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

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