February 19, 2009

Pittsburgh Standing Committee Writes to Diocese

NOTE: I have often remarked that the fact that we have two entities in Pittsburgh calling themselves “the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” is a nightmare for journalists. In the post below, I encountered the same frustration professional journalists have. As originally posted, a number of people complained that they couldn’t keep the players straight. Fair enough. I have revised the post to be as clear as I can be. I hope this helps.

Below, the diocese acknowledged as being in The Episcopal Church by the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church is referred to as “EDoP/TEC.” The group led by Robert Duncan that claims to be a diocese in the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone is referred to as “EDoP/SC.” For readability, I use less formal terms, but I use these abbreviations in parentheses to avoid any possible misunderstanding. I have made no changes to the material quoted directly from the letter that is the subject of this post.

Frankly, the letter is easier to read than to describe, and readers may want to skip my description of the letter entirely and just read the document itself.

I received a letter today from the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (EDoP/TEC). It was signed by the Standing Committee president and addressed to “Clergy and Lay Leaders of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (TEC).” The scanned letter can be read here; there is not yet mention of it on the (EDoP/TEC) diocesan Web site.

The letter concerns the dispute with the group that left The Episcopal Church but is in control of most of the diocese’s assets (i.e., EDoP/SC). The letter is “an effort to communicate clearly and directly with our own leadership.” It reiterates a number of facts, but it also updates the (EDoP/TEC) diocese on heretofore unreported developments.

What is new here is that the group led by Robert Duncan (EDoP/SC) made a proposal to the diocese (EDoP/TEC) on February 5, 2009. According to the letter (from the EDoP/TEC Standing Committee) to the Episcopal Church diocese (EDoP/TEC):
[M]embers of the Standing Committee received a two page guide to determining a division of assets of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Included in this guide was a demand that claims to the official name of our diocese be relinquished.
The (EDoP/TEC) letter goes on to describe the response of the diocese (EDoP/TEC to EDoP/SC), which, among other things, suggested that everyone return to the diocese (EDoP/TEC) “so that no disputes over property would be necessary.” The response (EDoP/TEC to EDoP/SC) referred to the October 14, 2005, stipulation “signed in good faith by Bishop Duncan’s attorneys” which, of course, states that diocesan property should stay with The Episcopal Church. The response of the diocese (EDoP/TEC to EDoP/SC) also explained that “we [the people of the diocese, presumably] are stewards, not owners, of the assets entrusted to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh over many generations.”

The letter to (EDoP/TEC) diocesan leaders concludes as follows:
It seemed important to communicate this information to you directly in light of a cloud of misinformation we have observed over recent weeks produced by those wishing to leave The Episcopal Church. Please remind your parishioners that we are stewards not owners of assets entrusted to our responsibility and that, at least for assets of the Diocese, a stipulation was signed three years ago defining clearly the outcome of any dispute. We are hopeful that a determination will be reached quickly so that the mission and ministry of our Diocese may be freed from further distraction. [Underlining exactly reflects the letter.]

February 18, 2009

Coming Together

The December 2009 special convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh was called “Coming Together in Faith.” Its purpose was to elect people to positions vacated by those who had chosen to “realign” with Robert Duncan after the schismatic vote at the annual diocesan convention the previous October, as well as to declare certain changes made to the constitution and canons of the diocese inappropriate, and, therefore, of no effect.

That convention was neither the start nor the conclusion of the process of re-creating an effective Episcopal Church diocese from the wreckage wrought by Duncan, Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, and their supporters over many years. Pittsburgh was fortunate in having a small cadre of diocesan leaders who did not wish to abandon The Episcopal Church. In particular, one member of the Standing Committee did not leave the diocese. (My understanding, of course, is that Duncan and his followers did not take the diocese out of The Episcopal Church, but left the diocese to form what our church called “an entity of unknown form” in its recent court filing—see “Episcopal Church Asks to Join Calvary Lawsuit.”) The diocesan constitution allowed that one Standing Committee member to appoint others to vacant positions.* The Rev. Jim Simons used this power sparingly, but effectively, to get the reorganization process underway immediately. Those people appointed by Simons, as well as an army of volunteers, somehow managed to determine everything that needed to be done and organized the special convention in two short months.

It is now two months on the other side of that special convention, and I am happy to report that the (real) Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is well on its way to regularizing its operation as a functioning, diverse, amicable diocese of The Episcopal Church. I say this after having talked to a number of people involved in diocesan affairs and in response to reports given at a meeting of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh a couple of days ago. At that meeting, Joan Morris, president of Diocesan Council, and others, including members of the Standing Committee, reported on the ongoing progress of the diocese.

There seems to be universal agreement that the choice of the Rt. Rev. Robert H. Johnson to be assisting bishop for the diocese was a particularly good one. I have heard only positive reports about Bishop Johnson. His pastoral and organizational skills have received high praise, and they are much needed now. Most current diocesan leaders have either little experience working at the diocesan level or have experience that is less useful than one might like. Those with recent experience under the former administration know only a diocese in which the real decision-making was done by the bishop and his inner circle; those whose experience was years ago are unfamiliar with the mechanisms needed to run a diocese in 2009. Bishop Johnson is proving to be a good coach for the inexperienced diocesan team. He has also shown that there is no substitute for experience in dealing with the pastoral issues that invariably present themselves at the diocesan level.

Bishop Johnson came to my own church for confirmations on February 1, and the congregation of St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, was quite pleased with his visit. The bishop has an unpretentious, yet reassuring manner. He took a special interest in the confirmands, preached a fine sermon, and very much seemed to enjoy his work. His down-to-earth informality was in sharp contrast to the attitude of our now-deposed bishop (and “archbishop-in-waiting”).

By now, diocesan elected and appointed positions are largely filled, although we are finding areas where new structures are needed: for communications, social justice, and parish life, for example. The job of building institutional infrastructure is certainly taking precedence over what is usually thought of as mission, but everyone expects this to be a transient phenomenon, rather than a persistent one. Bishop Johnson has made many helpful suggestions about running the diocese, and he plans to conduct monthly meetings of the members of the main diocesan bodies, which will help coördinate activities and build a more cohesive diocesan team. Recent practices under Duncan’s administration worked to connect people of the diocese to the inner circle of diocesan leaders and to discourage relationships among people from different parishes. There is a lot of getting acquainted and getting re-acquainting going on now in the diocese, and people are rejoicing in the experience.

People who have recently served on diocesan bodies report a very different experience since the departure of our former leaders. Members of Diocesan Council, for example, which includes both clergy and lay representatives from across the diocese, had become used to receiving an agenda that required them merely to rubber-stamp what had been decided by Duncan and his inner circle. Members report that there is much more work to do because the Council is now behaving like what it is meant to be, namely, the representatives of convention between its annual meetings. There is a new feeling of freedom to advocate for one’s own view of what needs to be done, though that freedom is accompanied by the responsibility of putting in the hours needed to make the Council an independent governing body.

Immediately after the October 4 “realignment” vote, the diocese established a small office in a church far removed from the city of Pittsburgh. It might properly have been called an outpost, rather than an office, and limited work was actually done there, in part due to its out-of-the-way location. The diocese did invest in a computer, cell phone, multifunction printer, and wireless router, however, which allowed a volunteer to do much of the clerical work needed to stage the December special convention.

Since that special convention, the diocese has rented an apartment and automobile for our half-time bishop, and it is getting ready to move into a suburban four-room office suite. Although the new office of the diocese will lack the luxurious appointments of our former bishop’s office on the ninth floor of a downtown office building, neither is it embarrassing for its Spartan simplicity. The new office has reasonable furniture, new computers and computer network, telephones, and attractive pictures on the walls. The diocese has hired a half-time director of administration and will soon hire at least one other person. The view from the large fifth-story windows does not match that of the Oliver Building, but the windows do enhance the ambiance and decrease the need for artificial lighting.

The diocese has not had many opportunities to celebrate or have fun as a community, but the recent Absalom Jones Day was encouraging. This is an annual event sponsored by the Commission on Racism. In recent years, however, there has been a diminished role in the event for Holy Cross Church, the major traditionally African-American parish of the diocese, and attendance, at least for clergy, had become something of a chore of political correctness. This year’s celebration, however, was held at Holy Cross, benefited from a choir whose members came from a number of churches, took its hymns from Lift Every Voice and Sing II, and had Bishop Johnson as the celebrant. It was a joyous occasion that one attendee described as “lots of fun.” The offering raised more than $1,000 for the needful physical plant of Holy Cross. I expect that the people of the diocese will be getting together for such events more often and enjoying a renewed sense of community and purpose.

Not all is well, of course. We lament those who have left the diocese, even though we admit that, spiritually, it was the right thing for some to do. Especially troubling are the congregations that have been split almost equally on the question of staying in The Episcopal Church or leaving it. Some such congregations have taken one road and some the other, and all the groups resulting from such fracturing will likely have a difficult future. Moreover, property issues, both of diocesan assets and parish ones, remain in legal limbo. Unlike other dioceses that have gone through “realignment,” however, property litigation was begun in Pittsburgh long before the alienation of property by dissidents became a fait accompli, and that litigation may be expected to run to its conclusion long before property matters are settled in San Joaquin and elsewhere.

Despite residual problems and uncertainties, there is a general sense of freedom and of exciting possibilities in The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. It may be some time before the diocese is ready to stand on its own financially, and it will surely be a while before it can, with confidence and goodwill, elect a new diocesan bishop. The legacy of Bob Duncan is one of mutual distrust of one another and of suspicion of bishops generally. The diocese is recovering from that legacy, but recovery is more difficult for some than for others. Many feel a sense of personal betrayal by our former bishop. Time, however, does heal old wounds, and the coöperation needed to get the diocese up and running is diminishing any residual anxieties about whether those of differing theological stripes can, in fact, work together in harmony.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh in The Episcopal Church is alive, well, and getting better. I invite your prayers as we strive to become what we have often called a “normal” Episcopal diocese. Pray, however, with joyful anticipation, rather than urgent anxiety. This diocese has a bright future ahead of it.

*In my original post, this sentence read: “Ironically, a recent canon change promoted by the former leaders of the diocese allowed that one Standing Committee member to appoint others to vacant positions.” I was reminded that the 2007 change I had in mind when I wrote this sentence involved, but did not create, that appointment power. The relevant constitutional provision was one of longstanding. There was, therefore, no irony in its use.

February 15, 2009

Further Analysis

In my last post, I described the latest filing in the Calvary lawsuit. There, I concentrated on the petition to intervene and gave short shrift to the complaint-in-intervention. The former document makes the case that The Episcopal Church should have a place at the table in the proceedings, and the latter document lays out the facts of the case as viewed by the church. It also states the outcome for which the church is petitioning. That complaint-in-intervention deserves more attention. (The complete filing can be read here.)

The complaint-in-intervention contains 59 numbered paragraphs. The first 58 are intended to lay the groundwork for the final paragraph, which sets out what the church wants from the court.

The first 11 paragraphs are listed under the heading “Parties,” and they merely identify the the players and their roles in the case. There is nothing controversial here.

The next section, encompassing paragraphs 12 through 22, is labeled “Structure of The Episcopal Church.” I find this section unremarkable, but the defendants may have some quibbles. As described in this section, The Episcopal Church is “three-tiered” (paragraph 12), consisting of the General Convention (“the supreme legislative authority of the Church,” paragraph 13), along with a Presiding Bishop (paragraph 14) and Executive Council (paragraph 15). According to the filing (paragraph 14): “The Presiding Bishop is charged with leadership in initiating and developing Church policy, strategy, and programs; speaking for the Church on such matters; and carrying out appointive and disciplinary functions prescribed by the General Convention.”

Paragraphs 16 and 17 address dioceses, described as the “next level of the Church’s organization.” Paragraph 16 points out: “A diocese may be formed only by action of the General Convention, and only with an unqualified accession to The Episcopal Church’s Constitution and canons.”

Paragraphs 18 and 19 describe parishes, and paragraphs 20–22 describe how the three levels interact through conventions. Paragraph 21 cites Canon 1.17 (8), which requires that office holders carry out their duties in accordance with the constitution and canons of the diocese and general church.

The next section is titled “The Anglican Communion” and comprises paragraphs 23–25. The Communion is described as a fellowship of 38 autonomous provinces, each uniquely exercising jurisdiction within a defined territory.

Following this is “Dioceses of the Episcopal Church,” paragraphs 26–29. According to the document, diocese are formed only with the consent of the General Convention and must accede to the authority of the General Convention (paragraph 26). Once formed, a diocese is “a subordinate unit of the Church, bound by the provisions of the Church's Constitution and canons” (paragraph 27, which also lists specific requirements imposed on dioceses). Paragraphs 28 and 29 explain how missionary dioceses may be transferred out of The Episcopal Church, but that the Diocese of Pittsburgh is not a missionary diocese. “The Constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church do not provide for the autonomy, release, withdrawal, or transfer of any diocese that is not a Missionary Diocese (paragraph 29).”

Of course, Bob Duncan and his allies would dispute the description of dioceses as being subordinated to the General Convention. He advances the theory that independent dioceses voluntarily associate in the General Convention and are free to leave it at will, a view unsupported by the governing documents of the church or its history. Alas, this unorthodox theory was given some credibility by the unfortunate remarks made by the Archbishop of Canterbury recently, who, nevertheless, has no legal authority over The Episcopal Church.

Paragraphs 30–34 are titled “Ordination and Discipline of Bishops by The Episcopal Church.” These paragraphs describe the Declaration of Conformity, the need for consent to the consecration of a bishop, and (briefly) the disciplinary procedures of Title IV.

“History of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” is the title for paragraphs 35–40. This section notes that the diocese was formed in the usual way in 1865 and that, until recently, it participated in The Episcopal Church as required by the constitution and canons of the church. Presumably, this is meant to establish that, until recently, diocesan leaders shared the view that dioceses are subordinated to the General Convention.

The next section is “Recent Developments in the Diocese,” which encompasses paragraphs 41–49. This part of the narrative begins with the November 2007 convention, at which Duncan and his allies advocated constitutional changes purporting to allow the diocese to detach itself from The Episcopal Church. It describes Duncan’s deposition, the vote for “realignment” at the October 2008 convention, and the reorganizing convention of the Episcopal Church diocese in December 2008. The section ends (in paragraph 49) with the church’s view of the status of Duncan’s “diocese”:
The Episcopal Church is informed and believes that defendant former Bishop Duncan, as well as the other individual defendants described in Paragraph 45 who were formerly part of the leadership of the Diocese, control an entity of unknown form that uses the name “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh,” and hold that entity out as the Diocese; have asserted authority over Episcopal parishes, congregations, and other organizations in the Diocese; and have exclusive possession and control of substantially all of the real and personal property of the Diocese.
The final section is titled “The Current Dispute” and accounts for paragraphs 50–58. It begins by reviewing various milestones in the Calvary case, the most important of which is the agreement of all parties to the stipulation of October 2005 (paragraph 50). In paragraph 57, it is asserted that the various actions taken by Duncan and his supporters are contrary to the law and to the constitution and canons of the church. The diocese, as recognized by The Episcopal Church, is the proper authority to use the assets of the diocese and is the entity to which paragraph 1 of the stipulation applies. (That paragraph says that, whatever happens to individual parishes, diocesan assets are to stay with “the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America.”) On the other hand, Duncan has a different view (paragraph 58):
The Church is informed and believes that defendant Bishop Duncan and the other individual defendants described in Paragraph 45 take the position that they are properly in control of the governance of the Diocese; that they have withdrawn the Diocese from The Episcopal Church to join the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone; that they are thus entitled to the use and control of the real and personal property of the Diocese; and that their actions are not in conflict with Paragraph I of the Stipulation and Order.
Paragraph 59 points out the incompatibility of its view of the current situation (paragraph 57) and that of the defendants (paragraph 58). The court needs to declare which side is correct. In particular, The Episcopal Church asks that the court:
  1. Declare that the people recognized by The Episcopal Church are the proper authorities to control the assets of the diocese.
  2. Declare that property held by and for the Diocese of Pittsburgh may only be used for the mission of The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Pittsburgh, subject to the rules of each.
  3. Order the defendants to relinquish all diocesan assets to the proper authorities of the diocese.
  4. Require defendants to submit an accounting of all assets held on October 4, 2008, when the “realignment” vote took place.
  5. Provide such further relief as may be proper.
This paragraph, of course, sets out what Calvary Church, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, and The Episcopal Church are after. It is difficult to see how the court could refuse this request without ignoring the facts of the case and without running afoul of the constitutional separation of church and state. How long this will take, I cannot guess, but Judge Joseph James does not seem to have a very difficult decision to make.

February 13, 2009

Episcopal Church Asks to Join Calvary Lawsuit

An objection that the defendants have raised more than once in the lawsuit filed by Calvary Church against now-deposed bishop Robert Duncan and other (now former) leaders of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is that Calvary had no right to sue without The Episcopal Church’s being a party to the suit. Well, Archbishop-in-Waiting Duncan seems about to get his wish. Papers were filed today in the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas on behalf of Bishop John C. Buchanan, Retired Bishop of West Missouri and parliamentarian of the House of Bishops. In a “petition to intervene,” Buchanan, representing The Episcopal Church, asks the court to become a plaintiff in the case.

In support of the request, the petition sketches the polity of the church and the history of the schism that has taken place in Pittsburgh. Paragraph 11 of that discussion asserts the following:
Once formed, a diocese of the Church is a subordinate unit of the Church, bound by the provisions of the Church’s Constitution and canons, which govern both temporal and ecclesiastical matters, and by The Book of Common Prayer of the Church.
which is perhaps the central assertion of the petition. The problem, as the church sees it, is set forth in paragraph 28:
The Episcopal Church is informed and believes that defendant former Bishop Duncan, as well as the other individual defendants described in Paragraph 24 who were formerly part of the leadership of the Diocese, control an entity of unknown form that uses the name “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” and hold that entity out as the Diocese; have asserted authority over Episcopal parishes, congregations, and other organizations in the Diocese; and have exclusive possession and control of substantially all of the real and personal property of the Diocese.
The emphasis is mine. (I have repeatedly asserted that whatever Duncan leads is neither a diocese nor properly in the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.)

The petition makes it clear that the proper Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is neither new nor led by Duncan. The final paragraph (32) says:
The issues raised by defendants in their motions for this Court to decide thus directly impact the substantial legally enforceable interests of The Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church has an interest in ensuring that any determination by this Court regarding the ability of the Diocese to disaffiliate from The Episcopal Church or the identity of the persons now comprising the leadership of the Diocese, including in connection with an interpretation or application of Paragraph 1 of the October 14, 2005 Stipulation and Order, does not contravene The Episcopal Church’s Constitution, canons, or polity, including the requirement that all Church property may only be used for the mission of the Church subject to the Constitution and canons of the Church, guaranteed to the Church under the First Amendment.
Along with the petition, attorneys for The Episcopal Church, including the recently appointed Mary Kostel, submitted a “complaint-in-intervention” as exhibit 1. This complaint repeats and expands upon the information presented in the petition.

The filing can be read here. The Standing Committee of the diocese has issued a statement supporting the action of The Episcopal Church, which can be read on the diocesan Web site here.

UPDATE: See my 2/15/2009 post “Further Analysis” for more information and thoughts on the Episcopal Church filing.

February 10, 2009

Acer’s Technical Non-support

Consumer technical support for computer equipment has always been difficult and expensive to deliver. This is especially true of support involving computers themselves, since every day a person uses the computer, the device is being customized and made different from every other computer in the world, even if the user is not adding devices or changing components in the machine. Technical support for more specialized equipment—printers and routers come immediately to mind—has generally been better, presumably because it is less open-ended.*

When I purchased my first computer running Windows (3.1 at the time), I was promised lifetime technical support, by telephone, e-mail, or bulletin board. These days, however, support can be limited in many ways, including duration, medium (e.g., e-mail only), and accessibility (support from badly coached non-native speakers of English can make technical support virtually useless). We learn to adapt, and most people, particularly in the present economic circumstances, are probably willing to trade a bit of convenience in technical support for a low purchase price.

I was nonetheless infuriated by a technical support experience I had yesterday with Acer America. I had purchased and set up a relatively inexpensive Acer computer for a client. The computer was well-supplied with external connectors of all kinds, but I found myself short of USB ports on the back of the machine. (I preferred to leave the USB connections on the front panel available to the user for temporary connections.) With most keyboards, mice, and printers using USB connections these days, my problem is an increasingly common one.

I happened to have a USB mouse that came with a USB-to-PS/2 adapter, and I thought I might free up a USB slot by plugging the mouse into a PS/2 port. For whatever reason, this did not work, so I decided to contact Acer, particularly because there could be a hardware problem with the PS/2 port. Reading over the characteristicly useless “documentation” that came with the computer and visiting the Acer Web site, it seemed likely that my only support option was via e-mail. I filled out a Web form, describing my problem this way:
Because I would rather not use a USB port on the front of the computer for my mouse, I tried using the mouse with a USB-to-PS/2 adapter. This does not seem to work, however. Is there something special I have to do, or is there a possibility that the PS/2 ports are defective?
In response, I received a note explaining that my question was received and that questions are answered in the order received. My work was not being hampered by a failure to receive an immediate answer, so I went on with my business.

As it happened, I found that I needed to connect even more USB devices to the computer, so I decided I simply had to buy an external USB hub. This was a fine solution that still left me with two open and accessible USB ports and did not cost very much.

About 10 hours after I submitted my support request, I received the following message from Acer:
Dear Lionel Deimel,

Thank you for contacting Acer America. I’ll be happy to assist you.

As Acer America does not test third party hardware we are unable to provide technical support or recommendations regarding this issue. For assistance with this issue, it will be necessary for you to contact the manufacturer of this device.

Acer America
Online Technical Support
Almost everything is wrong with this kiss-off response. To begin with, if Acer America is so “happy to assist” me, why doesn’t it? The message, clearly a boilerplate response that acknowledges nothing specific about my inquiry, is cold and impersonal. Acer would do well to have support people sign such messages by name, even if the names are made up. Instead, I received e-mail from “Acer America.” Someone should tell Acer America that customers need to feel that their concerns are at least being heard, even if the company, for whatever reason, is unable to help them. Empathy (or at least the appearance of empathy) is cheap.

The message actually was helpful in the sense that I had not considered that the adapter I was using might be defective. (What, after all, can go wrong with such a simple device?) I had assumed that it had actually been used with the mouse to which it was attached when it was given to me, though this proved not to be the case. Acer did not even directly suggest that there might be a problem with the adapter, which they could have without putting themselves out or “supporting” third-party hardware. I wonder what Acer’s reponse would have been had I told them that I had connected a PS/2 mouse that had been used successfully on another computer to the Acer. Would I have been told to contact the Mouse vendor? Wouldn’t the mouse vendor have told me that the mouse clearly worked and that the problem was likely with my computer? Acer completely ignored even the possibility that their computer might have been at fault.

Acer could have been even more helpful without getting bogged down in problems related to non-Acer hardware. They could have suggested that I try the mouse and adapter on another computer or that I try a PS/2 mouse on the Acer PC. Perhaps I should have been directed to look at the Device Manager, where it was not immediately obvious what settings applied to the PS/2 ports. Instead, Acer simply responded with not-our-problem arrogance.

The message from Acer also contained this statement: “If this issue is not resolved to your satisfaction, you may reopen it within the next 7 days.” Do I lose my right to even ask the question after a week?

I actually rather like the Acer computer and monitor I bought, and I don’t rule out buying Acer equipment in the future. I will advise clients that they should have low expectations of Acer technical support, however. My grade of Acer’s technical support for this incident is definitely F.

*I have to express my appreciation here for the telephone support I have received for my Oki color LED printer. It has always been knowledgeable, friendly, and readily available. This is a very complex printer, but Oki technical support folks have invariably solved my problem, even when that problem was, in a sense, not a printer problem. (I was once advised how I should change what I was doing in Microsoft Word to get the printer output I was seeking.)