September 30, 2010

Standing Committee to Bennison: ‘Consider Spirit of the Law’

Yesterday, the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania once again wrote to its recently returned controversial bishop, Charles Bennison. According to the Standing Committee, the diocese has embarked on a responsible course in the past five years, planning carefully for the future. Bennison, say the members of the Standing Committee, has essentially ignored what has taken place in his absence and is trying to pick up where he left off, pursuing his own idiosyncratic agenda. The letter advises
Bishop, we - i.e., you, the Standing Committee and all the leadership of the diocese - are not here to affirm our own personal vision but to help guide and support the diocese in determining a shared vision. Can we please let that work go forward without throwing obstructions up, creating dissent through distrust and misinformation, and investing heavily in anything that will stretch the finances of the diocese beyond anything realistic and cause more and more parishes to withhold funds.
Clearly, there is a power struggle going on in the diocese. I suspect that members of the Standing Committee see this as an attempt to rein in an out-of-control megalomaniacal bishop. Without trying to justify Bennison’s actions—I have called for him to resign myself—it is probably the case that the bishop sees the struggle as an attempt to preserve episcopal prerogatives.

It is hard not to have the same shocked reaction as the Standing Committee to this revelation in the letter:
Finally, and perhaps most shocking of all, we have been made aware of what you said at Diocesan Council on September 25, 2010, concerning the witnesses at your trial: “It is known now that all the witnesses at my trial intentionally perjured themselves.”
Not only does Bennison admit no guilt, but he blames everyone else for his troubles.

Although the Standing Committee does not again ask Bennison to resign, the letter does say
Bishop, the letter of the law has allowed you to return. Please consider the spirit of the law as you determine your way forward, for yourself and for the Diocese of Pennsylvania.
Perhaps the Standing Committee is losing hope that it can convince Bennison to step down. No doubt, that is what Standing Committee members are praying for, however.

The entire letter follows:
September 29, 2010

St. Michael and All Angels

Dear Bishop Bennison:

It has been six weeks since your return to active ministry in the diocese of Pennsylvania. You have met with the Standing Committee’s Executive Committee, attended one Standing Committee meeting, met with Diocesan Council’s Executive Committee, chaired one Diocesan Council meeting, chaired one Council of Deans meeting, met with a small group representing the Diocesan Mission Planning Commission (DMPC), and met with many others, individuals and small groups as well as the staff at Church House. You have attended one House of Bishops meeting, and you have also addressed some issues concerning the situation in the Diocese of Pennsylvania through the media.

We list these things in order that you may understand that we are very concerned with the inconsistency of your message, the seeming lack of understanding on your part as to how well we do now communicate in the diocese, and the discrepancies between what you have said and what you seem to be doing.

You informed the Standing Committee and others that you have clearly seen that there have been changes in the diocese during your absence, and you felt it would be important for you to listen for some time before determining your own actions going forward. But your actions and communications these last six weeks belie this.

To begin with, you voiced to the Standing Committee your commitment to the process approved by Convention in the formation of the Diocesan Mission Planning Commission and told us you had made clear to that Commission that you supported their work and would not be about changing this way in which the diocese has agreed to go forward.

Bishop, if what you have said about supporting this structure is true, then why are you attempting to revive the situations having to do with Wapiti and the Cathedral Commons project? These are long-range planning issues that require time and finances. The Standing Committee, as a fiscally responsible agent, has spent the time you were away considering not only what the diocese can afford but, more importantly, allowing a time and space for the diocese to determine that itself. The very work of the DMPC is to look ahead, to determine what we think the church in Pennsylvania will look like, be like, in the next two years, ten years, twenty-five years, and what our mission will be. They still have much work to do: gathering facts, wishes, visions, and opinions from the diocese, and getting information from city Planning Commissions and other qualified sources. Why would we even consider major real estate projects before knowing what it is, and who it is, we are planning for?

Additionally, it has come to our attention that you are discussing the possible purchase of another building (the Karp property) in relation to the Cathedral Commons project while three governing bodies (Standing Committee, Finance and Property, and the Church Foundation Board) have committed to the sale of the one we own now - 3717-19 Chestnut Street. Why would you encourage such a thing at this time in the life of the diocese? Are you chasing a dream, a vision, of your own?

It has also come to our attention that you have mentioned the possibility of renewing activities at Wapiti. Again, in your absence the decision was made by convention to sell Wapiti. There is a committee that is representative of Standing Committee, Diocesan Council, and Finance and Property that have worked many hours with highly qualified real estate people in marketing this property. If you wish for convention to reconsider this decision wouldn’t it make sense for you to first consult with this committee rather than for all of us to read about your thoughts on such a volatile subject in the newspaper? It is so disrespectful of all the diocese has worked for in being open and honest with each other for you to attempt at this time to undo that work by undermining and obfuscating information.

We are also aware that it is your intention to use funds from the income of the Nunn’s Fund , approximately $70,000.00, to publish the book on the history of the diocese - a project left unfinished when you were inhibited. Again Bishop, wouldn’t it make sense to find out why that project had not been completed before forging ahead? The Standing Committee has been extremely careful, frugal even, with the income from the Nunn’s Fund during your absence. We recognized that our future needs are great and hoped those funds would be available as, again, we worked towards an understanding of what the future of our diocese will look like. According to the trust document, these funds are to be used “at the discretion of the bishop for the good of the diocese;” and while we were the Ecclesiastical Authority, we guarded these funds, honoring the use for which they were intended. In our extremely fragile situation, and considering the confusion and great discontent of so many at your return, it makes no sense at this time to publish a history of this diocese, much less to spend $70,000.00 doing so. The diocese has spent $133,000.00 on this project already, and we have met all contractual obligations. We are in a position to wait for publication until we can (1) afford it and (2) determine if this history book should include another chapter or two about the history we have made here in the past five years.

At Diocesan Council meeting on Saturday, September 25, 2010, you made clear that the pledge to the DMPC of $50,000.00, made by the Standing Committee and committed from the Nunn’s Fund income, would be honored by you, but that you could not offer any more than that. Bishop, thanks to the Standing Committee’s fiscal responsibility, when you returned the income available to you was almost $500,000.00. The fact that you are willing to spend $70,000.00 for an incomplete history book but would not consider supporting the DMPC and our future mission speaks volumes to your perspective of what is good for the diocese. Granted, the DMPC did not ask for more funds, but you were adamant anyway that there would be no more for that work.

As the diocese prepares to come together in convention, and as the hard facts of the Program Budget shortfall become evident to the diocese, we are extremely concerned that your apparent insistence on putting everything back the way it was before you left will cause a large number of parishes to hold back funding to the diocese, both assessments and pledges. The Standing Committee continues to hear from people in the diocese daily, through letters, emails, and phone calls, concerning your return. About 85% of these communications are negative. When it becomes clear to more and more that you want to move us back to some vision of your own, we are afraid that this will add to the potential “revolution” in the diocese.

Bishop, we—i.e., you, the Standing Committee and all the leadership of the diocese—are not here to affirm our own personal vision but to help guide and support the diocese in determining a shared vision. Can we please let that work go forward without throwing obstructions up, creating dissent through distrust and misinformation, and investing heavily in anything that will stretch the finances of the diocese beyond anything realistic and cause more and more parishes to withhold funds.

Finally, and perhaps most shocking of all, we have been made aware of what you said at Diocesan Council on September 25, 2010, concerning the witnesses at your trial: “It is known now that all the witnesses at my trial intentionally perjured themselves.” These are shocking words, and words which we feel you need to address immediately. Can you possibly have meant what you said? If so, this is one more indication of a serious problem. You have managed to ignore or discount the opinions and conclusions of three courts, two Presiding Bishops, the House of Bishops, and untold numbers of lay and clergy in the diocese of Pennsylvania, and now all the witnesses at your trial. We find it amazing that you are able to think that this is in any way normal behavior.

Bishop, the letter of the law has allowed you to return. Please consider the spirit of the law as you determine your way forward, for yourself and for the Diocese of Pennsylvania.

In order to honor our commitment to openness and honesty we plan to make this letter public to our diocesan family.


The Standing Committee

Update, 10/3/2010: Episcopal News Service ran a story on the Standing Committee’s letter here and has provided a PDF file of the letter itself here.

September 28, 2010

Episcopal Election Plan Gets Chilly Reception

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh held its first pre-convention hearing last night. As usual, much of the presentations and discussions was boring. However, a resolution to begin the process of electing a new bishop prompted a spirited discussion. That resolution can be read here.

It has now been two years since the Diocese of Pittsburgh lost many of its congregations and leaders to what has mutated into the Anglican Church in North America. Three bishops have assisted us in those two years in getting back on our feet. A certain amount of hurt and mistrust remains, but the Standing Committee believes it is finally time to move on, and it has put forth Resolution 2, which outlines how we would, if it is passed, select our next bishop. The goal is to elect the next Bishop of Pittsburgh on April 21, 2012.

Interestingly, the discussion last night was not about whether Pittsburgh is ready to elect its first diocesan bishop since Bob Duncan. I suspect we could quibble about the timing, but we have to get on with the election process eventually, and I doubt anyone is going to mount much of a crusade to postpone the inevitable any longer. Instead, we debated the wisdom of the particular process the Standing Committee came up with. That process was certainly designed with the knowledge of recent episcopal elections in Pittsburgh in mind, elections that, in retrospect, led the diocese in the wrong direction. The procedures advanced by the Standing Committee are, we were told, “intended to promote prayerful deliberation and the highest possible degree of openness and transparency.” We were also told that no other diocese has ever used a process like the one being proposed.

Having already been assured by our provisional bishop Ken Price that nominations from the floor would not be allowed—Bob Duncan had been nominated from the floor—I had been complacent about the actual proposal, which I had not read before attending last night’s meeting. I wasn’t even listening carefully as it was being described. I was therefore surprised when the Rev. Harold Lewis, rector of Calvary Church, got up to speak. Harold was clearly on a mission. He was upset over the dual-mode nominating process embodied in Resolution 2.

Here, I must briefly describe what the Standing Committee proposed. The essentials are the following:
  • The Standing Committee is to appoint a Nomination Committee to solicit and screen episcopal candidates and to put forward a slate of at least four nominees.
  • The Standing Committee is to appoint a Transition Committee to manage all the logistics from the time the nominees are announced through the consecration of the new bishop.
  • The two committees will be advised by a Diocesan Consultant selected by the Standing Committee.
  • The Standing Committee is to prepare a budget for the process, which will be approved by the Board of Trustees and financed from diocesan reserves.
  • Concurrently, as the Nominations Committee is doing its work, episcopal candidates may be put on the ballot by petition from three lay convention deputies and three clergy representing at least two parishes. Candidates nominated by petition are automatically added to the final slate if they pass the usual background checks. No one may sign more than one petition.
Harold’s point was that the two nomination modes have two different standards. Candidates who enter the process by petition are not vetted according to the standards established by the Nomination Committee. In the discussion, it was also mentioned that the petition process favors internal candidates or candidates outside the diocese with strong personal connections to the diocese. (This might include ultra-conservative former Pittsburgh clergy who, rather than following Duncan into the Anglican dessert, chose instead to flee to safe-haven dioceses such as South Carolina and Dallas.) Moreover, the dual-mode process encourages candidates to take the sure-fire petition route if at all possible—only six signatures are needed, after all—rather than trusting to the uncertainties of committee deliberations. In fact, the Nomination Committee could be reduced to initiating background checks on candidates nominated by petition.

At the end of the discussion someone suggested taking a straw poll as to whether nomination by committee and nomination by petition should proceed in parallel or serially. The parallel procedure received a single vote in a room of 50 people or so. It will be interesting to see if the hearings tomorrow night and the next night reveal similar misgivings.

Some Personal Thoughts

Allowing nomination by petition at the same time the Nomination Committee is deliberating seems to me to suggest, even before the committee has done its job—or been formed, actually—that the committee cannot be trusted. I would hope, on the other hand, that the committee can be trusted. Petitions are usually solicited only after a slate of candidates has been announced. They are a mechanism by which those unhappy with the overall slate of candidates can propose an alternative. The submission of petitions represents, in a way, a failure of the nominating committee to offer an attractive slate acceptable to all factions in a diocese. In a well-run selection process, there should be no petitions. Alas, what the Standing Committee has proposed actually encourages nomination by petition.

Additionally, nomination by only three clergy and three laypeople seems a very low standard for inclusion in an episcopal election. Each additional candidate in an election costs the diocese extra money, and the proposed process could generate a lot of candidates. Also, why cannot laypeople who are not deputies be part of the petitioning process. The proposal does not explain this particular quirk.

The requirement that the Nomination Committee should not indicate who was selected by the committee and who was put on the ballot by petition is curious. My own rector, Lou Hays, said that he would want to know who was in which category, simply because one group presumably had been through a more vigorous screening process than the other. Lou had a point, although I suspect that it will be hard to keep secret who has been nominated by petition, if only because people will have to be asked for support and some will say no and others will say yes and talk about it.

I was surprised that the Standing Committee did not offer a time line for the electoral process. It has a specific end date, and I assume there are projected dates for intermediate milestones on a document somewhere. Doesn’t the convention need to see how the Standing Committee thinks this process will play out? Particularly if the process is modified by the convention, it is important to know that the election date can be preserved (or not). There are other details one would think the convention would like to know, such as how many people will be appointed to the Nomination Committee and what is the clergy/lay balance on it.

I have a more general objection to Resolution 2. Although some provisions are carefully laid out in the resolution—the provision for “contemporaneous Nomination by Petition and Nomination by the Nomination Committee,” for example—other details are only found in the “Explanation,” which is not technically part of the resolution. For instance, the number of signatures required for nomination by petition, if the resolution is adopted as is, is not actually determined by the convention and might end up being other than what we are being led to expect. The Nomination Committee, according to the resolution, is “to implement the Standing Committee’s Guidelines for contemporaneous Nomination by Petition and Nomination by the Nomination Committee.” What are those guidelines? Are they what appears under “Explanation,” or can the Standing Committee change them at will? This is not my idea of transparency.

Finally, there are parts of the resolution and discussion that are poorly worded, although this isn’t too big a deal. Consider this sentence: “Any three canonically resident clergy, with any three laypersons certified at the time the petition is presented as Deputies to Diocesan Convention, from at least two different parishes, may submit a Nominating Petition in writing to the Nomination Committee.” Does “from at least two different parishes” apply to clergy, to lay deputies, or to both? I don’t know because the sentence is ambiguous.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to have the convention micromanage the election process. Transparency, however, requires that convention know what it is voting for, and this resolution makes that all pretty indistinct.

What would I like to see? I would like to see a short period allowed for submission of petitions after the slate is announced by the Nomination Committee. Ordinary laypeople should be able to participate in submitting a petition, which should need a relatively large number of signatures. I would hope that, under such a system, no one will feel the need for nominating a candidate by petition.

September 26, 2010

Fantastic but Hazardous

Despite warnings that might be on labels, I am not in the habit of thinking of kitchen cleaning products as hazardous, but I got a wake-up call today.

I had been using various cleaners for kitchen counters in the glass-plus-other-stuff category. These cleaners frequently required recourse to my Bar Keeper’s Friend to remove stains on counters. I decided that perhaps I should be using a stronger cleaner.

A cleaner I used to use is fantastik—yes, the product name is really spelled with afantastic All Purpose Cleaner with Bleach lowercase F—so I bought a spray bottle of fantastik. What I did not realize is that fantastik has morphed into a family of four products. In the supermarket, I picked up the first fantastik product I ran across. I don’t remember seeing any of the other variants, but I may have just missed them.

In any case, the product I purchased was one whose full name appears to be fantastik All Purpose Cleaner With Bleach. (The other products in the family of cleaners are fantastik All Purpose Heavy Duty Cleaner—probably what I set out to buy—fantastik Antibacterial All Purpose Cleaner Lemon Power, and fantastik OxyPower Multi-Purpose Cleaner.)

Today, I was cleaning counters with my purchase. The bad news is that fantastik smells like, well, bleach. It is not easy on the hands, but it cleans well and gets rid of stains without having to resort to another product.

The real down side, however, was not evident until I sat down to lunch and noticed the spots on my shirt. I immediately recognized the source of those rust-colored patches on my navy blue shirt—bleach. I had not been spraying my shirt, of course, but neither had I been taking precautions to avoid getting the cleaner on it. Yes, Virginia, it contains real bleach all right.

The bottom line is that fantastik All Purpose Cleaner With Bleach works well but should be used with care. Certainly, I intend to use it sparingly, perhaps trying the heavy duty formula fantastik for routine cleaning.

Note: OxyPower, Lemon Power, and fantastik are trademarks of S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc.

September 25, 2010

Cats and Syringes

My cat Ezekiel (Zeke, see below) was diagnosed with diabetes earlier this year. Happily, he is doing well now. One of my challenges, however, has been trying to save money on his medical supplies. In particular, I discovered a way to save money on syringes. (He needs two a day.) I just posted a brief essay on my experiences in this department, which includes links to pages useful to pet owners with diabetic cats. You can read “Syringes for My Cat” here.


Political Logos

The Tea Party Movement is very decentralized. Perhaps it can do without a national leader or, for that matter, a national platform. It sorely needs a national logo, however, some symbol that will immediately identify the Tea Party Movement “brand.” I am happy to offer this band of angry Americans a logo free of charge. Certainly, the majority of Americans will immediately recognize that I have captured the essence of the Movement in this arresting emblem:

Proposed Tea Party Movement logo
The Republicans need a little help, too. Well, the Democrats, actually. The Republican (should I say Republic?) Party has just unveiled “A Pledge to America.” The Democrats need to expose this “Pledge” for what it is. Here is my suggested logo to help with that campaign. There is no charge for this one, either.

Threat to America logo

September 24, 2010

Blog Changes and Features

I want to let everyone know about some recent changes to Lionel Deimel’s Web Log. I also want to point out some features that may not be obvious but may still be of interest.

New Features

I’ve added a link in the sidebar to Pittsburgh Update, a site of which I am the principal author. More on this below.

I suspect that it has not been obvious to some visitors how to get to the page containing only the post you are interested in. For example, if you go to, you may discover that you would like to link to the second post (0n your own blog, perhaps), and you need its address (URL). Heretofore, there has been only one reliable, albeit unintuitive, way to do this, namely to click on the time stamp, which appears below the post. On many blogs, on the other hand, one can click on the title of a post to go to the page containing only that post. You can now do that on this blog as well. Clicking on the time stamp also works. The page of an individual post always shows comments and links from elsewhere to that page, though I have found the latter listing to be less than reliable.

Other Links

Let me begin by listing links whose exact function may be obscure but which have not changed:
  • Clicking on the blog title at the top of the page takes you to the blog home page (i.e., to Clicking on Blog Home, under Links in the sidebar, does so also.
  • Clicking on links to this post below a post takes you to the links bookmark at the bottom of the page containing only that post. (The URL to which you will be taken is that of the post with “#links” appended. This is where links to the page are displayed.)
  • Clicking on n comments below a post—the n is a non-negative integer indicating the number of comments made about the post—takes you to a special Blogger comments page, where existing comments appear along with a form to post a comment of your own. (You must first log in with a Google or other ID.) This page normally does not show the original post, but there is a link at the top left of the page that allows you to display it if you like.
Less obscure in function are other links in the sidebar under Links. I have already discussed Blog Home. Here is a rundown of the others:
  • Table of Contents: Unlike most blogs, Lionel Deimel’s Farrago has a complete table of contents on the Site Map page of my Web site, Lionel Deimel’s Farrago. Posts are listed there in chronological order, along with brief—though, alas, sometimes cryptic—descriptions. They are are also categorized as being about language, the church, administrative matters regarding the Web site or blog, or anything else (politics, the weather, etc.). The Table of Contents is helpful if you want to look up a blog title or look for posts around a particular date. For general searches, I recommend using the search box at the left of the Blogger toolbar at the very top of the page.
  • Lionel Deimel’s Farrago: This is a link to my Web site, which I invite you to explore if you have never done so. It is, well, eclectic. In theory, what is on my Web site is more polished and of more long-term interest than what appears here, but you shouldn’t actually count on that.
  • Pittsburgh Update: This is a site that deserves more attention. Each week, I post, with the help of two other members of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, a summary of Episcopal Church news, along with links to more information on the Web. A small number of stories do concern the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, but the real intent of the site is to keep Episcopalians updated on the ongoing foreign and domestic church wars. At some point, a site like Pittsburgh Update might be unnecessary, but don’t hold your breath. Don’t look for feel-good stories here, but it is a good place even for church news junkies to check in to see if they’ve missed anything. The weekly news summary is usually posted near midnight on Monday.
  • St. Paul’s’ Epistle: This is a blog about my own parish, a kind of alternative parish newsletter. It is a relatively new venture still looking for a following. I only expect folks with an actual connection to St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, to read it regularly, but anyone wondering if such a blog makes a positive or negative contribution to parish life might want to have a look. I am the only author of posts at the moment and am not actively looking for help.
  • E-mail Me: I probably don’t have to explain this one.
On the home page, and only there, you will find pages of posts by month under Archives in the sidebar. Generally, under Previous Posts, you will find links to posts published before the one being viewed, though, when viewing an archive file, Previous Posts will list the most recent posts instead. (Disclaimer: I didn’t design this feature.)

Keeping in Touch

At the bottom of the sidebar are links to Atom and RSS syndication. (Certain browsers also display syndication icons.) I won’t try to explain syndication here except to say that syndication allows you to read (or at least be notified of) new material on your favorite Web sites in one convenient place. I recommend Google Reader as a means to read syndication feeds, but I don’t pretend to know much about the alternatives, and I’m not going to try to explain Google Reader, either. Mainly, I want people to know how you can subscribe to this blog’s syndication feed. You’ll have to figure out what to do next on your own.

Many of my readers are Episcopalians. Because I suspected that some of these folks might be less interested in my posts on language, say, than in my posts on the Anglican Communion, readers can sign up to receive e-mail when I publish a church-related post. You can get on the e-mail list by clicking on the link after the Atom and RSS links.

Show Your Colors

Below About Me, at the right of the page, the blog sports my No Anglican Covenant logo. I believe that an Anglican covenant is a bad idea generally, and the draft now before Anglican churches well exemplifies this generalization. I encourage others to display my logo on their Web sites, blogs, or elsewhere where it might have an opportunity to influence Anglican opinion. Clicking on the logo takes you to the post, “No Anglican Covenant,” where I first announced the availability of the logo. That post also links to a larger graphic that should satisfy most needs for a higher-resolution image.

Below the No Anglican Covenant logo is a link to my Farrago Gift Shop. Mostly, the gift shop has clothing and other items with the No Anglican Covenant logo. Here are a few samples:

No Anglican Covenant shirtNo Anglican Covenant beach toteThe gift shop also offers merchandise that feature one of my curve-stitch designs, such as this wall clock:

Curve-stitch wall clockAdmittedly, there isn’t a big market for this sort of thing, but, if you’re reading this, you might be part of the small group that is interested. Take a look.


Well, I’ve probably told you more than your really wanted to know, but, if you got this far, you must have learned something of interest. I hope this post will help you get the most out of Lionel Deimel’s Farrago. Happy reading (and commenting)!

September 23, 2010

Life without Electricity

I am writing this at 9:30 PM on a laptop on my deck, bathed in the light of the computer screen and a candle. Although I only lost power for about four hours yesterday due to the thunderstorm—see “High Winds”—and “After the Storm”—power went out early this afternoon, and it has yet to return. I guess this is what it feels like to live in Iraq, except for the explosives and bullets, of course.

I did attend choir rehearsal tonight. This was a tough call, as I feel I am coming down with a sinus infection or some such. I got to church early, however, to do a quick check of my e-mail. To my surprise, singing actually made me feel better. I was breathing better, anyway; my throat is another matter.

I tried lying down in bed, but it has been a warm day, and my bedroom is hot and stuffy. Even on the deck there isn’t much of a breeze, but it is at least cooler. In a few minutes, the full moon will be peeking out from behind the house to provide a bit more light on the deck. Too bad that most of what I want to do (including post this) requires an Internet connection!

Update, 9/24/2010, 7:23 PM: Power returned to my house about 2:30 AM this morning. I’m posting this over the time stamp indicating when it was first written.

More on the Goings On in South Carolina

Dr. Joan Gundersen has posted the first part of an essay titled “What the Diocese of South Carolina May Get Wrong.” The essay deals with the resolutions about to be passed—assuredly they will be passed—by the convention of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

Gundersen points out that all Episcopal Church dioceses have had ample warning of the Title IV changes that take effect in less than a year. No one seems to have raised questions about the validity of those changes until the Anglican Communion Institute posted its recent essay on the subject. (Would I be considered paranoid to suggest that Bishop Mark Lawrence and the Anglican Communion Institute are in cahoots with one another on this matter? See my essay on the South Carolina situation here.)

Gundersen is well qualified to write about what South Carolina is about to do. Not only was she a General Convention deputy from the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh who had to vote on the Title IV revisions, but she and chancellor Andy Roman took the lead in rewriting the Pittsburgh canons that deal with the new disciplinary rules of The Episcopal Church. As she mentions in her essay, Gundersen is a member of the diocese’s Committee on Canons.

Gundersen concludes her essay with the following paragraph:
So why is there such a fuss now? Is it really the changes that worry South Carolina, or is it that some are looking for a wedge issue to drive South Carolina further from the rest of the Church and isolate it more? Were some of South Carolina’s leaders following a strategy based on evading one set of disciplinary canons only to find that the loopholes they had counted on were about to be closed? Were South Carolina leaders so asleep at the switch that for five years they didn’t notice a major revision of the canons until the deadline for implementation of the canons drew near? Whatever explanation you pick, it would seem the problem lies more within the Diocese of South Carolina than in Title IV.
In her next installment, Dr. Gundersen plans to deal directly with constitutional questions related to the new Title IV.

After the Storm

I was surprised this morning by a 6:45 AM robocall from Mt. Lebanon warning me that there are many trees and power lines down and many traffic lights out. The call announced that schools are closed today and advised everyone to stay at home.

Yesterday’s storm clearly hit my community harder than most in the area, although neighboring communities were also heavily impacted according the the local news from WDUQ-FM. The radio station put the number of Duquesne Light customers still without power at 13,000. (Duquesne Light is not the only power company in the area. Another 13,000 customers are also without electricity.) According to the Post-Gazette, the storm cut off power to 82,000 households and businesses. Rain seems to have caused little damage; high winds and lightning were responsible for most of the trouble from the storm.

I have food in the house, including cat food, and no pressing reason to go out today except for choir rehearsal tonight. It is not clear whether we will have rehearsal, but I suspect that we will if the church has power. I did see a large tree branch down in front of St. Paul’s yesterday, but there were no power lines nearby.

The branch blocking Syracuse Avenue just down the street that I mention in my last post has, surprisingly, been moved out of the street. It is not gone, however, just moved to the side of the road. (The street is bounded on one side by an undeveloped wooded parcel.) This can be seen in the photo below:

Downed tree limb
Actually, the tops of two trees seem to have been knocked off by the storm, as can be seen in this photo:

Missing treetops

September 22, 2010

High Winds

There was a severe thunderstorm warning for southwestern Pennsylvania this afternoon, and it turned out to be appropriate. Sometime around 4 PM, heavy rains and strong winds hit Mt. Lebanon, the Pittsburgh suburb in which I live. I was writing a blog post (see “S.C. Via Media Group Calls for Investigation”) when the storm hit, and, shortly after the rain began, power failed. My computer and my VOIP telephone service both went down, and, unfortunately, as I had discovered only about an hour earlier, the battery charge on my cell phone was almost gone. I didn’t even have enough power left to call the power company to report the outage.

The storm did not last long. The only physical damage I suffered was to a begonia that fell off a picnic table and lost a good many stems on one side of the pot. When the rain abated, I got into the car, attached the charger to my cell phone, and called Duquesne Light Company . Duquesne Light already knew about the outage in my area. The automated message asked me if I had any more specific information. Since I did not, I hung up. The question caused me to walk around the neighborhood a bit, however, looking for obvious problems with power lines. I didn't find any, but I did discover a large tree branch blocking a street half a block away. I called 911 about this. I was on hold for a minute or two—there were lots of calls today to the county 911 service—and was then told that the branch in question was already on the list of downed trees in the area.

It was clear that the brief storm had done a lot of damage, so it was uncertain just how long power was likely to be out. I was capable of making dinner from items in my refrigerator, but I was reluctant to open it, lest I decrease unnecessarily the time before food began to spoil. I thought I could drive a short distance and find a fast-food restaurant open that could provide an adequate dinner. The closest restaurants were on Mt. Lebanon Boulevard, but all the establishments on the north side of the street were clearly without power. Subway, on the south side, did have power. After being discouraged by traffic in another direction where I thought I might find food, I doubled back to Subway, only to find a long line of people who were, no doubt, in the same situation as I was. Stupidly, I sought greener pastures.

I headed in the direction of another set of restaurants, including another Subway. Everywhere I went, however, traffic lights were out, trees were blocking streets, and restaurants were conspicuously dark. A few intersections had police directing traffic, but it wasn’t clear that such intersections were operating any more efficiently that those without either traffic lights or police. Drivers were treating the latter as four-way stops, and traffic in all directions was moving, albeit somewhat slower than usual.

Not having found the edge of the power outage, I headed for home via a different route, hoping that one of several restaurants I would pass would be open. I became hopeful when, as I drove down Bower Hill Road, I began to see working traffic lights, streetlights, and homes with lights inside. Sure enough, the Italian pizza and hoagie restaurant I thought might have escaped the power outage was indeed open. I decided not to wait to see if Panera’s was also open. (Panera Bread would have given me more attractive food and Internet access.) I had a hoagie and Pepsi Zero and headed home. The Galleria, the mall housing Panera’s, clearly had only emergency lights working.

Remarkably, when I returned home, the power was back on, and I got back to my blog post. On the 11 o’clock news, I learned that Mt. Lebanon was particularly hard hit by the storm, with many areas still without power and trees down everywhere. KDKA-TV reported that Duquesne Light has 23,000 customers without power.

S.C. Via Media Group Calls for Investigation

The Episcopal Forum of South Carolina (EFSC) has written a letter to the Executive Council and to the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church asking for an investigation of the “situation in our Diocese.” (The letter is available on the group’s Web site here.) EFSC explains its concerns as follows:
We wish to call to your attention the recent actions and inactions on the part of the diocesan leadership and leaders in parishes and missions within the Diocese of South Carolina, which we believe are accelerating the process of alienation and disassociation of the Diocese of South Carolina from The Episcopal Church.
EFSC logoWhat follows is a litany of what the Via Media group sees as steps taken and not taken by the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina that are designed to distance the diocese from The Episcopal Church and facilitate the removal of congregations and property from The Episcopal Church. The five-page letter also lists specific matters EFSC wants to see investigated and reproduces the text of a letter sent by an attorney experienced in church property cases to a South Carolina parish explaining what parish leaders need to do if they wish to remove themselves and their church from The Episcopal Church.

The letter comes as the diocese is preparing to hold a special session of the diocesan convention October 15, 2010, to enact changes to the diocese’s constitution and canons. As a Pittsburgh Episcopalian, I see a familiar schismatic objective behind the resolutions to be considered by South Carolina next month. The resolutions are clearly improper and surely are motivated by objectives other than the stated ones.

Where the Church Needs to Go

It is surely the case that the matters that EFSC says the church should investigate should indeed be investigated, though I have a suspicion that EFSC has a pretty good idea of what the broad outlines of the findings will be. In particular, EFSC asks the church to look into
  • Parishes which, from their Web sites, seem to have taken measures to facilitate their withdrawing from The Episcopal Church.
  • Actions taken and not taken regarding the departure of St. Andrew’s, Mt. Pleasant.
  • Property titles and corporate documents, in order to evaluate legal risks to the church that they might represent.
Beyond what EFSC is asking, however, it is time to be thinking about what is required to depose Bishop of South Carolina Mark Lawrence. Although Lawrence does not appear to be a leader of any major schismatic movement outside his own diocese, within his diocese, his actions bring to mind those of deposed bishop Bob Duncan, the former Bishop of Pittsburgh. If Bob Duncan could be said to have abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church “by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church,” certainly, by supporting the aforementioned resolutions, Mark Lawrence is likewise guilty and should be subject to deposition.

Mark Lawrence did not create the ugly, secessionist attitude that is widespread in the state of South Carolina. (Given the state’s history, one suspects there is something in the water.) Certainly, the previous bishop, Edward L. Salmon, seemed at least as much a threat to the integrity of The Episcopal Church as the incumbent. It was clear, however, that, when the diocese elected a new bishop, it was seeking one who would be more loyal to an extremist conservative agenda than to The Episcopal Church.

This is perhaps an appropriate time to say something I’ve been waiting to say for a long time, namely, I told you so. In October 2006, when Mark Lawrence was seeking consents for the first time, I wrote “No Consents: A Crucial Test for The Episcopal Church,” arguing that his written opinions made Lawrence an inappropriate choice for an Episcopal bishop. (Via Media USA agreed with me and sent the essay to all bishops with jurisdiction and standing committees.) I later wrote “The Annotated Mark Lawrence,” in which I analyzed questions and answers from Lawrence put forth in support of his attempt to be consecrated bishop. I was not impressed.

In fact, The Episcopal Church passed its “crucial test” and did not consent to Lawrence’s consecration. (He was not denied his victory by “technicalities” and was, in fact, given more time than canonically specified to collect the necessary consents.) Alas, South Carolina re-elected Lawrence in a one-man Episcopal election, and, the second time around, the church did not have the fortitude to reject Lawrence again. It failed that second test and is now paying the price for its collective cowardice.

The Episcopal Church must stop Mark Lawrence and his supporters in his diocese before it has another crisis on its hands like those visited upon San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, and Quincy. The church must act before it is too late.

As was the case in the four dioceses that are currently rebuilding after schism, there are many supporters of The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina. EFSC continues to grow and has, I have been told, more than 700 members. That number may expand even more after today’s letter from that group. These are the people who, one way or another, will be called upon to restore sanity to the diocese.

May God save The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Alas, God is going to need a little help.

September 16, 2010

The Martyrs of Memphis

A couple of days ago, Tobias Haller wrote a post on his blog, In a Godward Direction, called “Witness to the Witnesses.” There, he describes a visit to Memphis, Tennessee, where he took part in the celebration of the life and ministry of the Martyrs of Memphis.

I have, for some reason, always been moved by the story of, as styled in Lesser Feasts and Fasts, “Constance, Nun, and her Companions.” The Episcopal Church celebrates these folks, also known as the Martyrs of Memphis, on September 9. Certainly, it is easier for me to identify with this commemoration than with martyrdoms of many centuries ago. Also, having grown up in New Orleans, another city plagued by yellow fever in its early years, it is easy to relate to the plight of Memphis in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

The yellow fever epidemic of 1878 in Memphis killed more than 5,000 people, among them Episcopal priests and nuns who stayed behind to minister to the sick, even after much of the population had fled in terror.

I have never put much stock in pilgrimages and saints’ relics, but Haller’s description of his Memphis activities, and particularly his visiting the graves of the martyrs and employing the “Memphis Chalice” for communion, was very moving. It caused me to reread information about the self-sacrificing Christians who put service to others ahead of their own safety in that terrible 1878 Memphis summer.

I invite you to read the pages about Constance and her Companions from the 2000 edition of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, which you can find here. James E. Kiefer offers some additional details, as does Wikipedia.

Update: Fr. John-Julian has graciously sent me an excerpt from his recent book Stars in a Dark World: Stories of the Saints and Holy Days of the Liturgy about the Martyrs of Memphis. This account offers more detail than any of the references I cited above. Fr. John-Julian’s 792-page 2009 paperback is available from most of the usual sources. You can also find it here.

September 15, 2010


I was staring at a box of saltines the other day and began contemplating the spelling of “saltine.” Of course, we pronounce this word as \sȯl-ˈtēn\, but, if we were to encounter the word without ever having seen it before, we would likely pronounce it \sȯl-ˈtīn\. After all, we describe the point of a fork as a tine (\ˈtīn\).

“Saltine” is one of those English words whose pronunciation simply does not make sense. The word was apparently trademarked by Nabisco, which, no doubt, decided how the word should be pronounced. We’re now stuck with the spelling and pronunciation.


Blissful Ignorance

While driving to Calvary Church to meet a friend Monday, I heard a curious story, “Religious Search Engines Yield Tailored Results,” on All Things Considered. According to the story, “[s]ome Jews, Muslims and Christians are abandoning Yahoo and Google and turning to search engines with results that meet their religious standards.” The story covered three “search engines”—perhaps something of a misnomer—that return results tailored to the sensibilities of conservative Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

SeekFind, one of the sites discussed in the NPR story, claims it is a “Christian Search Engine” and characterizes itself this way on its home page: “The mission of is to provide SeekFind logoGod-honoring, biblically based, and theologically sound Christian search engine results in a highly accurate and well-organized format.” I’m not a big fan of self-imposed ignorance, but I thought I’d give SeekFind a try. After hearing the radio story, lots of other people apparently decided to do the same. Last night, SeekFind displayed this advisory in red below the Find button: “Due to extremely high traffic, the SeekFind search index is intermittantly [sic] going down. We are working to resolve this problem as soon as possible. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience.”

I did get some results from SeekFind, but it was a frustrating process. Sometimes my searches yielded a completely blank page. Other searches elicited messages such as these:

Out of memory

Unable to open zoom_pageinfo.zdat
Check file permissions and that file exists

Unable to open C:\inetpub\vhosts\\httpdocs\settings.zdat.
Check file permissions and that file exists

This morning, however, the advisory has been taken down, and the Find button seems to be working consistently.

I began, naturally, by looking up my own name. “Lionel Deimel” produced 36 results, none of which were about me. A restricted search for my name on Google produced “about 9,420 results.” (I didn’t bother to actually count.) A Google search for “Thinking Anglicans” yielded almost 26,000 pages, the first of which was the well-known UK site. The corresponding search on SeekFind returned a mere 5 pages, none of which had anything to do with that Web site.

The results returned by SeekFind are simply appalling. A search for the phrase “Episcopal Church” produced only 52 results, mostly from the Web sites of organizations such as Questions Ministries (“239,484 Bible Questions Answered!”), Institute for Creation Research (“Biblical/Accurate/Certain”), Christian Research Institute (“…because Truth matters”), Apologetics Press, and Alpha and Omega Ministries (“defense and confirmation of the gospel”). Neither the Web site of The Episcopal Church nor that of any Episcopal Church congregation or diocese was returned by SeekFind, although I did get a link to an article explaining that “Marilyn Manson was raised in the Episcopal Church.” (The corresponding Google search produced over 8 million results. Again, I skipped counting them all.)

A SeekFind search for “quantum mechanics” produced more information than one for The Episcopal Church: 102 results. The pages cited had such titles such as Creation and Quantum Mechanics, Reasonable Faith: Question 138 - Divine Sovereignty and Quantum Indeterminism, and Who created God? - ChristianAnswers.Net. No results were returned from Web sites devoted to science. An exception seemed to be a site called Although the information does not appear on this Web site, the site is a project of All About God Ministries, Inc. is really all about religion.

SeekFind clearly does not filter the Web. Instead, it uses an index of approved Web sites from which searches are conducted. This is made clear on its About SeekFind page, which explains that SeekFind is “only indexing websites that are Biblically-based, theologically-sound, and in agreement with our Statement of Faith.” (That Statement of Faith can be found here.)

The usefulness of a site like SeekFind is quite limited, even for the conservative Christian who wants to be isolated from views contrary to his or her own. In any case, SeekFind is in no way a general-purpose search engine. (A Search for “Wendy's” is no help in finding a nearby fast-food restaurant.) The only use I see for this search engine is providing rhetorical assistance to argumentative conservative Christians. The SeekFind view of the world is so narrow, however, that I suspect it is perfectly suited to only a sliver of that population. Moreover, even the serious polemicist needs to know what opponents are saying in order to respond to their positions. SeekFind is useless for that.

SeekFind, I am afraid, is only for the Christian right know-nothing crowd, those folks who know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. May God preserve us from such people!

September 12, 2010

Armstrong Numbers

On May 5, 2010, I reported on this blog that I had found the Armstrong whose name has been attached to numbers often called pluperfect digital invariants, or PPDIs. Actually, Michael F. Armstrong found me, based on my discussion of digital invariants on my Web site, Lionel Deimel’s Farrago.

A few days ago, I added a new page dedicated to Armstrong numbers to my collection of information on digital invariants.

What is little recognized is that Armstrong defined four different types of Armstrong numbers, which he called Armstrong numbers of the first-, second-, third-, and fourth kind. Of special interest are Armstrong numbers of the third kind. Such a number, n, represented by digits dm, dm-1, …, d1, is equal to

I have not seen such a definition before by any name. An example of an Armstrong number of the third kind (in base-10) is 3435, since

3435 = 33 + 44 + 33 + 55 = 27 + 256 + 27 + 3125 = 3435

You can read about Armstrong numbers and how they relate to other names for digital invariants here, or you can read my entire exposition about digital invariants beginning here.

Update: Almost as soon as I posted this note, I discovered Munchausen numbers, defined by Daan van Berkel in the same way as Armstrong numbers of the third kind. In a brief 2009 paper, he exhibited, inter alia, all the Munchausen numbers, alias Armstrong numbers of the third kind, in bases 2 through 10. (There aren’t many.) Apparently, 3435 is the only nontrivial base-10 Munchausen number. (Note that this result relies on defining 00 to be 1.) Apparently such numbers are also called perfect digit-to-digit invariants, or PDDIs. (See Wikipedia article here.) I will be updating my page about Armstrong numbers to incorporate this additional information as soon as I can.

September 9, 2010

God and the Universe

I was reading today about the conflict in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania involving its controversial bishop, Charles Bennison, who has returned to his post after eluding deposition on a technicality. (The latest Episcopal News Service story about the situation can be found here.) There is now ongoing discussion in Episcopal circles about how we might facilitate the removal of a bishop whose relationship to his or her diocese has become dysfunctional.

My reading led me to thinking about how we choose our bishops, a process we say is influenced by the Holy Spirit. We have maintained this view even though the process sometimes goes awry. (I’m sure that many Pennsylvania Episcopalians have been thinking that their convention made a terrible mistake in choosing Bennison.)

On the other hand, we protest whenever some evangelical preacher suggests that a natural or artificial disaster is the fault of its victims, who are said to have been punished for their iniquities by means of divine intervention. (The instrument of destruction might be an Indian Ocean tsunami or airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center.) We resolutely dispute that God metes out vengeance in such a fashion, even though the Bible speaks frequently of such instances.

We are inclined to attribute good things to heavenly dispensation, but we dismiss the possibility that bad things have an equally metaphysical explanation. Likewise, we pray for the sick to recover but do not blame God when they fail to do so.

We cannot, I think, have it both ways; either God intervenes in worldly affairs and should be credited with doing so, or God does not intervene, and we are pretty much on our own.

At the risk of being accused of heresy, I am inclined to see God as uninvolved in the day-to-day management of the universe. Prayer is probably useful, but not for convincing God to grant our wishes like some genie found in a lamp on the beach. Prayer, I suspect, makes us more sensitive, thoughtful, and less anxious. It does not make us richer, our families healthier, or our enemies either nicer or transformed.

I’m not sure if these thoughts make me a bad Episcopalian. Be assured that I am open to listening to counterarguments for the point of view expressed here. Perhaps I should pray for guidance.

September 8, 2010

Questions and Slogans

Last night, I was reading various Anglican blog posts—both new and old—and the comments they elicited. Most of the posts involved Anglicanism, the Anglican Communion, and the proposed Anglican covenant. I was struck not so much by the diverse views of what we—The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, etc.—should do, but by the underlying views and assumptions of those thoughts. Serious discussions, such as those that will take place at the 2012 General Convention of The Episcopal Church, should seek to clarify those underlying presuppositions before deciding on a course of action. The General Convention (and the bodies that prepare reports for it) are not particularly good about this, partly, I think, out of a misplaced concern that someone, somewhere, somehow, might take offense. (Get over it!)

My reading led me in two directions: I began writing a list of questions to which we should have answers before we ask, for example, what we should do about the proposed Anglican covenant. I was also pulled in a more mischievous direction, where I began writing slogans for The Episcopal Church. The slogans, in part, reflect possible attitudes implicit in the answers to the questions. They also challenge us to decide how we want to represent our church to the world.

I have no definitive answers today and might be hard pressed confidently to answer all the questions for myself. My slogans are serious, whimsical, provocative, and perhaps even mean or angry.

What do you think?

The Questions

  1. What is Anglicanism?
  2. What has it been?
  3. What is it becoming or might be becoming?
  4. What is the Episcopal Church’s view of Anglicanism? (What does this question even mean?)
  5. What is the Anglican Communion?
  6. What has it been?
  7. What is it becoming or might be becoming?
  8. What do we want the Anglican Communion to be?
  9. How important is the Anglican Communion to The Episcopal Church?
  10. What is The Episcopal Church willing to give up to remain a part of the Anglican Communion?
  11. What is the relationship of Anglicanism to the Anglican Communion?
  12. What are the major movements within Anglicanism today?
  13. Where does The Episcopal Church (or Episcopalians) fit into such a classification?
  14. How important is “unity,” and “unity” with whom?
  15. What is the proper relationship between church and society, and how much does that change across societies?
  16. How much influence (and what kind) should one Communion church have over another?
  17. Is the proposed Anglican covenant an instrument of concord, a weapon in the church wars, a roll of the dice, or something else?
  18. Within the Anglican Communion, should The Episcopal Church seek peace or victory for its own point of view?
  19. Is a connection to Canterbury really important, and, if so, why?
  20. Do we believe that leaders within the Anglican communion are acting in good faith?
  21. What are the consequences of the answer to the previous question?

The Slogans