October 22, 2009

Dallas: A Diocese to Watch

The 113th annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas held this past weekend did not make much news. Episcopal News Service covered it in a single paragraph:
Dallas: “Great Fellowship” was the theme of the 113th annual diocesan convention, held at the South Fork Conference Center in Parker, Texas. Convention did not consider any resolutions; rather some 116 clergy and 194 lay delegates studied and discussed the Anglican covenant, according to Bishop Suffragan Paul Lambert of Dallas. Delegates approved a $3,169,600 budget, representing about a $29,000 increase from last year.
As ENS reported, no resolutions were considered at the convention, though, of course, the usual elections for Standing Committee and the like were held. To say that delegates “studied and discussed the Anglican covenant,” however, does not capture the essence of the event. It would be more correct to say that the delegates were propagandized or indoctrinated about the Anglican covenant.

The centerpiece of the convention was a trio of talks aimed at promoting adoption of the covenant and justifying the right of the diocese to approve it. These talks were given on Friday, October 16, 2009, by the Rt. Rev. James M. Stanton, Mr. Mark McCall, and the Rev. Dr. Philip Turner. The discussion was conducted in small groups at tables at which delegates from the same church were separated.

In case the names of the speakers do not immediately ring bells, I should point out that the speakers constitute an Anglican Communion Institute (ACI) tag team. Turner is vice president of the ACI. Stanton and McCall are members of the ACI Advisory Committee. (See the ACI “Contributing Theologians” page here.) It may be difficult to characterize precisely what the ACI stands for, but it would not be unfair to say that the ACI has virtually never had anything positive to say about The Episcopal Church or anything negative to say about its detractors. To its credit, however, it has not advocated breaking away from The Episcopal Church.

I will not attempt a full analysis of the message to which delegates to the Dallas convention were subjected. I will, however, offer links to the three talks and provide short summaries of them. I recommend reading the talks for yourself and drawing your own conclusions as to what Bishop Stanton is trying to accomplish. Apparently, he plans to call a special convention after a revised Section Four of the proposed Anglican covenant is available, at which time, he expects the Dallas convention to endorse—whatever that means—the covenant. I’m sure that this plan is not contingent on the details of the revised Section Four .

The first and longest talk was given by Bishop Stanton himself. It was titled “DIOCESE AND COVENANT: Reflection on Dallas, its History and Future.” (You can read Stanton’s talk here. The text is from a handout and contains all the typographical errors of the original.) Drawing on the history of his diocese, Stanton argued for the autonomy of dioceses, a novel notion promoted by attorney Mark McCall and the ACI. The talk mentioned the “unqualified accession” requirement imposed by the church on dioceses, though without suggesting that it has any real effect on church polity. After decoupling his diocese from The Episcopal Church, Stanton argued that the Christian message across dioceses must be coördinated, using a “conciliar”—another popular ACI buzzword—approach. This was his lead-in for advocacy of his diocese’s adopting the covenant. In one sentence, Stanton dismissed the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church and embraced the convent: “A covenant is something higher and better than a code.” There is more than a little doubletalk here.

McCall was next to speak. His talk, “TEC Polity, The Civil Law and the Anglican Covenant,” is available here on the ACI Web site. McCall began with a discussion of the nature of The Episcopal Church, which, legally speaking, he says is a voluntary organization whose members are dioceses. Because the church’s constitution contains no “supremacy clause,” dioceses and the General Convention have “concurrent jurisdiction without supremacy,” which, given that diocesan conventions meet more often than the General Convention, effectively makes dioceses more powerful than the General Convention. (McCall’s legal discussion conveniently ignored the existence of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, of which all Episcopalians are members. He has a very limited idea of how a hierarchical organization must be ordered—he, too, basically ignores the accession requirement—and he does not deal with the constitutional implications of the Episcopal Church’s being a church.)

McCall then turned to the matter of adopting the Anglican covenant, at which point, his talk became seriously weird. Neither the covenant nor the Communion generally claims a right to alter a province’s polity. Provinces will accept or reject the covenant based on their own internal rules. In the case of our own church, since McCall claims that dioceses and the General Convention share jurisdiction, the General Convention and individual dioceses may act as they choose, and the Communion will have to sort out what that means.

I cannot resist an aside here. Whereas I have always thought McCall’s view of Episcopal Church polity to be seriously flawed, there are those who actually believe (or who want us to think they believe) this stuff. The General Convention should be very careful about how it accepts (God forbid!) or rejects the Anglican covenant. If it does so by canon—surely not the most obvious way of weighing in on the matter, particularly in the case of rejection—then, because of accession, dioceses could not second-guess the General Convention’s decision.

Turner was the final speaker; his talk was titled “Crossroads Are For Meeting (Again).” (This can be found on the ACI Web site here. Curiously, Turner’s footnotes are missing from the ACI posting and some of the formatting is dropped, so you may want to look at the PDF version of the Dallas handout here.) Turner offered a break from legal arguments. His basic message seemed to be “don’t be afraid of the covenant.” He began with some history, suggesting that the Anglican Communion has long sought a coherent self-identify that the covenant seeks to supply. His ultimate conclusion in the talk was that the covenant is the last best hope for keeping the Communion together. In discussing the covenant, excepting Section Four, Turner argued that the current draft is indeed “Anglican.” He acknowledged dissenting opinions and tried to counter them. In the last section of the talk, however, Turner argued that The Episcopal Church has acted in ways that make it impossible for the church to accept the covenant with integrity. (Implicitly, I suppose, this means that dioceses should act to accept it.) Acknowledging that the final form of Section Four is unknown, Turner suggested that previous versions have preserved autonomy and relied on “the process of ‘recognition’ rather than adjudication.” (This is an interesting point, thought perhaps a distinction without a difference.) According to Turner, “The simple fact is that without a strong Section Four that creates credible procedures rather than additional hierarchies, the Anglican Communion will perish as a communion of churches.”

One can see in the Dallas convention talks the strategizing of the militant traditionalists for their next battle. The General Convention actually asked dioceses to offer their opinions on the covenant, but that body intended for a serious, unbiased evaluation to take place in each diocese. The Bishop of Dallas, however, has decided instead to manipulate his own diocesan convention to assure that the diocese comes to the “right” conclusion. Moreover, expecting (or fearing) that the General Convention will reject the covenant, Stanton plans to act preëmptively, not merely offering moral support for the covenant, as the Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested, but claiming actual ratification by the autonomous Diocese of Dallas. This promises to sow chaos not only within The Episcopal Church, but also within the Anglican Communion itself. Of course, it may be necessary to destroy the Communion in order to save it.


No Anglican Covenant

October 20, 2009

Looking on the Bright Side

I woke up this morning to learn that the Vatican announced today that it will allow Anglicans to join the Roman Catholic Church while maintaining their liturgies and clergy. Under this arrangement, married Anglican priests could become Roman Catholic priests, but they would not be eligible to become bishops. According to the Guardian, the Vatican made it decision “‘to respond to the numerous requests that have been submitted to the Holy See by groups of Anglican clerics and believers from various parts of the world who wish to enter into full and visible communion’ with Rome.”

The announcement was surely not a surprise. A number of Anglo-Catholic groups in the U.S. and elsewhere have appealed to the Vatican for such an arrangement, and the Vatican has not been unsympathetic. (One immediately thinks of the letter of support sent to the so-called Plano meeting of Episcopal Church dissidents in October 2003 by the current holder of the papal office.)

And what has been the reaction from the leader of the Anglican Communion to this latest development? The Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster (i.e., the Roman Catholic archbishop) issued a statement applauding the move by the Vatican, explaining that it “brings to an end a period of uncertainty for such groups [former Anglicans wanting to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of distinctive Anglican spiritual patrimony] who have nurtured hopes of new ways of embracing unity with the Catholic Church.” They continue:
The Apostolic Constitution is further recognition of the substantial overlap in faith, doctrine and spirituality between the Catholic Church and the Anglican tradition. Without the dialogues of the past forty years, this recognition would not have been possible, nor would hopes for full visible unity have been nurtured. In this sense, this Apostolic Constitution is one consequence of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.
This is yet another indication that the Archbishop of Canterbury has a radical commitment to reunion with Rome. He cannot see the Vatican move for the parasitic act that it is. The only way Rome will unite with Anglicanism is by absorbing it. Perhaps Rowan Williams wants this. Perhaps the Church of England wants this. Episcopalians don’t.

October 18, 2009

Munday Logic

Episcopal News Service (ENS) recently reported that the former Bishop of Quincy, Keith Ackerman, wrote the Presiding Bishop to say that he was becoming a bishop in the Southern Cone’s Diocese of Bolivia. As a result, Katharine Jefferts Schori accepted Ackerman’s “voluntary renunciation of ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church.” The ENS story explained that Jefferts Schori’s action was based on “Title III, Section 7 of the canons.” In fact, the citation should have been of Canon III.12.7 (the ENS error has now been fixed):
Sec. 7. Renunciation of the Ordained Ministry
(a) If any Bishop of this Church not subject to the provisions of Canon IV.8 shall declare, in writing, to the Presiding Bishop a renunciation of the ordained Ministry of this Church, and a desire to be removed therefrom, it shall be the duty of the Presiding Bishop to record the declaration and request so made. The Presiding Bishop, being satisfied that the person so declaring is not subject to the provisions of Canon IV.8 but is acting voluntarily and for causes, assigned or known, which do not affect the person’s moral character, shall lay the matter before the Advisory Council to the Presiding Bishop, and with the advice and consent of a majority of the members of the Advisory Council the Presiding Bishop may pronounce that such renunciation is accepted, and that the Bishop is released from the obligations of all Ministerial offices, and is deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God’s Word and Sacraments conferred in Ordinations. The Presiding Bishop shall also declare in pronouncing and recording such action that it was for causes which do not affect the person's moral character, and shall, if desired, give a certificate to this effect to the person so removed.
(b) If a Bishop making the aforesaid declaration of the renunciation of the ordained Ministry be under Presentment for any canonical Offense, or shall have been placed on Trial for the same, the Presiding Bishop shall not consider or act upon such declaration until after the Presentment shall have been dismissed or the said Trial shall have been concluded and the Bishop judged not to have committed an Offense.
(c) In the case of such renunciation by a Bishop as provided in this Canon, a declaration of removal shall be pronounced by the Presiding Bishop in the presence of two or more Bishops, and shall be entered in the official records of the House of Bishops and of the Diocese in which the Bishop being removed is canonically resident. The Presiding Bishop shall give notice thereof in writing to the Secretary of the Convention and the Ecclesiastical Authority and the Standing Committee of the Diocese in which the Bishop was canonically resident, to all Bishops of this Church, the Ecclesiastical Authority of each Diocese of this Church, the Recorder, the Secretary of the House of Bishops, the Secretary of the General Convention, The Church Pension Fund, and the Church Deployment Board.
As has become predictable, the militant traditionalists complain bitterly when the Presiding Bishop does just about anything. Most notable regarding the case of Ackerman is the tirade by someone who should know better, the Very Rev. Robert S. Munday, Ph.D., dean and president of Nashotah House. The “very godly and humble Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Keith Keith L. Ackerman,” Munday asserts in his derisively titled post, “The Red Queen Writes Again,” which appears on his blog, “never had any intention of renouncing his ministry.” Jefferts Shori’s contention that there is no way to transfer a bishop to another Anglican province is, Munday says, “not true.” His argument for this position is simply bizarre. Munday cites Canon III.10.2. Canon III.10 is titled “Of Reception of Clergy from other Churches,” and Section 2 deals with “Clergy Ordained by Bishops of Churches in Communion with This Church.” This canon speaks of the transfer of clergy into The Episcopal Church using Letters Dimissory. Based on this canon, Munday makes the following illogical conclusion:
So if the Episcopal Church can receive clergy (and bishops are included when it says “all Members of the Clergy”) from other provinces of the Anglican Communion by means of Letters Dimmisory [sic], then it can issue those same letters when a bishop or other member of the clergy transfers to another province of the Anglican Communion.
Not only does a canon allowing the transfer of clergy into our church imply nothing about how one might transfer clergy out of the church, but there also are canons that deal explicitly with the latter operation, namely the aforementioned Canon III.12.7 and the disciplinary canons of Title IV. I do not doubt Munday’s statement that “the Episcopal Church has transferred clergy to other provinces of the Anglican Communion throughout its history.” Those transfers, however, may not have been canonical.

Munday has yet another bone to pick with the Presiding Bishop. According to him, the Presiding Bishop need not even have been involved with the transfer. Again, however, he cites a provision of Canon III.10, which, in case you have forgotten, deals exclusively with transfers into The Episcopal Church. He then goes on to talk about Canon III.12.8(i). Canon III.12.8 is titled “The Resignation or Incapacity of Bishops” and is primarily about bishops who have reached mandatory retirement age. The provision Munday cites explains how a resigned (i.e., retired) bishop may transfer to another diocese by means of Letters Dimissory. Munday concludes that this mechanism could have been used to transfer Ackerman from Quincy to Bolivia. But nothing in the context of Canon III.12.8(i) suggests that the dioceses referred to can be dioceses outside The Episcopal Church. Munday is apparently hoping the reader is not paying close attention.

As I have noted elsewhere, I believe our canons are defective in that they do not provide for a straightforward way of transferring a clergy member to another church, at least one in the Anglican Communion. (See “Once More on Departed Pittsburgh Clergy.”) In fact, I even agree that the use by the Presiding Bishop of Canon III.12.7 was probably improper. My reasoning, however, is that Ackerman was indeed “subject to the provisions of Canon IV.8.” That canon is titled “Of Renunciation of the Ministry by Members of the Clergy Amenable for Presentment for an Offense.” I am hard pressed to think Ackerman any less guilty of abandonment of the communion of The Episcopal Church than Bishop Robert Duncan, who now plays an archbishop in the Anglican Church in North America. (Ackerman was quite imaginative in bugging out of the Diocese of Quincy before the diocesan convention did his dirty work, however.)

Like Bishop Duncan, Bishop Ackerman should have been deposed. I leave it to others to decide whether a seminary whose dean and president (and systematic theology professor) has the reasoning ability (or ethics) of the Very Rev. Dr. Munday deserves to be educating potential Episcopal clergy.


N.B. Minor revisions were made to this essay after it was originally posted.

October 16, 2009

Doing Things Differently in Pittsburgh

The first time I got involved in trying to influence legislation being brought before the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh’s convention was in 2002. Several months before the annual convention in November, it was learned that the so-called South Carolina Resolution was to be introduced in Pittsburgh. The resolution was a warning that the diocese would not accept certain decisions by the upcoming 2003 General Convention. In particular, the resolution expressed opposition to liturgies using gender-neutral names for persons of the Trinity, “unbiblical” morality, and “coercive canons” that could require dioceses to make possible the ordination of women. Bishop Robert Duncan described the resolution as creating a “firewall” between the diocese and the General Convention.

Alarmed by the news, the Episcopal Women’s Caucus mounted an organized opposition to the resolution, and various efforts were undertaken to write an alternative resolution. Even though I was not a deputy, I offered my own alternative to those who were working on a revision, but it had no influence. What I did not understand at the time was that the clergy who had introduced the resolution were not interested in compromise or achieving broader support; they were interested in staking out a position, an attitude that would lead to the Pittsburgh “realignment” six years later.

The resolution that was passed by the 2002 convention was different and shorter than the original resolution, but it was no less partisan. Referred to simply as Resolution One, it ushered in an era of conflict in Pittsburgh. At succeeding conventions, resolutions increasingly hostile to The Episcopal Church were introduced. Opponents of the bishop’s program, most notably Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP), tried to moderate such resolutions and developed strategies to defeat them. It achieved little success, however, and even more radical substitute resolutions were sometimes introduced on the floor of the convention. As a “courtesy,” PEP leaders were occasionally informed of these substitutions by the bishop’s surrogates, usually less than 24 hours before the convention.

Today and tomorrow, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh holds its first regular annual convention since Bishop Duncan and his followers split from The Episcopal Church to form their own “diocese.” The Episcopal diocese remains diverse in its church politics, since many conservatives chose to work with more moderate and liberal members of the diocese and to remain Episcopalian. There has been a general desire on all sides to avoid the bitter divisions of the past, but it was unclear what new patterns would develop.

Most of the resolutions to be voted on tomorrow originated with the Committee on Canons, which has three clerical and three lay members. As it happens, the committee is pretty evenly split between liberals and conservatives. Remarkably, conflict within the committee was largely confined to procedural matters, reflecting personality differences and professional experience more than theological orientation. The 10 changes proposed for the constitution and canons of the diocese undo changes made during the Duncan era and restore a healthy balance of power between parishes and bishop, among other things.

A diverse collection of additional resolutions will be offered to the convention, ranaging from thanking people who helped rebuild the diocese after the disastrous 2008 convention to urging parishes to study the proposed Anglican covenant. Although none of these resolutions offers an obvious liberal-conservative battleground, one resolution elicited strong positive and negative reactions. Resolution 4, largely sponsored by conservatives, proposed a task force to explore the possibility of merging the Pittsburgh and Northwestern Pennsylvania dioceses. Some people felt strongly that now was a good time to consider such a union; others believed as strongly that Pittsburgh needed to achieve more stability before considering such an idea. Resolution 4 might be a not-too-threatening test case of how the re-organized diocese handled conflict.

The author of Resolution 4 was the Rev. Bruce Robison, rector of St. Andrew’s, Highland Park. Bruce and I have known one another for a long time and have had many extended conversations. We seldom disagree on facts, but we often disagree on conclusions. Anyway, I am sure that Bruce received many comments, both positive and negative, on his resolution. PEP issued two briefing papers written by me on the resolution. The briefing papers pointed out a number of problems that PEP saw with it. (The briefing papers can be found here and here. The original Resolution 4 is reproduced under the heading “Supporting Information” in each paper.) Whatever the influences, by the end of the pre-convention briefing of deputies on October 4, Bruce had become convinced that his resolution, if nothing else, was premature. He asked if I would work with him on a revision, and I agreed to do so.

I had reservations, as our written positions seemed very far apart. As it turned out, we had little time to work, as Bruce was going out of town in a few days. It wasn’t long before I received an e-mail message from him proposing a revision. The revision showed movement but still, I thought, put too much emphasis on the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. I recast the proposal, reusing as much of Bruce’s text as possible, and adding ideas I though important. We went through—I hope I remember this correctly—two more rounds of increasingly minor changes. During this process, it became clear to one another—and perhaps to ourselves—just what we felt could not be negotiated away. I think we tried to respect what the other saw as most important.

The process proceeded quickly and resulted in a new resolution that can be read here. Bruce and I agreed to be the sole sponsors of this replacement Resolution 4. It was easy to convince the co-sponsors of the original resolution to withdraw their sponsorship, so the new resolution could replace the old without any debate on the convention floor.

I don’t know if the task force proposed in Resolution 4 will accomplish anything useful. I am hopeful that it might. It sends off a group of Pittsburgh Episcopalians to think creatively and to do so with people from neighboring dioceses. Perhaps Pittsburgh and Northwestern Pennsylvania will someday merge, but perhaps not. Perhaps other ways will be found to streamline diocesan operations and make our ministry more effective. If nothing else, I hope that we have found a different and better way to handle disagreement in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

October 13, 2009

Once More on Departed Pittsburgh Clergy

I understand that some readers in Pittsburgh were none to pleased by my post on how the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pittsburgh is trying to handle the problem of clergy who have departed for the Southern Cone. (See “Is Pittsburgh Treating ‘Realigned’ Clergy Properly?”) There are genuine differences of opinion within the diocese. On the other hand, I must admit that I made certain assumptions that were not actually true, and these colored what I wrote. This post is an attempt to clean up loose ends that I myself created.

Let me make it quite clear where I stand on the Standing Committee’s use of Canon III.9.8:
  1. I believe that the clergy who left The Episcopal Church for the Southern Cone should be charged with abandonment of the communion of The Episcopal Church and, assuming that they do not return to the fold, should be deposed.
  2. Given that I believe the clergy are “amenable for” presentment for abandonment (see Canon IV.8), Canon III.9.8 appears to be inapplicable.
  3. Even if Canon III.9.8 could be applied, the canon cannot be invoked absent “in writing, to the Bishop of the Diocese in which such Priest is canonically resident, a renunciation of the ordained Ministry of this Church, and a desire to be removed therefrom.”
What I missed in reading the canons of The Episcopal Church—I don’t recommend this for recreational reading, by the way—is that The Episcopal Church appears to have no canonically approved mechanism for transferring clergy (including bishops) out of The Episcopal Church and into any other church, whether in or out of the Anglican Communion, without at least the appearance of malice. Although Bob Devlin’s literal reading of Canon III.9.8 seems to be on target, it may not be quite what the General Convention had in mind.

What is instructive here is the treatment of Bishop Henry Scriven, who was an assisting bishop to Bob Duncan and who announced his intention to return to England before the Pittsburgh schism. (A good collection of links to material related to this incident is available on Thinking Anglicans.) Scriven was apparently surprised when the Presiding Bishop released him under Canon III.12.7, “Renunciation of the Ordained Ministry.” Canon III.12.7 is the analogue of Canon III.9.8 for bishops, rather than priests. There were widespread protests that the Presiding Bishop’s action was punitive. My impression is that such transfers have, in the past, been handled informally through correspondence. The Presiding Bishop seems to have actually looked at the canons before acting and concluded that Canon III.12.7 provided her only authority for getting Scriven out of The Episcopal Church. The irony is that she was criticized for misusing the canons while she was actually applying, rather than ignoring them. She explained that her action did not affect the “‘indelible’ mark of ordination,” a statement not unlike that made by the Pittsburgh Standing Committee.

Clearly, The Episcopal Church needs a non-prejudicial mechanism for transferring a member of the clergy to a different church. From all I can tell, our canons do not provide such a mechanism. In retrospect, perhaps the suggestion offered in the editorial from The Living Church is on the mark. Should the church wish to make this change, however, it must be made in three separate places to apply to deacons, priests, and bishops.

Again, I must reiterate the need I expressed earlier for agreement on certain administrative matters among Anglican churches. It is ridiculous that there is no uncontroversial mechanism for transferring a priest from one Anglican jurisdiction to another. (See “The Covenant We Do Need.”)

October 12, 2009

Episcopal Church Canons and Overlapping Jurisdictions

Searching through the constitution & canons of The Episcopal Church sometimes leads to interesting discoveries. Today, I ran into Canon I.11, Of Missionary Jurisdictions. Here is Section 4. It reads as follows:
Sec. 4. Notice shall be sent to all Archbishops and Metropolitans, and all Presiding Bishops, of Churches in communion with this Church, of the establishment of any Area Mission, or of the organization or change of status of any Missionary Diocese outside the United States; and of the consecration, or assignment, of a Missionary Bishop therefor.

It is hereby declared as the judgment of this Church that no two Bishops of Churches in communion with each other should exercise jurisdiction in the same place; except as may be defined by a concordat adopted jointly by the competent authority of each of the said Churches, after consultation with the appropriate inter-Anglican body.
What is interesting is the second paragraph. The notion that there should be no overlapping jurisdictions in the Anglican Communion is, for The Episcopal Church, not simply a vague tradition, but an understanding enshrined in its canons. Ironically, I am living in a place where two bishops of the Anglican Communion, without any concordat, claim—or shortly will claim—jurisdiction.

Life is so interesting in Pittsburgh.


Apparently, this canon, in substantially its present form, was enacted in 1973 as Canon I.10. Somewhere along the line, it became Canon I.11. The paragraph in question is unchanged from what it was in 1973.

October 11, 2009

Is Pittsburgh Treating ‘Realigned’ Clergy Properly?

Loose ends from the October 4, 2008, split in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh are gradually being tied up. A judge recently declared that diocesan property belongs to the Episcopal Church diocese. On October 16 and 17, that diocese will hold its first regular convention. At that convention, the regency of the Standing Committee will end when the convention approves the Rt. Rev. Kenneth L. Price, Jr., as its provisional bishop.

It was therefore no surprise when the Standing Committee announced October 5 how it had decided to treat priests and deacons claiming to be denizens of a Southern Cone diocese headed by deposed bishop Robert Duncan. What was surprising was that it took so long to get around to dealing with the problem of “realigned” clergy. The Standing Committee had apparently been working on a strategy for some time.

What the Standing Committee decided to do was to send a letter to all priests and deacons canonically resident in the Diocese of Pittsburgh as of October 4, 2008. The letter explained that the “letters of transfer” to the Southern Cone distributed after the “realignment” vote did not, in fact, remove recipients from the roll of Episcopal clergy. It went on to say that members of the Standing Committee were “seeking to release those clergy who so desire under the provisions of Canon III.9.8.” Recipients were given three choices:
  1. Those participating in the Episcopal Church diocese and already recognized as clergy of that diocese need do nothing and will remain Episcopal clergy.
  2. Those who have not been participating in the diocese can reply by October 19, i.e., within two weeks, to retain their standing in The Episcopal Church.
  3. Clergy who do not fall into either of the above categories—presumably those who currently imagine themselves canonically resident in the Southern Cone—and who “wish to be ‘released from the obligations of the Ministerial office [as a Priest or Deacon in the Episcopal Church] and deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God’s Word and Sacraments conferred at Ordination [in the Episcopal Church]’” are requested to let the diocese know in writing by October 19. Whether or not they do so, however, their names will be sent to the the Recorder of Ordinations for removal from the roll of Episcopal Church clergy.
According to the letter, “This does not affect your ordination, which you may register with whatever entity you choose. This is simply a way for us to gain clarity around the issue of who is licensed to practice ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church.”

Surprising Development

The strategy of the Standing Committee is notably different from that employed in San Joaquin. Here is a brief chronology of what happened there:
  • 12/8/2007: San Joaquin convention votes to leave Episcopal Church
  • 3/29/2008: The Rt. Rev. Jerry Lamb becomes provisional bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin
  • 7/10/2008: Bishop Lamb writes to clergy asking for clarification of status; gives 8/5/2008 deadline for reply
  • 10/17/2008: San Joaquin Standing Committee charges 36 priests and 16 deacons with abandonment; notification of inhibition and potential deposition to be sent
  • 5/22/2009 and 5/26/2009: Notice of deposition sent to 61 clergy members (I cannot account for the fact that 61 is greater than 36+16.)
There are similarities between Bishop Lamb’s July 10, 2008, letter and the recent letter of the Pittsburgh Standing Committee. Each provided recipients with three options. Because Lamb required a reply, his first option—staying in The Episcopal Church—covered both the first and second options offered to Pittsburgh clergy. His second option, apparently also based on the use of Canon III.9.8 (but see below), roughly corresponds to the third option given Pittsburghers: “I no longer wish to exercise my ordained ministry in of the Episcopal Church, and desire to be removed therefrom for reasons not affecting my moral character.” Lamb offered no extended discourse on this option. His third choice—no doubt, in both senses—was: “I do not consider myself a clergy member of the of the Episcopal Church, nor do I believe I am obligated to conform to the doctrine, discipline, or worship of the Episcopal Church.”

Apparently, Lamb’s intention was to remove clergy under Canon III.9.8 if respondents chose the second option and to depose clergy under Canon IV.10 if the third option were chosen. According to The Living Church, the letter was Lamb’s fourth attempt to reach out to “alienated” clergy. Although clergy already declared to be in the Episcopal Church diocese all responded to their bishop by selecting the first option, Lamb described the response by others as “not very good.”

An ostensible difference between letters sent to former San Joaquin clergy and those sent to former Pittsburgh clergy is that the former, despite Lamb’s bootless attempts at reconciliation, have been seen as punitive. The Pittsburgh letters, on the other hand, led to headlines such as “Clergy who left Episcopal Church won’t be defrocked” and “Diocese offers to release, not depose, clergy.” An editorial, “Amen, Pittsburgh,” from The Living Church, spoke of the “grace” shown by the Pittsburgh Standing Committee (and suggested, somewhat gratuitously, how Canon III.9.8 could be made “more pastoral”). Indeed, the diocese’s explanation of its action included this:
“We’re doing this for pastoral reasons,” says the Rev. Dr. James Simons, the Standing Committee president. “We do not want to see our priestly brothers and sisters deposed.”

Not So Fast

Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh approach to what Bishop Lamb called “alienated” clergy is problematic in a multitude of ways. I believe that the Standing Committee was indeed trying to be gracious—something it has seen little of from the other Pittsburgh “diocese.” It also was likely trying to put a painful past behind it and to do so with as little paperwork and personal discomfort for all concerned as possible.

Just as Bishop Lamb elicited an anemic response from departed clergy, the Pittsburgh effort is likely to receive few, if any, responses. Three days after the Standing Committee sent out its letters, the Rev. David Wilson, one of the most militant supporters of the Pittsburgh “realignment” reproduced this letter from the Anglican group’s chancellor, Bob Devlin, in a comment on TitusOneNine:
To the Clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican):

We have been informed that the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (TEC) has sent a letter to you “seeking to release those clergy who so desire under the provisions of Canon III.9.8.” The stated purpose of this action is to update TEC’s records in a way that “does not involve deposition.” While we are very much in favor of avoiding further discord among our respective organizations, we cannot recommend that you accept this option. Canon III.9.8, entitled “Renunciation of Ordained Ministry”, has the effect of removing you from ministerial office and depriving you of “the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God’s Word and Sacraments conferred in Ordination.” The letter indicates that this action is only effective with respect to TEC. The plain language of the Canon is not so clearly limited.

If this is solely a matter of record keeping, we encourage the two diocesan standing committees to come together to find a solution that involves neither deposition nor renunciation of ministry. The Standing Committee of the Anglican Diocese is ready to propose at least one way that this might easily be accomplished.

Mr. Robert Devlin
Chancellor
I cannot think of a time I have ever agreed with one of Bob Devlin’s opinions as chancellor, but I do believe his point here is well taken. Here is the complete text of Canon III.9.8 (taken from the Episcopal Church’s constitution and canons found here):
Sec. 8. Renunciation of the Ordained Ministry

If any Priest of this Church not subject to the provisions of Canon IV.8 shall declare, in writing, to the Bishop of the Diocese in which such Priest is canonically resident, a renunciation of the ordained Ministry of this Church, and a desire to be removed therefrom, it shall be the duty of the Bishop to record the declaration and request so made. The Bishop, being satisfied that the person so declaring is not subject to the provision of Canon IV.8 but is acting voluntarily and for causes, assigned or known, which do not affect the Priest’s moral character, shall lay the matter before the clerical members of the Standing Committee, and with the advice and consent of a majority of such members the Bishop may pronounce that such renunciation is accepted, and that the Priest is released from the obligations of the Ministerial office, and is deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God’s Word and Sacraments conferred in Ordination. The Bishop shall also declare in pronouncing and recording such action that it was for causes which do not affect the person’s moral character, and shall, if desired, give a certificate to this effect to the person so removed from the ordained Ministry.
Since the canon says nothing specifically about The Episcopal Church in the second sentence, Devlin seems to have a point in saying that the process described in Canon III.9.8 effectively undoes ordination, even though the first sentence speaks of “a renunciation of the ordained Ministry of this Church [emphasis added].” What this means in practice is unclear, and no assertion that ordination is some irreversible sacramental event can change the fact. Canon III.9.11 describes the final action that begins with Canon III.9.8. It is described not as a “deposition,” but as a “removal.” (See my post on Canon III.9.11 here.) The Episcopal Church has no control over whether some other church would consider a priest so removed to be ordained or not. Certainly, if a priest “is deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God’s Word and Sacraments conferred in Ordination,” it seems disingenuous for the Standing Committee to say to such a priest that such a deprivation “does not affect your ordination, which you may register with whatever entity you choose.” This pollyannaish attitude on the part of the Standing Committee is also apparent in its third option offered to letter recipients:
If you have done none of the above and wish to be “released from the obligations of the Ministerial office [as a Priest or Deacon in the Episcopal Church] and deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God’s Word and Sacraments conferred at Ordination [in the Episcopal Church]” and you do not instruct us to the contrary in writing, we will notify the Recorder of Ordinations to remove you from the list of clergy licensed to exercise ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church. However, we prefer that you notify us in writing of your request for this release, or send us a copy of your “transfer” documentation for our records.
Notice that the Standing Committee is quoting, sort of, from Canon III.9.8. The interpolation “[in the Episcopal Church]” is not expressed and possibly not implied in the canon. Even the other interpolation, “[as a Priest or Deacon in the Episcopal Church],” is, at best, a misleading shorthand. Canon III.9.8 applies only to priests. Canon III.7.8, which has nearly identical wording, applies to deacons. (This may not be deceptive, but it is confusing.)

But there is another problem here. Members of the Standing Committee no doubt realized when they sent these letters that the probability of getting responses from “inactive” priests or deacons was slim to none. Therefore, they made their third alternative an opt-out option. Non-responding “inactive” clergy will be automatically removed from the ranks of the ordained. Surely, however, this violates the requirement of Canon III.9.8 (and III.7.8) to the effect that a member of the clergy must “declare, in writing, to the Bishop of the Diocese” his or her desire to make a “renunciation of the ordained Ministry of this Church, and a desire to be removed therefrom.” A bishop pronouncing a declaration of removal, as specified in Canon III.9.11, for a priest who declared his or her desire to be removed by means of not making such a request would, I suggest, be subject to presentment under Canon IV.1.1(e), i.e., “Violation of the Constitution or Canons of the General Convention.” Wouldn’t it be ironic if, in its attempt to be graceful and generous, the Standing Committee (1) removed no one from the clergy of The Episcopal Church and caused the new provisional bishop (and perhaps the clerical members of the Standing Committee) to be subjected to presentment?

Culpability and Timing

It was about time that the Standing Committee got around to dealing with departed Pittsburgh clergy. Why did they do it now and give so little time for people to respond? Bishop Lamb wrote his clergy less than four months after becoming provisional bishop and allowed nearly four weeks for reply. The article about the letter on the diocese’s Web site provides the answer:
Next month, many of these inactive clergy may be asked to join the Anglican Church in North America, an entity newly created by the group’s leaders. Unlike the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, this new religious body is not in communion with the Episcopal Church.

As long as they remain priests and deacons of the Episcopal Church and seek formal admission into a religious body that is not in communion with the Episcopal Church, the clergy could be deposed or otherwise disciplined for having “abandoned the communion.”
The convention of the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican)” will be held November 6–7, 2009. At that convention, the following canonical change will be made in Canon 1 (proposed constitutional and canonical changes are listed here):
The Diocese of Pittsburgh shall be a member of that Province of the Anglican Communion known as the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone the Anglican Church in North America.
In other words, Pittsburgh clergy who have left The Episcopal Church to go to the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone are about to transfer to the Anglican Church in North America, which is not now, and may never be, a member of the Anglican Communion. The statement by the diocese is an admission that, after November 7, it would be impossible not to depose such clergy under Canon IV.10. Here is Section 1 of Canon IV.10:
Sec. 1. If it is reported to the Standing Committee of the Diocese in which a Priest or Deacon is canonically resident that the Priest or Deacon, without using the provisions of Canon IV.8 or III.7.8-10 and III.9.8-11, has abandoned the Communion of this Church, then the Standing Committee shall ascertain and consider the facts, and if it shall determine by a vote of three-fourths of All the Members that the Priest or Deacon has abandoned the Communion of this Church by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church, or by a formal admission into any religious body not in communion with this Church, or in any other way, it shall be the duty of the Standing Committee of the Diocese to transmit in writing to the Bishop of such Diocese, or if there be no such Bishop, to the Bishop of an adjacent Diocese, its determination, together with a statement setting out in reasonable detail the acts or declarations relied upon in making its determination. If the Bishop affirms the determination, the Bishop shall then inhibit the Priest or Deacon from officiating in the Diocese for six months and shall send to the Priest or Deacon a copy of the determination and statement, together with a notice that the Priest or Deacon has the rights specified in Section 2 and at the end of the six-months period the Bishop will consider deposing the Priest or Deacon in accordance with the provisions of Section 2.
Clearly, the Standing Committee has concluded that the departed clergy have not “abandoned the Communion of this Church by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church,” although they are about to liable for their “formal admission into any religious body not in communion with this Church.” This is curious, in that, in San Joaquin and elsewhere, clergy who have left The Episcopal Church and taken their congregation to other Anglican provinces have indeed be judged guilty of having “abandoned the Communion of this Church by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church.” Why has only Pittsburgh decided that one has not abandoned the communion of this Church until one has left the Anglican Communion? The diocesan office would have no trouble documenting the open renunciation of the discipline of The Episcopal Church by those clergy now reputedly in the Southern Cone.

The answer, of course, is found in Jim Simons’ statement that the Standing Committee did not want to depose their “priestly brothers and sisters,” in other words, their friends. It is clear from statements made by the Standing Committee that the decision was made to let the “realigners” off without deposition. The next job was to figure out some interpretation of the canons to allow this. Frankly, this looks more like favoritism than it does generosity. Moreover, the timing is cynical. Elsewhere I described what what is going here as giving out GET OUT OF JAIL FREE cards to guilty friends now because we know they are about to commit even greater infractions that will make it embarrassing or impossible to distribute them a few weeks later. Also, both depositions and removals must be pronounced by a bishop with jurisdiction, so it is especially convenient that the Standing Committee’s deadline comes two days after Bishop Price will be given jurisdiction in Pittsburgh.

Whereas I believe that all priests who left the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh for the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican)” are guilty of abandonment, additional charges could be leveled against at least some clergy—violation of diocesan and church canons, conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy, etc. The fact is that some priests simply took the path of least resistance, whereas others were every bit as deeply involved in the subversion of The Episcopal Church as was their deposed bishop. Even were the Standing Committee to deal “pastorally” with some clergy, is not someone like the Rev. Geoff Chapman, author of the infamous “Chapman letter,” culpable enough to deserve deposition under Title IV? Apparently not in the eyes of the Pittsburgh Standing Committee.

Consequences

After hours of study, I can find little substantive difference between removing a priest or deacon from the body of Episcopal Church clergy using the removal of Title III or the deposition of Title IV. Clearly, deposition implies that the person deposed is guilty of some bad behavior. If any Pittsburgh clergy are “removed” under Title III, however, everyone will know it was not for their good behavior. According to Canon IV.15, “Deposition shall mean a Sentence by which a Member of the Clergy is deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority of God's word and sacraments conferred at ordination.” How is this really different from being “released from the obligations of the Ministerial office, and … deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God’s Word and Sacraments conferred in Ordination,” as it is stated in Canon III.9.8? (Actually, Canons III.7.8–10, III.9.8–11, IV.8, and IV.10 cross-reference one another in ways that make my head spin. The line between discharging a member of the Episcopal clergy for bad behavior or not is broad and gray.)

In an ideal world, a priest or deacon deposed by The Episcopal Church would not automatically be eligible to be received as clergy in another church, certainly not one of the Anglican Communion. The (Universal) Church, and even the Anglican Communion, is fragmented, however, and what The Episcopal Church does probably only has real significance within The Episcopal Church. This is a reason for not creating the perception that departed Pittsburgh clergy are getting off easy. Clergy in South Carolina, Albany, or elsewhere may get the impression that trying to remove a diocese from The Episcopal Church is not such a big deal. In fact, it is.

In a church in which dissidents are forever accusing the Presiding Bishop and other bishops of cutting corners in the application of church canons, and in a church where we expect our canons to preserve good order—not to mention ownership of property—it is incumbent upon church leaders to follow canons with diligence and sincerity. I do not believe the Pittsburgh Standing committee has done that, however loving and pastoral their motives might be. Taking a non-response to be the equivalent of a written request to a bishop takes unreasonable—and perhaps presentable—liberties with Episcopal Church canons.

October 10, 2009

What Are the Episcopal Church Canons, Anyway?

In light of the recent offer of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pittsburgh made to departed priests and deacons—“inactive” clergy in the words of the Standing Committee; see diocesan story here—I have been examining Episcopal Church canons invoked by the Standing Committee, those that might have been used, and those entailed by the Standing Committee’s action.

I was having a good deal of trouble understanding Canon III.9.11, which explains how priests who want to be removed from the roll of Episcopal clergy under Canon III.9.8, the canon cited by the Standing Committee, are actually removed. Here his that section, reproduced from the PDF file found at http://www.episcopalarchives.org/e-archives/canons/CandC_FINAL_11.29.2006.pdf, a file I reached from the General Convention 2006 page of the Episcopal Church Web site:
Sec. 11. In the case of the renunciation of the ordained Ministry by a Priest as provided in this Canon, shall be pronounced by the Bishop in the presence of two or more Priests, and shall be entered in the official records of the Diocese in which the Priest being removed is canonically resident. The Bishop who pronounces the declaration of removal as provided in this Canon shall give notice thereof in writing to every Member of the Clergy, each Vestry, the Secretary of the Convention and the Standing Committee of the Diocese in which the Priest was canonically resident; and to all Bishops of this Church, the Ecclesiastical Authority of each Diocese of this Church, the Presiding Bishop, the Recorder of Ordinations, the Secretary of the House of Bishops, the Secretary of the House of Deputies, the Church Pension Fund, and the Board for Church Deployment.
A careful reading will show that the first sentence makes no sense; it almost does, but not quite. Initially, I ignored this. I seemed to get the gist of the thing, and, after all, I’m not a canon lawyer.

At some point, however, I wanted more insight into the significance of Canon III.9.11. I checked out my trusty copy of White’s & Dykman’s Annotated Constitution and Canons. It quickly became obvious that the canon of interest had been changed after the edition I was consulting had been published. This sent me to the Archives of the Episcopal Church, where, after a brief search, I discovered several significant revisions of Title III, the latest being from the 2006 General Convention, namely, Resolution A082. Here is how Canon III.9.11 reads there, which, presumably, is what was intended by the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops:
Sec. 11. In the case of the renunciation of the ordained Ministry by a Priest as provided in this Canon, a declaration of removal shall be pronounced by the Bishop in the presence of two or more Priests, and shall be entered in the official records of the Diocese in which the Priest being removed is canonically resident. The Bishop who pronounces the declaration of removal as provided in this Canon shall give notice thereof in writing to every Member of the Clergy, each Vestry, the Secretary of the Convention and the Standing Committee of the Diocese in which the Priest was canonically resident; and to all Bishops of this Church, the Ecclesiastical Authority of each Diocese of this Church, the Presiding Bishop, the Recorder of Ordinations, the Secretary of the House of Bishops, the Secretary of the House of Deputies, The Church Pension Fund, and the Board for Church Deployment.
There are three differences in what the General Convention apparently passed and what is being represented as Canon III.9.11 to the casual observer. First, as passed, “Sec. 11” is not in boldface. Obviously, no one cares about this, and the difference is hardly an error in the PDF file. Whoever was responsible for preparing the revised version of the constitution and canons simply made necessary formatting changes to assure that the resulting document used a consistent layout. The second difference is similar, though perhaps a tad more significant and deserving of being called an error: “The Church Pension Fund” became “the Church Pension Fund” in the PDF version.

Then there is the third difference. The phrase “a declaration of removal,” which was intended to precede “shall be pronounced by the Bishop in the presence of two or more Priests, and shall be entered in the official records of the Diocese in which the Priest being removed is canonically resident,” is missing in the PDF file. This omission was the reason I had difficulty making sense of the first sentence of the section.

This observation sent me back to the Web. I remembered that Title III was available as a separate PDF file on the Church Publishing Web site. That file can be found at http://www.churchpublishing.org/general_convention/pdf_const_2006/Title_III_Ministry.pdf. And guess what I discovered. The same errors occur in that file!

“Good grief!” I exclaimed. If there are two errors in one section of one canon in the Web versions of the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church, how many other errors might there be? In this instance, one error should cause the reader to be suspicious—I proved to be an insufficiently skeptical reader here—and the other error really made no difference. How many significant but less obvious errors might there be in our governing documents?

I’m not sure I want the answer to that last question. I do hope, however, that those people who revise our canons to reflect the work of the 2009 General Convention will not only verify the correctness of canons altered by that Convention but will also do whatever is necessary to assure Episcopalians that the church’s constitution and canons are what we think they are.


Addendum. Mr. Richard Taliaferro assures me that the error in Canon III.9.11 occurs also in the book version of the constitution and canons.

There is no corresponding error in Canon III.7.10, by the way, which is the canon analogous to Canon III.9.11 that applies to deacons.

October 9, 2009

Diocese Clarifies Property Status

Today, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh issued a statement intended to clarify the status of parish property in the wake of Tuesday’s decision by Judge Joseph M. James that diocesan property of the pre-October 4, 2008, diocese belongs properly to the Episcopal Church diocese.

The statement explains that the decision of the court was to settle the meaning of paragraph 1 of the October 14, 2005, stipulation agreed to by the parties of the Calvary lawsuit. Parish property is dealt with in the second paragraph of the stipulation. Today’s statement explains that
Paragraph Two of the 2005 Stipulation requires that there be a dialogue between the diocese and any parish seeking to disaffiliate from the diocese regarding the disposition of property specifically held for or in the name of the parish, followed by mediation (where a neutral third party helps the parties resolve any disputes between them), before the diocese or the parish may resort to the courts to decide the dispute.

The diocese intends to follow this procedural mechanism, now that the Court has made it clear that we are the “Diocese” referred to in the Stipulation.
Lest anyone think the diocese is ready to give away the store, however, the next paragraph is reassuring:
It needs to be understood, however, that Paragraph Two is procedural only. It does not alter the legal or ecclesiastical principles surrounding the questions of whether a parish can disaffiliate from the diocese or whether a disaffiliating congregation may retain parish property.
In other words, expect the Dennis Canon to be part of the negotiation regarding parish property. Moreover, since the diocese soon expects to have a bishop with jurisdiction in place—Bishop Kenneth Price, Jr., is to be approved a provisional bishop at the diocesan convention on October 17—there is someone the general church can hold responsible for upholding the Dennis Canon.

The statement makes another plea to the “realigners” for reconciliation. I suspect that will fall on deaf ears, at least until the fate of parish property is actively in play.

October 6, 2009

Victory!

The Hon. Joseph M. James, judge of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas made a significant ruling today in the so-called Calvary lawsuit. In particular, Judge James wrote:
Many pages of the parties’ briefs have been used to explain what Paragraph One [of the stipulation agreed to by the parties in 2005] means. However, I find that the language is clear and unambiguous and, therefore, requires no further explanation. The property is to be held or administered by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America. Regardless of what name defendants now call themselves, they are not the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America.
At issue was the ownership of diocesan property, assuming that Bishop Robert Duncan and his followers had validly withdrawn from The Episcopal Church. (If the withdrawal were not valid, it was agreed by all that the property belonged to the Episcopal Church diocese. See “My Day in Court,” which describes the hearing at which the question was argued.)

In the order accompanying the judge’s decision, he says that
  1. The authorized representatives of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (led by Bishop Robert H Johnson) shall hold and administer the real and personal property that is subject to Paragraph One of the
    Stipulation of October 14, 2005, subject to the terms of that Stipulation.
  2. Counsel for all parties shall meet with the Special Master (Stanley E. Levine, Esquire) within 30 days of this Order.
  3. The Special Master will report to the court within 20 days of that meeting and said report shall identify the real and personal property that is subject to Paragraph One of the Stipulation.
  4. The court will review the report and enter an appropriate order for the orderly transition of possession, custody, and control over said property.
  5. This court retains jurisdiction over the parties and the subject matter to enforce the Stipulation and Order of October 14, 2005 and the provisions of this Order.
This decision—the opinion and order can be found here—is a major victory for the Episcopal Church diocese and a severe blow to Bishop (sorry, Archbishop) Robert Duncan. Those parishes that have left with their property will now have to negotiate with the true Diocese of Pittsburgh, as specified in the stipulation. It is to be hoped that the diocese will be less generous regarding property than it has been regarding violations of Episcopal Church canons. (See story here.)

As always, of course, appeal is possible. Success on appeal in this case is, I suspect, unlikely

October 3, 2009

All Things Bright and Beautiful


The liturgical calendar of the Book of Common Prayer lists Francis of Assisi on October 4. Tomorrow, my church will celebrate the life of Francis in a variety of ways, including our choir’s singing two Francis-related anthems. Among the hymns the congregation will sing is “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”

I rather like “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” but the text, which was written for children by Cecil Frances Alexander, does get a bit too cute in places, particularly in the first verse:

Each little flower that opens,

Each little bird that sings,

He made their glowing colors,

He made their tiny wings.

The hymn opens with this refrain, which is sung after each verse:

All things bright and beautiful,

All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful,

The Lord God made them all.

Although it was surely not the writer’s intent, the hymn text indirectly raises a serious theological question. It is lovely to think about God’s having made birds, beautiful sunsets, and the fruits of the garden, but what about God’s responsibility for the less bright and beautiful elements of creation? In fact, this question becomes unavoidable to the twenty-first century reader who stumbles into the following, generally suppressed, verse of the hymn:

The rich man in his castle,

The poor man at his gate,

He made them, high or lowly,

And ordered their estate.

Most Episcopalians would cringe upon encountering this verse, which, unsurprisingly, does not appear in The Hymnal 1982.

I don’t plan to offer the definitive essay here on the relation of God to creation or to solve the problem of suffering. It does seem to me, however, that “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and similar perky texts engage in a certain intellectual dishonesty. (Probably the same charge can be leveled against Christian education for children generally, but I’ll save that diatribe for another day.)

What I will do here is offer some additional verses for the hymn in question to bring some balance to Mrs. Alexander’s text. I wrote these in about an hour, primarily to amuse my fellow choir members; I don’t claim that these verses are especially polished. Perhaps, however, they will inspire readers to write their own verses in this vein. My contributions:

E. coli and streptococcus,

And viruses causing the flu:

He made all these little buggers

Just to pester me and you.


The python and anaconda,

And all of those mushrooms that kill,

The shark and alligator

Are agents of God’s will.


Volcano, flood, and tsunami,

And meteors come from the sky:

They all are God’s creations,

Even though they may horrify.