July 18, 2008

The more things change …

I recently received a request from the membership chair of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP) to review the proposed request for membership renewals. Annual membership runs from September 1 to August 31, so we usually send out a solicitation in mid-summer. As I was thinking about what might be appropriate to say as we approach an autumn in which it is likely that our bishop will to be deposed and our diocesan convention will vote to leave The Episcopal Church, I decided to check the PEP archives to see what we have said in the past.

The first letter I came across was my missive from August 2005. I was struck by the clear vision it offered of the future. We easily could reuse the letter this year, substituting Joan Gundersen’s signature for mine and replacing future tenses with past tenses. I am not trying to build my reputation as a prophet, of course. Although many refused to see it, the plans of the forces of reaction in contemporary Anglicanism were anything but hidden three years ago, though they are even more in evidence now. Anyway, PEP did not have a Chicken Little view of the state of our church and communion in 2005—the sky really was falling.

For your amusement (or horror), I present the text of that 2005 letter below. If you wish. you can read it, as sent, here.

August 8, 2005

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

In the past year, Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh raised its profile at diocesan convention, increased its educational activities, helped expose the Anglican Global Initiative constitution, and continued to be a source of information for Episcopalians across the nation. I am writing to ask you to renew and deepen your commitment to PEP so we can continue this work, and to reflect on where we are, how we got here, and what the future may hold for us.

As you know, mainstream Episcopalians in southwestern Pennsylvania formed PEP in the wake of the failure to prevent adoption of Resolution One at the 2002 diocesan convention. Our goal was to encourage the diocese to make room for and give voice to people who identified with traditional Episcopalian and Anglican moderation. No one imagined that this task would be accomplished quickly or easily, and no one anticipated how important the existence of PEP would become.

Two and a half years later, our diocese and bishop have become leaders in a worldwide effort that threatens not only to divide the Episcopal Church but also to shatter the Anglican Communion. As the Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity, has noted, this is a “well-funded temper tantrum of global proportions,” and one that is very damaging to the church’s ministry and mission. Bishop Duncan boldly teaches that the Episcopal Church is really two churches with incompatible theologies—an “orthodox” theology insisting on the primacy of scripture and the “faith once received,” and a “revisionist” theology espoused by “counterfeit” Christians who have been seduced by modern culture. With support from primates of various Anglican provinces of the “Global South,” our bishop and his allies have sought to have the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes recognized as the “real” Episcopal Church in the U.S., and they have sought formal mechanisms to convert a fellowship of churches into a hierarchical structure with the power to enforce doctrine and discipline. Our bishop has, in other words, labored to impose Puritan doctrine and Roman Catholic polity on our church and communion. We believe that this is a program that, rather than offering a via media alternative to the extremes of radical Protestantism and Roman Catholic authoritarianism, combines the worst features of each.

PEP, along with its allied groups in Via Media USA, is doing what it can to address this problem and achieve its stated goal. This has proved more difficult than we imagined at the outset. We are opposing a substantial, well-financed, and determined insurgency. Even with modest resources, we have generated publicity and enthusiasm for efforts to preserve the Episcopal Church in places where our voices are silenced or ignored. We are making the road to power neither straight nor plain for the Network and its followers. PEP’s goals have expanded as we continue to determine how best to preserve our Anglican tradition, provincial autonomy, and Episcopal polity here in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The next twelve months will be turbulent. While Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold continues to speak of reconciliation, Bishop Duncan and his allies speak only of their coming righteous victories over the forces of error. In Pittsburgh, faithful parishes face the threat of being expelled from the diocese for trying to defend Episcopal Church canons. General Convention 2006 will likely neither apologize for the work of General Convention 2003 nor choose a conservative successor to Bishop Griswold. It will be subjected to withering criticism from the right.

Lambeth 2008 may see neither a united Episcopal Church nor a united Anglican Communion. The Network is threatening to separate from the rest of our church if its demands are not met, and it is already organizing as its own province, founding new parishes that are not affiliated with the Episcopal Church. It has created international structures that exclude the Episcopal Church, and it has argued for expulsion of the Episcopal Church from Anglican Communion bodies. We cannot sit by and let this happen.

When the dust settles, we may find ourselves in a smaller Episcopal Church, but a church better able to relieve human suffering, to offer a principled theological perspective to people going forward into the twenty-first century, and to follow the ongoing truth of Christ as revealed in all creation. We may find ourselves in a smaller and leaner Anglican Communion as well, but we will likely remain in communion with Canada, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico, Central America, Japan, and several others.

PEP will continue to be an influence in the Anglican world, but the needs closer to home will become increasingly urgent. A portion of our own diocese is edging ever closer toward leaving the Episcopal Church. Our voices, and through us, the voices of the Episcopal Church, must continue to be heard. If our diocese splits or if its leadership is handed a definitive and crushing defeat, we will need many hands to heal and strengthen those parishes and individuals remaining loyal to the Episcopal Church in the aftermath. PEP and other Via Media groups increasingly need to plan with an eye to the future of our church when the current struggles are behind us.

Now, more than ever, we need you to renew your membership in PEP. Your financial support is also critical. Please complete the enclosed form and return it with a check to the address indicated. Invite your friends to join. Copy the form; tell people how to download a membership application from the Web; or contact me for membership brochures.

We need volunteers now to monitor events in the church and beyond, to carry out particular projects, and to look for activities that advance the mission of the Episcopal Church and advance our understanding of the gospel of love, compassion, and liberation. If you can spare some time, please contact me at (412) 343-5337 or membership chair Wanda Guthrie at (724) 327-2767.

I ask you for your ongoing prayers for PEP, for the Episcopal Church, and for a Christianity that seeks to minister with faith, intelligence, and charity to our modern world. I thank you for your support and wish you God’s peace.



Lionel Deimel


July 15, 2008

A Collect for Lambeth

An essay by Douglas LeBlanc, “Lambeth unplugged,” was posted to Episcopal Life Online today, the day before the opening of the 2008 Lambeth Conference. In it, LeBlanc laments the fact that reporters have largely been excluded from all but plenary sessions at Lambeth in the past, and plenary sessions have been de-emphasized in the 2008 program. “I hope this year’s conference,” he writes, “will allow journalists to do what they do best: function as observers who capture the mood of an event by describing what they see and hear firsthand.” Trying to control the information available to reporters is unworthy of a church and distorts the perception of events, he notes.

The essay got me thinking about Lambeth in a new way, which is to say, other than with fear and trembling. Many have suggested that we pray for the bishops attending the event, but LeBlanc reminded me how frustrating and arrogant it is that Anglican bishops too often meet in secret and without the counsel of priests, deacons, and laypeople. This gave me an idea for a different sort of prayer, and so I offer the following

Collect for the 2008 Lambeth Conference
Eternal God, who is revealed to us in the written word, incline the hearts of our Anglican bishops to allow their conversation to be observed and recounted; and may those entrusted with telling the story of their efforts be faithful in their accounts, insightful in their observations, and blessed through their involvement; that your servants may become better able to contribute to the mission and maintenance of the Church of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

July 9, 2008

Calvary’s Cavalry Again Rides to the Rescue

As the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh heads toward a “realignment” vote on October 4, 2008, when Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan plans to declare the entire diocese removed from The Episcopal Church to become a diocese of the province of the Southern Cone, loyal Episcopalians in Pittsburgh are becoming increasingly anxious about the looming apocalypse. Yesterday, however, they were given some reason to cheer, as Calvary Church attorney Walter P. DeForest rode to court on his white horse to file papers with the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. Calvary is petitioning the court to appoint a “monitor to inventory and oversee property held or administered by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to assure compliance with this court's order of October 14, 2005,” as well as to request “creation of an additional escrow account(s)” for parishes concerned about the use of their funds by the diocese for the benefit of a church other than The Episcopal Church.

Recall that Calvary sued Bishop Duncan and other leaders of the diocese in October 2003, as resolutions proposed by the bishop and passed by a special convention in September were clearly designed to facilitate the removal of property from the control of The Episcopal Church. The suit was described in a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on October 25, 2003. The original filing and subsequent court documents may be found on the site of the county prothonotary.

The legal battles seemingly reached a resolution two years later, when the parties filed a stipulation, enforceable by the court. This agreement asserted, among other things, that property held by the diocese (“the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America”) would remain with the diocese, even if some parishes left The Episcopal Church. The stipulation also laid out an elaborate procedure for dealing with parish assets of congregations wishing to leave the church. These provisions, from the standpoint of the plaintiffs, anyway, were intended to prevent a sympathetic diocese from making sweetheart deals with dissident congregations. I doubt that anyone thought that agreement to the stipulation would put an end to the litigation, but it closed one chapter in what has been an ongoing saga.

Recently, of course, Bishop Duncan has made his plans as clear as anyone might desire; he expects to leave The Episcopal Church and take the diocese with him, lock, stock, and barrel. (See “Frequently Asked Questions About Realignment” from the diocese. Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh has analyzed this document in its “Realignment Reconsidered.” A quite different argument against realignment has been made by the Rev. Dr. Jim Simons.) Although the bishop’s scheme has been known with certainty for more than a year, and although Pittsburgh Episcopalians are planning for a post-Duncan future (see my post “Whither Pittsburgh”), Calvary has made no substantive move in court until now. I suspect that Bishop Duncan’s registering a new Pennsylvania corporation called “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” (see “Which Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh?”) may have been the final straw that moved Calvary into action.

The new filing can be read here. (This version of the prothonotary’s PDF is searchable and loads faster.) In particular, Calvary seeks to have a monitor appointed with the following duties (this is taken from page 16):
  • To conduct an accounting of the Property (real and personal) held or administered by the Diocese and its use since October 14,2005;

  • To oversee the Property (real and personal) held or administered by the Diocese, and assure that there are no transfers of Property (real or personal), held or administered by the Diocese, outside of The Episcopal Church in the United States of America and that such Property is not used for purposes of separation from the Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
Calvary also seeks to allow any parish wishing to do so to pay its diocesan assessment into an escrow for the time being. The provisions requested are the following (this is taken from page 17):
  1. Any and all amounts that have become or become due and payable to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (the "Diocese"), except for payments due for insurance coverage and/or other direct pay benefits obtained by the parish through the Diocese, may be deposited with Plaintiffs' counsel in an interest bearing escrow.

  2. Promptly after deposit of any such payment into escrow, counsel for Plaintiffs shall provide notice to counsel for Defendants of the date and amount of such deposit and the identity of the parish on behalf of which the deposit has been made.

  3. Payment into escrow by each parish of funds that have become due and payable to the Diocese to date or that become due and payable in the future shall be treated as payment to the Diocese of such funds on the date of such payment into escrow for any and all purposes related to the good standing, rights, responsibilities, and/or privileges of the parish as a member of the Diocese and, upon making such payments, the parish shall not be considered delinquent or in arrears in its payments to the Diocese or, for that reason, deemed a Transitional Parish.

  4. Any assessment or other funding that the parish has been paying, or pays, directly to the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States shall not affect, or be affected by, this Stipulation, and may continue without bearing on the instant action or the parish's good standing, rights, responsibilities, and/or privileges as a member of the Diocese.

  5. Upon subsequent Order of Court, counsel for Plaintiffs shall promptly disburse all sums deposited in escrow in accordance with the Court's ruling and instructions.

  6. This stipulation is without prejudice to Defendants' defenses and objections to the petition as set forth in, inter alia, Defendants' amended new matter and is without prejudice to the right of any party to move to terminate or amend this escrow agreement.
It should be interesting to see how Bishop Duncan and his legal team try to convince Judge James that the requests of Calvary Church are not justified by the facts.

July 5, 2008

Scary Women

While reading various stories written around the world in the aftermath of GAFCON, I happened into a story from a South African paper. Clicking around to learn more about the site—I never did figure out what city is home to The Times—I saw that, like so many newspaper sites, this one included a brief question soliciting readers’ opinions. The question in this particular survey was: “Are men more afraid of crime than women?” My immediate reaction was that I didn’t realize that South African men were particularly afraid of women. I selected an answer at random to see the results so far. Apparently, by about 2 to 1, people think men find women scarier.

Of course, maybe the real problem is with South African survey writers.