February 27, 2011

No Anglican Covenant Coalition: Play Fair

The No Anglican Covenant Coalition has issued a press release dated February 28, 2011. (It’s five hours earlier in London than in Pittsburgh.) The title of the press release is “No Anglican Covenant Coalition Calls for Fair Process and Honest Debate.” It can be read here; it appears on the Resources page of the Coalition’s Web site here. (Disclosure: I am the Episcopal Church convenor for the Covenant.)

The Coalition points out that both the leadership of the Church of England and that of the Anglican Communion—those groups are not mutually exclusive—are working hard to see that grassroots support is built for adoption of the Anglican Covenant without the nuisance of allowing people to be exposed to contrary views. The Coalition cites one-sided material prepared for the Church of England’s General Synod debate last year, the criticism of groups for asserting their anti-Covenant views, the failure to provide balanced material to Church of England dioceses considering the Covenant, and the issuance of a study guide and Q&A document on the Covenant by the Anglican Communion Office that are pure advocacy for the Covenant.

The Coalition directs people interested in getting a broader view of the Covenant debate to its own Web site.

The press release concludes with a quotation from its moderator, the Rev. Dr. Lesley Fellows:
Diocesan synods in the Church of England deserve to hear all sides of the debate. We are not afraid of an open, fair, and honest debate. If the supporters of the Covenant had a stronger case, perhaps they wouldn’t be either.

No Anglican Covenant

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February 24, 2011

Unity in Our Time

In September 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned home from Munich. Having appeased a bully, he famously declared that he had achieved “peace in our time.”

Chamberlain and WilliamsPrime Minister Neville Chamberlain (L)
and his philosophical descendant Archbishop Rowan Williams (R, photo courtesy of Brian)

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has done much the same thing within the Anglican Communion. The bullies, in this case, are the “orthodox” schismatics in America and their Third World allies. Williams’ document of appeasement is called the Anglican Communion Covenant. With it, he expects—at least he acts as though he expects—to achieve unity in our time.

Alas, Dr. Williams has read too much Dostoyevsky and too little Churchill. Hardly had the ink dried on the Covenant before many of those he sought to appease rejected the document, apparently choosing to engage in warfare instead. (Happily, most Anglican primates are presumed to be unarmed, so the war will be conducted with rhetorical weapons.)

Ironically, the only person who seems positively eager to sign on to the Covenant is the Anglican Church in North America’s Archbishop Robert Duncan, who merely wants to prove that he can. Of course, by the current rules of engagement, he can’t.

As in 1938, appeasement will reap its just reward. Unity in our time will quickly be found to be an illusion.

February 22, 2011

Big Snow

I was supposed to attend a meeting last night, but, as the day wore on, the weather report became increasingly worrisome. About 4:30, I decided to stay home. That was a good decision. Pittsburgh received more than 8 inches of snow by this morning. That may not seem a lot to New Yorkers or Bostonians, but it is the largest snowfall Pittsburgh has had this winter. I don’t look forward to digging out the driveway, but the view from my kitchen window this morning was lovely. I am happy to share it with you. (See below. Click on the picture for a larger image.)

View from kitchen window

February 14, 2011

More on the Petition for a Rehearing

I recently wrote that the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh announced that it would ask the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court to rehear its appeal of the lower-court decision that determined that the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is the proper trustee of diocesan property and funds. (See “Why Bother?”)

Having discussed the prospects of being granted a rehearing with various Pennsylvania attorneys, it seems that the probability that the court will grant the request is vanishingly small. Here are some reasons:
  1. The opinion of the three-judge panel that heard the appeal was unanimous.
  2. The court rejected all the arguments of the appellants. There were no shades of gray to be found in the court’s reasoning.
  3. The opinion was unpublished, meaning that the judges believed that there were no precedents to be set by it. In the end, the court merely affirmed that a legal document said what it seemed to say.
  4. Five of nine justices would have to agree to a rehearing. Presumably, we know that three will vote no. I would be surprised if any judges would be interested in rehearing the case, but surely it shouldn’t be hard to find two justices to reject the request.
  5. The court virtually never grants such hearings. No one I consulted could remember a rehearing being granted by the court.

In the Hospital

No, I’m not in the hospital, but a friend of mine is. I’ve written a poem for her called “In the Hospital,” which you can read in the Poetry section of my Web site here.


February 13, 2011

Biblical Insight

The Lead recently called attention to three essays on the On Faith blog of The Washington Post. The author of the essays is American Baptist pastor Jennifer Wright Knust, who is also an Assistant Professor of Religion at Boston University. Her three-part series concerns sex and the Bible, and she argues that, contrary to the assertion of so many Christian authorities, the Bible is neither clear nor consistent concerning sexual ethics. Knust is the author of a new book, Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire.

Holy BibleKunst’s posts are compelling, though her arguments are hardly new. Kunst did remind me anew of the absurdity of treating the Bible as a rulebook for living. The Bible can be the source of useful insights, but its messages are often Delphic. This inspired my latest aphorism, which I have added to my page of aphorisms on my Web site. No doubt, some will find this offensive, but there is more than a grain of truth here:
If God had wanted to give us clear instructions for living, he wouldn’t have given us the Bible.

February 11, 2011

After Dublin—Part 2

As I noted in my last post in this series, Peter Carrell has suggested that the Anglican Communion must choose between interdependency and independency for its constituent churches. Peter fears that the effect of the Dublin Primates’ Meeting is to move the Communion in the direction of independency and away from what is his preference, interdependency.

Peter’s alternatives are not really as disjoint as he implies. I can argue for the independence of The Episcopal Church without insisting that Episcopalians not participate in Anglican bodies or asserting that the concerns of other churches never be taken into account. Interdependency within the Anglican Communion used to be about coöperation and mutual respect, not about doctrinal uniformity across the Communion. (See my post “Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence.”)

It is the former and more benign understanding of interdependence that I wrote about in “Musings on Communion Agreements.” That interdependence—“interdependency” and “independency” sound odd to the American ear—need not imply the absence of autonomy or independence is implicit in the Episcopal–Lutheran agreement “Called to Common Mission.” I quoted from that communion agreement in “Musings,” and it is worth quoting again here. I won’t say more about it; the passage speaks well for itself.
We therefore understand full communion to be a relation between distinct churches in which each recognizes the other as a catholic and apostolic church holding the essentials of the Christian faith. Within this new relation, churches become interdependent while remaining autonomous. Full communion includes the establishment locally and nationally of recognized organs of regular consultation and communication, including episcopal collegiality, to express and strengthen the fellowship and enable common witness, life, and service. Diversity is preserved, but this diversity is not static. Neither church seeks to remake the other in its own image, but each is open to the gifts of the other as it seeks to be faithful to Christ and his mission. They are together committed to a visible unity in the church’s mission to proclaim the Word and administer the Sacraments.
Like it or not, however, in contemporary Anglican parlance, “interdependent” means committed to a doctrinal uniformity that avoids offending the sensibilities of some ill-defined Anglican majority. (Jim Naughton called this “governance by hurt feelings.”) It is assumed in many parts of the Communion that achieving this type of interdependence is a good thing. I believe otherwise.

The Anglican Covenant and Interdependence

The Anglican Covenant, whose adoption has become the Archbishop of Canterbury’s raison d’être, begins curiously, with an Introduction that, according to Paragraph 4.4.1, “shall always be annexed to the Covenant text, is not part of the Covenant, but shall be accorded authority in understanding the purpose of the Covenant.” The Introduction is clearly intended to be a theological justification for the Covenant, and its odd status allows it to assert that justification while discouraging serious scrutiny of the argument.

There is a good deal of scripture cited in the Covenant draft, and nearly all of it occurs in the Introduction. (See “Scripture for the Ridley Cambridge Draft,” which is an introduction for my compilation of all the Bible passages cited in the penultimate draft of the Covenant.) Given the political nature of the Covenant, this is not surprising.

Reading the Introduction for the first time, I was immediately put off by the verses with which it begins, 1 John 1: 2–4. I could not identify the Bible translation from which the text was taken. Virtually every translation renders koinonia (κοινωνία) as “fellowship,” whereas the text in the Covenant draft renders it “communion.” Whereas such a translation is not unreasonable, it is surely manipulative. The word “communion” is intended to invoke, if only subconsciously, the Anglican Communion.

In fact, I believe that no strictly theological argument can be advanced to support a specifically Anglican agreement to achieve doctrinal uniformity. One can perhaps use scripture to support an argument for unity—however one wants to define that concept—among Christians generally, but for Anglican unity? What book of the New Testament addresses Anglicanism? Anglicanism, in fact, is a Christian strain born in schism, the antithesis of unity and interdependency.

But surely doctrinal uniformity within Anglicanism would be a good thing! On one hand, it would strengthen Anglican witness to the world, and, on the other hand, it would make Christianity, though still divided, somewhat less divided.

The first argument comes to us from the fifty-million-Frenchmen-can’t-be-wrong school. In fact, fifty million Frenchmen will be wrong if one of them is wrong. The argument for orthodoxy, “right opinion,” presupposes that one can identify with certainty the opinion that is right. If you can’t, and if you insist on uniformity, everybody may well be wrong. This is a major argument for diversity over uniformity. Of course, those who argue for uniformity usually are convinced that they know the truth. But, allowing diverse opinions about doctrinal questions that are not easily resolved actually increases the probability that somebody is right and that, if there is any ultimately right answer, the Church eventually will discover it.

Likewise, the second argument isn’t as strong as it seems to be. If one accepts that there should be a single Church, unified in all its beliefs, then all of Christianity should be involved in determining those beliefs. Insisting on determining truth within any subgroup—within the Anglican Communion, for instance—could well make defining common doctrine among all Christians more problematic, as the distribution of opinion within the subgroup might be quite different from that within the larger Church, thus skewing the ecumenical dialogue.

I believe that the vision of a universal Christian Church possessing all truth is an arrogant fantasy, the modern equivalent of building the Tower of Babel. God’s truth is infinitely more complex and subtle than we can imagine. It is all we can do to aspire to discern God’s will for the here and now!

Anglicanism and Interdependence

In many ways, Anglican churches are much like the churches of other Christian denominations. (I’m not going to get into the “we’re not a denomination” argument, which is a special form of Anglican arrogance.) Many churches that look much different from our own accept the authority of Scripture and the relevance of the creeds. Some even have, if not bishops, at least people who perform what we consider episcopal functions.

What is it that makes Anglican churches special? One is hinted at in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral; the other is not even mentioned there. The unnamed characteristic of Anglicanism is its emphasis on corporate, liturgical worship. Besides its connecting us to our past, this saves Anglicanism from self-righteous (and self-serving) personal piety and from the natural human tendency to attach ourselves to charismatic leaders with insufficient regard for the reasonableness of what those leaders do and say.

Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of Anglicanism, however, is its recognition that both ecclesiology and theology need to be adapted to particular peoples and eras. It is this fundamental Anglican insight that the advocates of Anglican uniformity are seeking to destroy.

This last point is more important than is commonly acknowledged. When I was a computer science professor seeking to be a more effective teacher, I became aware of the body of literature about differences in the psychological makeup of students. Those differences result in students’ preferring different styles of learning. I despaired, however, of providing each student with the learning experience that would prove most effective to his or her educational progress.

Churches, on the other hand, do a much better job than colleges and universities of catering to human variability. The proliferation of diverse churches that so many Christians decry actually manages to provide the mechanisms to proclaim the Gospel to all people, not just people like you and me. Whereas I cannot imagine worship without our rich heritage of Episcopal hymns, I know people who hate hymns—hate music, even. Those people should not be Episcopalians. They can be fine Christians in some other tradition, however, and I thank God that there are others who can take the Gospel to them.

I freely admit that the Church of the Province of Uganda is not ready for gay bishops. (It doesn’t even seem ready to oppose the execution of gays or the punishment of straight people for befriending gays. I pray this will change over time.) The situation in America is different, however, and Anglicans in Uganda should have little to say about it and much to learn from it. If Episcopalians do not lead the movement for social justice for sexual minorities—do not uphold the dignity of all human beings—Episcopalians will be diminished thereby, and the moral leadership of The Episcopal Church will likewise be devalued.

The Episcopal Church and, I would hope, other Anglican churches should resist the misguided call to interdependency in the Anglican Covenant, at least to the extent that it is intended to reduce diversity in the Communion in favor of uniformity. As I have said elsewhere, we should commit to saving Anglicanism at all costs and to saving the Anglican Communion if at all possible.

No Anglican Covenant

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Congratulations to the people of Egypt.

Flag of Egypt

Pray for the Egyptian democracy.

February 9, 2011

After Dublin—Part 1

Peter Carrell recently wrote a telling post called “Global Forum of Independent Anglican Churches” on his Anglican Down Under blog. Peter is unhappy about the recent Primates’ Meeting in Dublin and the description of the Anglican Communion by the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. David Chillingworth, as a “communion of independent churches.” The comment was made at a press conference following the Dublin meeting. (Audio of the press conference is available on the Web. The remark was also reported by George Conger.)

Peter offers a very helpful insight in this paragraph:
When we named ourselves the ‘Anglican Communion’ we named ourselves as much for our potential as for our existent reality: we were becoming a communion, our bonds of affection were deepening from meeting to meeting. But sooner or later we were likely to meet a test of that becoming, of those bonds. Would we pass the test in a manner which deepened our communion or impaired it, which developed interdependency or revealed independency?
I take this as an admission that the “interdependence” spoken of in the Windsor Report and the paragraphs of that report that offer a tortured argument to the effect that autonomy is not independence—Peter reproduces paragraphs 75–80 of the infamous report—are simply disingenuous. While purporting to represent Communion reality, the Windsor Report in fact builds its own parallel universe of a reactionary global church so fervently desired by the least progressive elements of the Communion.

Participants in the Dublin meeting, freed of the direct influence Global South troglodytes, appear to have recognized that they have been had. The Communion is a fellowship of independent churches, despite what the “orthodox” have claimed it is or what the likes of Peter would like it to be. The radical elements in the Communion are not the churches of the United States and Canada, but those of Uganda and Nigeria and, of course, their accomplices on the Lambeth Commission and Covenant Design Group. If the Windsor Report represented a move away from a voluntary, collaborative Communion and toward an authoritarian one, the Dublin meeting represents a return to, as Peter dismissively calls it, conversation.

Peter sees “interdependency” and “independency” as mutually exclusive. Mark Harris, also responding to recent posts on Anglican Down Under, suggests otherwise. Whereas I see Mark’s point, I can also see why Peter does not buy it. He argues in a comment that, for him, interdependency necessarily entails mutual accountability. Unfortunately, mutual accountability is virtually impossible to achieve in the absence of an objective standard by which performance can be measured. (Need I say that the proposed Anglican Covenant does not set forth an objective standard of either doctrine or behavior?) In most political situations—disputes within the Anglican Communion are certainly political in nature—“accountability” is a euphemism for intimidation or extortion, and it is seldom mutual.

I accept Peter’s distinction and look for the Anglican Communion to be returned to a fellowship of independent churches. When The Episcopal Church was formed after the American Revolution, after all, our founding fathers did not think of themselves as being other than independent of any other ecclesiastical body, though that independence did not prevent interactions with other bodies. I see no reason to surrender that independence now and many reasons not to do so.
In my next essay, I plan to discuss the notion of interdependence, which is really a call for theological uniformity, in greater detail.

February 7, 2011

A Covenant from New Zealand

The Rev. Bosco Peters, who runs the Liturgy blog in New Zealand, sent me e-mail about a recent post of his called “A Presbyterian Covenant.”

The post didn’t seem too interesting at first, since the “covenant” in question was simply the declaration of an individual Presbyterian congregation. On reflection, however, if the emphasis on individuals were extended to Anglican Communion churches and their people, “Our Covenant” of the Banks Peninsula Presbyterian Parish would not be such a bad covenant for the Anglican Communion to adopt:
We covenant to respect the diversity of belief among ourselves as together we grow in understanding of God and of our own lives.

Respect means that we will surround the other person with appreciation, seek to understand their point of view, and allow them to disagree.

This is the sort of Church we hope to be.

Feel welcome to join us!
That certainly describes the sort of fellowship I wish the Anglican Communion would be.

February 6, 2011

Honesty I’d Like to See

I have subscribed to Netflix for a while now. I love being able to stream movies, but there are advantages to receiving disks in the mail. One learns a lot about movie making (and sometimes about the movies themselves) by watching the extra features on DVD and Blu-ray disks.

It is sometimes very interesting to watch a movie with the optional commentary audio track, whether by the actors, the director, producer, writer, or even the actual person whose life is the subject of the movie. (I don’t listen to the commentary for movies I didn’t like a lot to begin with.)

One thing I’ve noticed is that movie commentaries seldom contain any negative remarks. Occasionally, there is a suggestion that budget limitations had some effect on how a movie was shot, but these stories invariably have happy endings.

In particular, the commentators seem invariably to find even actors in bit parts “amazing.” For once, I would like to hear a comment something like this:
“Melvin Smithersen did an adequate job with this part, but he we really would have preferred to have Brad Pitt. He just wasn’t available, and he doesn’t like my work, anyway.”
Or perhaps this:
“Janet Shlumbecker really was terrible here, but her part was small, and we couldn’t afford somebody better. I don’t think it hurt the film too badly.”

February 5, 2011

Why Bother?

The Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh is going to ask for a rehearing of the appeal just decided by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. That is the gist of a press release issued yesterday by the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. (See “Details of Commonwealth Court Ruling.”)

Under the circumstances, it is natural to ask why the diocese is bothering. The Commonwealth Court said pretty much what one might have expected, namely, that the stipulation agreed to by Calvary Church and then bishop Robert Duncan in October 2005 says just what it seems to say, and that the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County erred neither in its procedures nor in its judgment. Apparently, the three judges who heard the arguments in the case were in complete agreement in finding no merit in any of the sometimes far-fetched reasoning advanced by Archbishop Duncan’s lawyers.

Anglican diocese logoGiven the reception the appellants received from Commonwealth Court, it seems unlikely that a second bite at the apple will be granted and, if granted, will be successful. The move will, however, buy time, making success for the Anglican diocese no more likely, but delaying the absolute and final defeat in the courts. Honestly, I expected an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which will likely decline to hear the case. Once Commonwealth Court definitively disposes of the case, I’m sure we will indeed see a request for the high court to weigh in.

No one should be surprised that Duncan and his cronies have not given up the fight. This is simply what the “orthodox” secessionists from The Episcopal Church have done time after time—appeal endlessly after each legal reverse, most recently in the Diocese of Fort Worth. God only knows where the money comes from.

So, where do things stand? The Common Pleas court ordered the Anglican diocese to surrender diocesan assets to the Episcopal diocese, which, by and large, it has done. (The inventory includes various trust funds, real property, archives, and other material. I was disappointed that it did not include computers, routers, telephones, vestments, paper clips, and office furniture.) Should it become necessary at some point to undo this transfer, we will face one holy mess. But that is a vanishingly small possibility.

Actually, I don’t think that Duncan really expects to undo what increasingly seems like a done deal. Instead, he has two objectives: (1) help his allies as best he can and (2) keep the faithful in his diocese whipped up over the actions of the Episcopalians and distract them from thinking too deeply about their future.

Delay, of course, keeps up the spirits of the militant secessionists both within Southwestern Pittsburgh and elsewhere in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). As long as property litigation is ongoing, it is possible to delude one’s self into thinking that, despite losses piled upon losses, one might possibly win in the end.

Although the Anglican diocese is prolonging litigation mostly for symbolic reasons, Duncan and his lawyers may have at least one legal objective they think they may be able to achieve. The February 4 press release contains this sentence:
We believe there is an error in the court opinion that, if corrected, would lead to the validity of withdrawal issue finally being adjudicated,” said Archbishop Robert Duncan, bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Recall that the Allegheny County court held a hearing on whether the Episcopal diocese should be awarded property once held by the undivided diocese assuming the withdrawal of the “Anglicans” was valid. The idea was that the validity of the withdrawal would be a complex issue that would not have to be argued in court if it actually made no difference. Judge Joseph James found that the wording of the stipulation did indeed require diocesan property to be given to the Episcopal diocese even if the withdrawal were proper. (I believe it was not, of course.)

Clearly, “the validity of withdrawal” is a moot issue in the Pittsburgh case, but it is very much in dispute in the courts dealing with the diocesan splits in Fort Worth and San Joaquin. Those dioceses do not have the benefit of an agreement like the Pittsburgh stipulation and have to argue the validity of withdrawal based on corporate and canon law. A determination of the legitimacy of withdrawal in the Pittsburgh case could help the ACNA dioceses, if only by identifying successful or unsuccessful legal theories about such withdrawals.

If the point is moot in the Pittsburgh case, however, why would Commonwealth Court have any interest in considering the matter? What “error” do the appellants think will move the members of the court? Significantly, the opinion of the Commonwealth Court is unpublished, indicating that the court found the matter to be a straightforward case of interpreting a clear, written agreement, that is to say, a case of no consequence for other litigation—basically, uninteresting.

The same day the diocese announced its intention to seek a rehearing before Commonwealth Court, Archbishop Duncan sent a pastoral letter to his diocese. In that letter, he is doing damage control not only in the wake of the Commonwealth Court decision but also in the aftermath of the St. Philip’s agreement. (See “St. Philip’s Update.”) He informs his diocese of the request for a rehearing before Commonwealth Court, and he laments the loss of St. Philip’s. (There is poetic justice here—having liberated most of its parish property from The Episcopal Church, ACNA declared that parish property could be disposed of by the parishes themselves, which made it impossible to object, other than rhetorically, to the St. Philip’s settlement.)

The announcement about the rehearing petition is meant to be encouraging, and Duncan observes that “the lower court’s ruling will not yet be final.” Significantly, he does not predict ultimate victory. Instead, the letter is mostly a pep talk intended to ease fears of losing property, having to return to The Episcopal Church, or being cut loose from the moorings, however illusory, of Anglicanism.

There is little of substance in the pastoral letter. Duncan declares that “the Standing Committee will work tirelessly for a negotiated end to the strife between the Anglican and Episcopal Church Dioceses.” This mirrors a line from the press release: “They [The Bishop and Standing Committee] also reaffirmed their commitment to work tirelessly to arrive at a reasonable negotiated settlement with the Episcopal Church diocese.” The bishop and Standing Committee have little to do, however. The matter of diocesan property is essentially settled, and, as per the stipulation, the matter of parish property occupied by the dissidents is a matter to be settled by the individual congregations and the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Duncan and his Standing Committee may be able to advise his congregations, but the Episcopal Diocese has little reason to talk to them. (Recall that an ACNA diocese, unlike an Episcopal Church diocese, has no power over parish property.)

Duncan knows full well that his Western Pennsylvania churches are justifiably anxious. Surely the two dozen churches in buildings now owned by the Episcopal diocese have to know that their negotiation position is—not to put too fine a point on it—tenuous. What the effect of the negotiation process specified in the stipulation might be is anyone’s guess, but Duncan’s churches have to wonder if they are in a shrinking diocese soon to be dominated by parishes outside Pennsylvania. (Of course, it will be a great embarrassment to ACNA for its leader and primate-hopeful to control a diocese that seems to be melting away.)

To lift the spirits of the faithful, however, Duncan employs one of his greatest strengths—God talk. For instance, he tells his diocese
Our God is the Red Sea God. Our God is the Empty Tomb God. He will not abandon us. He has not abandoned us. As so many times before, He just delights in showing His power. Our journey as a Diocese since 2006 [sic?] has had many impossible moments. Yet every pruning has, in fact, made us stronger and more fruitful. That is the record.
He returns to this theme at the end of his letter:
Let us all stand together. Let no one stand alone. Fast and pray. More than ever this is the season for clean hands and a pure heart. [Ps 24:4] The Lord’s promises remain. He is God at the Red Sea, at the Empty Tomb, and right here and now. Trust Him. He will not fail.
Apparently, the thought that God might also be the God of Pittsburgh Episcopalians has not crossed the mind of the Archbishop.


Much of the country has had awful weather this past week. Although forecasts for Pittsburgh have been worrisome—mainly because of predictions of frozen rain with ice buildup—little precipitation of any kind has actually materialized. In fact, frozen rain was predicted for today, but that prediction, too, seems as though it is about to be proven wrong.

Some of the snow there has been has been rather unusual. The “flakes” have been tiny round balls, rather like very small Styrofoam pellets. I think these balls have really been snow, rather than ice or sleet or whatever, though I can’t be sure.

This morning, there was but a dusting of these strange particles, so I decided to take a picture of them. The picture below—click on it for a larger version—is the view looking across a stone step about 10½ inches wide. When there is more of this stuff and it piles up, it feels like snow, not ice.

Snow balls?

February 2, 2011

Announcements and Clarifications from the Diocese

Tonight, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh sent out an e-mail announcement explaining the agreement with St. Philip’s and the decision rendered today by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. (See “Details of Commonwealth Court Ruling” and “St. Philip’s Update.”)

The e-mail announcements are short, so I won’t reproduce them on my blog. You can see the e-mail message here.

Details of Commonwealth Court Ruling

As I mentioned in my last post, “Breaking News: Court Rejects Anglican Appeal,” the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has rejected the appeal of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh to the action of the Common Pleas Court of Allegheny County that awarded diocesan property to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. I will try to summarize the 19-page opinion and order from Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer below.

I will not describe all the legal maneuvering that led to the latest ruling, but recall that Calvary Episcopal Church filed suit against then bishop Robert Duncan and other diocesan leaders in October 2003 when it was becoming clear that a plan was being devised to remove the Diocese of Pittsburgh from The Episcopal Church. Two years later, all parties agreed to a stipulation that asserted, inter alia, that
Property, whether real or personal (hereinafter “Property”), held or administered by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (hereinafter “Diocese”) for the beneficial use of the parishes and institutions of the Diocese, shall continue to be so held or administered by the Diocese regardless of whether some or even a majority of the parishes in the Diocese might decide not to remain in the Episcopal Church of the United States of America. For purposes of this paragraph, Property as to which title is legitimately held in the name of a parish of the Diocese shall not be deemed Property held or administered by the Diocese.
After the plan to remove the diocese from The Episcopal Church was implemented, Calvary petitioned the court to enforce the stipulation and return diocesan property to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. The Court of Common Pleas granted the request.

The Court of Common Pleas held a hearing about whether the stipulation had been violated on May 27, 2009. The arguments made that day are largely the focus of the Commonwealth Court opinion. (You can read my first-person account of that hearing, “My Day in Court,” as well as find my other posts relating to the Calvary litigation in my Web log’s Table of Contents.)

Judge Jubelirer’s opinion begins by reviewing the history of the litigation and noting that the May 27, 2009 hearing addressed “assuming that the Anglican Diocese validly withdrew from TEC USA [emphasis in original], whether the Anglican Diocese could take or retain control of the property referenced in Paragraph One of the Stipulation without violating the Stipulation.” (Presumably, if the withdrawal was not proper—I have argued it was not—diocesan property clearly should remain with the Episcopal Church diocese.) Of course, Judge Joseph James had concluded that the answer to the question at issue on May 27 was no, and he ordered property returned to the Episcopal diocese.

The first question dealt with in today’s opinion is whether Calvary could petition the court for enforcement, rather than having to initiate new litigation. The Anglican diocese argued that a new action was required. This is the most technical issue dealt with by the court and one I will not try to explain fully. Suffice it to say that the Commonwealth Court ruled that the Court of Common Pleas had retained jurisdiction over compliance with the stipulation and could therefore act on a petition from Calvary Church.

The next question was whether “the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America” in the stipulation simply designates a legal entity at the time the stipulation was written or whether “of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America” was an independent descriptor qualifying “the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” The Anglican diocese argued for the former interpretation, but the court concluded that only the latter interpretation was reasonable. It pointed out that the evidence offered at the hearing supported the view that the latter interpretation was intended. (Calvary’s lawyer, Walter DeForest, had insisted on the insertion of the reference to the diocese being in The Episcopal Church, for example.)

The Anglican diocese claimed that its rights to due process were violated in the May 27 hearing because evidence was introduced as to the legitimacy of the Episcopal diocese. (As an aside, I should mention that the opinion adopts a common-sense convention in referring to dioceses, very helpful in litigation in which parties on both sides at some point insisted on being referred to by the same name. “Diocese” is used to refer to the undivided diocese; after the October 2008 split, the dioceses are referred to as the “Anglican Diocese” and the “Episcopal Diocese.”) Anyway, the appellants argued that the assumption that the withdrawal of the Anglican diocese was proper precluded arguments that the Episcopal diocese was legitimate. The Commonwealth Court found, however, that the assumption did not automatically imply that the Episcopal diocese “could not also validly exist.” In other words, the question of the Episcopal diocese’s legitimacy was independent of the assumption of the hearing and evidence bearing on that question was proper to introduce.

The Anglican appellants also argued that the Court of Common Pleas could not order its Board of Trustees to surrender property, since the Board of Trustees was not a party to the litigation. The court pointed out, however, that the Anglican diocese had argued on behalf of the Board of Trustees without asserting the Board’s independence. It called the appellant argument at this time “disingenuous.”

The Anglican diocese also argued that the Episcopal diocese was not a party to the litigation and, therefore, it could not be ordered to receive the property the Anglican body’s Board of Trustees was required to surrender. Commonwealth Court observed that the appellants cited no authorities to support their argument, and, although the use by both sides of the name “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” confused who was representing whom, the Episcopal diocese had been adequately represented in the litigation. That both Calvary Church and The Episcopal Church argued that the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh should receive the property was good enough for the court.

The opinion concludes: “For these reasons, we affirm the order of the trial court.” The opinion is followed by the following order (emphasis in original):
NOW, February 2, 2011, the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in the above-captioned matter is hereby AFFIRMED.

Breaking News: Court Rejects Anglican Appeal

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has today issued an opinion rejecting the arguments of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh that the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County that diocesan property must be turned over to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh was improper. The court decision can be read here. I will post an analysis presently.

St. Philip’s Update

Both the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported this morning that the members of St. Philip’s voted last night to accept the deal with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh that would leave the church independent and free of any legal jeopardy. The agreement must be approved by Judge Joseph James. (See my earlier post, “A Fair Settlement?”)

According to the Tribune-Review, the church will make a payment to the Episcopal diocese and continue to pay the mortgage. It is a reasonable guess that the amount of the undisclosed payment is based in part on the equity built up in the property since the current St. Philip’s building was constructed.

Presumably, the Anglican diocese will not sue St. Philip’s. The spokesman for the Anglican diocese is quoted in the Tribune-Review story as saying that the diocese has already “passed a resolution” allowing for St. Philip’s’ departure. What body passed such a resolution and when was not reported.

The news release from the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh in which Archbishop makes his ridiculous allegation about the First Amendment does not appear on the diocesan Web site. The Rev. Scott Homer, rector of Trinity Church, Beaver, a parish of the Anglican diocese has posted it on his blog, however. The statement ends with this peevish paragraph:
“We support the people and clergy of St. Philip’s as they face into this painful decision. It is our sincere hope that The Episcopal Church will stop these abusive and unconstitutional practices so that St. Philip’s can move forward with its mission and ministry. The desire of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh is simply to hold fast to the teachings of Scripture, reach the greater Pittsburgh region with the transforming love of Jesus Christ, and serve those in need,” Archbishop Duncan concluded.
Of course, it is true that St. Philip’s has been one of the largest parishes of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, and its assessment will be a painful loss to that diocese.

By the way, Homer offered his own take on the St. Philip’s settlement in a later post.

Nothing about the settlement has yet appeared on the Web site of the Episcopal diocese, but I understand that statements and documents will be released after the signing of the agreement between the diocese and St. Philip’s, which is to take place later today.

Update, 2/2/2010, 10:30 PM: The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh has sent out an e-mail message announcing and explaining the agreement with St. Philip’s and today’s Commonwealth Court decision. You can read it here.

February 1, 2011

A Fair Settlement?

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a story today describing the first agreement the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh has made with a congregation that left the diocese for what has become the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. According to the Post-Gazette, parishioners of St. Philip’s in Moon Township will be voting tonight whether to accept the offer that has been agreed to by the Episcopal diocese and the parish’s rector, the Rev. Eric Taylor. In fact, that meeting should be going on even as I write this.

If, as expected, the agreement is approved, the diocese, which holds the deed to the St. Philip’s property, will sell that property to the congregation for a price that has not been disclosed. The church will then disaffiliate from the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) and remain independent for at least five years.

Negotiating this settlement has, apparently, taken a long time. It is, I think, a reasonable one, but a settlement made under very special circumstances. First, the deed to the property is held by the Board of Trustees of the Episcopal Diocese. Presumably, the diocese could have insisted that the building be used by an Episcopal congregation. Getting to such an outcome might have been difficult, as Common Pleas Court judge Joseph James has insisted that no congregation be evicted without his permission. (It is not clear on what legal basis the judge’s ruling rests, but he is the judge.)

The nature of St. Philip’s makes the disaffiliation requirement seem not unreasonable. The Presiding Bishop has made it clear that she does not want to sell property to breakaway parishes in ACNA or similar “Anglican” churches. Insisting that St. Philip’s be independent honors that goal. Moreover, independence is likely to be an easy sell to the congregation.

A friend and I visited St. Philip’s out of sheer curiosity one Sunday not long before the October 2008 split in the diocese. Ostensibly, the church was an Episcopal church, but, to us, it seemed far removed not only from the Episcopal mainstream but even from the Episcopal fringe. No hymnals or prayer books were used; there was a band; everything was projected on a screen; and people were even slain in the spirit. This church would be an outlier even in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, which, I predict, the congregation will not miss.

I understand, by the way, that Archbishop Duncan was supposed to make his episcopal visit to St. Philip’s next Sunday. Now, that apparently won’t happen. There may never be another episcopal visit to this church. The deposed Bishop of Pittsburgh is, it seems, an unhappy puppy. Consider these paragraphs from the news story:
The Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, which released a broad outline of the proposed settlement yesterday, argued that the requirement to break ties was a violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. The settlement must be approved by the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

“Sadly, the separation mandate seems to be specifically designed to hurt both the local diocese and the North American province [the Anglican Church in North America],” Archbishop Duncan said. “If the settlement is approved by St. Philip’s, we urge the court to strike any provisions of the settlement that abridge First Amendment rights.”
Surely this man can’t be serious. He really should read the First Amendment again. Does he really think the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is the government?

When I heard about the St. Philip’s agreement, I asked myself how it related to the stipulation agreed to in the Calvary lawsuit, since the procedures being followed do not seem to be those of paragraph 2. Because the property involved is already owned by the Episcopal diocese, however, I suspect that paragraph 1 applies. If I’m wrong on this, feel free to correct me.

GAFCON and the Covenant

It was a delicious irony that, while the Church of England’s General Synod was in the process of giving the Anglican Covenant a free pass in its first step toward acceptance by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s own church, GAFCON, an alliance presumed to be the greatest beneficiary of the Covenant, was dismissing the pact as inadequate. In particular, in item 5 of the November 24, 2010, Oxford Statement, GAFCON leaders, after announcing a boycott of the now concluded Primates’ Meeting in Dublin asserted, “And while we acknowledge that the efforts to heal our brokenness through the introduction of an Anglican Covenant were well intentioned we have come to the conclusion the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate.”

There has been some confusion about the timing of the General Synod vote and the posting of the Oxford Statement. As one who was following the Church of England’s debate in real time, I can assure you that Oxford Statement was posted to the Web before, albeit just before, the General Synod vote, but those debating the Covenant appear to have been unaware of that development. I suspect that both the timing and the irony were intentional.

I was prompted to think about the GAFCON position while reading the lead editorial by Trevor Donnelly in the February newsletter from Inclusive Church. The editorial devotes two paragraphs to the Covenant. In the second paragraph, I detect a certain sigh of relief:
While the conservative bishops were on board, the Covenant was dangerous; with them out of the picture the Covenant is pointless for everyone, and creates an unnecessary structure that we don’t want to be burdened with. Inclusive Church still opposes the Covenant—resources and information on it are available from Modern Church and the No Anglican Covenant group. The Covenant may be less of a threat, but we must not forget that it was created to penalise inclusive churches.
I find the suggestion that the threat posed by the Covenant is past and that, even if adopted, the Covenant, at worst, will only be a nuisance, to be dangerous and wrongheaded.

In particular, I don’t think we can rely on the most “orthodox” churches to stick to their resolve to reject the Covenant. I am not privy to the thinking of GAFCON’s Primates’ Council, but it is not inconceivable that the drafters of the Oxford Statement were not even trying to bring about a revision of the Covenant text. Instead, they may have been seeking to make the current text seem innocuous enough to attract adoptions from less conservative, and even liberal, churches. After most of the Communion has accepted the Covenant, the Nigerias and Ugandas of the Communion can quickly sign on as well. They can then begin the process on strengthening the Covenant and using it against the churches of the West.

Even if the Primates’ Council was not being so Machiavelian, its members may change their minds. A split of the Communion remains a possibility, but GAFCON primates may well conclude at some future time that remaining in the Communion governed by the Anglican Covenant may give them more influence than they would have running a parallel “Anglican” communion.

At the very least, I predict that the GAFCON churches will hedge their bets, neither adopting nor rejecting the Anglican Covenant until most of the other Communion churches have acted. Should The Episcopal Church accept the Covenant, I predict that the GAFCON churches, despite their charges of insincerity, will quickly follow suit.

Opponents of the Covenant should not be letting down their guard.

No Anglican Covenant

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