September 29, 2008

Gundersen Offers Pittsburgh Update

In the past few weeks, there has been a good deal of discussion about the situation in the Diocese of Pittsburgh on the House of Bishops and Deptuies e-mail list (HoB/D). At the end of the week, the diocese will vote in convention on “realignment,” on removing the diocese from The Episcopal Church (TEC) and moving it to the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.

This morning, in response to a nascent discussion of what TEC should do in Pittsburgh, Dr. Joan Gundersen offered list readers an update on the situation in the diocese,. (She had to ask someone to send her observations to the list, to which only bishops and General Convention deputies may post.) Joan is president of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh and a member of the steering committee of Across the Aisle, the diverse coalition opposing “realignment” and planning the reorganization of the diocese that will be required if the vote for “realignment” passes.

I had been thinking an essay such as Joan’s was needed, and, as soon as I read her’s, I thought of making it more widely available, since the HoB/D has no public archive. When I offered to post Joan’s remarks, she readily agreed. It appears below with minor edits, mostly needed because the HoB/D is distributed in plain-text format.
I’m afraid that those of us in Pittsburgh have been focused on the planning we need to do to get through convention, and have not been keeping people informed about the status of things in Pittsburgh. Your response about what the TEC should do prodded me to give an update. You are welcome to share this with the whole HoB/D list.
  1. Since his deposition, Bishop Duncan has been acting as a paid “consultant” to the current standing committee and has been received into the Southern Cone as a bishop; Bishop Henry Scriven also has a consulting contract, since his status as Assistant Bishop ended with Bishop Duncan’s deposition. Bishop Scriven leaves for a new position with SAMS at the end of the year. There will need be no negotiation with Bishop Duncan about leaving. He has already left, and should the realignment vote pass, is expecting to be invited back by the realigned group as bishop.

  2. While most of the standing committee favors realignment, we are sure that at least one member is voting against it. We also have members of diocesan council and the board of trustees who are staying. This means that we will have an unbroken chain of governance to go forward as a diocese within TEC should the realignment vote pass. It will take a short time to confirm with each member of the various governing bodies whether they have realigned or remain Episcopalians, and then our remaining member(s) of standing committee will begin appointing people to essential vacant spots. We will be able to run our own reorganizing convention. Thanks to planning by the Across the Aisle group which has brought together everyone we can find who is staying (liberal, conservative, or in-between), plans for a continuing presence of TEC are well in hand. We will need to negotiate with the realigned group over access to office information and issues such as insurance. We are putting plans in place for everything from office space and web site to lay-reader training and the care and tending of parishes who are without clergy. It won’t be easy, and we are sure to be short of funds at first. However, passage of realignment is not a sure thing. There is a strong core of congregations and individuals committed to staying.

  3. Should the realignment vote fail, we will have a bishopless diocese that is internally divided and in need of healing. We will also experience a rolling set of resignations as certain leaders and congregations individually withdraw. Should the vote pass, we will have an externally divided diocese and a number of deeply wounded parishes. Either way, we will need everyone’s prayers.

  4. Those of us opposed to realignment have at every convention tried to have the chair rule that the amendments concerning the accession clause are out of order, and have at every convention reminded people of their fiduciary duties. We are prepared to do so again.

  5. Because of the lawsuit filed in 2003 by Calvary Episcopal Church (and others), a signed stipulation on property resulted in 2005. The return to court by Calvary in 2006 resulted this fall in an appointment by the court of a special master who is inventorying diocesan property and reporting to the judge supervising the case. Thus, the status of property issues in Pittsburgh is very different from San Joaquin or Fort Worth. The 2005 stipulation signed by Bishop Duncan states that all diocesan (not parish) property belongs to the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church, U.S.A.” We believe that the meaning of this is clear and have every confidence that the judge will enforce this agreement. On the other hand, institutions such as Sheldon Calvary Camp will not turn away a child from a realigned group, and so the camp will, in that sense (but not in a governing sense), remain available to all in the region. The stipulation also includes a process for negotiating property settlements with parishes leaving TEC.

  6. Our Cathedral parish has announced a plan where they would be neutral, serve the entire region, and participate in both the realigned and continuing dioceses. It is not clear whether this will be workable, but they are certainly going to give it a good try.
The best thing TEC can do for Pittsburgh should the realignment measures pass at convention is to recognize and support those who are going to ensure a continuing presence of TEC in this part of Pennsylvania.
I feel compelled to add two comments of my own for which Joan is not responsible and with which she might disagree. Item 2 in the stipulation reached in the Calvary lawsuit sets out a procedure for negotiating property issues whenever a parish “shall elect to disaffiliate with the Diocese.” It is not clear how this procedure might work in practice. Moreover, since TEC is not a formal party to the stipulation, it is unclear whether it might not find it necessary to intervene in the process described therein.

Second, I am very skeptical of Trinity Cathedral’s a-blessing-on-both-your-houses response to “realignment.” How can The Episcopal Church, which has always objected strenuously to diocesan-border crossing by bishops, possibly countenance a parish that claims to be in two dioceses in two provinces subject to two mutually antagonistic bishops?

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