat unconventionally. He had been brought into the diocese as Canon to the Ordinary, largely because the then bishop, Alden Hathaway, needed administrative help. Duncan was generally seen as having performed well in this capacity and having been supportive of all parishes, irrespective of their theological or liturgical orientation. It was, therefore, something of a surprise that the search committee that identified candidates for Hathaway’s successor did not include Duncan among its candidates. Moreover, the committee was obstinately silent regarding what was widely seen as a slight. Duncan was nominated from the floor of the convention and, eventually, was elected.

Jane mentions the Diocese of Chile in her piece, as well as its province, the Southern Cone. It has been suggested that the Southern Cone could become a haven for dioceses, such as Pittsburgh, that want to secede from The Episcopal Church. Not long ago, the Diocese of Chile was a companion diocese of Pittsburgh. Jane and her late husband Chuck were on the so-called Chile Committee. (The Committee was led by the Rev. Mark Lawrence, now bishop-elect of South Carolina.) The Chile Committee not only traveled to Chile, but also arranged for clergy from Chile to study at TESM. Whereas many in the diocese would see the Southern Cone’s willingness to “shelter” the Diocese of Pittsburgh as the fruit of Pittsburgh’s faithfulness and generosity, Jane and others see it as a case of biting the hand that feeds you.

And, now, a few words about Jane: Jane is speaking from what, in Pittsburgh, is a minority perspective. She is unsympathetic to the bishop’s theological position and unsympathetic to his methods. Jane has a Baptist background—American Baptist, she is quick to point out—and only began attending Episcopal churches after meeting her husband-to-be. Her friends sometimes refer to her as Jane the Baptist because, whenever it seems that The Episcopal Church might experience an ecclesiological meltdown, Jane reminds us that she has a church to which she could return. Not all of us feel that we have the same sort of safety net.

In contrast to my own preference for methodical, rational analysis, Jane responds to circumstances from the heart, often seeing patterns and connections she is at a loss fully to explain to others, but which seem to capture valuable insights and to offer paths forward that the more “logical” among us might miss. Oddly, while taking a “big-picture” approach in her own analysis, she is also very good at finding subtle technical flaws in the works of others (well, in what I write, anyway).

Jane has had a long-running private correspondence with Bishop Duncan, which displays a generosity of spirit and pastoral concern at which I can only marvel. Her latest thoughts about the diocese seem devoid of her usual optimism, however, and I think that “What to Do with a Bishop” is best seen as a lament, as she is neither asking a question nor answering one. Actually, I’m not sure that the title is well-chosen, but Jane’s intuitive choices often turn out to have a deeper significance than is immediately apparent. Finally, I should point out that her quotation of Matthew 25:40 is from memory and does not quite match any available translation of the Bible.

Jane’s meditation is below. If you have any comments, feel free to send them to me, and I will forward them to Jane.
What to Do with a Bishop

There are no words to tell you this terrible story of how a man, here nurtured, has turned against his church, and taken his own followers with him, as a final salute to his own accomplishments. He came to us, not chosen by the committee that had worked so hard to get it right, but presented by the brother of the head of that committee, from the floor, for those feeling sorry for this man who had come here, worked for a bishop, and wanted the office at whatever cost. No one knew then what a cost it would be to bring in a man of great personal ambition, coming out of a sad childhood, to offer us all up in his own name. He even went to the Southern Cone for support and sanctuary in his misconduct, the Southern Cone to which we had offered, in Chile, so much love and support for its educational requirements and needs.

This wickedness is against the Lord, who said, “If you do it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you do it unto me.” Knowing this, they went ahead, they go ahead, and in all deliberateness, rip apart the church, for God, they say. How dare they blaspheme in this way! They have convinced themselves that they are right, when they are dead wrong, and anyone can see how wrong it is to rip apart a church, to throw out a segment of the church, and claim to stand in God’s place! There will be punishment for this, but of course, we know not when or how.

We pray for guidance from one day to the next, until we get through this awful time of brother destroying brother. This man cannot now even save face, although he was told again and again to save face while it was still possible. He insists on going through to the bitter end, which may indeed be more bitter than he had ever anticipated. God save us all, that all may turn to right, in Jesus name, now and forever.

Jane Little
Thanksgiving Weekend 2007

November 13, 2007

The Faith Once Delivered

At the recent annual convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh held in Johnstown, Pa.—reports of the convention can be found here and here—Bishop Robert Duncan read his letter in answer to the warning he had received recently from the Presiding Bishop. The letter, in essence, was as follows:
Dear Katharine,

Drop dead.

His actual words were:
1st November, A.D. 2007
The Feast of All Saints

The Most Revd Katharine Jefferts Schori
Episcopal Church Center
New York, New York

Dear Katharine,

Here I stand. I can do no other. I will neither compromise the Faith once delivered to the saints, nor will I abandon the sheep who elected me to protect them.

Pax et bonum in Christ Jesus our Lord,

+Bob Pittsburgh
Mark Harris, on his blog, called this letter “classic Duncan.” I have to agree.

Almost everything about this letter is irritating, but, for me, one of the most objectionable aspects of it is the use of the phrase “the Faith once delivered to the saints.” This phrase, usually without the needless capitalization of “faith,” is constantly used by the so-called “orthodox” to suggest, succinctly, that their version of Christianity is the one true faith, the Christian faith as Jesus himself meant it to be understood.

The phrase, of course, comes from the third verse of the first (and only) chapter of the Letter of Jude:
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. (Authorized Version)
Jude is short and passionate, and its basic meaning is clear. Christians are to defend the Gospel against those promoting false teachings, “ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 4b). Much of the rest of the letter is about what these “ungodly men” will do and how they will be punished for it. Nevertheless, the nature of the false teachings the author of the letter is railing about is not clear, and the letter appears to be something of a generic encyclical warning the saints to be vigilant against those who would mislead them.

Scholarly consensus places the composition of Jude toward the end of the first or in the first quarter of the second century CE. Conservatives favor an earlier date, sometime in the last half of the first century. Whenever this letter was written, the epistle can be described a being early church literature, and therein lies a problem.

Bishop Duncan’s implication—the usual implication when “the faith once delivered” is invoked—is that the writer believes what Christians have always believed. Since the writer of Jude does not explicate “the faith,” however, we can only speculate about what he understood by the term. What is clear, however, is that much of the theology that became orthodox Christianity, that is, the consensus that emerged from the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century, was developed only after the Letter of Jude was written. Moreover, to the degree that conservatives insist on an earlier date for the writing of Jude, we know even less of what “the faith” refers to, even if it might be closer to the actual teachings of Jesus or the Apostles.

Of course, Duncan and his followers really don’t care what Jude’s writer meant; they are just latching onto a good sound bite. To them, “the faith [or Faith] once delivered to the saints” simply means what they believe and what they think everybody else should believe. That it includes, among other things, a good deal of medieval accretions and modern anti-Enlightment nonsense is rather beside the point.

The next time you hear someone piously pontificate about “the faith once delivered to the saints,” remember that the proper response is to ask, “Yes, and what was that?” You might even cite Jude 1:19, which says about the false teachers, “It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions” (NRSV).

October 31, 2007

Congratulations, Bishop Lawrence

Episcopal News Services reported Monday that the Rev. Canon Mark Lawrence has received sufficient consents for him to be consecrated Bishop of South Carolina on January 26, 2008. I offer him my congratulations, and commend the The Rev. Mark LawrenceStanding Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina for its attention to detail in its campaign to collect the necessary consents this time around.

Clearly, Bishop-elect Lawrence finally made statements that seemed clear enough to those who had to vote on the matter to the effect that he was not becoming Bishop of South Carolina with the intention of removing that diocese from The Episcopal Church. I sincerely hope that he will be a bishop who acts more like Bishop John Howe, of Central Florida, than like my own Bishop of Pittsburgh, Robert Duncan, or Lawrence’s current bishop, John-David Schofield. Though hopeful, I am not exactly sanguine. Bishop Lawrence will be watched carefully.

Since Lawrence is going be be consecrated a bishop, was the effort to deny him consents useless? I think not. Most importantly, the church learned that it can choose not to grant consent for a consecration. The matter was widely discussed, and some standing committees even publicized their reasons for withholding consent following Lawrence’s first election. One imagines—hopes, anyway—that Lawrence has actually rethought his views on the proper course of action for the Diocese of South Carolina. In any case, that Lawrence will now be consecrated belies the lamentations from the right that an “orthodox” priest can no longer become an Episcopal bishop. Finally, the mechanics of the consent process—still a rather opaque enterprise—came under some scrutiny and was brought more into conformity with the actual canons of the church.

As far as I know, Lawrence has not retracted his earlier statements (see “No Consents: A Crucial Test for The Episcopal Church”) or explained how he reconciles them with his now seemingly more charitable view of The Episcopal Church. I, for one, would appreciate such an explanation.

There have been a lot of stories about Mark Lawrence in the past year, and so many of them have been illustrated with the same recent photograph. (I have been a part of the crowd; see my own piece on Lawrence from last December here.) That photo is a fine portrait, but I, for one, am getting a bit tired of it. Therefore, I decided to illustrate this post with the image of a younger Mark Lawrence. The photo, above is from the mid-80s, during Lawrence’s days in Pittsburgh. I got it from a friend who served on a committee with the bishop-to-be.

October 3, 2007

One Vestry Takes a Clear Stand

At its annual convention on November 2–3, the Diocese of Pittsburgh will move toward or away from schism. A big question now is which parishes are determined to stay within The Episcopal Church (TEC) and which are determined to leave. Based on actions such as declining membership in the Network of Anglican Communion Diocese and Parishes and suing the bishop, about a dozen parishes form the core of support for TEC in the diocese, though even some of these parishes occasionally have seemed unwilling to involve themselves in controversy or to be wavering and in danger of switching sides. Most of the remaining five dozen or so parishes seem to be in play—they have much sympathy for Bishop Robert Duncan and his grand designs, but they fear internal divisions, lawsuits, uncertainty, and even permanent exile from an “apostate” Episcopal Church. Clergy of all stripes are meeting over lunch with unaccustomed frequency to discuss what they are going to do.

The vestry of my own parish, St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, in response to the diocese’s initiating a very upsetting discussion about its future, decided to appoint a parish-wide committee to evaluate possible parish responses to moves by the diocese. This was a very wise move; the parish was coming to the end of a rector search, and the vestry had a lot on its plate. Although St. Paul’s was never in serious danger of falling under the sway of the bishop, some people were under the impression that it was, a belief encouraged by the reluctance of parish leadership to get involved in the ongoing power struggle. Many parishioners believed that St. Paul’s had been unreasonably deferential to the sensibilities of the handful of members with strong sympathies for the bishop, and this had fostered widespread, if only moderate, anxiety in the congregation.

I was pleased to be placed on the advisory committee, which has been meeting weekly since it was appointed. The committee began by characterizing what was happening in the diocese and identifying areas of concern for the parish. One of the most pressing needs was deemed to be reassurance of parishioners that St. Paul’s would stay in TEC. Drafts of a possible statement were written and sent to vestry members, but committee members were divided as to whether making a statement was an immediate need or whether a statement should be held for release at some unspecified opportune time.

The committee’s last meeting before the September vestry meeting was on September 12. On September 11, Bishop Duncan revealed his breathtaking, if illegal, plan to remove the diocese from TEC. At its meeting the next evening, the committee was unanimous in its belief that a statement needed to be made to parishioners immediately. The committee sent its revised recommendation to the vestry, which, five days later, appointed a committee to draft a statement based on one offered by the committee. The statement was distributed at services the following weekend and read from the pulpit.

The statement, on St. Paul’s letterhead, can be read here. The text is also reproduced below:
September 21, 2007

Where St. Paul’s Vestry Stands

We, the members of the Vestry of St. Paul’s, want to make clear to the parish where we stand regarding The Episcopal Church. Our position has not changed on this matter; however, given recent news reports and communications from various sources, we believe it vital to reiterate that position.

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is an integral part of The Episcopal Church, not an independent entity that can be removed from it by the actions of any body, person, or persons other than the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. Our intention is that St. Paul’s will remain a parish of The Episcopal Church and its Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

It is our sincere and prayerful hope that our diocese will reconcile with and remain within The Episcopal Church. However, in response to any attempt by diocesan leaders or Diocesan Convention to remove the diocese from The Episcopal Church, the Vestry of St. Paul’s will work diligently to keep the parish in The Episcopal Church. To do so, we will work with remaining members of Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, with the Presiding Bishop, and with other church leaders to restore our diocese to institutional and spiritual health.

We recognize that faithful members of this parish may hold differing and even seemingly incompatible theological views. Not only are we untroubled by this, but we consider such theological diversity to be one of the greatest strengths of authentic Anglicanism. We honor and value that Anglican tradition at St. Paul’s.

It is our intention that St. Paul’s remain a faithful and loving community in which we worship together and discuss our beliefs and concerns without rancor. We pray that such an example will remind others of the reconciling power of Jesus Christ and will help our entire diocese through the difficult times that lie ahead.

The Vestry of St. Paul’s

September 28, 2007

Bishop Salmon’s Solution

The September 25 statement from the House of Bishops turned out to be something of an anticlimax. It contains hardly anything new, other than support for the Presiding Bishop’s latest dead-on-arrival plan for dissenting dioceses like mine (Pittsburgh). More interesting was a report to his diocese from Bishop Ed Salmon, recently retired from, but now temporarily heading, the Diocese of South Carolina. (Because the diocese’s Web site has the irritating habit of putting important current material on its home page without indicating where it can be found permanently, I have reproduced the whole report below. At least temporarily, the report can be found here.)
A Report on the New Orleans House of Bishop
from Bishop Edward Salmon

In the interest of clarity, I would like to report to the clergy and people of the Diocese of South Carolina on the meeting of the House of Bishops in New Orleans. I am particularly concerned that you hear directly from me as the distortion in the media and on blogs is profound.

From my perspective this was probably the best meeting I have attended and at the same time the most painful.

I asked for and was granted permission to speak to the whole House beyond any contribution I made in the various debates.

The presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury was helpful in getting us to look at where we are as a Church and a Communion; and what that says about our ecclesiology.

Profound pain was experienced when members of the ACC Steering Committee and the Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East addressed the House. They told us how the decisions made by the Episcopal Church had affected their mission and ecumenical relationships destructively in their lands. It was a moving experience.

Just as devastating was the address from Bishop Jeffrey Steenson explaining why he was resigning his orders and becoming a Roman Catholic. We are good friends and have worked closely together.

We then had a report giving us the list of congregations leaving the Episcopal Church in part or whole for other Anglican jurisdictions and the names of these jurisdictions. A number of the clergy were well known to me. Even the loss of one because of our conflict is a painful matter for me at the end of my ministry. It is a matter of great sorrow.

In my address to the House, I said that I appreciated the hard work that had resulted in the document that was before us.

I also stated that I could not support it for the following reasons:

  1. It did not respond as requested to the three points raised by the Anglican Primates in Dar es Salaam.
  2. It did not provide alternative oversight that met the needs of those who asked for it.
  3. It placed the condition that our responses must be in keeping with our Constitution and Canons. The chaos we are in requires tremendous grace, not law.
  4. There is oppression of those not in agreement, often unaware to those responsible.
  5. Statements by our leadership saying that 95% of the Church was doing well or that only a small percentage were affected makes discussion impossible. The Episcopal Church Foundation says we are in a systemic decline which is significant.

I believe that the impact of these days has produced the potential for us to move because this is the first time in my memory this has been revealed to the House face to face by members of the Communion. I am committed to continue to work for that day faithfully, but I cannot support the document for the reasons stated.

--The Rt. Rev. Edward L. Salmon, Jr., is acting Bishop of South Carolina

What caught my attention in Salmon’s remarks was his third reason for not supporting the statement released by the bishops: “It placed the condition that our responses must be in keeping with our Constitution and Canons. The chaos we are in requires tremendous grace, not law.” In other words, we should throw out all the rules we have agreed to live by and do what Bishop Salmon and his allies think we should do. What an extraordinary thing to say! The good bishop believes that disregarding the church’s constitution and canons is necessarily part of the solution to our present troubles. In fact, an unwillingness to abide by established rules is part of the problem, perhaps even the problem plaguing the Anglican Communion.

Even before Gene Robinson was elected bishop in New Hampshire—and increasingly frequently since—we have had Anglican provinces consecrating erstwhile Episcopal priests as bishops in their own churches, so that they can poach Episcopal Church parishes, contrary to ancient tradition. We have primates arrogating power to themselves with no mandate from the Anglican provinces. We have bishops changing their diocesan constitutions in ways prohibited by the constitution of the General Convention. Bishops, such as my own, who have vowed “to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church” are conspicuously undermining its authority and conspiring with bishops of churches with which The Episcopal Church is not in communion to subvert our church. The same bishops who are expected to “share in the leadership of the Church throughout the world” share in deliberations with other Episcopal bishops only when it suits them, picking and choosing sessions of the House of Bishops they will and will not attend, and eschewing the fellowship of their colleagues so aggressively that they will not even deign to stay in the same hotel with them. Likewise, we have parish priests encouraging hatred of The Episcopal Church among their parishioners and urging vestries to abandon The Episcopal Church and steal its property. Priests who disobeyed church canons or have been accused of serious civil crimes are escaping discipline though their acceptance into other Anglican jurisdiction by bishops disdainful both of The Episcopal Church and of its canons.

And Bishop Salmon believes that we should not be constrained by adherence to our constitution and canons! Is it not a great coincidence that those urging the showing of grace and the putting aside of rules are the very people advancing their own agendas through their arrogant disobedience? We do not need, as Bishop Salmon suggests, less law; we need more. We need an Anglican covenant that regulates the transfer of clergy from one province to another and prohibits incursions into geographic regions served by other provinces. We need a curb on the arrogance of primates who believe that they are God’s avenging angels on earth. More than anything, we need presentments against priests and bishops who display disdain for the church law they have sworn to uphold.

Since when did being in ordained ministry relieve people of any obligation to act as civilized members of human society?

September 24, 2007

The Church Waits

After conferring with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Anglican leaders in New Orleans Thursday and Friday, the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops has had the weekend to work on responses to demands by the primates and entreaties by Rowan Williams. It does not seem too dramatic to say that the future of The Episcopal Church and that of the Anglican Communion might be changed dramatically by today’s deliberations by American bishops, the product of which is expected sometime tomorrow.

Archbishop Williams seems to have framed the choice open to the bishops as one of preserving the unity of the church or of opting for justice for gays and lesbians. He clearly favors unity. He is wrong.

Suggested responses from Episcopal Bishops seem to be all over the map, from Pierre Whalon’s proposal that offers a strong defense of what The Episcopal Church is and has done, to John Howe’s idea, which seems to be to split the church and the Communion now, in order to avoid doing it later. The Living Church reports that a draft response is in preparation.

As the church waits to see what our bishops will say, I want to express two unrelated concerns.

Replacing the Presiding Bishop

My first issue arises from my being a via-media Episcopalian in a rabidly militant-traditionalist diocese. Pittsburgh is one of a handful of dioceses that have asked for “alternative primatial oversight.” It is clear that bishops such as Duncan, Iker, and Ackerman are not going to get what they want in this regard, and they will probably reject (or perhaps have already rejected) anything less that might be urged on them by the other bishops. I assert, however, that no plan at all should be offered to them, and I am not pleased that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori keeps searching for a new plan each time the last one is dismissively rejected by Bishop Duncan and his allies.

If individual parishes are unhappy with their bishop, they can apply for DEPO, the plan established by the House of Bishops in 2004. DEPO is surely imperfect; its goal is reconciliation, though it is hardly specific enough to inspire confidence that that goal is likely to be realized. Moreover, a parish participating in DEPO is likely to contain members who are not displeased with their bishop but who are likely to be unhappy with the bishop assigned to them under DEPO. What of them? At least, in many locations, a parishioner in a parish applying for DEPO who is not dissatisfied with the bishop quite possibly has the option of attending a nearby parish of similarly satisfied Episcopalians.

But what is “alternative primatial oversight” all about? In Pittsburgh, many parishes—most, probably—are happy with their bishop; he is, in fact, something of a cult leader here. Bishop Duncan is already supplying these parishes just what they want, self-righteousness, served with gratuitous disdain for The Episcopal Church and its Presiding Bishop. Given that the Presiding Bishop exercises virtually no “oversight” over either diocesan bishops or ordinary parish churches, why would such people want “alternative primatial oversight,” which could only place another bishop over this self-satisfied arrangement? Then, there are parishes like my own, where the bishop is usually mentioned with rolling eyes and sighs of exasperation. My fellow parishioners are not pleased with our bishop, but we can at least be consoled by the existence of a sympathetic Presiding Bishop leading The Episcopal Church. If some “oversight” scheme is imposed on us, we cannot simply go to the Episcopal diocese across the street. We are trapped in a way a parishioner of a minority view may not be trapped when a parish asks for DEPO.

It is time to recognize that the purpose of the church is to minister to ordinary Christians, not simply to self-important diocesan bishops. If Bishop Iker cannot abide female priests, why should the church indulge his sensibilities if to do so disenfranchises those under his care? Why should Bishop Duncan’s loathing for The Episcopal Church result in my being alienated from the church I joined and the church I love? When both Iker and Duncan consented to their consecrations, they know what church they were pledging to nurture and support. If they cannot do that, they should resign or, as a last resort, be removed.

Unity or Justice

Just as the church does not exist for bishops, neither do people exist for the church. Instead, the church exists for the people. (Jesus did not found the Church, of course, so ecclesiology largely has to be developed without much direct guidance from the recorded words of our Lord. This viewpoint is surely suggested by passages such as Mark 2:23–28, however.)

It is commonplace to observe that the Church moves slowly—perhaps, even, should move slowly—accepting change over decades or centuries. According to any theory that sees such glacial movement as normative, keeping peace within the church is more important than the lives of individuals or, for that matter, of truth itself. (Galileo immediately comes to mind.) Apparently, the present Archbishop of Canterbury subscribes to such an inhumane theory. I do not, and it is difficult to believe that the God of love would ask us to sacrifice his children for his Church. Justice delayed, so the saying goes, is justice denied, and both the Old and New Testaments seem quite clear about the need to seek justice for the downtrodden of society.

If our bishops have to choose either the unity of the church—a small branch of the Church, actually—or justice, why should they not choose justice? They would, thereby, improve the lives of actual persons who would otherwise be disdained or actively harmed by the church. Moreover, many gay and lesbian Christians are actively working in an ordained capacity and are contributing to the building up of God’s kingdom.

And what if bishops make the other choice, choosing “unity”? In the most benign view, they will be selling out their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters for, at best, a temporary peace in the Communion. For many bishops, this choice will necessarily come at the price of their personal integrity, as it will mean denying their own understanding of the Gospel for the sake of others’ they sincerely believe to be mistaken. In fact, the sad Jeffrey John affair suggests that, if the bishops give in to the “orthodox” primates, they simply will be inviting demands for endless additional concessions. The unity of the Communion cannot be saved through surrender; perhaps it cannot be saved at all. Our only hope for true unity is standing up for what we truly believe and asserting that Anglican comprehension is more likely, ultimately, to lead to truth than is power politics. The bishops should stand up for what they truly believe, trusting that Gamaliel’s advice (see Acts 5:33–39a) still applies: “[I]f this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”

Pray for our bishops.

September 13, 2007

Enquiring Minds Want to Know

In “Agreeing to Agree,” I referred to a Boston Globe story that had Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan saying that he intended to try taking his entire diocese out of The Episcopal Church. Duncan’s canon, Mary Hays, in a September 10 meeting, categorically denied that the bishop had made the statement. (See “‘... the bishop didn’t say that.’”)

In a sense, it does not matter whether Bishop Duncan made the statement or not; his actions speak louder than his words, and he clearly is trying to take the entire Diocese of Pittsburgh out of The Episcopal Church. (See “Something Dramatic.”)

For the record, however, a number of people wrote to the Globe reporter inquiring as to what, precisely, Duncan said in Nairobi. The interview on which the story was based was recorded, and Michael Paulson went back and listened to his recording. He supplied the following exact quotations:

  1. “The reality is, of course, we’re realigning.”
  2. “We won’t go anywhere, but we’ll associate, as these congregations have, as dioceses, with other provinces. We have a number of offers.'’
The quotations suggest how difficult it is to quote people engaged in ordinary speech. The only quotation in the Globe story from Duncan was “We are realigning,” which elevates an idiomatic utterance to something a bit more formal. The second statement by Duncan is, syntactically, very complex and hard to understand. Moreover, its meaning is only clear now that we see what Duncan wants to do to the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s constitution. It is easy to see why the reporter paraphrased and simplified what the bishop said.

What is interesting and new is this: “We have a number of offers.” Presumably, this refers to offers by Anglican primates to take the Diocese of Pittsburgh into their jurisdictions.

From whom, I wonder, have these offers come? The Episcopal Church would like to know. The Archbishop of Canterbury would like to know. How fortuitous that they will be able to ask Bishop Duncan about the matter at the House of Bishop’s meeting in New Orleans in a few days!

Controlling the Message

Monday’s District V meeting at St. Paul’s (see “‘... the bishop didn’t say that.’”) was unsatisfactory, at least in the minds of the parishioners I have spoken to. This is largely because the format of the event was tightly controlled by representatives of the diocese. Whereas many attendees assumed that the meeting would provide an opportunity to exchange views, especially with laypeople from nearby parishes, it is clear that the true purpose was to get out the diocese’s message. This was a Diocese of Pittsburgh rally.

Enforcing the rules of the meeting was the Rev. Tara Jernigan, a deacon at Church of the Nativity, Crafton, a District V parish. Listen to her introduction:

IE users may need to click twice on play button.

It is usual, as Jernigan said, to limit the time allotted to speakers at conventions and at pre-convention hearings, although most attendees Monday night did not know that. Likewise, the rule that one cannot speak twice if someone else wants to speak to an issue and has not yet been given the opportunity is standard in Pittsburgh. Such rules are reasonable. At conventions and pre-convention hearings, however, it is not usual to stifle debate and to allow only questions. Jernigan explained that “we want to honor all of those opinions” that people might have. How strange to honor one’s opinion by preventing one from expressing it! Only our diocesan “leaders” would get to express their opinions.

Likely, few listeners paid close attention to the Jernigan rules. We wanted to get on with the meeting. Surely, since attendence was small—about 60–70 people had shown up, I estimated—there would be opportunities for give-and-take between members of different parishes.

Because there were so few people present, I had no trouble being recognized for a second time. After a remark on the topic that had just been discussed, I got to an important issue I wanted to articulate. In raising it, I ran afoul of another of Deacon Jernigan’s rules, one that had not even been stated—I showed emotion, apparently. I was chided for doing so, and I was chided for expressing a viewpoint. After Bishop Henry Scriven responded to my remarks, the Rev. Richard Pollard, acknowledging my precedent-setting action, took the opportunity to express his own views on the nature of The Episcopal Church and on the way change comes about in it. He, too, was chided by the ever-vigilant deacon. Listen for yourself; decide if my emotions were out of control:

I was not the only person who, at this point, thought the format of the meeting dysfunctional and manipulative. Happily, it was not necessary for me to say so. St. Paul’s parishioner Paul Ostergaard did that for everyone:

At the end of the meeting, Jernigan suggested that people could send suggestions as to how to improve such meetings to the diocese via e-mail. “I love debate,” she said, even though her function that night seem to be to prevent it at all cost. In the audio clip below, there is an inaudible exclamation near the end. This is the point where I asked, from my pew, if God would strike us dead if we expressed an opinion. You can hear Jernigan’s reply.

September 12, 2007

Something Dramatic

Is the diocese planning something dramatic to be revealed on Tuesday evening, or has Chancellor Devlin been reading too many spy novels?
That was how I ended my post “Pittsburgh Mystery” Monday. I actually thought that I might have been a bit dramatic myself. What more could the diocese do, after all? It had already gutted the accession clause in its constitution!

I must say that I underestimated the ability of Bishop Robert Duncan and his followers to create a parallel universe in which up is down, black is white, and wrong is right. More about that later.

Although I considered going to the Diocesan Council meeting last night, I did not actually do so; I knew that other loyal Episcopalians who had not been tripping out on hallucinogenic mushrooms would be there as observers. I had, I thought, done my duty by attending the District V meeting. (See “‘... the bishop didn’t say that.’”)

Revelations at the Diocesan Council Meeting

So what happened? A series of constitutional amendments are being proposed. You can read them here. These were accepted for passing along to the annual convention in November for its consideration. This was done with essentially no discussion and only token opposition. (Some members of Diocesan Council are elected by districts, and, by geographic accident, some districts contain enough mainstream parishes to actually elect one of their own to the Council. There were three votes opposed to the resolution to change the constitution.) Council also passed along a resolution that would rescind the unlawful changes already made to the accession clause of the diocesan constitution. (This resolution, obviously, did not come from the diocese.) At least one member of Council had trouble dealing with the cognitive dissonance of presenting two conflicting proposals to the convention, but the bishop explained that this was perfectly in order. (That resolution can be read here. The diocese eventually posted a version of this as well.)

The diocese quickly posted an explanation of what it was planning to do, along with a link to its own proposal and Bishop Duncan’s pre-convention report.

Cockamamie Theories

Bishop Duncan declares in his report that “it appears the time has come to begin the process of realignment within the Anglican Communion.” This, of course, is because The Episcopal Church has not submitted to the demands of those who have no authority to tell it what it should do and who would surely not submit to analogous demands made of them. He complains further that The Episcopal Church has not allowed “sufficient integrity to dioceses like Pittsburgh, concerning traditional Faith and Order.” I had not known that integrity could be granted by The Episcopal Church. I actually thought it was something one either had or did not have. What Duncan means, of course, is that The Episcopal Church is unwilling to allow a bishop to be unconstrained by its own faith and order—a constraint every bishop vows to accept at the time of consecration—rather than doing whatever he chooses because he—invariably he—believes he knows God’s will.

Duncan subscribes to the theory—likely because it is convenient, rather than because it is compelling—that the church is not really a church at all in the sense most people think of churches. It is not an unified whole, but a confederation of completely independent dioceses that unite with one another as long as it is convenient to do so. That this is patently ridiculous should be clear from the fact that the church’s constitution requires, in Article V, “unqualified accession to the Constitution and Canons of this Church” in a diocese’s constitution. (This is hardly the place for a complete argument that the church is not a confederation, just as the United States of America is not a confederation. Interested readers should read Dr. Joan Gundersen’s essay in answer to the confederation theory, “History Revisited: Historical Background of the Proposed Amendment to Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” I also recommend my own essay, “Unqualified Accession.”) “Constitutional changes proposed for consideration at the 142nd Annual Convention,“ Duncan writes, ”would begin the process to exercise our right to end the accession of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church of the United States of America.” There is, of course, no such right.

This brings us to the substance of what the Diocese of Pittsburgh is proposing to do. For openers, the present Article 1 (Acceding to the General Constitution) is to be rewritten as follows:
The Church in the Diocese of Pittsburgh is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces and regional churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.
(Interested readers can find the current Diocese of Pittsburgh constitution and canons here.) This wording, of course, parrots the Preamble of the Episcopal Church constitution. There are two problems, however. First, the text eliminates any reference to the church’s constitution, and certainly to any “accession.” Then, there is the matter of declaring the diocese to be a part of the Anglican Communion. Provinces (i.e., regional churches), not dioceses, belong to the communion, and, although a few extra-provincial dioceses overseen by the Archbishop of Canterbury are part of the Anglican Communion, one suspects that Rowan Williams has not blessed the arrangement contemplated by Pittsburgh. Even if the Diocese of Pittsburgh were in a province, be it The Episcopal Church or some other province, it would not strictly be a member of the Anglican Communion any more than it is at present.

A proposed new section of the constitution would, in fact, put the diocese into some unspecified Anglican province to be determined by canon, and, therefore, easily changed at the convenience of the diocese:
The Diocese of Pittsburgh shall have membership in such Province of the Anglican Communion as is by diocesan Canon specified.
A proposed new canon places the diocese, for the moment, at least, in “The (Protestant) Episcopal Church in the United States of America,” but the diocese is hedging its bets and, of course, threatening The Episcopal Church, should its House of Bishops, in the upcoming meeting in New Orleans, not surrender to the international tyrants who are the Anglican Primates.

The diocese has, in fact, nicely parameterized its future constitution so as to not require troublesome constitutional changes whenever it chooses to province-shop. This is how “deputies or delegates” to the General Convention (or whatever synod in whatever province) are described in the proposed constitution:
Section 1. At each Annual Convention, there shall be elected [four] Clergy and an equal number of lay persons to serve as deputies or delegates to any extra-diocesan conventions, synods or meetings that may occur between Annual Conventions and to which the Diocese shall be invited to send deputies. They shall possess the same qualifications as member of Standing Committee and shall be elected by a concurrent majority of both orders.

Section 2. At the same Convention, there shall be chosen in the same manner and with the same qualifications, the same number of Clergy and Laity to serve as alternate deputies.

Section 3. Should a vacancy among the deputies or delegates occur by reason of resignation, removal from the Diocese, death or otherwise between the stated times of
election, it shall be filled by the highest ranking Alternate, as determined by the General Rules of Order.

Section 4. In case of failure or neglect of the Convention to elect deputies or delegates, those already in office shall continue until successors are chosen.

Section 5. It shall be the duty of the persons so elected to signify to the Bishop, in writing, at least one month before the meeting of the extra-diocesan convention or synod, their acceptance of the appointment and their intention to perform its duties. If a person so elected fails to give this notice or fails to attend the convention or synod, the Bishop shall notify a replacement in accordance with Section 3 hereof.
Not content with a piece of southwestern Pennsylvania, Bishop Duncan seeks empire. The amended constitution specifies the limits of the diocese as follows:
The Diocese of Pittsburgh embraces all those counties of the State of Pennsylvania known as Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland. Additionally, for reasons found satisfactory to any Convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, parishes outside of the boundaries of the aforementioned counties may be considered for admission into union with the Diocese of Pittsburgh, provided that they meet all other requirements set forth in the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of Pittsburgh for canonical admission.
Contrary to Episcopal Church practice, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has the potential to not even be contiguous! Imperial conquest requires rules for incorporating new territory into the empire, and that is given in the following text:
Any Parish formed and desiring union with the Diocese, and regularly organized according to the Canons, may be admitted into union with the Convention, on motion, by a majority of votes; provided, it shall have laid before the Convention its Charter and By-laws, or its original Articles of Association, or a duly certified copy thereof, wherein it expressly adopts and recognizes the authority of the Constitution and Canons of this Diocese, and commits to upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. And provided, also, that it shall have complied with the canonical requirements for such admission.
Hypocrisy reaches its apex here. (Well, maybe not. See below.) Whereas the Diocese of Pittsburgh is about to disregard completely the constitution and canons to which it pledged its unqualified accession, it now will demand absolute fealty from its own parishes!

And Cockamamie Consequences

Pittsburgh Episcopalians are used to the bishop’s mantra that he is not leaving The Episcopal Church, but the church is leaving him, walking apart, etc. We have learned to ignore such patent nonsense. However, my own parish became alarmed at this rhetoric recently when it received a letter (dated June 25) from Bishop Duncan suggesting that our newly selected rector might not be approved by him. The church, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, in Mt. Lebanon, had made it quite clear, both to the bishop and to potential candidates, that it was committed to staying in The Episcopal Church. Priests who might wish for a different parish future, it was clear, need not apply. Bishop Duncan wrote:
Given the extraordinary moment of decision now before our diocesan family, and what I perceive as a trajectory likely to lead St. Paul’s to separation from the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, I do not believe I would be faithful to my responsibilities as Bishop of all the people to agree to the call without Standing Committee consultation.
Because the parish wanted to stay in The Episcopal Church, it was, in Duncan’s looking-glass world, threatening to separate from the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Little did St. Paul’s’ Vestry members realize how seriously the Duncan intended his words to be taken. (The parish’s choice of rector was eventually approved, though perhaps because the candidate was so qualified that no reasonable excuse for not doing so was readily available. The bishop had more important matters on his mind.)

So what of churches like St. Paul’s if Duncan is successful at creating his non-Episcopal Church empire? The question was asked at the Diocesan Council meeting. (There are at least a dozen churches in this situation, and their numbers may increase as the bishop’s behavior becomes more erratic.) The bishop explained that the settlement agreement resulting from Calvary Church’s lawsuit provides a procedure by which parishes wishing to leave the diocese may negotiate their exit. The bishop says that this procedure can be used by parishes who want to remain in The Episcopal Church! This, of course, stands the settlement agreement on its head, as the point of the agreement, as far as Calvary Church was concerned, anyway, was to protect Episcopal Church property. Clearly, Bishop Duncan expects not only to remove his diocese from The Episcopal Church—apparently the Boston Globe got the story right—but to claim all the property as well. This is exactly what the Calvary lawsuit was initiated to prevent. Judge James may have something to say about the matter.

The Way Forward

The Episcopal Church is being challenged by a rogue bishop in a way it has never been challenged before. It is clear how we must proceed. Bishop Robert William Duncan has abandoned the communion of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Bishops, do your duty. Your church is waiting.

September 11, 2007

“... the bishop didn’t say that.”

I attended a Diocese of Pittsburgh event last night. It was a meeting of church members in District V, one of the regional groupings of parishes in the diocese. It was an “informational meeting” relating to the visions of the diocese’s future discussed at a May retreat of diocesan leaders. (See “Diocese Asks: What Next?”) Members of District V churches were invited to ask questions of two diocesan representatives, the Rt. Rev. Henry Scriven, Assistant Bishop, and the Rev. Canon Mary Haggard Hays, who appears to be Bishop Robert Duncan’s closest associate in the diocese.

Although four options for the diocese were originally proposed, the diocese has largely stopped talking about one of them, namely, that the diocese undo the unlawful steps it has taken to distance itself from The Episcopal Church—weakening the accession clause in its constitution, for example—and fully participate as a regular diocese of the church. It has been clear for years that Bishop Duncan and his allies have wanted to create a separate Anglican Communion province for their particular brand of Anglican Fundamentalism and to do so by removing parishes and entire dioceses from The Episcopal Church. Clear or not, however, Duncan has repeatedly told those in his charge that he is not leaving The Episcopal Church; The Episcopal Church is leaving him.

In light of such statements, it was refreshing when Boston Globe reporter Michael Paulson reported Bishop Duncan as having said that he would attempt to remove his entire diocese from The Episcopal Church. (See “Agreeing to Agree.”) Seemingly, the statement was made while Bishop Duncan was in Nairobi to participate in the consecration of two former Episcopal priests by the Anglican Church of Kenya to oversee breakaway former-Episcopal parishes in the U.S.

I decided to ask the representatives of the diocese if Bishop Duncan had, in fact, decided what should be done and was only trying to determine who would follow him out of The Episcopal Church. Furthermore, since such a move was canonically (and, almost certainly) legally impossible, how did our bishop intend to carry out his plan?

All my questions were not answered, but the response was certainly interesting. Canon Hays enthusiastically addressed my inquiries. She said, “Number one: I was there, and the bishop didn’t say that.” I found such a categorical denial of the Globe story incredible. Unless Canon Hays followed Bishop Duncan everywhere he went in Nairobi—stop, for a moment, and let that thought sink in—how could she possibly know everything he might have told a reporter? She could, on the other hand, know that Bishop Duncan was not supposed to say what Mr. Paulson said that he did. Will Canon Hays demand a retraction? Will the Globe print one?

Canon Hays explained, “He [Bishop Duncan] cannot, singlehandedly, move a diocese anywhere.” That is assuredly true. He needs supporters to help him realize his plans, and it is clear that the diocese’s “informational meetings” are part of a plan to convince lay Episcopalians to sign on with the ordained conspirators. (I do not expect that the opinions of any deacons or priests will be changed at these district sessions.)

I never got an answer as to how Bishop Duncan expects to carry out his program, but Canon Hays assured everyone that the opinions of the Presiding Bishop’s chancellor and that of The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council that Pittsburgh has unlawfully changed the accession clause in its constitution are only opinions. (Presumably, Pittsburgh cannot remove itself from The Episcopal Church if its actions are constrained by the general church’s constitution.) Canon Hays admitted that no diocese has ever removed itself unilaterally from The Episcopal Church and implied that we will all be witnesses to how that plan works when our bishop attempts to execute it.

As is often done at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, my church, in Mt. Lebanon, Pa., the event last night was recorded. Rather than take my word for what happened, you can listen for yourself to the exchange I have described. At one point in this recording, I reiterated my objection that what Bishop Duncan would like to do is illegal. This brief objection cannot be heard because I had left the public microphone to return to the pew where I was sitting. The nature of my objection is clear from the response, however.

IE users may need to click twice on play button.

September 10, 2007

Pittsburgh Mystery

In a diocese whose bishop brazenly declares his intention to remove it from the Episcopal Church (see “Agreeing to Agree”), it is not surprising that changes to the diocesan constitution and canons might be in the works. Members of the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of Pittsburgh just received a packet of materials for their meeting Tuesday night, September 11. Included for their consideration was a list of 26 proposed changes in the way the diocese is governed. Most changes seem unremarkable, though, taken together, they do seem to represent a power shift away from parishes and to the bishop and to other diocesan leaders, such as those on the Standing Committee. The proposed changes, at most, only hint at the anticipated schism. Diocesan Council, of course, does not enact the changes suggested by the Committee on Constitution and Canons—this is the task of the diocesan convention, which meets in November—but it can influence what is put before the convention.

The most interesting item in the material provided to Council members was the following note on a separate page:

In addition to the regular constitutional and canonical proposals contained in this mailing, the Council will be asked to consider texts of constitutional and canonical changes relating to the accession clause in Article 1 of the Constitution. In order that those texts not be in the public domain prior to the meeting, the texts will be available for distribution and consideration at the time of Tuesday’s Diocesan Council meeting.

Robert Devlin
Pittsburgh has already modified the accession clause in its constitution (see “Unqualified Accession”), and has been informed by everyone from Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh to The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council that its having done so is null and void, since a diocese has no right to make such a change. It now appears, however, that the illegal action completed at the 2004 annual convention was not sufficiently illegal for the purposes of Bishop Duncan and his schismatic minions. Additional changes are needed to create fig leaves for supporters and smokescreens for detractors.

I have quite limited capacity to make myself upset over the prospect of yet more illegal canonical changes in Pittsburgh. My interest is certainly piqued by Chancellor Devlin’s cloak-and-dagger approach to discussing changes to the diocese’s statutes, however. Would putting these texts—as the chancellor puts it—“in the public domain” on Saturday have consequences that making them public on Tuesday would not? Perhaps what is being unveiled Tuesday night is so momentous that it needs to be carefully orchestrated for maximum impact on the Anglican world.

Is the diocese planning something dramatic to be revealed on Tuesday evening, or has Chancellor Devlin been reading too many spy novels?

September 6, 2007

Agreeing to Agree

Ostensibly, the Diocese of Pittsburgh is engaged in a discernment process that will determine its destiny. In practice, the broad outlines of its future are clear, even if the path leading to that future is obscured. Anyone doubting this need only read the story in yesterday’s Boston Globe, which includes the following paragraphs:
Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, who came to Nairobi for the consecrations, said he expects to see a new Anglican province in North America that will replace the Episcopal Church.

“We are realigning,” said Duncan, who added he would attempt to pull his entire diocese out of the Episcopal Church, a move that would raise an unprecedented set of legal and financial questions about the ownership of parish buildings and diocesan property.
Make no mistake; Pittsburgh is a conservative place, and its Episcopal diocese is one of the least progressive in The Episcopal Church. It is led by the moderator of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, has petitioned for alternative episcopal oversight, and has unlawfully weakened the accession clause of its constitution. The diocese claims to have removed itself from its Episcopal Church province, sends no money to The Episcopal Church for the maintenance of the general church, and hosts Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, perhaps the institution most responsible for what the Rev. Tom Woodward has called the “undermining of the Episcopal Church.”

Despite Bishop Duncan’s efforts, however, his diocese is not monolithic. It is home to Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, one of the more liberal of the Via Media USA groups, which has been opposing the depredations of the bishop for the past 4-1/2 years. It contains at least a dozen parishes, including some of the largest in the diocese, that have opted out of Duncan’s Network. Among these is Calvary Church, which, in 2003, sued Bishop Duncan and other diocesan leaders in an effort to protect Episcopal Church property from alienation.

It is therefore certain that Duncan will not “pull his entire diocese out of the Episcopal Church.” The question now is who will go and who will stay. Many Pittsburgh clergy are determined to leave, in many cases, along with their congregations. Fewer clergy seem committed to staying in The Episcopal Church, but many of these are proud to call themselves Episcopalians. This leaves a large group of clergy who despise The Episcopal Church but are not yet convinced that abandoning it is a good career move, particularly if their congregations are divided in their loyalties, as many are.

While Pittsburgh clergy meet over lunch in small groups to discuss whether to join the exodus or how to deal with its aftermath, Web sites are providing ammunition to the battle for the hearts and minds of Pittsburgh laypeople. It is laypeople, after all, who ultimately will determine whether Duncan leads a great throng out of The Episcopal Church or merely a dispirited band of malcontents. The diocese has created a site called Parish Toolbox to provide “resources” to parishes uncertain of the way forward. In principle, Parish Toolbox exists to offer materials from all points of view. In practice, its insistence on countering “progressive” material with “conserving” material has meant that the site has expanded slowly and, because it was launched with a substantial collection of resources from the diocese, balance, by any objective measure, seems unachievable in our lifetime. (A more proper characterization of the material—no binary classification can be completely adequate, of course—might be “schismatic” and “non-schismatic,” rather than “progressive” and “conserving.” A recent piece by a diocesan priest who is conservative, by any measure, had to be countered by a conservative, schismatic essay.)

Although the Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh Web site contains a wealth of material that might be used by parishes, PEP, which is anathema to many in the diocese, has not made any special effort to compensate for the deficiencies of Parish Toolbox. However, loyal Pittsburgh Episcopalians seeking to appeal to a wider constituency have created a new site called A Pittsburgh Episcopal Voice, which is offering materials that, in an ideal world, might be expected to be made available through Parish Toolbox.

A Compact

On Tuesday, Parish Toolbox published “A Pittsburgh Compact for a Way Forward in this Season,” a declaration by “153 Pittsburgh Leaders.” I began reading this piece thinking it unusually irenic, but, by the time I had finished, I was asking myself what its purpose was. The signers, the compact explains, in light of the likely “fork in the road ahead that may divide our fellowship,” affirm three principles as guides to action:
  1. Believing: We will follow the leading and live in the faith of Jesus Christ.
  2. Belonging: We will work for the health and unity of the Church.
  3. Behaving: We will walk in humility and grace.
None of these principles seemed especially controversial. Therefore, they did not seem much in need of affirmation. The details were interesting, however.

Under “Believing,” signers agree to “repeatedly test all things” against “‘God’s Word written,’” quoting Article XX of the Articles of Religion. The view of scripture found in this article—it is a view only implicit in a proposition about the authority of the church—is simply not sustainable in the 21st century. No reputable scholar would hold either that scripture is formally consistent (the Church may not “expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another”) or that it is somehow dictated by God in the same literal way Muslims claim for the Qur’an. Signers declare that they live in “‘the faith once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3),” a faith, no doubt, quite different in Christology and in many other respects when these oft-quoted words were first written. They affirm the creeds and pledge to listen to bishops and primates “whose leadership has remained true to the historic faith of the church.” Presumably, not all bishops and primates are included here—the lack of a comma is significant—and I suspect that “church” was meant to be capitalized.

The “Belonging” section, while offering the usual romantic mix of traditionalist motherhood and apple pie, does, eventually, confront present realities. Before doing so, however, it declares the Anglican Communion “a precious gift of the Gospel”—what does that mean?—and asserts that “‘clarity and charity’ go together”—I assume this refers to the love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin thing. (Of course, Anglicanism has maintained what signers call “health and unity” by studiously avoiding clarity.) After repeating the tired charge that The Episcopal Church is choosing to “‘walk apart’” from the Communion, the signers admit that some feel that God is calling them to leave The Episcopal Church, while others are called to stay behind to fight a rear-guard action against “an increasingly hostile ecclesiastical culture.” (“Traditionalist” clergy, a small minority within The Episcopal Church, seems as much bothered by their failure to be hired into high-paying jobs in big, moderate churches as they are by anything having to do with homosexuality. Laypeople should be unmoved by this complaint.) They agree to “respect, honor, and support one another” and to look forward to the advent of “a biblically-rooted, mission-minded jurisdiction,” presumably one encroaching on or replacing The Episcopal Church.

The “Behaving” section certainly does begin meekly enough, with the signers admitting that “our own hands are not clean” with respect to fostering division. They speak of “the pride that has too often accompanied our witness” and beg God for forgiveness. Then, however, we come to the last paragraph:
We are mindful of God’s weakness displayed in Christ’s Cross, and of the Apostle Paul’s consistent advocacy of the weakness of the Cross as the way of Christian life and ministry. Because of this, we forsake the spirit of condemnation and the opportunity for litigation. We look instead for clarity and charity towards all, and will work towards any prospect for just mediation. We pray to God for the heart to bear any difficulties with joyful grace, peaceful spirits, and confidence in His provision.
I'm not sure I follow the logic from the first sentence to the second, but, in this paragraph, I believe that we, at last, can see what the point of this compact is. First, it is clear that the unity being declared in the statement is not that of the Christian Church or of The Episcopal Church, but that of a group holding to a particular, radically Protestant, and not particularly Anglican take on the Christian message. The compact is not a watershed agreement between people who have major disagreements with one another, not a step forward toward a unified diocese. These people are simply agreeing to agree. Examining the list of signers is instructive here. Not only are all the signers either right-of-center or far-right-of-center, but a little checking around makes it clear that no clergy I would consider to be moderate or (God forbid!) liberal were even asked to sign. The compact is, in reality, a statement of solidarity against The Episcopal Church by those who will try to subvert it from without and those who will try to subvert it from within.

The key sentences in the whole compact, I believe, are these: “Because of this, we forsake the spirit of condemnation and the opportunity for litigation. We look instead for clarity and charity towards all, and will work towards any prospect for just mediation.” In the end, this compact is all about allowing congregations to depart with their property. Those called by God “to dissociate from the Episcopal Church” will, of course, try to do so with “their” parish property. Those behind agree not to engage in litigation to stop the theft. They will, presumably, urge mediation as an alternative to a spirited defense of its rightful property by The Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church and the moderates left behind in the diocese, the signers no doubt hope, will be struck by the loving example of the remaining traditionalists who refuse to demand retribution and will, therefore, allow the schismatics to leave on favorable terms negotiated with the diminished diocese.

Sorry, guys—we’re talking mostly, if not quite exclusively, of guys here—it won’t work. The secret to avoiding litigation is to not give offense. Leave the keys on the desk, and turn out the lights when you leave. To do otherwise is to steal in the name of God.

August 6, 2007


NPR broadcast a typically brief report on an Iraqi bombing this morning. “Most of the victims,” listeners were told, “were women and children.” I doubt that many people gave the report a second thought, both because it was a now-standard “dog-bites-man” story and because the grammatical absurdity of the sentence is subtle. It got my attention, however.

What the correspondent should have said was that most of the victims were women or children, since, in standard American English, being a women and being a child are mutually exclusive. Apropos of how women are treated in Islamic societies, reformers might argue that this dichotomy is not so sharp in Iraq, but I doubt that the NPR reporter was trying to make a sociological point.

July 28, 2007

Aquafina Scandal

The bottled water industry has come under increasing criticism of late, and not always from predictable sources. Its most obvious vulnerability, one might expect, is price. Lately, however, bottled water has been criticized by environmentalists for the resources used in packaging and transportation, and for the low rate at which plastic bottles are recycled.

Last night, ABC News, which frequently airs consumer-interest stories, telecast one about PepsiCo’s Aquifina. Viewers, apparently, were expected to be upset by the revelation that Aquafina draws its raw material from municipal water systems. PepsiCo has now agreed to acknowledge this on its Aquafina labels. This likely will not satisfy critics who charge that the advertising of the bottled water industry generally, which emphasizes purity and taste, is defaming municipal water systems and undermining consumer confidence in them.

Was this really one of the top news stories of the day? Are people actually staying awake at night worrying whether their tap water is safe to drink because Aquafina promises “Pure Water, Perfect Taste”? Not likely.

I am not a big consumer of bottled water, but bottled water is a product that has its place. It is certainly a healthy alternative to soft drinks, though I do object to paying the same price for a bottle of Aquafina as I would for a bottle of Pepsi Cola, which is surely more expensive to make. (We might be surprised to learn how little more.) I also feel manipulated when an establishment I might reasonably expect to have a water cooler sells bottled water instead.

I grew up in a family that always kept a container of tap water in the refrigerator for drinking. The water, perhaps, did not have Aquafina’s “Perfect Taste,” but it seemed good enough at the time. Whether because of maturation or the pernicious influence of advertising, I have more sensitive taste now, and I do prefer the taste of many bottled waters, but filtered water from a dispensing refrigerator isn’t such a bad alternative.

I do hope that no one was being “fooled” by Aquafina, with its label sporting a sunset beyond the mountains (or is it a water spot on a seismograph chart?). The packaging makes it perfectly clear that the water is not “mineral water” (from a spring, say) and has nothing added to it, as does Dasani, for example, which contains added salt. If the product is, as the label says, “purified drinking water,” it really makes no difference whether the raw product comes from a spring, a river, a municipal water plant, a wastewater plant, or is made directly from oxygen and hydrogen. The filtration, reverse osmosis, and other steps in Aquafina’s HydRO-7™ process frankly produces an excellent tasting water—perhaps I mean tasteless water—and I couldn’t care less where the water comes from. Anyone who insists that drinking water should come from a pure mountain stream or spring should buy a microscope and get outdoors.