March 9, 2010

Reviving Cursillo

It has been more than 20 years since I was a candidate at a Cursillo weekend in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. That weekend was a blessing, though not an unmixed one. There were both very Catholic and very Protestant elements of the experience that made me uncomfortable, and some of the people on the team made me very uncomfortable indeed.

Two things helped me through that weekend and helped me get the most out of it. One was the advice I was given beforehand, which I described in a talk I gave to a Cursillo crowd a few years later:
I was told the weekend would be a good thing, but, like most of you, I didn’t have a clear idea of what it was all about. I also had been told to take away from it whatever seemed useful and to not worry about the rest. Oh, and I had been told I would probably hate the music.
I did hate the music, by the way.

The other saving grace was the presence of a priest who was notably more liberal than the other clergy involved in putting on the weekend. I had someone I could talk to openly and without embarrassment.

Despite some ambivalence toward Cursillo, I have served on several teams that have run weekends, and I think I made significant contributions to the success of those programs. Under former Pittsburgh bishop Robert Duncan—in a diocese, Cursillo operates under the auspices of the bishop—I saw Pittsburgh Episcopal Cursillo become increasingly conservative and devoted, cult-like, to its sponsor. Unsurprisingly, I found myself not being invited to be a member of Cursillo teams.

When the followers of Bob Duncan (who had, by that time, been deposed by The Episcopal Church) voted to remove the Diocese of Pittsburgh from its parent church, most of those active in Cursillo in the diocese left The Episcopal Church and, necessarily, the Cursillo movement within The Episcopal Church. I am still receiving e-mail messages about events sponsored by “Pittsburgh Episcopal Cursillo,” but that name is a misnomer. The events are products of the “Anglican” Pittsburgh diocese lead by Archbishop Robert Duncan and conducted, no doubt, using funds and materials properly belonging to our Episcopal diocese.

In these circumstances, reviving Cursillo in the Episcopal diocese has been on the to-do list of rebuilding activities to be accomplished, though it has been the responsibility of no one in particular. No more. Cursillista Celinda Scott—Cursillo uses lots of funny words that are a product of its Spanish beginnings—who recently rotated off the Standing Committee, asked and received permission from that body to begin a revival of Cursillo in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. An initial meeting to chart a path forward has been announced by the diocese. It will take place this Thursday at the diocesan office, and Bishop Kenneth Price, a Cursillista and provisional bishop of the diocese, will be in attendance.

Cursillo could have a bright future training leaders in our diocese, and I hope that it can become a centrist, non-political player in the rebuilding of a strong Episcopal presence in Southwestern Pennsylvania. There is much work before us.

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  1. Lionel

    I am glad to hear Celinda is heading up the effort to start Cursillo in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Cursillo, as you know, can be a very effective method in raising up lay leadership. In fact many, if not most of the lay leaders in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh are Cursillistas. Since 1987 I have served on many Cursillo teams as both a lay leader and as a clergyman and also twice on the diocesan Secretariat, so I believe I am very well informed about the operation of this ministry. It is a fully independent ministry with spiritual oversight by the diocesan bishop. Bishop Price can inform you in detail about how Cursillo works. I would hope you correct your blog to reflect the truth that Cursillo has never received any diocesan funds to operate and the diocese has never purchased or provided any materials, or furnishings to the Cursillo movement in Pittsburgh. If you have proof otherwise it would be imperative for you as a Christian to post it on your blog.

  2. David,

    Thank you for your good wishes.

    Your statement that Cursillo “is a fully independent ministry with spiritual oversight by the diocesan bishop” must be qualified. In The Episcopal Church, the bishop must be an Episcopal Church bishop. Moreover, Cursillo is bound by the rules of National Episcopal Cursillo, which is licensed by a Roman Catholic organization that controls the rights to the name “Cursillo.” Therefore, before October 4, 2008, Pittsburgh Episcopal Cursillo had a degree of autonomy, but I think calling it “fully independent” is a stretch. (But see below.)

    You may have been concerned primarily about financial support. I did not mean to imply that Cursillo in Pittsburgh has received direct financial support from the Episcopal diocese. To the best of my knowledge, it has always been supported by participants in the program. When I said “funds and materials properly belonging to our Episcopal diocese,” I meant to refer to the people of the diocese, not the diocesan organization.

    If Cursillo is to continue in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, it cannot be (and should not want to be) operating under the auspices of National Episcopal Cursillo, as Robert Duncan is no longer an Episcopal bishop, and the diocese is no longer in The Episcopal Church. Apparently, the Anglican Church in North America has created its own Cursillo-like organization, “Anglican 4th Day of North America,” which is not a licensee of the Roman Catholic Church. The A4D Web site suggests that the organization formed for ACNA is Cursillo in all but name. I leave it to the lawyers to decide whether A4D has safely navigated the licensing and copyright waters. Assuming that it has, I see nothing wrong with its creation.

    I do notice, however, that the A4D site has a page devoted to the Diocese of Pittsburgh. It links to what has been the home page of Pittsburgh Episcopal Cursillo and which is so named. That site seems largely up-to-date, listing, for example, an upcoming weekend here. You are listed as a member of the Secretariat (governing board) here. I suggest that you have no right to call your movement “Cursillo,” much less “Pittsburgh Episcopal Cursillo.” Of course, the current labeling of the site may simply reflect a failure to retool the Web site to reflect current conditions, but the use of the domain name by an organization not licensed to use the name “Cursillo” is problematic.

    As for Anglican 4th Day operating in Pittsburgh, I see no reason why A4D cannot make any rules it wants regarding oversight. I don’t think any Episcopal or Roman Catholic organization cares whether you need to operate under a bishop or not. Any way you like, go for it.

    When the Pittsburgh diocese split in 2008, Pittsburgh Episcopal Cursillo had assets—money in a checking account, altar furnishings, name tags, etc. It is not clear just who has control over these assets now or who, from a legal standpoint, should have control. My own ethical compass tells me that funds and materials should have been left to Episcopalians, but I won’t make that case here, and I admit that others may have a different view from my own. I may have jumped to conclusions about your group’s using resources whose ownership is potentially in dispute. (Perhaps you can clarify this issue. Are you claiming all, none, or some of the assets held by Pittsburgh Episcopal Cursillo on October 4, 2008?)

    It is my hope that your group and the group that has come together to continue the Cursillo tradition in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh can disengage from one another in a manner satisfactory to both parties, and we can each pursue our missions as we see them in our respective churches.

  3. My sense is that "a little course" for the renewal of faith and to energize our apostolic ministry is and will be just the ticket for every Christian community, and certainly for all of us in the Episcopal and Anglican Dioceses of Pittsburgh. We can let the governing and licensing bodies at the national level sort through whatever trademark and etc. issues are of importance to them, of course. But to find ways to share refreshment in the love of Jesus and rededicated energy to serve in his name is the task always before us. Blessings, on both houses. De Colores, etc.

    Bruce Robison


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