December 31, 2008

Let It Be

Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich’s surprise appointment yesterday of Roland Burris to the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama has received uniformly negative reviews. No one, it seems, is content to let this appointment stand. The conventional wisdom is that Blagojevich’s arrest for trying to sell the open Senate seat means that any appointment by Blagojevich is illegitimate.

Admittedly, everyone is outraged—or wants to be seen as outraged—at Blagojevich’s apparent corruption. The legal or logical case against the appointment, however, is just short of nonexistent. Has Blagojevitch lost his moral authority to govern? As one famous politician might say, you betcha. Nonetheless, Blagojevitch is still innocent until proven guilty, and there has been no trial. To my knowledge, no Illinois statute requires the governor to relinquish his power upon arrest or indictment. Like it or not, Blagojevich is still the governor and has every legal right to appoint Burris. Whether he has the moral right is somewhat beside the point. Various legal moves might be able to delay Burris’s taking a Senate seat, but I don’t see that any person or body has the legal right to undo the appointment.

Now that politicians have had their opportunity to establish their ethical credentials by denouncing the Senate appointment, it is time for everyone—Democrats, anyway—to recognize that the governor has done them a big favor. The appointment creates a win-win situation. Blagojevitch, by appointing a seemingly qualified person with no connection to the appointment-selling controversy, enhances the credibility of his otherwise dubious claim of innocence. Illinois gets the representation in the Senate to which it is entitled. The Democrats get a much-needed additional vote in that body, not to mention a rare black face among a sea of white ones. And all our lawmakers can get back to the more important business of saving us from Great Depression II.

On the negative side, of course, the Republicans lose an issue if the Burris appointment stands. They will, I predict, find others.

Illinois legislators may feel compelled to move forward with impeachment proceedings against the governor. One can make a case for the appropriateness of doing so, though even impeachment will not undo whatever actions Blagojevich has taken as governor before he might be removed from office.

As far as the Senate appointment itself goes, however, my recommendation is that everyone just let it be.

December 22, 2008

Change It Now!

I was distressed that, even after Bishop Duncan was deposed, the convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh voted to “realign,” and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori acknowledged new leadership in the continuing diocese of The Episcopal Church, the official Anglican Communion Web site’s page about the Diocese of Pittsburgh did not change. I wrote to the Anglican Communion Office about the page, and I was reassured that The Episcopal Church had requested changes as well. When I checked today, however, more than three months after Bob Duncan was deposed and two-and-a-half months after Duncan’s supporters voted to leave The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion page on the Diocese of Pittsburgh is unchanged.

I say enough is enough! It’s time for a serious campaign of harassment of the Anglican Communion Office to update the page. For all you church activists out there, I offer the graphic below (click on it for a larger version):


I am beginning my campaign with this post and with the following message that I sent from the Comments page of the Anglican Communion Web site:
I find it distressing that your page about the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh ( still lists Robert Duncan as bishop and Henry Scriven as assistant bishop. It also lists the wrong address, the wrong telephone numbers, and the wrong URL for the Web site (which, as it turns out, is redirected to the proper site). Bishop Duncan was deposed by The Episcopal Church in September, and his followers voted to “join” the Southern Cone in October. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, a few days later, recognized a diocese quite distinct from the “diocese” you list on the official Anglican Communion Web site. The Anglican Communion Office has had ample time to correct this page.

I and others have tried to get the page changed to no avail. More than two months after Bob Duncan led members of the diocese out of The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion Web site still does not recognize the real Diocese of Pittsburgh. After this much time, one begins to wonder if the failure to update the page is deliberate. Surely, this failure is yet another indignity visited upon The Episcopal Church by an Anglican Communion obsessed with appeasing whoever whines the loudest. Your “Diocese of Pittsburgh” page can only encourage Bob Duncan and his schismatic followers. The Communion will not be better for it.

Your unacknowledged brother in Christ,
Lionel Deimel
St. Paul's, Mt. Lebanon
Diocese of Pittsburgh (in The Episcopal Church)
I will follow up with e-mail messages to selected people listed on the Contacts page as well. Perhaps some messages to people at the Episcopal Church Center would also be in order.

As it happens, the pages for the Dioceses of Fort Worth and Quincy are also unchanged, though the San Joaquin page does seem to be up-to-date. I’m not sure how long it took for the San Joaquin page to be changed; perhaps I have unrealistic expectations of what business-as-usual looks like at the Anglican Communion Office. Or perhaps the Communion should spend a bit less money on travel and report writing and a bit more on actually communicating facts to Anglicans around the world.

December 15, 2008

Special Convention

I hope that I didn’t lead any readers to think I was going to cover the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh’s special convention in anything like real time. I did not anticipate that anything unexpected was going to happen, which made prompt reporting seem unnecessary.

Of course, Standing Committee president Jim Simons did announce that retired Western North Carolina bishop Robert H. Johnson was going to be a half-time assisting bishop in the diocese through July 2009. Simons did not say what the diocese will do for a bishop after that, but, presumably, that will depend on how things go in the coming months. A press release from the diocese about Bishop Johnson can be read on the diocese’s Web site. I don’t know much more about him than is available there. Louie Crew has some facts about the bishop and his voting record here. You can make of that what you will. General coverage of the convention was done by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

For me, the highlight of the convention was Simons’ State of the Diocese address. This turned out to be something different from what the title suggested. I expected facts, such as how many parishes were in the diocese and how many may soon join. Instead, Simons essentially said that it is time to stop fighting and time to start building. What was surprising was that he accepted some personal responsibility for the creation of what he called “a culture of fear and control” under Bishop Duncan. (The deposed bishop was not mentioned by name.) As one who has fought against that culture for the past five years, it was gratifying to hear a repudiation of it from someone who enabled its development.

Simons had an interesting take on “diversity,” a term about which he clearly has some ambivalence. Nonetheless, he declared that “diversity needs to be a hallmark of our common life together.” Using the analogy of stream ecology, he argued that diversity is not so much the result of direct action aimed at its enhancement as it is the result of building a healthy community. “But the church is broader than we have allowed it to be here and we need to work at creating a healthy environment that fosters appropriate diversity,” he said. "We must be in conversation, seeking to understand each other and when possible to rejoice and embrace the diversity God has blessed us with.”

Openness and coöperation were evident in both obvious and subtle ways at the convention. Individual parishes were assigned the task of providing refreshments at various points in the program, and attendees were fed well. Six parishes provided singers for the combined choir of about 50 that sang at the closing Eucharist. In the past, only official “mission partners” of the diocese could have displays. Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, for example, has never been able to have a sanctioned role in a diocesan convention. But displays from PEP, Integrity Pittsburgh, the Calvary Church Bookstore, and a Ugandan orphanage were all in evidence at the special convention. PEP distributed perhaps 100 of its “The Episcopal Church Welcomes All” buttons.

That the diocese is getting better at staying in conversation was obvious from the discussion of the four resolutions proposed to facilitate the diocese’s reorganization. All of these were passed with virtually no discussion and no dissenting votes, a far cry from the acrimonious debate of recent conventions. Of course, the resolutions had been distributed in advance of the convention, and people had opportunities to express concerns about them. In the past, those favoring or opposing any particular resolution would consult in advance of the convention with allies, strategizing how to strengthen or weaken a resolution and planning how to carry on a floor fight. The draft of Resolution IV for the special convention did raise some concerns. It was intended to declare constitutional and canonical changes made under Bishop Duncan null and void, but there were disagreements over how wide-ranging the resolution should be and how the intended actions should be justified. The underlying problem, of course, was that some of the people who needed to declare past changes improper had supported them enthusiastically. The resolution went through three official rewrites, and the version presented to the convention was the product of a process that sought to listen to and address the concerns of everyone. No one voted against Resolution IV; it attracted a single abstention.

Many people remarked to me how different and friendly the atmosphere seemed. The tenseness of recent conventions was not in evidence. When things went wrong—some errors were made in tabulating votes for Board of Trustees positions, for example—everyone seemed to take it in stride. In past years, the closing Eucharist has been notable for the number of people who left the convention before it began. It seemed that many fewer people made an early getaway this time. The service was crowded. Because St. Paul’s curate, Kris Opat, was being ordained, some worshippers came especially for that service, of course. In any case, the service and the reception that followed were very happy affairs.

Jim Simons’ address was, of course, a challenge. There will be disagreements among the people of the diocese in the future, and it remains to be seen whether we can change what had become a dysfunctional culture. There is surely hard work ahead of us, but I think we’re off to a good start.

POSTSCRIPT: Because so many diocesan leaders had left the diocese for the Southern Cone, many diocesan positions had to be filled by election at the special convention. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could best serve the diocese and to what position I might reasonably expect to be elected. (My résumé didn’t make me look like a strong candidate for Board of Trustees, for example.) I finally decided to run for the single lay seat open on the Committee on Canons, since I have spent much time contemplating and writing about the constitutions and canons of both The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh over the past several years. I ran and won against four other candidates. I am grateful for the confidence in me shown by the convention. I have no illusions about the difficulty of the work I have agreed to take on, however. Jim Simons’ challenge to reform diocesan culture will need to be kept in mind both in how my new committee works and in what it actually accomplishes.

December 12, 2008

So Far, So Good

I returned from Evening Prayer and a lovely reception a little while ago. So far, the diocesan convention seems well-planned and well-executed. Unfortunately, the weather was not particularly coöperative tonight, and a light snowfall and slippery roads no doubt kept attendance down. The crowd was not embarrassing, however.

A number of special guests made people feel like others cared for us in the diocese and were cheering us on. Bishop Paul Marshall attended from the Diocese of Bethlehem, as did Nathan Baxter from the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, and Bishop Sean Rowe of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, my previous diocese before I came to Pittsburgh. Bishop Bob Ihloff, Province III president, was unable to be present, but he sent a letter and communicated greetings from all the Province III bishops. (The Rev. Barbara Saras, coördinator of Province III was on hand and had set up a table with materials about the province.) Of course our consultant, Bishop David Jones was present from the Diocese of Virginia, as was the Ven. Richard Cluett, who was recently named by the Presiding Bishop as pastoral assistant for reorganizing dioceses. On the eccumenical front, the Rev. Kurt Kusserow, ELCA bishop of Southwestern Pennylvania Synod was there, as was the Rev. Don Green, executive director of Christian Assoicates of Southwest Pennsylvania.

The business part of the convention starts early tomorrow. Time for bed … .

Diocese of Pittsburgh Special Convention About to Begin

The special convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (i.e., the diocese actually in The Episcopal Church) begins this evening with Evening Prayer and a reception. Tomorrow promises a busy morning of business and a joyous Eucharist and Ordination in the afternoon. It all happens at my parish of St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon.

I spent much of the past week preparing for the convention on behalf of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP) and the reorganizing diocese. (I am an alternate deputy unlikely to be promoted to deputy status. I am, however, one of several lay candidates for a position on the Committee on Canons, which will perform a complete review of the constitution and canons of the diocese in 2009.)

On Tuesday, I helped make final revisions to one of the four resolutions that will come before the convention. Resolution IV has now been through four official versions. Its purpose is to declare that certain changes to the constitution and canons made over the last five years were beyond the power of the convention to enact and were therefore null and void. I had expected that taking care of this piece of bookkeeping—essentially, getting rid of the changes that Bishop Duncan and his supporters claimed allowed them to “realign”—would be straightforward, but there were disagreements about just what provisions were improper, as well as how the justification for consigning them to the trash bin should be explained. The resolution to be presented tomorrow will restore the accession clause of the diocesan constitution to what it was before the 2003 annual convention, and it will eliminate the recently passed canon that declares the diocese to be part of the Southern Cone. I hope that all parties with serious concerns about the resolution are now on board, and no real debate will be necessary tomorrow. The final version of the resolution can be found on the diocesan Web site.

My second convention-related task this week was getting out an issue of PEPtalk, the PEP newsletter. This December 2008 issue is short and designed mainly to show the flag at the convention. It reviews recent events—it has been a busy fall—and looks to the future. Interested readers can read the new edition on-line.

Finally, I worked on the preparation of materials for PEP’s table at the convention, and I spent time at church this afternoon arranging the table itself. What is exciting about this effort is that this convention is the first one at which PEP (and other organizations that were not “mission partners” of Bishop Duncan’s diocese) could participate in a convention in any authorized capacity. Among the groups represented at tables at this convention are PEP, the Calvary Church bookstore, Episcopal Women’s History Project, and Integrity. This is a new day in Pittsburgh.

PEP vice president Ken Stiles wrote a story for PEPtalk that could not fit in a four-page issue, but I decided that it, and an earlier story he wrote for the newsletter, would make good handouts for the convention. The stories concern the litigation between Philadelphia parish of St. James the Less and the Diocese of Pennsylvania. The parish tried to leave The Episcopal Church with its property, an action that ended badly. Ken’s stories are “The Saga of St. James the Less: A Cautionary Tale” and “St. James the Less Revisited.”

Over the past few days, a number of people have volunteered to me that they are looking forward to this weekend’s convention. That is surely a change from past years, when most of the Episcopalians I know anticipated diocesan conventions with fear and loathing. The diocese has encouraged observers to attend, and I hope that we can fill the house.

December 8, 2008

Those Pesky Silent Ls

An often-visited page on Lionel Deimel’s Farrago is “Silent Ls.” There are, it turns out, a significant number of English words that contain Ls that are not voiced, and my page is intended to draw attention to them. The pronunciation of some of these words is uncontroversial; I have never heard anyone pronounce the L in “would,” for example. Other words may be pronounced with or without an L sound, and the pronunciation with a voiced L may even be more common. One such word is “falcon,” which I pronounce with an L sound.

I find it maddening to hear common words that have traditionally had silent Ls pronounced with a voiced L. Newscasters, even those at NPR, are regularly guilty of this. The most common mispronunciations seems to be of “calm” and “qualm.” I think this comes of reading too much and listening too little.

It was particularly disheartening this morning to hear NPR’s Cokie Roberts pronounce “balk” as one would normally pronounce “bulk,” or something very close to that, in any case. These are distinct verbs with very different meanings, however, and they are definitely not homonyms. Seemingly, Cokie said, “The Senate Republicans are bulking, and they have the support of the public in the bulking.” This conjured up an image of Senate Republicans getting bigger and bigger. You can hear it for yourself here.

November 25, 2008

A Tax Question

The annual letter requesting donations for the publication of Trinity arrived in the mail yesterday. Trinity has been the magazine of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. It has been published six times a year and sent free to the homes of Pittsburgh Episcopalians. (Most laypeople in the diocese have never seen or heard of Episcopal Life.) I have responded with a donation to this solicitation in the past, but I have not done so in recent years, during which the magazine has been transformed from one about the diocese and Episcopal Church to one about Bishop Robert Duncan and his marvelous deeds and plans.

As usual, the letter was from Bishop Duncan, of the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh,” which is to say, those folks currently in control of most of the assets recently “liberated” by extra-canonical means from The Episcopal Church. (How long, I wonder, will I remain on this mailing list?) The letter seemed pretty much like those of previous years; it did not suggest that anything as remarkable as “realignment” might have happened recently.

Like most letters from charitable nonprofits, the letter emphasized that donations are tax-deductible. But are they really?

In the wake of the diocesan convention’s voting October 4 to leave The Episcopal Church and join the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, it didn’t take long to determine which entity thereafter claiming to be the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” legitimately represented a diocese of The Episcopal Church. Recall that, at the time of the convention, the diocese had no bishop, as Duncan had already been deposed. Ecclesiastical authority was therefore held by the Standing Committee. All but one member of the Standing Committee announced their departure for the Southern Cone, so the remaining Standing Committee member, namely, the Rev. Jim Simons, represented organizational continuity with the Episcopal Church diocese called the Diocese of Pittsburgh. On October 9, the Presiding Bishop acknowledged that Simons’ Standing Committee was indeed the ecclesiastical authority of the Episcopal Church diocese.

But what about the other guys? Whatever Duncan’s “diocese” is, no one, especially Duncan himself, has suggested that it is part of The Episcopal Church. Although Duncan registered a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation called “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” earlier this year—see “Which Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh?”—he has claimed not to have transferred any assets to the new corporation and has not, as far as I know, received a determination from the IRS that it is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt entity. I assume—admittedly without definitive evidence—that Duncan, who has emphasized the continuity of leadership among the realigners, is using the same tax ID the diocese has always used.

Therein lies a problem. The diocese seems never to have had a tax exemption of its own, but has used that of The Episcopal Church. Charities are listed on the IRS Web site, and the church appears there as “Episcopal Churches & Dioceses in the U. S. & Inst. Thereof.” It is associated with Deductibility Code 1, explained as follows: “Generally, a central organization holding a group exemption letter, whose subordinate units covered by the group exemption are also included as having contributions deductible, even though they are not separately listed.” If Duncan’s group is using this as the basis of its tax-exempt status, one has to question on what basis this is possible.

Perhaps there is another tax-exempt organization through which Duncan’s group might claim to be tax-exempt. There is an entry for the “Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes,” for example, but I was unable to find any listing for, say, “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” or for any name containing “Southern Cone.” One could argue, I suppose, that the realigners are part of the Network, though one could point out that the Episcopal diocese joined the Network and that that diocese is not what Duncan heads. But, of course, my former bishop resides in the Anglican Neighborhood of Make-Believe. I think the IRS resides elsewhere.

Perhaps Duncan can validly claim that contributions to Trinity are deductible. Perhaps the Trinity letter is not actually a fraudulent solicitation, but neither does it seem a transparent one. Would you feel confident that your donation to Duncan’s magazine could be deducted on your income tax return? If so, you are more trusting than I.

November 19, 2008

Training at the Donut Shop

I have been doing some computer work for the reorganizing Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, and this has required a few trips to Brackenridge, Pennsylvania. Brackenridge is—how should I put it?—out of the high-rent district. Anyway, about half a mile before I reach St. Barnabas’ Episcopal Church, where the office is, I pass a small strip mall under construction. At one end of the mall, a Dunkin’ Donuts shop has, invitingly, been taking shape.

Unexpectedly, I found myself heading out to Brackenridge in mid-morning today. Since I clearly was not going to get lunch at my accustomed time, I grabbed a few scraps of a spiral-sliced ham I had in the refrigerator, filled my coffee mug, put a Fun-Size Snickers left over from Halloween in my jacket pocket, and headed out on the 28-mile trip. When I passed the donut shop, I saw lots of cars in the parking lot and conspicuous activity inside, so I made a mental note to stop by sometime. (Dunkin’ Donuts’ TV advertising has been wearing down my resistance, I suppose, but there is no Dunkin’ Donuts close to my house.)

It was mid-afternoon when I headed back to Pittsburgh, and I thought it might be worth stopping at the new shop for a donut and, perhaps, even some coffee. I pulled into the parking lot, parked the car, and headed for Dunkin’ Donuts. I was delighted to find the place rather crowded, though it also looked a bit messy. I stood in line behind three other customers. Well, I thought they were customers, but I wasn't quite sure. I was about to ask the person ahead of me if the shop was really open for business when a young woman walked up to me to explain that the place was actually opening Monday, and what I was witnessing was a training session. (It was about this time that I noticed that the “customers” had scripts in their hands that they were reading from and were paying with play money.) The young lady explained, however, that I could order something on the house if I would be patient with the new staff. I couldn’t resist all the luscious-looking pastries behind the counter, so I considered that a pretty good deal.

In the end, I came away with a blueberry cake donut and a medium cup of coffee. It was a bit like watching the Keystone Cops behind the counter, but everyone was good-natured and trying very hard to get things right. And perhaps I helped with the training, since I wasn’t using a standard script, and the people behind the counter seemed a bit vague about what Equal is and just how large is each size coffee cup. I walked out of the shop with a smile on my face.

Perhaps when I stop by next time, everyone will seem a bit calmer and more self-assured. I wish the new enterprise all the best.

You’ve got to be kidding!

David Virtue has posted a bizarre story about the retired Bishop of Eau Claire, William Wantland, who has been an assisting bishop in the now-“realigned” Diocese of Fort Worth. According to Virtue, Wantland, who now claims canonical residence in the Southern Cone rather than in The Episcopal Church, has written Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to ask that he be given honorary membership in the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops.

Virtue offers this quotation from the letter:
I am not resigning my Orders, nor am I abandoning the communion of The Episcopal Church, being a member of a sister Province of the Anglican Communion, in compliance with the provisions of Canon IV.9. However, because I am no longer a member of The Episcopal Church, although residing within its jurisdiction in Oklahoma, I am no longer eligible to be a regular member of its House of Bishops. I therefore request that I be admitted as an honorary member of the (TEC) House of Bishops.
The request, we are told, is made pursuant to “Rule XXIV of the House of Bishops.” The rule is one of the rules of order of the House (available here on page 10 of the PDF and numbered page 194), and the relevant paragraph is the following:
Any Bishop of an extra-provincial Diocese which originated in the Church or any Bishop of this Church who removed from the jurisdiction of this Church to the jurisdiction of a Church in the Anglican Communion may be continued in relationship to this House as an honorary member. Thirty days prior to each stated or called meeting of the House such honorary members shall give written notice of their intention to be present to the Presiding Officer of this House. Seat and voice shall then be accorded such honorary members, upon the nomination to the House by the Presiding Officer. No vote shall be accorded the honorary member.
Virtue characterizes Wantland as a “canon lawyer,” though he is perhaps better called a “Philadelphia lawyer” for his knowledge a deviousness with respect to law, canon or otherwise. Recall that Wantland, a longtime critic of The Episcopal Church, was the principal instigator of the infamous PECUSA, Inc., scheme, along with John-David Schofield, John Rodgers, Chuck Murphy, and others. (The attempt to co-opt the official name of The Episcopal Church led to a successful federal trademark infringement suit brought by Bishop Jack Spong. This is, no doubt, one of many reasons the Anglican right puts Bishop Spong in the same category as Bishop Pike and Satan himself.)

In any case, Canon IV.9 is the canon under which Bishops Schofield and Duncan were deposed for their actions in support of “realignment.” (The canon can be found here, on page 36 of the PDF and numbered page 154.) Section 1 of that canon begins:
If a Bishop abandons the communion of this Church (i) by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church, or (ii) by formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the same, or (iii) by exercising episcopal acts in and for a religious body other than this Church or another Church in communion with this Church, so as to extend to such body Holy Orders as this Church holds them, or to administer on behalf of such religious body Confirmation without the express consent and commission of the proper authority in this Church; it shall be the duty of the Review Committee, by a majority vote of All the Members, to certify the fact to the Presiding Bishop and with the certificate to send a statement of the acts or declarations which show such abandonment, which certificate and statement shall be recorded by the Presiding Bishop.
No doubt, Bishops Iker and Ackerman will be deposed under this same canon. Bishop Wantland, who supported Bishop Iker’s bid to “realign,” is clearly trying to preëmpt similar charges against himself by suggesting that he is not guilty of acts that fall under provisions (ii) or (iii), though, by supporting “realignment,” he is, by analogy to Schofield and Duncan, guilty of acts characterized by provision (i).

Wantland’s move is like that of the boy who killed his parents and pleaded for mercy from the court because he was a orphan. He is out of The Episcopal Church because he is disdainful of it and wanted to be out of it, not because of circumstances beyond his control. If he wishes to be a member of the House of Bishops, he need only announce that he will stay in the church and not remove to the Southern Cone. I assume that the Presiding Bishop will see through this transparent scheme to escape deposition and will see to it that he is eventually also deposed under Canon IV.9. I find it interesting that Wantland seems to be hedging his bets in trying to preserve his ability to rejoin The Episcopal Church as a functioning bishop if “realignment” ends badly.

“Realignment” will end badly, of course, and The Episcopal Church will be better off for having gotten rid of Bishop Wantland once and for all.

Postscript. It did not seem appropriate to rehash the whole sordid story of PECUSA, Inc., here, but I recommend reading the collection of materials on the matter amassed by Louie Crew. In particular, read Bishop Wantland’s defense of his actions here. It will, I predict, produce a strong sense of déjà vu.

November 11, 2008

Lessons from an Overeager Buyer

What would you think if you tried to make a purchase on the Web and, after clicking the button to authorize the purchase, you saw the message below? (Click on the image for a larger view.)

Error message
I saw this page and could only think of two explanations for it: my credit card was declined or there was some failure associated with the charge-handling mechanism of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland Web site. It seemed reasonably clear that my credit card had not been charged, and I had not bought the two tickets to an event called “Healing and Hope for Our Times: An Evening with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.” My evidence for so believing was the following:
  1. The title of the Web page I was viewing was “Charge Error.”
  2. The page contained this sentence: “There was an error while charging your card.”
  3. The “message from the card processor” was listed as “AVS FAILURE AUTH.”
  4. Nowhere on the page was there any indication that I had completed my transaction successfully.
The page also contained this somewhat perplexing sentence: “Otherwise, please try again later?” I took this as an invitation to try to complete my purchase at some later time when, presumably, whatever glitch the Web site had encountered had been corrected. In fact, I tried again later with the same result. I even tried a different credit card—my debit card for my checking account, in fact, where I knew my balance could cover the charge many times over—again with the same result.

The tickets were a gift to my son and daughter-in-law, and my persistence was the result of anxiety on my son’s part that tickets might sell out quickly. I knew that time with Desmond Tutu was very special, and I didn’t want this opportunity to be missed.

Eventually, I decided to call the diocese. I explained the situation to the person who answered the telephone, and she transferred my call to the office administrator. The office administrator was apparently unavailable, and I had to leave a voice message.

Not having received a return call from the diocese by late afternoon, I dialed the diocese’s number again. The person answering the telephone remembered me from earlier, transferred the call again, and I again left a message. Last evening, I called my son to tell him that, although I had not yet bought the tickets, I was working at it. I decided that I would allow time this morning to receive a call from the diocese, but that I would make a third call if I had heard nothing by mid-morning.

Early this morning, I got an automated call from my credit card company. The call was clearly about my attempts to use the card, but after pushing numerous buttons on my telephone keypad, I was still clueless as to what, exactly, had prompted the call. I was getting anxious, however. Speaking to a person didn’t seem to be an option, so I hung up and called the customer service number on the back of my credit card. When I did talk to a real human being—this actually happened with reasonable dispatch—I was told that there were four charges for $50 to the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland on my card, and that there was a fraud hold on my credit card. The charges were being processed, I was told, and could not be disputed until they were actually posted to the account. I was told, however, that the diocese could probably issue a refund.

Seriously alarmed at this point, I visited my bank’s Web site to view the status of my checking account. There I discovered another four $50 debits pending. I called the diocese again.

I gave the person who answered the telephone the short version of what had happened and made it clear that I really wanted to discuss the matter with someone who could help as soon as possible. (I think I did not speak to the same person who handled my calls yesterday.) Everyone else in the office was in a staff meeting, I was told, and the meeting would not be over for about an hour. I was given the option of leaving a message for the person actually responsible for the Web site. Eventually, I did that, but not before raising my voice in order to extract a promise that the message would be communicated that I really needed a return call as soon as possible.

Just over an hour later, I received a call that was probably a response to my first two voice-mail messages. The office administrator was eager to fix the problem, and she assured me that ample tickets were available. It took me a few minutes to communicate everything I knew about the problems I had encountered. She asked me to fax the error page to the office, and I agreed to send to above image via e-mail, along with other information needed to clear up the mess.

So what went wrong? By the time I finally spoke to the office administrator for the Diocese of Maryland, I had learned, via Wikipedia, what AVS is. (I had not encountered the acronym before.) “AVS” stands for “Address Verification System,” a scheme that checks digits in the supplied address of a credit card user against account records. In the case of the Diocese of Maryland site, I suspect that the information I supplied did not check out. Since I am confident that I entered my own address correctly, either there was a problem with my Zip Code versus my Zip+4 Code—perhaps the Web site did not expect my full Zip+4 entry—or the site confused my address with that of my son, to which I wanted the tickets sent. Apparently, the Web site initiated an AVS check, which can return any of a number of codes indicating which digits matched and which did not. After the AVS check, the Web site should have decided either to approve the sale and display a success page to the buyer or to reject the sale and display some comprehensible error message on a failure page. My guess is that AVS code was something other than D or M (which indicate matches), but there was enough of a match to conclude that the transaction should go forward. The sale was completed, but the failure page (and no success page) was displayed.

There are some lessons to be learned here, and not to buy tickets from the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland may not be the most important one. The most distressing lesson of course, is that the diocese’s Web site suggests a way to scam unwitting Web shoppers—occasionally tell a purchaser that the purchase has failed but that they should check back later. They can be charged twice and might never notice. (I can think of ways to make this scheme even more effective, but my objective here is to protect consumers, not con artists.) The most important lesson is to verify that a Web purchase has actually failed when it seems to have failed. Contact the merchant immediately and do not try to complete the purchase a second time. My behavior was, in retrospect, pretty dumb, but I wasn’t expecting to be fleeced by an Episcopal Church judicatory.

Caveat emptor.

Postscript. I was never successful in purchasing my tickets on the Web. I finally completed the purchase over the telephone.

November 8, 2008

The Anglican Neighborhood of Make-Believe

Yesterday, deputies of the group that voted at the October convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to leave The Episcopal Church elected Bishop Robert Duncan to be their bishop. The “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” issued the following statement:
Bishop Robert Duncan is once again the diocesan bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Clergy and lay deputies to a special convention of the diocese on November 7 voted to invite Bishop Duncan back into leadership of the diocese 50 days after the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church voted to remove (“depose”) him.

“It is good to be back. God has clearly watched over the diocese and watched over me and Nara as we have walked through these challenging days together. God willing, I look forward to many years together sharing the good news of Jesus Christ,” said Bishop Duncan.

Leaders representing a majority of the world’s Anglican Christians, as well as many inside and outside The Episcopal Church in North America, never accepted the validity of The House of Bishops’ decision to remove Bishop Duncan from leadership. In spite of the decision’s deep defects, Bishop Duncan and the diocese elected to submit to the purported “deposition,” so long as the diocese was part of that denomination.

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh was able to invite Bishop Duncan back into leadership after it voted to leave The Episcopal Church and temporarily join the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone on October 4. The diocese made the decision after years of disagreement with the leadership of The Episcopal Church over basic Christian beliefs about the authority of the Bible, the unique role of Jesus Christ in salvation, and Christian moral standards. At the conclusion of that diocesan convention, the Standing Committee of the diocese, led by the Rev. David Wilson, announced that there would be a special convention on November 7 for the purpose of electing a bishop.

With the election complete, clergy and laity from around the diocese are participating in the “Moving Forward in Mission” conference at Trinity Cathedral in downtown Pittsburgh on November 8. The conference features the Rev. Mike Breen, who has done extensive work helping parishes effectively make new Christians in their local communities.

“The most important thing now is to move beyond our conflict with the leadership of The Episcopal Church and turn all of our energies toward living as Christians and effectively sharing the good news of God’s love and mercy for all people in the places God has put us. I am looking forward to hearing what Mike has to say to us tomorrow,” said Bishop Duncan.
This is pure propaganda that deserves more analysis than I have time to devote to it just at the moment. I cannot resist offering a few actual facts that provide some context for evaluating this statement, however.

The “deposition.” Bob Duncan was actually deposed by The Episcopal Church. The canons were followed, though it is surely true that, like scripture, the church’s constitution and canons must be interpreted and implemented by actual, sinful people. There are checks in our church polity against misapplication of canon law, and none of those checks were subverted. Bob Duncan was actually deposed by The Episcopal Church. It was not a universally applauded decision. It is disengenuous, however, to call the deposition a “deposition” just because one does not like the result. I believe the Supreme Court erred when it declared recently that the Second Amendment articulates an individual, rather than a collective right to own guns. I believe the Court’s decision was wrongheaded, politically motivated, and destructive to the Republic. I take a step toward insurrection and anarchy, however, if I call the decision a “decision” and suggest that, because I think it was wrong, it is somehow illegitimate.

“Realignment.” “Realignment” is not a righteous revolution but is simple theft. The diocese’s voting to leave The Episcopal Church and to attach itself to the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone is like the executives of the Lincoln-Mercury Division of Ford Motor Company voting to leave Ford and become a division of General Motors. The Diocese of Pittsburgh is as much an integral part of The Episcopal Church as Lincoln-Mercury is an integral part of Ford. Unilateral “realignment” by the diocesan convention is simply beyond its competence to effect. (Much has been written on this topic that need not be repeated here. See my own “Unqualified Accession” and Joan Gundersen’s “History Revisited.”)

“Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” In the heady days of the dot-com bubble, a practice developed that became known as “cybersquatting.” In its simplest form, an Internet-savvy group or individual would register an Internet domain name before a corporation or organization that would be the logical holder of the name thought of doing so. An exorbitant price could then be demanded of the corporation or organization by the cybersquatter for the use of the domain name. Alternatively, the domain could be utilized in bad faith by the cybersquatter to trade on the good name of the the other party, potentially besmirching that good name through deception of cybercitizens. Bob Duncan did something very much like this by registering “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” a few months ago as a nonprofit Pennsylvania corporation, taking advantage of the fact that the real Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, a judicatory of The Episcopal Church and a longstanding, albeit unincorporated entity, had not formally protected that name. (See “Which Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh?”.) We now have two entities calling themselves the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh,” one of which represents the continuation of the Episcopal Church judicatory and one ecclesiastisquatting on the name to deceive Episcopalians, the public, and, most importantly, the courts.

The Southern Cone. As he has done for the Diocese of Recife in Brazil, for the Diocese of San Joaquin, and for a motley collection of other church entities, the Primate of the Southern Cone, Presiding Bishop Gregory Venables, has welcomed the “realigned” Pittsburghers as a diocese of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. In Anglican Communion practice, this is highly irregular, and the Archbishop of Canterbury has given every indication that he will not acknowledge the legitimacy of such encroachments on the autonomy and exclusive franchise of a member of the Anglican Communion. To do otherwise would, in fact, invite similar encroachment into the jurisdiction of the Church of England. (The erstwhile bishop of Recife was not invited to Lambeth, for example.) More to the point, however, the constitution and canons of the Southern cone do not allow for the inclusion of a Pittsburgh diocese in the Southern Cone.

The Diocese of Fort Worth, which intends to follow Pittsburgh into the looking-glass world of Bishops Venables, Schofield, and Duncan, has conveniently provided an English translation of the constitution and canons of the Southern Cone. (One wonders if the average pew-sitter in “realigned” churches has considered the implications of being under the authority of a church headquartered thousands of miles away that conducts its internal business in Spanish.) Article 2 of that constitution, titled “Membership,” reads as follows:
The Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, which shall henceforth be called The Province, is composed of the Anglican Dioceses that exist or which may be formed in the Republics of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay and which voluntary [sic] declare themselves as integral Diocesan members of the province.
How does the Diocese of Pittsburgh, “Episcopal” or otherwise, qualify as a diocese of this South American church? Clearly, it does not. Moreover, Article 4 sets out a procedure to amend the constitution that, like any such provision in a fundamental governing document for an organization, is complex and time-consuming. (Incidentally, Article 3, “Rules,” declares: “Where one Diocesan Constitution differs from the Provincial Constitution, the Provincial Constitution prevails.” That is ironic, in that the first constitutional amendment proposed by Bishop Duncan to chip away at the accession clause in the Diocese of Pittsburgh constitution declared that the constitution and canons of the diocese supersede those of The Episcopal Church. This amendment was the subject of the very first briefing paper of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh.)

“Diocesan Bishop.” Finally there is the statement by the “realigners” to the effect that “Bishop Robert Duncan is once again the diocesan bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” Since the thing that Bob Duncan now supposedly leads has absolutely no respect for established rules, I suppose that Bob Duncan can indeed be declared its “diocesan bishop.” After all, the entity nominally operates under the rules of the former Episcopal Church diocese, whose constitution it improperly amended. It has “adopted as advisory policies” the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church, which nevertheless “should in no way be interpreted to suggest that The Episcopal Church has any authority over the Diocese, any Parish of the Diocese, or any Clergy of the Diocese.” (See page C8 of the 2008 Pre-Convention Journal.) Apparently, it was too much trouble to write real rules, since the entity’s sojourn in the Southern Cone is intented to be only temporary.

So, is Bishop Duncan “once again
the diocesan bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh”? Well, not if “The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” is in the Southern Cone. (As we have established, of course, it isn’t, but both the “diocese” and the Southern Cone’s primate are pretending that it is.) The problem is that episcopal elections, like episcopal elections in The Episcopal Church, must be ratified by a wider constituency than a diocesan convention. Canon 2.2 of the Southern Cone addresses the election of diocesan bishops. It includes the following:
Once an election has been completed in a Diocese, the Diocese shall communicate the results to PEC [Provincial Executive Council] and the Bishops in the Province, and shall send them documents considered appropriate about the Bishop-elect, and finally the Diocese will provide the necessary information that will permit the other Bishops of the Province to ratify or reject the Bishop-elect based on extensive knowledge of the person.
All the bishops of the province and the members of the PEC have a role in accepting or rejecting a newly elected bishop. The details are not important for our purposes here, the point simply being that Bishop Duncan’s election does not make him, ipso facto, anything but a pretend bishop-elect of a pretend diocese of the Southern Cone.

Welcome to the Anglican Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Isn’t it appropriate that it should be headquartered in Pittsburgh, the home of Fred Rogers?

October 26, 2008

The Ground War

At the October 4 annual convention of the then-united Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, the Rev. David Wilson preached a surprisingly conciliatory sermon. The sermon was surprising because Wilson, then the president of the Standing Committee, has been an uncompromising supporter of Bishop Robert Duncan’s plan for “realignment.” He has also been a strategist whose purpose has consistently been to defeat the forces of moderation and progressivism at diocesan conventions, no matter how minor the issue at hand.

Wilson’s sermon was based on Matthew 14:22–33, the story of Jesus’ walking on the water, and Wilson’s theme was courage. Speaking of those favoring and opposing the upcoming “realignment” vote, he said:
We may be opponents today but can we be worthy opponents. That is, can we be opponents that honor God and honor each other even as we disagree and as we separate. [sic] Can we be amicable as opposed to hostile, even in the midst of strongly held views. [sic] That takes heart. That takes courage.
Wilson concluded his analysis with these words:
Can we bless each other as we separate? In the last several years our Bishop’s final blessing has often begun with these words of St. Paul from I Corinthians 16:12-14. Be watchful; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. Let it be so today and always.
Those of us who are used to being demonized by Wilson’s angry rhetoric were taken aback. Would the impending divorce, ironically, begin an era of coöperation and reconciliation? Well, apparently not.

I attend St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in the Pittsburgh suburb of Mt. Lebanon. St. Paul’s is one of the largest parishes in the diocese. It is also a parish strongly committed to The Episcopal Church. The nearest Episcopal church of any consequence is—or, perhaps, has been—St. David’s, in nearby Peters Township. For the past several decades, St. David’s has been out of the mainstream of Episcopal Church practice, and, increasingly, has been openly hostile to The Episcopal Church. These attitudes have been among several factors that have brought many former parishioners of the Peters Township church to St. Paul’s. Not long before the annual convention, Wilson, whose pastoral practices had made him unwelcome in his former parish, became, according to the church’s Web site, “senior pastor” of St. David’s.

Approximately a year ago, St. Paul’s installed a new rector, the Rev. Lou Hays. This fall, St. Paul’s changed its Sunday schedule, replacing a single principal service with two. Although a similar service schedule had been in use several years earlier, the new plan called for a traditional service at 10:30 and a “contemporary” service described as “family-friendly” at 8:30. This was a significant departure from the past, and the program year was advertised in an aggressive publicity campaign. A special logo and slogan was created, and, in addition to the usual promotion in the weekly bulletin and monthly newsletter, advertising was placed in the township magazine. Also, postcards announcing the St. Paul’s initiative were mailed to thousands of nearby households.

Here are reproductions of the front and back of the St. Paul’s postcards:

St. Paul’s postcard, front

St. Paul’s postcard, back

It was quite a surprise when, last Sunday, a parishioner showed me a postcard he had received in the mail from St. David’s. The front and back of that postcard are reproduced here:

St. David’s postcard, front
St. David’s postcard, back
For the benefit of those who may have trouble reading the text on the scanned image above, I will reproduce it here as text:

Anglicans and Episcopalians in the South Hills now have an option!

St. David's Church, in conjunction with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, has separated itself from the apostasy of the national Episcopal Church based in New York and is now aligned with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone (South America). The Southern Cone is a Province of the Anglican Communion, in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and is unabashedly biblical in faith, & practice and is mission oriented –and so are we! So guess what? -- You no longer need to apologize for being an Episcopalian. Is this the kind of Anglican Christianity you want to be a part of? Then check us out.

St. David's Church
905 E. McMurray Road, Peters Twp.

8:00 AM-Traditional Holy Communion

10:30 AM-Family Oriented Holy Communion
With blended worship, Kidz Stuff and Nursery

We are a Three Stream Church:
Evangelical, Spirit-filled and Liturgical

It is not clear that the postcards from St. David’s were aimed specifically at members of my parish—only a fraction of them received the mail, and only some of the recipients had any obvious past connection to St. David’s—but the postcards were clearly mocking the St. Paul’s initiative. “Not just a new morning … But a whole new day at St. David’s” is a slogan that can hardly be dismissed as a product of inadvertence.

The postcard project makes it clear that David Wilson is again up to his old tricks. Can we bless each other as we separate? I guess not. However, the assertion that “[y]ou no longer need to apologize for being an Episcopalian,” an appeal that may be attractive to current St. David’s parishioners, will, to parishioners of St. Paul’s, seem mean-spirited, pathetic, and parasitic. I suspect it will seem so to most other people whom St. David’s is trying to attract.

While dioceses, parachurch organizations, Anglican provinces, bishops, and primates fight the air war for Anglican supremacy, an equally ugly ground war seems to have broken out in Pittsburgh. Whereas we might have thought that separation would free each side to pursue its Christian mission according to its own lights, one side seems unable to resist lobbing mortars at the forces of the retreating “enemy.” Of course, this may be how the likes of David Wilson construe their Christian mission—as a God-given commission to destroy anyone daring to claim the appellation “Christian” who does not believe as they do.

Let all that you do be done in love. Let it be so today and always. Amen.

October 17, 2008

Moving Forward with Grace

As I noted in my last post, I attended the program “Next Steps: Moving Forward with Grace” sponsored by the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Pittsburgh last night. I had planned to write a report about the event, but I discovered that Dr. Jeremy Bonner, an historian who recently finished a history of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, has already written a fair accounting of last night’s event on his blog, Catholic and Reformed. You can read Dr. Bonner’s post here. I can, however, add a few details.

There were, according to one count, about 140 people present, and the diocese seems to have been successful at attracting people from divided parishes. The meeting seemed to accomplish what it set out to do, namely, inform people who want to stay in The Episcopal Church about what is going on in their diocese and give them direction as to what they might need to do.

The event ran smoothly, though participants not from the cathedral seemed to have trouble using the cathedral microphones. (The church is acoustically difficult.) Light refreshments were provided, and no one objected to people’s taking coffee and cookies into the pews. There were several handouts: an agenda, the current list of remaining parishes, a list of contacts, and a printed version of the evolving “Frequently Asked Questions for Parishes” from the diocese’s Web site. The agenda, curiously, listed the program’s title as “Next Steps: Moving Forward in Grace,” not “with Grace,” as it was billed on the Web. There may be a theological issue here, but the inconsistency is more likely due to a failure to communicate.

A letter was read from the bishops of the other Pennsylvania dioceses (Bethlehem, Central Pennsylvania, Northwest Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania) offering their support to Pittsburgh. That letter can be read here.

I should note two minor corrections to Dr. Bonner’s account, which I have already commented upon on his blog. The event was not an Across the Aisle event, but an Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh event. Across the Aisle, which has always had a tenuous existence as a formal organization, will, I suspect, quickly fade away. Many of the most prominent players in Across the Aisle have assumed formal roles in the reorganizing diocese or are otherwise helping with the reorganization. Whether some remnant or echo of Across the Aisle will live on as a mechanism to facilitate communication within the diocese is unclear and, as far as I know, has not seriously been discussed.

Like Dr. Bonner, I was uncertain of the canon cited by the Rev. Jim Simons to justify the Presiding Bishop’s recognition of the present Standing Committee. Bonner wrote down “124”; I wrote down “I.2.4,” but I doubt that I was very much more certain than he was. I checked the canons today, however, and discovered that the proper reference is to Canon I.2.4(a).

Robbery on the Rails

I attended the “Next Steps: Moving Forward with Grace” event sponsored by the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Pittsburgh last night. It was held at the downtown Trinity Cathedral, and I planned to ride the “T,” the light rail system of Port Authority of Allegheny County. I can board a train three blocks from my house and get off a block from the cathedral.

I don’t make the light-rail trip downtown often, but I keep tickets around, so that, when I do use the “T,” I don’t have to worry about exact change. The tickets can be bought in books of 10, and, a few years ago, the tickets were sold at a small discount. This is no longer true, but the tickets still allow riders to avoid a rush-hour surcharge that must be paid by those using cash.

Since I am not a regular rider, I don’t keep close tabs on Port Authority news, but I did know that fares had been raised since I last used the “T.” From past experience, I also knew that I would not be able to use one of my old tickets without paying an additional fee. I find this policy irritating—I wonder if the Port Authority folks have heard of the Forever stamp—but I was used to it. In fact, the tickets indicate on the back that they are “subject to fare changes”:

PAT ticket (front and back)
To avoid any surprises upon boarding, I called the customer service number on the ticket to find out how much I would have to pay. After a lengthy wait on hold, I was told that the fare change had been made in January, and riders had been given three months to use their tickets, which, in October, were no longer accepted. This was a very unpleasant and unexpected surprise. The tickets say, after all, “this ticket may be used for one ride through one zone,” and “subject to fare changes” does not suggest, at least to me, that the ticket could become worthless.

Before I got a chance to confirm that a transfer still costs 50 cents, I accused Port Authority of being a bunch of thieves, whereupon the customer service agent hung up on me. The customer, I suppose, is no longer always right and doesn’t even have to be listened to.

Having just been relieved of $12.50 by my local transit agency, I don’t think I’ll buy any more tickets. At least when I buy a stamp, I know it will always be worth at least what I paid for it.

October 16, 2008

Stewards, Not Owners

Not surprisingly, the disposition of parish property of dissident Episcopal congregations repeatedly surfaces as a topic of conversation on The Houses of Bishops and Deputies e-mail list. It is a critical issue, since The Episcopal Church has no power to keep its members from leaving. If congregations want to depart, whether to join a different church or even to found a new church, there is nothing that can stop them, except, of course, if they want to take parish property with them.

I have written about the church property issue myself, in an essay that appeared in The Living Church, and elsewhere. I have despaired of writing (or finding) the definitive treatment of the topic, but I am always on the lookout for someone with something wise to say on the matter. This morning, a post on the e-mail list by the Very Rev. George Werner caught my eye, and I asked him for permission to reproduce it here, which he graciously granted. I have made minor edits for the sake of clarity, to correct obvious errors, and to display the text more attractively on the Web, but what follows is otherwise unchanged from what Dean Werner wrote:
I reluctantly, and with sadness, find I must reply to an argument being offered concerning the property of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The claim has been made that the property belongs to those who are currently tending it. One of the clearest of principles in The Episcopal Church (and many others) is that we are stewards, not owners. It is a scriptural concept, that we are the temporary managers whose job description is to maintain and enhance (see Parable of the Talents, Mt. 25:14–30) that with which we have been entrusted and then pass it on to our successor.

It has worked brilliantly for centuries. Clergy are entrusted with Church buildings, land, chalices, vestments, linens, and other appointments of worship and community. Our generous forebears have left behind dedicated funds for music, for scholarships, for endowments, for personnel positions, and for maintenance of all the above.

Unfortunately, from time to time, some group makes the judgment that “this time is special” and that “we are more able, more effective, more holy, more scriptural, more just, or more righteous than others. Therefore, we must take ownership of that we once accepted in trust as stewards.” But I would think that such a self-praising judgment needs to be left to the One true Judge, who will separate the sheep from the goats and the wheat from the chaff.

I question neither the sincerity nor the commitment of such folk. I understand that I am a dinosaur who actually believes that vows should be taken seriously. At my Ordinations to Diaconate and Priesthood, not only did I respond orally and positively to accept the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church, but I also signed the documents of that vow before the ceremony could be continued.

I believe in the Communion of Saints. For me that includes the hundreds and the thousands of wonderful lay people who gave so much of their time, talent, and treasure to build these communities and then passed them on to another generation. In both our sacred and secular worlds, there are too few voices of gratitude for those who have given us so much and too many shouts of “mine” in this difficult moment of God’s history.

This is my thirtieth year as part of this Diocesan family. When I arrived, we were just completing the last significant Diocesan fund raising for mission. Though other campaigns were proposed, none came to fruition. So the property and funds in question were the product of decades and centuries. (I was a steward for Trinity Cathedral for more than twenty years of Trinity’s twenty-five decades of history.)

Serving as a steward was a great honor and privilege for me and I never felt the need or desire to be an owner of such a treasured place and gloried history. But then, I am a dinosaur who believes in vows and commitments, and dinosaurs are best known for being extinct.

— George Werner, 31st President of the House of Deputies; Dean Emeritus, Trinity Cathedral, Pittsburgh

October 12, 2008

Grace and Charity in Wonderland

This past week, my parish church, St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, received a letter from Robert G. Devlin, “chancellor” of the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” It included, as an enclosure, a copy of the stipulation agreed to by all parties in the Calvary lawsuit and signed in October 2005. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the letter was sent to each of the churches that have declared that they are remaining in The Episcopal Church.

The letter said, in part:
It is our prayer that you do not wish to separate yourselves from the Diocese, but whatever your position, we wanted to make you aware of the Stipulation and Order signed by President Judge Joseph M. James of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. Specifically, the Stipulation and Order directs certain steps that a Parish Church shall take if it elects to disaffiliate with the Diocese.
The Rev. Jim Simons, president of the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh recognized by the church’s Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, was quoted in the Post-Gazette story as saying, in response to the Devlin letter, “It’s a bit like Alice in Wonderland.”

Indeed it is. The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and, I hope, most “normal” people have one view of reality. What the Post-Gazette calls the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican)” has quite another.

Bob Devlin, of course, was writing for those former Episcopalians who voted to “realign” at the October 4, 2008, diocesan convention. They are not part of a diocese, since they have created no new organization. They have improperly claimed to represent a diocese of The Episcopal Church, while claiming not to be in The Episcopal Church, and they are temporarily—and, I assert, illegally—in possession of many of that diocese’s rather considerable assets. They are not in the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, as that province’s constitution and canons do not provide for dioceses except “in the Republics of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.”

I should also note that, as much as I appreciate the Post-Gazette’s attempt to distinguish between the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” and the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican),” not only is the latter not a diocese, but the Episcopal Church diocese has more right to be called “Anglican,” both institutionally and theologically.

Let me return to the stipulation, about which Mr. Devlin was reminding his correspondents. Calvary Church sued Bishop Duncan and other diocesan leaders on behalf of the Episcopal Church diocese, in an attempt to keep diocesan leaders from improperly transferring property out of the control of The Episcopal Church. Defendants in the lawsuit managed eventually to have the diocese added as a defendant, a move that had the primary effect of allowing their legal costs to be paid by the diocese (and, therefore, in part by the potential victims of their depredations).

The stipulation that was agreed to by plaintiffs and defendants in 2005 had two provisions that are now of great moment. The first item deals with property directly controlled by the diocese:
Property,.whether real or personal (hereinafter "Property"), held or administered by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (hereinafter "Diocese") for the beneficial use of the parishes and institutions of the Diocese, shall continue to be so held or administered by the Diocese regardless of whether some or even a majority of the parishes in the Diocese might decide not to remain in the Episcopal Church of the United States of America. For purposes of this paragraph, Property as to which title is legitimately held in the name of a parish of the Diocese shall not be deemed Property held or administered by the Diocese.
The second item deals with parish property and begins:
In the event a parish in the Diocese (hereinafter “Parish Church”) shall elect to disaffiliate with the Diocese, the Parish Church shall give written notice of that election to the Diocese by delivering a copy of the notice, signed by the Rector and the Vestry, to the Diocesan Bishop (hereinafter “Bishop”), to the Board of Trustees of the Diocese (hereinafter “Board of Trustees”), to each member of that Parish Church and to the Rector and Vestry of each other Parish Church of the Diocese. Upon receipt of such notice, the Bishop and the Board of Trustees shall meet with representatives of that Parish Church and any other parties expressing an interest to discuss in good faith the disposition of all Property specifically held for or in the name of the Parish Church.
The stipulation goes on to specify a complex negotiating process whereby disposition of the parish property is to be determined. This, of course, is the process in which Devlin suggests parishes wishing to remain in The Episcopal Church need to engage.

Devlin—why does this sound like a name from an allegory?—assumes that “Diocese” means the entity of the realigners. According to the Post-Gazette story, Devlin “said the language in the stipulation refers to the diocese that signed it in 2005, meaning the diocese that voted to join the Southern Cone.” The first part is certainly true; there was only one diocese to talk about in 2005. In fact, the diocese that voted, albeit invalidly, to join the Southern Cone was still the diocese of The Episcopal Church.

Devlin then went on to say, “The entity that adopted the resolutions [to realign] on Saturday is the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” He seems to put a good deal of stock in the fact that Bishop Duncan registered a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation called “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” this past spring. (The Episcopal diocese has always been an unincorporated association.) The rub, of course, is that the stipulation states that diocesan property stays with “the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America [emphasis added].” How can this be whatever entity Mr. Devlin thinks he is representing if its members claim not to be in The Episcopal Church?

The October 4 story from ENS quoted some of Bishop Duncan’s remarks at a news conference after the convention. He described the way the convention had done its work as “graceful and charitable.” “[W]e wanted to show ourselves to be Christian people who followed Jesus in a way that speaks of his charity, his grace and his love,” he said.

The rest of Devlin’s letter, however, belies any protestations of Christian grace and charity. He emphasized that “the Diocese”—whatever it is that Devlin thinks he represents—“is committed to following” the stipulation’s process for negotiating parish property. As we have seen, however, “the Diocese” must be the Episcopal Church diocese, so the negotiation should be between the diocese whose Standing Committee is headed by Simons and the parishes trying to leave The Episcopal Church, thereby turning Devlin’s view of what must happen on its head.

Devlin then went on to threaten parishes’ insurance coverage: “[I]f you have decided not to remain part of the Diocese, then we need to promptly schedule a time to discuss your parish’s continued participation in various Diocesan insurance plans.” He ends his letter with this disingenuous line: “You are in our prayers at this difficult moment in your parish leadership.”

Lewis Carroll was never so imaginative.

Parishes are being advised to ignore Devlin’s letter.

October 11, 2008

Recycling Warning

Recycling dumpsters for paper seem to have sprung up in every parking lot lately, and I have begun taking my old newspapers to these cheery green containers to rid myself of the unneeded trash. Usually, I drive to the paved parking-lot-cum-playground of the Catholic elementary school two blocks from my house. The other day, however, I discovered that the nearest public library, about 8 blocks further away, also has a couple of green dumpsters in its parking lot.

This week, after a bit of soul searching as to whether supporting the library, which I use, justified the use of extra gasoline required over that needed to support the Recycling symbolelementary school, to which I have no connection, I decided to take a substantial collection of old newspapers to the Castle Shannon library.

Bad decision. The library has about half a dozen parking spaces at the side of the building and a rather substantial parking lot at the rear. During library hours, there are usually a few cars parked in the small parking area, but I have never seen cars in the larger lot, where, as it happens, the paper dumpsters are located. As I am used to doing at the elementary school, I drove into the parking lot Wednesday and maneuvered my car so that my trunk was as near as possible to the openings in the sides of the dumpsters.

Since the lot was otherwise empty, I paid no attention to the location of the marked-off parking spaces. Just before I brought the car to a stop, I heard my car scrape against something. A quick glance to my left made it clear that I had driven over one of those low concrete barriers that are placed at the ends of parking spaces. Such barriers are intended to be struck by a car's tires. At slow speed, this is an effective way of warning drivers that they have driven as far forward as need be into a parking space. Alas, since I was trying to park near the dumpsters and was oblivious to the layout of the lot, I had driven over the barrier at an angle nearly perpendicular to that at which cars are supposed to approach it. As a result, my front tires missed the barrier completely, and the concrete scraped against the lowest equipment underneath the front-end of my car.

I was not pleased, since I hadn’t even seen the barrier, but I stopped the car, opened the trunk, and disposed of my newspapers. When I got back into the car to leave and started the engine I immediately became alarmed. My car suddenly sounded like a jet plane, as if its muffler had been removed. I tried to convince myself that the sound wasn’t too loud, but it was difficult not to think that I had either displaced or destroyed part of the exhaust system. I drove my car for another couple of days before becoming resigned to the need to have it looked at by my local mechanic, my own visual inspection had been inconclusive.

I dropped the car off at the garage yesterday, expecting a repair estimate of $100 or so. I got the bad news late in the afternoon. I had opened a small crack in a flexible steel pipe. A replacement part was not even readily available, but I was told that the garage could repair the pipe for about $250. Ouch! I picked up the car today, and it now sounds as it did Wednesday morning, that is, perfectly normal.

I want to find someone to blame for my $250 misfortune, but I suppose the lesson here is simply that, when driving into an unfamiliar parking lot, one should be observant enough to construct a mental model of the space qua parking lot before tending to one’s business.

I think I’ll help out the Catholic elementary school next time.

October 8, 2008

Christian Unity

A friend of mine has systematically been reading my poetry on Lionel Deimel’s Farrago. Her comments on one poem inspired my rereading a few of my older poems myself. I was particularly struck by “Christian Unity.” I’ve always liked this poem, but I had forgotten exactly when I wrote it.

“Christian Unity” was written at the end of the summer of 2002, just after Resolution #1, the so-called South Carolina Resolution, had been introduced for consideration at Pittsburgh’s November diocesan convention. The resolution was a kind of conservative shot across the bow of General Convention 2003, and its introduction was the event that led eventually to the founding of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh.

You can read the original Resolution #1 here. The text alarmed moderates and liberals in the diocese, and there were attempts to modify the resolution so as to make it less objectionable. From a centrist perspective, this was only so successful. The resolution as passed can be read here, which also includes the final, rather lopsided, vote tally. Here is an excerpt:
We affirm that in God’s love for all people, the only sexually intimate relationships receiving His blessing in Scripture and Tradition are those of a man and a woman within an intended life-long, faithful, marital covenant. The Church cannot bless any other sexual relationship, and we cannot recognize the blessing of any other.
When I wrote the poem, I had no idea that such bitter times were ahead for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. The poem is irenic and perhaps even evangelical. At least as far as the Pittsburgh diocese is concerned, however, it may have been naïve. Ironically, both the initial and final versions of the resolution expressed a commitment to The Episcopal Church. Many of the people who voted for this resolution also voted last weekend to leave The Episcopal Church.

My poem is reproduced below.
Christian Unity
by Lionel Deimel

Around the table gathered, we
Are one in sweet community,
For Christ has ransomed one and all
Who answer to his loving call.

We worship God in many ways;
We celebrate on different days;
But Jesus is the guiding star
For Christians near and Christians far.

God’s plan for us is seldom clear;
We may a different drummer hear;
Yet, if we study and we pray,
The kingdom will be ours some day.

So let us vow to never fight
About who’s wrong and who is right
Concerning truths we cannot know
That turn our Christian friend to foe.

And let our worship fit our needs;
Let us unite in Christian deeds;
May we God’s love and mercy show
To those who don’t the Savior know.

October 4, 2008

Realignment Blues

I returned home from the convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh a couple of hours ago. I have been busy updating the Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh Web site and sending out a PEP press release.

As readers are likely to know by now, the diocese voted today to “realign” to the Southern Cone from The Episcopal Church. This process involves several canonical impossibilities, not to mention theft—there is no other proper word for it—of Episcopal Church property. I have written about the impropriety of “realignment,” however, and I don’t much want to revisit the subject now.

Many things happened today that deserve comment, but I want to restrict myself to only one at this time. I may write about other matters later.

At the end of the convention, the diocese distributed a new brochure, “Realignment Realities: What You Need to Know.” The brochure is an attractive, full-color, tri-fold, enameled paper affair. (You can see it here. I apologize for the fact that the dark colors of the brochure make it hard to scan well. If you have trouble reading the text, enlarge the image. It is sharper than it may at first appear.) Here are some assertions of the brochure (my comments are in italics):
  1. The diocese is now in the Southern Cone “temporarily while a new Anglican Province for North America is being organized."
    These people have big dreams.
  2. The diocese is no longer a part of “‘The Episcopal Church’” (quotes in the original).
  3. The Episcopal Church cannot remove clergy and lay leaders from their positions.
    They don’t have to. The leaders have removed themselves from The Episcopal Church.
  4. By acting together, the realigners will be in the best position to defend themselves from lawsuits. “[O]ur diocesan legal team is highly experienced in cases like ours and fully committed to protecting the resources of the diocese.”
    What, exactly, are “cases like ours”? Only San Joaquin has tried to do what Pittsburgh has done, and that litigation won’t go to trial for nearly a year.
  5. Parishes need do nothing now; they have two years to adjust their bylaws.
    Parishes realigning risk being sued by The Episcopal Church and, likely, the reorganized diocese. Paying assessments to those currently in control of diocesan assets can certainly be taken as an indication that the parish intends to abscond with its property.
  6. “In any case, we will make a strong case that we are the true Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.
    I can make a strong case that I am Napoleon, but that doesn’t make it true.
  7. The brochure announces a conference on the regular convention dates, November 7–8, but, in fact, this will essentially be a convention to re-elect the deposed Bishop Duncan. (See diocesan announcement here.)
All in all, this was something of a depressing day. Pittsburgh Episcopalians have much work and, alas, litigation ahead of them. The good news is that each side—they were called “realigners” and “reorganizers” today, rather than, say, “saints” and “apostates”—will, at some future time, feel unencumbered by the other.

I cannot say what will become of Robert Duncan’s dreams of glory. If they are realized, however, the Anglican Communion will, in essence, be destroyed.

October 1, 2008


It is a recognized phenomenon that people who have been abused (or think they have been abused) often visit abuse on others when they have the power to do so. Abused children often grow up to become abusive parents, for example. I was reminded of this two nights ago while attending a pre-convention briefing held by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The self-styled “orthodox” are tireless in telling us that they are persecuted in The Episcopal Church. (They are much less diligent in explaining how they are persecuted, other than the fact that, since they are a pitifully small, though vocal, minority, they are not allowed to control the church, which they passionately want to do.) In large measure, our former bishop, Robert Duncan, has promoted “realignment” to escape the oppressive hand of the “evil” Episcopal Church, so that he and his “orthodox” colleagues can can govern a new church in a more godly manner.

It is too seldom reported how autocratic, manipulative, and just plain petty, “orthodox” rule can be, however. Bishop Duncan is certainly an offender, though not nearly so outrageous an offender as, for example, Bishops Schofield or Iker. Via Media USA attempted to document the indignities attendant rule by “orthodox” bishops in its 2005 report “In Our Many Voices,” but that report only scratches the surface.

On Monday, though, it was the pettiness we have seen in the Diocese of Pittsburgh that angered and saddened me. For years, Bishop Duncan has held diocesan events only at churches that have enthusiastically supported him and his schismatic objectives. It is a mild annoyance when such events are held at Ascension or St. Stephen’s, Sewickley, site of Monday’s gathering. These parishes have large facilities that can accommodate the hundreds of people who attend, say, a diocesan convention. True, a Calvary or a St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, could also host such a meeting comfortably, but one cannot really complain about the facilities offered by a St. Stephen’s.

Unfortunately, Saturday’s historic convention at which the diocese will vote on “realignment” is being held at St. Martin’s, Monroeville. St. Martin’s is probably best described as a medium-sized church of the diocese and one that has been unflagging in its support of Bishop Duncan. Because the diocese held a special convention there in 2003, however, I know how inadequate the church is for such a large event. This week’s convention will surely be a larger one, and holding it at St. Martin’s is perverse.

A good deal of time at Monday’s briefing was given over to explaining how deputies and visitors will be inconvenienced by the decision to use St. Martin’s. To begin with, since the worship space, where the convention will be held, is so small, only actual deputies and the press will be allowed in. Observers will be packed into the rather small parish hall. At the 2003 convention, observers had to listen to a low-fidelity audio feed. In 2008, we have been promised a video feed, though a similar arrangement at last year’s convention in Johnstown, held at the more commodious yet inadequate St. Mark’s, included virtually unintelligible audio.

At the briefing, it was explained that deputies have been given parking passes, though they were encouraged to carpool. Visitors, who cannot be accommodated in the small parking lot of St. Martin’s, are to park at a Lutheran church some distance away and to ride a shuttle being provided by the diocese. The diocese is selling box lunches to deputies—there is no food service within walking distance—but visitors cannot guarantee the availability of food other than by bringing their own.

St. Martin’s is just off the Parkway East. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has been rehabilitating this road recently and has been closing it partially on weekends. It is unclear whether the road will be closed this weekend, but, if it is, it will delay the arrival of many attendees, as it is the primary route to the church from Pittsburgh. This is a special problem, since registration for deputies closes promptly at 8:25 AM.

All of these problems attendant to conducting a convention at a “friendly” but inconvenient church have become routine in Pittsburgh. I lost it, however, when I was told that porta-potties had been ordered for the convention to serve the needs of the anticipated crowd.

True Episcopalians are willing to endure bad theology. I don’t understand why bad theology has to be accompanied by bad planning and bad toilets, however. Of course, maybe this is just to punish the Episcopalian “pagans” like me. The “orthodox” attendees can feel like they are suffering for the sake of the true gospel.