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 coƶperation 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.

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