September 13, 2008

A Hopeful Event

Across the Aisle’s presentation “A Hopeful Future for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh: An Alternative Solution” concluded a couple of hours ago. (See “Across the Aisle Sponsors Unity Event.”) It was, I think, a wonderful gathering. Held in the undercroft of my own parish, St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, it attracted over 300 Episcopalians, three TV crews, and several print journalists. What was most impressive to me was the number of people involved in the planning, presentation, setup, publicity, and hospitality and how well everything came together. The professionalism of the event was much enhanced by the involvement of three St. Paul’s parishioners. Andy Muhl and Rich Creehan worked on publicity and setup, which included putting together a well-appointed stage and designing signage, lighting, and sound. (They were assisted by Director of Parish Operations Dick Ritchie. I’m not completely sure about who did what.) Jon Delano, who, among other things, is a local political analyst for a Pittsburgh TV station, was an excellent MC and timekeeper. That timings had been carefully attached to presentations meant that the program moved along at a brisk pace, leaving adequate time for a Q&A session at the end.

The program for today can be seen here.

The event began and ended with brief worship services, each of which included singing a hymn. (Someone remarked to me, “Episcopalians surely can sing!”) The presentations were uniformly excellent, although I particularly appreciated the addresses by the Rev. Jeff Murph, the Rev. Jim Simons, and Mary Roehrich. Murph and the Rev. Leslie Reimer spoke on “Why is staying with the Episcopal Church the right thing to do?” Murph spoke from a conservative viewpoint, and Reimer spoke from a more progressive perspective. Simons then talked about the good things happening in The Episcopal Church, a topic he has lately been writing about on his blog. Roehrich next offered a vision for a reorganized diocese of diverse views united in worship and mission.

Bishop Robert Duncan, who has promoted “realignment,” which is to say, schism, has, in his decade-long tenure as Bishop of Pittsburgh, emphasized our divisions, trashed The Episcopal Church and its leaders, and promoted animosity and alienation, rather than love and fellowship. Diocesan gatherings have become few and bitter affairs. Today’s event, however, was a wonderful, affirming opportunity for fellowship, and many attendees greeted old friends from other congregations whom they had not seen in years. It felt like being a part of a real diocese again.

The presentations concluded with a panel on “practicalities,” the nuts and bolts of what is going to happen if “realignment” is approved by the diocesan convention. The panelists were two attorneys, Tom Moore and Charlie Jarrett, and a priest, the Rev. Bruce Robison. This was perhaps the least successful part of the program, since the legal, canonical, and pastoral issues are complex and the time allotted for discussing them was necessarily limited. The overall message—the overall message of the entire afternoon, in fact—was that, in spite of the anticipated vote to “realign,” the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of The Episcopal Church will be alive and well in Pittsburgh after October 4 and that, even if our common life will have us facing new challenges, we have a future we can anticipate with genuine hope.

Not much was said about our future should the October 4 convention derail Bishop Duncan’s plans. Some of us worry that successfully defeating “realignment” could lead to an even more acromonious future should many of the parishes that want to leave The Episcopal Church not actually do so. I suspect that most people involved with Across the Aisle do not really think that the diocese will step back from schism at this late date, however.

The Q&A session did not want for questions, though I think we might have provided better answers. Many of the questions were very practical ones about repaying loans from the diocese, what to do at the convention after the critical votes, and how the celebration of 250 years of Anglican presence in Southwestern Pennsylvania would proceed if we find ourselves in two competing dioceses. There were some uncomfortable moments involving property and casting one’s lot with one diocese or another, and these reflected genuine ambivalence within Across the Aisle itself. Several times I wanted to get up from my front-row seat and say something like, “How can you ask us for an ‘equitable distribution of property’ when you won’t honor your ordination vows to The Episcopal Church?” Of course, I didn’t do that.

Various handouts were available, including an essay by Simons, PEP’s “Realignment Reconsidered,” and the latest issue of PEP’s newsletter.

I went home physically tired, but emotionally energized. I hope that most attendees went home energized as well.

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