June 26, 2008

Whither Pittsburgh?

In October, like the Diocese of San Joaquin before it, and, presumably, the Diocese of Fort Worth after it, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is going to vote itself out of The Episcopal Church and into the province of the Southern Cone. That, at least, is the plan. The followers of Pittsburgh’s Bishop Robert Duncan seem untroubled that he has no right to lead his diocese down this particular path, which, as in San Joaquin, will result in the bishop’s being deposed by The Episcopal Church, the diocese’s being reorganized under new leadership, and The Episcopal Church’s suing to regain diocesan and parish property. The litigation will last for years. In the end, Duncan will become the martyr he has always spoken of being, though a martyr to the cause of hubris and recklessness, rather than to “biblical faithfulness,” as he would have it.

Meanwhile, life will go on in the counties of Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington, and Westmoreland, which make up the physical territory of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Those Episcopalians who choose not to follow their bishop into his brave new world of Anglican purity, will find themselves running a smaller and—it is greatly to be hoped—happier diocese of The Episcopal Church. Those remaining Episcopalians will comprise those who love the church for its progressive innovations, those who love or respect it despite those innovations, and those—this is not meant to be disparaging—who merely go along for the ride.

What will that new Episcopal diocese be like after “realignment”? Will the liberal/conservative feuds that characterize the present diocese be recreated in the reorganized judicatory? There is genuine reason to think not. Episcopalians on the left and on the right are talking to one another and to reprentatives of the Presiding Bishop’s office as to how they should deal with the schismatic vote at the annual convention and how they will structure and run the diocese of which they will become the inheritors. There is widespread resolution that the sins of the diocesan fathers should not be visited upon their sons and daughters.

A little history is helpful here. Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh was formed early in 2003—before the episcopal election of Gene Robinson by the Diocese of New Hampshire, I hasten to add—in response to the perception that the Diocese of Pittsburgh was becoming increasingly hostile to moderate and liberal Episcopalians and to The Episcopal Church itself. Despite its leftist-sounding name—repeated attempts to change it, at my suggestion and at those of others have left “Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh” and its more tractable familiar moniker, PEP, in place—the organization has always had the goal of making the diocese a comfortable home for Episcopalians of all varieties of churchmanship. (That traditional Anglican term seems quaint and sexist today, of course, but, aside from that, it is the proper term to use here.)

PEP has, since its inception, carried the flag for tolerance and moderation in its diocese, and has become known (and vilified) for its position papers and educational materials that, invariably (and perhaps unfortunately) opposed the plans and pronouncements of Bishop Robert Duncan. For many, PEP exemplified everything they considered wrong in The Episcopal Church. Although PEP saw tolerant conservatives as natural allies, it was not particularly successful in attracting them as members.

Although, from the beginning, PEP nurtured communications with the wider church, including especially Episcopalians in similarly ideological dioceses such as San Joaquin, only in 2006, in response to the diocese’s “withdrawal” from its Episcopal Church province (see “An Appraisal of the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s ‘Withdrawal’ of Consent to Inclusion in Province III”), did PEP reach out, and with some sense of alarm, for direct help from the parent church. PEP invited representatives of Province III to Pittsburgh for meetings and programs. Eventually, a group consisting mostly of PEP members began meeting outside the diocese with representatives of The Episcopal Church. They met first with Province III president Bishop Robert Ihloff, and, later, with the Presiding Bishop’s chancellor, David Booth Beers. As it became increasing clear that Bishop Duncan was determined to leave The Episcopal Church, participants were being told, though they did not need to be told, that they needed to build a broader coalition of Pittsburgh Episcopalians.

From its inception, PEP was an organization of both lay and clergy members, with laypeople in the most prominent leadership roles. Although no analogous conservative organization developed in the diocese, conservatives who did not want to leave The Episcopal Church were systematically discussing the developing crisis in the diocese. In January of this year, 12 right-leaning clergy wrote “to the people and clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” that they intended to work within The Episcopal Church, rather than leave it. This communication had been a long time in coming, and it provided the opportunity for the group that had been meeting with church officials in Western Maryland to invite the 12 priests and representative laypeople of similar persuasion to join the discussions about the future of the diocese.

The group that had been meeting with church representatives in Maryland, joined by conservative clergy and an increasing number of conservative laypeople, began conversation tentatively and with some mutual suspicion. Initially, the group deliberately remained nameless—thereby avoiding a potentially divisive discussion—though it has come informally to be called the “Across the Aisle” group. Although there is some reluctance to use the terms, the part of the group that developed from the original PEP-initiated discussions is known as the “Gospel side,” and the group of more-recently-added conservatives is known as the “Epistle side.” Happily, these terms are being used less and less, as the “sides” are increasingly concerning themselves with the mechanics of reorganizing the diocese so as to discourage the divisiveness that has characterized Pittsburgh in the recent past.

PEP has perhaps become known for its rhetoric because its marginalization within the diocese provided little opportunity for it to accomplish very much, at least through diocesan institutions that have been firmly in the hands of the bishop and his supporters. The Across the Aisle group, on the other hand, sees a realistic opportunity to gain power only a few months from now, and it has neither the time nor the established mechanisms to articulate for the wider diocese and church what it intends to do with that power. The increasing harmony and dedication of the group to the task at hand, however, is quite encouraging.

Not long ago, discussion among PEP board members led to a consensus that PEP needed to counter what we considered the misrepresentations of the diocesan leadership concerning realignment. Eventually, PEP published “Realignment Reconsidered,” which addresses the reassurances of the propriety and safety of the bishop’s plan point-by-point. PEP board members also thought that a one-page statement of a more irenic Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, probably from the Across the Aisle group itself, would be useful in clarifying the group’s objectives and in attracting Pittsburgh Episcopalians who are tired of the constant battles and angry rhetoric that have become characteristic of our life together.

I was skeptical that a reasonable vision of the reorganized diocese could be captured on a single page, in part because I thought it would have to deal with the many theological issues that vex our common life. I challenged myself to draft such a statement, which I managed eventually to produce. I offered it to the PEP board for comments and, based on the responses I received, I produced a second draft that I hoped would be appropriate for the Across the Aisle group itself to consider as a possible basis for the proposed statement.

Helpful though a statement about our future might be, both for achieving internal consensus and for offering hope for a better future to others in the diocese, it is clear that getting its development on the agenda of the wider group is simply impractical—there is too much other pressing work to do. I have faith that the reorganized diocese will be one that facilitates our Christian mission rather than one that perpetually fights about it, and that is good enough for now. Besides, the leaders of the new diocese eventually will have to articulate their own vision of what they are about.

I do believe, however, that my document captures the spirit with which the Across the Aisle group is approaching its task, and, with that particular leap of faith in mind, I offer my latest draft below without further editing or, in fact, explicit feedback from the Epistle side. Though “unofficial,” it can perhaps suggest a brighter day for the Diocese of Pittsburgh to those frustrated with our present diocesan leadership. In many respects, we are all looking for a diocese that, for want of a better term, is simply “normal.” A PDF version is available here.

A Vision for the Episcopal Church’s
Diocese of Pittsburgh after Realignment
Members of our diocese have to make a decision about realignment. They deserve to know what vision we who will remain members of The Episcopal Church have for our diocese after the realigners leave.
We are followers of Jesus Christ, whom we accept as our Lord and Savior. We will continue our worship according to the Book of Common Prayer. We will recite the creeds with enthusiasm and without irony. We will be thankful for the people next to us and will not need to know whether their theological understanding exactly matches our own. We will join them at the Lord's Table. We will continue to love God and our neighbor, and to share our faith with all those who will listen, though listening is not a prerequisite for neighborliness.

We will build a diocese that sees its primary job as supporting local congregations, which it does
  • Directly, by helping congregations find clergy appropriate for them, offering loans and grants, and providing additional services;

  • Indirectly, by connecting congregations with each other for mutual support; by offering training, education, and other resources to individuals and congregations; by providing common fellowship and worship opportunities; by sponsoring mission projects too big for individual congregations to undertake; and by being a good steward of common assets.
We will build a diocese devoted to figuring out how we all can work together, not how we can "win" battles with our diocesan brothers and sisters. We will welcome back into our church any who wish to rejoin us on our mission journey.

We will build a diocese that shows concern for the poor and the downtrodden, that has a passion for a just society, and that respects the dignity of every human being.

We will build a diocese that participates fully in The Episcopal Church and seeks to make it better through its democratic mechanisms.

We will elect a bishop who shares our values, as outlined here. When that bishop retires, we expect him or her to be celebrated for having had an exceptionally successful episcopate.

Draft by Lionel Deimel, 5/28/2008 (ver. 2.3)

June 16, 2008

Which Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh?

I just posted the latest news summary on Pittsburgh Update, a Web site intended to keep people in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh aware of news events that will or might affect them as our diocese heads toward schism.

One item is particularly interesting in this week’s post. (A post is made every Monday.) It concerns something that has been known by a number of Episcopal Church supporters in the diocese for a couple of weeks, and something Bishop Robert Duncan has known we know. There was uncertainty, however, about whether we should publicize the facts we had learned, particularly as they may have some effect on the ongoing litigation between diocesan leaders and Calvary Church.

Any concerns anyone might have had about not talking about what we knew are now moot, as Calvary’s rector, Harold Lewis, has spilled the beans himself in the parish newsletter.

As the Rev. Dr. Lewis explains in Agape—Lewis’s essay “What’s in a name?” is well worth reading, by the way—Bishop Duncan has registered a new nonprofit corporation with the Pennsylvania Department of State. Its name (“mirabile dictu!,” as Lewis puts it) is “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” (The registration is listed here.) The corporation was officially registered 4/28/2008, but the articles of incorporation, in the bishop’s handwriting, is dated 12/29/2006. (The application is reproduced in Agape.) Since the Secretary of State’s office processes new corporations with relative dispatch, it is unclear why the above dates should differ by nearly a year and a half. The paperwork was received by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on 1/2/2007.

In any case, the move by the bishop was, until very recently, not known to any members of the Board of Trustees or Diocesan Council, as far as I can tell. The bishop is said to have been advised by his chancellor to file the incorporation to protect diocesan property. (The stated purpose of the new corporation is “[u]pholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.”)

For historical reasons that I do not pretend to understand, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has existed for all of his history as an unincorporated entity and has, from all I can tell, been none the worse for wear as a result. (The Board of Trustees of the diocese, on the other hand, is explicitly incorporated.) So why is “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” now being incorporated? Presumably, it is to give the bishop, who is likely to be deposed by The Episcopal Church before he can “realign” the diocese, a better claim to be the legitimate leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

It has long been clear that Duncan subscribes to the legal theory that The Episcopal Church is a voluntary federation of dioceses. According to this theory, a diocese can, at any time, choose to leave the federation. Here is not the place to explain why this notion is demented, but I invite the reader to think of the relationship of South Carolina to the United States before the Civil War. In any case, it is clear that the good bishop thinks that he can remove the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh from its parent church and have it still be the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. (See “Frequently Asked Questions About Realignment.”) Presumably, he will claim that the preëxisting diocese is the one being incorporated, and that he is in control of it. Although I am not a lawyer, I suspect that this is a stretch.

More importantly, the incorporation may largely be irrelevant. In Calvary’s lawsuit, an agreement was reached concerning ownership of diocesan property and the procedures by which property might be alienated from the diocese. In that agreement, “Diocese” is defined as “the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America.” It is unclear how “Diocese” in that agreement could possibly refer to any entity, by whatever name, that is not in The Episcopal Church. “Realignment,” however, by definition, requires the removal of the diocese from The Episcopal Church. (For more information about the stipulation in the Calvary lawsuit, see question 4 in Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh’s “Realignment Reconsidered.”)

So how can the new incorporation do Bishop Duncan any good in his attempt to remove assets from The Episcopal Church? I have no idea. His chancellor had better have a better theory than is presently apparent.

June 3, 2008

Resigned to Realignment

On Sunday, June 1, 2008, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, in the Highland Park neighborhood of Pittsburgh, held a forum and panel discussion on Bishop Robert Duncan’s plan for “realignment.” Duncan, who has been determined to have already abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church and is awaiting a vote by the church’s House of Bishops on his deposition, is attempting to change the constitution of the diocese and to transfer the entire diocese from The Episcopal Church to another Anglican Communion province, most likely South America’s province of the Southern Cone. The only bishop ever to have tried this ploy, John-David Schofield, late of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, was deposed shortly after doing so. It is unclear whether Episcopal bishops will, this time around, shut the barn door before the horse gets out.

That a majority of diocesan clergy will vote for the transparently improper constitutional change that proponents claim will allow realignment has never really been in doubt. Indeed, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has become a magnet and training ground for militant Evangelical clergy frustrated by their apparently permanent minority status within The Episcopal Church. The majority of laypeople in the diocese are not necessarily committed to the bishop’s program, however, and divided loyalties in congregations are causing some clergy to have to make painful choices.

A round of district meetings was held last year, ostensibly to discuss realignment, but actually to sell the realignment plan to the laity. This year, formal meetings largely have been confined to individual congregations, to which Bishop Duncan repeatedly has taken his medicine show. The St. Andrew’s affair was an exception. Although held primarily for the benefit of the parish vestry, the entire diocese was invited, and the audience of 100 or so clergy and laypeople mostly came from other churches.

Sunday’s program was put together by St. Andrew’s’ rector, Bruce Robison, and, although a balanced presentation was certainly an aspiration of his, circumstances conspired against achieving it. Robison could not get the mix of panelists he originally sought, and the group assembled on June 1 represented a compromise of what must have been Plan C. Observers unfamiliar with St. Andrew’s or its rector might have concluded, erroneously, that the parish was at least nominally committed to realignment. It isn’t.

The Program

The program began with 10–15-minute opening remarks from four presenters. This was followed by a question-and-answer period during which the audience was invited to ask questions. Pittsburgh Assistant Bishop Henry Scriven and the Rev. John Bailey, secretary of Diocesan Council, spoke in favor of realignment. The Rev. Daniel Hall, while generally agreeing with the arguments advanced to justify realignment, urged that the diocese wait for a definitive ruling from the Anglican Communion that The Episcopal Church has chosen to “walk apart” before leaving the then-officially-discredited Episcopal Church. Only the Rev. Cynthia Bronson Sweigert disputed the need for realignment or its desirability. The Rev. Canon Mary Maggard Hays, who seemed to have come in a package deal with Bishop Scriven, joined the four speakers in answering audience questions. Robison acted as moderator and offered occasional remarks.

As I understand it, the speakers were given little direction concerning the issues they were to address; they were told simply to give their personal reasons for supporting or opposing realignment. It was not surprising that the panel, drawn exclusively from the ordained orders, spoke mostly of theological issues.

Graciously, Scriven conceded that not everyone who will be left behind in The Episcopal Church by realignment is a heretic. But he asserted that the church is moving in a direction he is unwilling to go, and he raised the usual charge that the church is “unclear” about the nature of Jesus (among other things), citing the Presiding Bishop’s “10 Questions For Katharine Jefferts Schori” interview in the July 10, 2006, Time and an August 2007 statement, “Already One in God,” a response to the primates’ Dar es Salaam letter from the leadership of the Diocese of Northern Michigan. Scriven’s strategy was a clever one to use in front of a potentially hostile audience, since it is much harder to refute someone’s distorted opinion of what might happen than it is to refute his distorted opinion of what has happened.

The bishop’s opening statement was followed by one from the Rev. Daniel Hall. Hall is a surgeon and an Episcopal priest serving in a Lutheran church. He was a signer of the January 2008 letter to the bishop declaring that “the best way forward for renewal and reformation of the Episcopal Church” is to stay in the church and advocate for the Windsor Report’s recommendations to be implemented. Hall emphasized his Evangelical heritage and expressed general agreement with the critique of The Episcopal Church offered by those wishing to realign. Surprisingly, he also expressed love of The Episcopal Church and of its 1979 prayer book, although he clearly would like to see both a different Episcopal Church and a different Anglican Communion. He enumerated the sorts of mechanisms available for holding Evangelical Christianity together—apparently, he does not much care what happens to other Christian traditions—confessional (the usual Protestant solution), magisterial (Roman Catholic), and conciliar (as advocated by the Anglican Communion Institute but, arguably, at odds with actual past practice of the Anglican Communion). In theory, Hall is looking for “mutual submission under Christ” among Anglican provinces. In practice, he seemed to think it wisest to wait until The Episcopal Church is thrown out of the Anglican Communion, so that realignment can be effected with greater moral authority. Those of us who believe that realignment is the moral equivalent of theft by deception were not cheered by Hall’s opposition to the bishop’s present scheme.

The Rev. John Bailey’s opening remarks, articulated at great length, were familiar: The Episcopal Church is going where traditional Christianity has never gone, and the need to defend the authentic Gospel—he told his audience that we are actually two churches with two gospels—justifies the militancy of realignment. The litany continued: the church is shrinking, but South Carolina and Pittsburgh (corrected through some appropriate statistical legerdemain) are growing; The Episcopal Church adopts ideas from contemporary society; loving your neighbor does not mean consenting to sinful behavior; the Presiding Bishop has denied the uniqueness of Jesus. The “truth of the Gospel,” Bailey said, is at stake. “Peacemaking”—he began by talking about peacemaking and asking, rhetorically, why we are fighting—“is not about everyone just getting along.” Realignment would mean that Evangelicals will no longer need to apologize for their church.

Last to speak was the Rev. Cynthia Bronson Sweigert. She suggested that generalizations were being made about The Episcopal Church that simply are not true, a point she illustrated, somewhat obliquely, by quoting from Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh’s “Realignment Reconsidered,” which juxtaposes answers from PEP to questions and answers about realignment offered by the diocese. She suggested that dialogue in Pittsburgh is much like that from the pen of Lewis Carroll, in that words and ideas are bandied about with meanings different from their conventional ones. (“We are not leaving The Episcopal Church; The Episcopal Church has left us.”) While conceding that some division of the diocese seems unavoidable, she admitted to seeing no valid purpose for it. Groups breaking away from The Episcopal Church, she observed, do not have much of a success rate. Sweigert expressed excitement, however, about a future diocese free of the current strife, and she said that a group of clergy and laypeople, informally called the Across the Aisle group, is talking about how the Diocese of Pittsburgh can be reorganized in a way that avoids “the polarization of the past.” Sweigert said that she is in The Episcopal Church because of its comprehensiveness, and she noted, with sadness, that, in Pittsburgh, one never hears Queen Elizabeth’s remark about having no desire to make windows into men’s souls. She ended by observing that we need Christ and one another.

Details of the question-and-answer period that followed are not particularly important. Most of the questions were from opponents of realignment, but they were respectfully asked and respectfully answered. Particularly toward the end of the event—it actually lasted close to 2½ hours—the panelists seemed just as happy to let someone else answer a question, although Robison had suggested that each presenter should have an opportunity to respond to each question.


What was striking was the contrast, particularly in the question-and-answer period, to the dialogue that took place at a similar meeting in the same space. One of the aforementioned district meetings (that for District VII) was held at St. Andrew’s. It, too, was well attended and was similar in format, though the presentations were even more weighted in favor of realignment. The audience was almost uniformly opposed to this point of view—only one of the questions could be considered at all sympathetic or neutral—and the session became progressively more acrimonious as it wore on, with questioners angrily hurling charges and posing questions designed to embarrass the presenters.

The mood on June 1, however, was one of resignation to some sort of division of the diocese. The first question, in fact, was about whether there is a way to part gracefully. The consensus was that there likely is not, an answer disputed by no one. Some perfunctory words were said about being gracious to one another and possibly sharing projects and resources, but the words seemed to lack conviction.

Perhaps most surprising was the absence, both in the initial presentations and in the subsequent questions, of discussion related to the canonical or legal propriety of realignment. There was little concern expressed for the effect realignment might have on the Anglican Communion, and no talk at all of the likely effect on The Episcopal Church. These concerns had seemingly become irrelevant, as if everyone was part of a Greek tragedy, and no one had control over his or her fate.

The program was, I suspect, the last great theological debate in Pittsburgh on the realignment question. (It was, perhaps, not a great debate, but theological issues were raised in the apparent expectation that someone would actually listen to them.) From this point on, however, I suspect that we will not bother to argue theology. Realigners and non-realigners will continue to plan for their individual futures. Everyone will play out his or her role, and what will happen will happen. A broad coalition of Episcopalians will inherit the current dysfunctional diocese and will try to make it work, while the lawyers will labor to return diocesan assets to their rightful owners.

May God have mercy on us all.