October 17, 2010

Convention Report

The annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh concluded yesterday afternoon. There really is little of interest to report. (In what, under Bob Duncan, was a very contentious diocese, this is not a bad thing.) The most important action taken was the passage of a resolution to begin the search for a new bishop. The revised resolution was amended to make it absolutely clear that nomination by petition will be in order only after the Nomination Committee has announced its minimum of four candidates. Various elections were held, including those for General Convention deputies. I would characterize our new lay deputies as somewhat liberal and our clergy deputies as somewhat conservative. (The diocesan Web site contains information about convention events and more should be posted soon.)

Episcopal shield banner at conventionMy favorite aspect of the convention was the presence of a banner representing the Episcopal Church shield that was prominently displayed during business sessions. (See photo at right.) It would have been inconceivable that such a banner would be displayed during the latter years of the Duncan episcopacy.

I might have been inclined to write more about the convention, but Jeremy Bonner, on his blog—see his two posts here and here—has done a reasonable job of presenting an overview of the event. I would quibble with a few of his statements, though not many.

The one sour note sounded during the convention came from Dr. Bonner himself. Trinity Cathedral, where the convention was held, is in the uncomfortable (and ultimately untenable) position of being the cathedral church both for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. Its chapter includes both Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of North America members. Curiously, Dr. Bonner appears to be a deputy to the conventions of each of these churches, though he is apparently not an Episcopalian. No one questioned his credentials, though I certainly thought about doing so myself.

Anyway, when the convention began discussing the local canonical changes needed to accommodate the recently revised Episcopal Church canons dealing with clergy discipline, Dr. Bonner gave an angry little speech telling Episcopal laypeople that the new Title IV puts their clergy at risk of unfair prosecution, a notion promoted by the Anglican Communion Institute, whose apparent mission is to find fault with everything the Episcopal Church does. Neither the laypeople present nor the reputedly at-risk clergy seemed moved by these remarks, and the canonical changes were approved with no further discussion and virtually no opposition.

Everyone except Dr. Bonner seems to have gone home happy.


  1. Well Lionel,

    If you thought my credentials worthy of challenge, why didn't you? I would point out that your diocese has accepted the division of our assessment between the two diocesan entities without rancor (at least I assumed it was without rancor). On that basis, I thought we were free to send whomever we want (for the record I was an alternate elevated to the position after one of our assigned deputies had a conflict).

    As for Title 4, my point was not that it will automatically be abused but that parts of it are so vague as to open up that possibility, which means that anyone - liberal or conservative - inclined to stray "off message" could become a target; it's equal opportunity. And I have clerical friends in the TEC Diocese who could easily be affected, depending upon who's ultimately in charge. It has been pointed out to me that we will continue to elect the Array, which is something, but does this issue really not matter?

    Of course ACI ties this into their wider argument about diocesan autonomy (which I accept and you don't) but those weren't the aspects that I raised (I hope you will concede that much).

    My impression is that a fair number of Pittsburgh clergy have misgivings; they just don't view diocesan convention as the place to make changes. I doubt though if most of the lay delegates were aware of the possible implications, and my "angry little speech" was an attempt to convey that.

    If it's any consolation, I doubt I will be that much happier after the ACNA convention - a sort of Anglican Eeyore me. Do drop by in November. You will concede that I report everything (including certain things that the Archbishop would probably just as soon not see).

  2. Jeremy,

    I am not clear as to which diocese you are in. I have a problem if you are claiming to be in both.

    In any case, I thank you for your posts, which I think I acknowledged to be relatively objective.

  3. Lionel,

    Clergy are by canon "of the Episcopal Church" when they are rostered by the Recorder of Ordinations and resident in a diocese. We take oaths of obedience and loyalty.

    Laypersons, on the other hand, are by canon "of the Episcopal Church" and so "of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh" when they are rostered as Communicants in Good Standing in a parish of this diocese.

    A challenge to Jeremy's credentials as a deputy to convention would therefore have necessarily been either on grounds that the Cathedral Chapter had incorrectly found that he was a communicant in good standing of the parish--or on grounds that the Cathedral Chapter, to which our diocesan convention elects members, on which our bishop sits as co-president, and from which our Treasurer receives payment on assessment, is not eligible to be represented by a deputation at Convention.

    I have mixed feelings in reference to Jeremy's concerns about Title IV. By way of my work with NNECA (National Network of Episcopal Clergy Associations) I have been engaged with the Title IV "revision" since at least 2000, when Bishop Waynick began work with the Task Force on Discipline. My view is that the Title IV passed in 2009 at Anaheim is profoundly flawed. It solved some of the problems many had found in the previous iteration of disciplinary canons, but it raised many others. I expect we will need to work, through General Convention, for some years to bring concerns to the attention of the wider church, and to develop appropriate amendments. But this is going to be a generational process.

    We as Episcopalians need to have a time of reflection in tranquility for a discussion of the internal culture and polity of our church, which has has undergone dramatic and even radical change in the last 40 years. However, my sense is that the current combative environment isn't really conducive to that conversation.

    Bruce Robison

  4. I have no illusions that the new Title IV is perfect. Its authors were responding to real problems, and it remains to be seen whether they have given us a better disciplinary system than we presently have. As a diocese, we do not have the option, as South Carolina seems to think it has, of opting out of the system. The church as a whole has made a decision, and the only way to escape the consequences of that decision in the short term is to leave our church.

    We have to give the new Title IV a chance. With experience, we no doubt will learn of its virtues and its deficiencies. I trust that we will correct the latter as we go along. Only God is perfectly merciful and just. We will have to do the best we can.

  5. Thank you, Lionel, for this report which, I agree, is remarkable for its normalcy. Good that the requirements for the petition process for putting someone on the list of candidates. And it’s great that the Diocese is in position to be selecting a Bishop.

    Challenging credentials of the Deputy from Trinity Cathedral would be a means to bring the issue of the status of the Cathedral to open discussion. The arrangement seems to be one of magnanimity and that has broad acceptance. Is there any canonical basis or formal agreement that provides for that body to have a “foot in both canoes”?

    I believe that this current arrangement is a “truce” and not “peace” for the long term. At some point, probably after the settlement of the ongoing legal machinations, the status of the Cathedral will need to be taken up again. I don’t know what the right outcome will be but I don’t think the current state is viable in the long term.

    Good that we should talk about it corporately and calmly and come to the best solution possible. And it won’t be easy. As another sign of our mortality, it will, no doubt, be a disappointment to someone. But let’s not forget that this situation has been visited upon us by the actions of others. That we would choose to deal with is not, in of itself, combative, but it is necessary.

    Geoff Hurd

  6. Geoff,

    I think you’re right in characterizing the status of Trinity Cathedral as being the result of a truce. I don’t know of an Episcopal Church parish anywhere that is being shared in the same way by a church with which we are not in communion.

  7. The shared use of the Cathedral is not all that unusual, in the sense that many Episcopal Churches "share space" with congregations of other denominations and even religious faiths. There was a story a few years ago of a small town I think in Colorado where a worship space was co-owned--used on Friday/Saturday by a Jewish congregation and on Sunday by an Episcopalian congregation. Both congregations had separate governing bodies, but both congregations contributed a couple of members then to a "property management" team that oversaw the physical plant and whatever legal issues would arise related to real estate.

    The real issue at Trinity, long term, will be in terms of governance. The bylaws of the Cathedral indicate that the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is the presiding officer of the Chapter and that the Chapter itself is to have a certain number of members elected by the Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Likewise the duties of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to share with the Cathedral congregation in the governance of the Cathedral is specified in diocesan canons.

    I believe the current arrangement was graciously intended to allow for an interim where the ministry of the Cathedral could continue while the various legal and canonical issues resulting from the realignment were sorted out. At some point--and I'm not sure for sure when that will be--the people of the Cathedral and the people of the two dioceses will I think decide that sufficient dust has settled.

    Perhaps it will be that the decision by Commonwealth Court on the appeal of Judge James's ruling on the Stipulation settling the Calvary lawsuit will be the catalyst for a time of reconsideration. That won't be a necessity, as Judge James pointedly refrained from opining on the validity of the realignment itself in the constitutional life of the Episcopal Church, but it may be an opportunity.

    I don't know whether folks on either side would be willing to explore this, but it would certainly seem to me to be possible for the Cathedral to be situated entirely within the TEC diocese in terms of governance while it still, with a sense of historical relationship and continuities of memory and relationship and shared Christian ministry, made itself available, say, for diocesan services of the Anglican Diocese. For me personally there would be a lot that would be very attractive about that, as in all ways I would like for us to work to keep our two communities as close to one another in shared life and mission as we can. Building even now the first structures of foundation for a season to come of reformation and reconciliation.

    But for now, I guess we'll just have to see what's possible. Some of my Anglican Diocese friends have suggested that they would probably not feel comfortable with the arrangement as a "guest in someone else's Cathedral," especially wishing to have nothing to do with the Episcopal Church in its current state of being, and would be more inclined to identify, say, St. Stephen's Sewickley or Ascension Oakland, as a procathedral. And some of my TEC Diocese colleagues seem to turn red in the ears and say "over my dead body" when offered the opportunity to share a glass of water with someone on the Anglican side of the divide, so I don't know that a real relationship of "hospitality" would be likely in the present.

    But, again, who can tell what miracles our Lord might work in our hearts? .

    Bruce Robison

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