August 22, 2008

Fallback Position

I just received a press release from Pittsburgh’s Trinity Cathedral. The cathedral church of the Diocese of Pittsburgh has increasingly come under the influence of Bishop Robert W. Duncan, who is trying to take the entire diocese and all its assets out of The Episcopal Church.

The press release reports on a resolution from the Cathedral Chapter that, if approved by the congregation, “would make it possible for Trinity to continue to be the cathedral church for all who are currently part of the diocese, regardless of their future Anglican affiliation.“ According to the press release, the initiative “has the full support of Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan.”

Here is the full release:
August 22, 2008


This September, Trinity Cathedral members will be discussing a resolution of Cathedral Chapter that would make it possible for Trinity to continue to be the cathedral church for all who are currently part of the diocese, regardless of their future Anglican affiliation. Their work has the full support of Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan.

The Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will consider whether or not to realign as a diocese with another province of the Anglican Communion during its annual meeting on October 4. While a majority of the diocese's elected deputies supported the proposition on its first reading at the diocesan convention in 2007, other individuals and congregations have made it clear that they will remain with The Episcopal Church in the event that realignment receives final approval.

The resolution states that the Cathedral "does not wish to be compelled to make an exclusive choice" between Anglican worshipping communities. It goes on to lay out a practical system by which the Cathedral could serve both groups. That system envisions giving seats on the Cathedral's governing bodies to representatives of both contingents, inviting the bishops of both to serve as co-presidents of the Cathedral Chapter, and working with both on issues such as clergy appointments.

According to Cathedral Provost Canon Catherine Brall, the draft resolution was prepared over the last several months by the Cathedral Chapter and sent to all active members of the Trinity on August 22. Cathedral parish members will have a number of opportunities to discuss the resolution over the next three weeks, and then will come together for a final all-parish meeting on September 14.

Canon Brall praised the work of the Chapter, saying that the ideas encapsulated in the resolution "grew out of a very thorough and wonderful season of Chapter members seeking to envision how Trinity Cathedral might best position itself to fulfill its unique identity and destiny as a historic Penn Land Grant Church deeded to foster and preserve Anglican and Episcopal worship."

Bishop Duncan also thanked the Chapter for their work and commended the resolution to the Cathedral parish membership. "Trinity Cathedral, more than any other church building in the diocese, belongs not just to whoever may "win" the right to administer it in our sad divisions, but to all of us, to the city, and the whole region. I see this resolution as a good initiative to acknowledge and protect that unique role and to protect the Cathedral's future as Mother Church of all Anglicans and of the City," he said.

The Cathedral Chapter Resolution is available here (pdf):

This story is available online at:

I don’t want to get into the details of the resolution here. The Cathedral Chapter has clearly been busy, as the resolution is four pages long and is quite detailed in certain areas.

I had heard rumblings that such a resolution was in the works. Although it is being represented as a Cathedral Chapter initiative, I have a suspicion that it is an integral part of the bishop’s realignment strategy. At last year’s diocesan convention, the bishop’s address contained a section called “Behaviors for the Time Ahead.” I reproduce a subsection titled “Forgive” below, from pages 112 and 113 of the 2007 Convention Journal:
Do not dwell on the hurts. Let go of the things that wound. Make your confession often. It is our Lord’s direction to us in the prayer He Himself taught us.

It is in this spirit that I share with you one of my convictions about what our God is calling us to in our stewardship of assets in the years ahead of us. It is my growing conviction that all the things we presently hold in common need to continue to be administered for the good of all, even if we find ourselves in two different Anglican Provinces at the end of the day.

Consider Trinity Cathedral. It is, more than any other church building, the city’s and the region’s parish church, a true cathedral. It belongs to the whole community, not just the Episcopal Diocese, and certainly not just to those who may “win” the right to administer it. I intend to challenge the Cathedral Chapter at their annual January retreat to make plans for how our Cathedral can continue to serve all of us and all of the community – in the separated future that lies ahead. Magnanimity and grace can characterize our future, if we choose it.

How will those who hold Calvary Camp or the Common Life Center Property or the Growth Fund or Pool One administer these assets? For all, or just for some? These matters are a choice, after all.

I do not need to remind the Convention of how Diocesan Council dealt with St. Stephen’s Church in Wilkinsburg during the period when they were joined as plaintiffs in the lawsuit: we fully supported their Youth Program despite the conflict between us. The present diocesan leadership has a track record, as does the national Episcopal Church. Locally, we also have a vision: “One Church of Miraculous Expectation and Missionary Grace,” impelling us to support each other wherever we can support each other, in areas and in concerns where we do agree. Forgiveness is Jesus’ witness from His undeserved cross. May it be our witness too.
Readers not thoroughly familiar with recent Diocese of Pittsburgh history should be reminded that any evaluation of the diocese’s generosity toward St. Stephen’s—likely the diocese did not wish to suffer the public relations fallout from killing a youth program for disadvantaged African-Americans—should also take into account the fact that the bishop, at an earlier convention, threatened to throw plaintiffs Calvary Church and St. Stephen’s Church out of the diocese if they did not drop the lawsuit against the bishop and other diocesan leaders.

As I remarked at the 2007 convention, Bishop Duncan was essentially saying that he is willing to share any diocesan property he is unable to steal outright. His fallback position is, at least from my perspective, less than a model of Christian charity.

No doubt, members of the cathedral are looking for ways to stay out of the crossfire that will be the result of a successful realignment vote. They are nurturing a vain hope; Trinity Cathedral is too prominent a diocesan asset to sit out the coming power struggle. Members should reject the resolution and steel themselves for some very rough times ahead.

UPDATE. Since I wrote the essay above, I realized that I may have misinterpreted the resolution on one point. According to a footnote, after formal Chapter approval and “legal review,” the special resolution will be “brought before a duly convened meeting of the parish congregation on Sunday, September 14, 2008.” The resolution says nothing about the congregation voting on the resolution.

A member of the Chapter (one elected by the Trinity congregation) wrote and assured me that the resolution did not come from the bishop. I did not, of course, suggest that it did, although, as far as I know, he was the first to propose a sharing arrangement such as is embodied in the Trinity resolution. I reject my correspondent’s further assertion that “the Cathedral property is neither his [the bishop’s] nor TEC’s to share, but Chapter’s.” This congregationalist attitude is inconsistent with Episcopal Church polity.

Whereas I can appreciate the reconciling spirit that motivated members of the Chapter, I question whether useful reconciliation is possible at this level. The resolution is not a peace treaty, but a battlefield truce. The resolution may buy time for Trinity Cathedral, or it may only invite litigation that, absent the resolution, would be directed elsewhere. The resolution cannot bring long-term peace, which would have to be negotiated (or litigated) at a higher level.

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