September 13, 2007

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.

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