October 1, 2008


It is a recognized phenomenon that people who have been abused (or think they have been abused) often visit abuse on others when they have the power to do so. Abused children often grow up to become abusive parents, for example. I was reminded of this two nights ago while attending a pre-convention briefing held by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The self-styled “orthodox” are tireless in telling us that they are persecuted in The Episcopal Church. (They are much less diligent in explaining how they are persecuted, other than the fact that, since they are a pitifully small, though vocal, minority, they are not allowed to control the church, which they passionately want to do.) In large measure, our former bishop, Robert Duncan, has promoted “realignment” to escape the oppressive hand of the “evil” Episcopal Church, so that he and his “orthodox” colleagues can can govern a new church in a more godly manner.

It is too seldom reported how autocratic, manipulative, and just plain petty, “orthodox” rule can be, however. Bishop Duncan is certainly an offender, though not nearly so outrageous an offender as, for example, Bishops Schofield or Iker. Via Media USA attempted to document the indignities attendant rule by “orthodox” bishops in its 2005 report “In Our Many Voices,” but that report only scratches the surface.

On Monday, though, it was the pettiness we have seen in the Diocese of Pittsburgh that angered and saddened me. For years, Bishop Duncan has held diocesan events only at churches that have enthusiastically supported him and his schismatic objectives. It is a mild annoyance when such events are held at Ascension or St. Stephen’s, Sewickley, site of Monday’s gathering. These parishes have large facilities that can accommodate the hundreds of people who attend, say, a diocesan convention. True, a Calvary or a St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, could also host such a meeting comfortably, but one cannot really complain about the facilities offered by a St. Stephen’s.

Unfortunately, Saturday’s historic convention at which the diocese will vote on “realignment” is being held at St. Martin’s, Monroeville. St. Martin’s is probably best described as a medium-sized church of the diocese and one that has been unflagging in its support of Bishop Duncan. Because the diocese held a special convention there in 2003, however, I know how inadequate the church is for such a large event. This week’s convention will surely be a larger one, and holding it at St. Martin’s is perverse.

A good deal of time at Monday’s briefing was given over to explaining how deputies and visitors will be inconvenienced by the decision to use St. Martin’s. To begin with, since the worship space, where the convention will be held, is so small, only actual deputies and the press will be allowed in. Observers will be packed into the rather small parish hall. At the 2003 convention, observers had to listen to a low-fidelity audio feed. In 2008, we have been promised a video feed, though a similar arrangement at last year’s convention in Johnstown, held at the more commodious yet inadequate St. Mark’s, included virtually unintelligible audio.

At the briefing, it was explained that deputies have been given parking passes, though they were encouraged to carpool. Visitors, who cannot be accommodated in the small parking lot of St. Martin’s, are to park at a Lutheran church some distance away and to ride a shuttle being provided by the diocese. The diocese is selling box lunches to deputies—there is no food service within walking distance—but visitors cannot guarantee the availability of food other than by bringing their own.

St. Martin’s is just off the Parkway East. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has been rehabilitating this road recently and has been closing it partially on weekends. It is unclear whether the road will be closed this weekend, but, if it is, it will delay the arrival of many attendees, as it is the primary route to the church from Pittsburgh. This is a special problem, since registration for deputies closes promptly at 8:25 AM.

All of these problems attendant to conducting a convention at a “friendly” but inconvenient church have become routine in Pittsburgh. I lost it, however, when I was told that porta-potties had been ordered for the convention to serve the needs of the anticipated crowd.

True Episcopalians are willing to endure bad theology. I don’t understand why bad theology has to be accompanied by bad planning and bad toilets, however. Of course, maybe this is just to punish the Episcopalian “pagans” like me. The “orthodox” attendees can feel like they are suffering for the sake of the true gospel.

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