June 20, 2011

Pittsburgh Diocese Unexcited by Covenant

A number of dioceses of The Episcopal Church have publicized statements concerning the Anglican Communion that were submitted to the Executive Council. The latest, for example, came from the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York and can be read on The Lead. These statements have generally come from General Convention deputations, consisting of those people who will be called upon to vote on any resolutions relating to the Anglican Covenant on behalf of the church.

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh took a broader approach to giving feedback on the covenant. On behalf of the diocese, the Rev. Jeff Murph, chair of a task force appointed by Bishop Ken Price, wrote a one-page report of discussions concerning the Covenant. The report offers no advice to the church about the Covenant nor suggests how Pittsburgh deputies might be inclined to vote in the 2012 General Convention.

As explained in the report, the Task Force on the Study of the Anglican Covenant led a discussion of the Covenant at a fall 2010 clergy conference. Parishes were asked to conduct programs on the Covenant and to report to the task force, but only 20% of the parishes (and none of the three largest in the diocese, including my own) actually did so. Despite the fact that Murph characterized the clergy conference discussion as “lively,” few Pittsburgh clergy seem to have been energized enough by the Covenant issue to bring it to the attention of their parishes. In fact, of the five task force members, only Murph is associated with a parish that reported studying the Covenant.

The six parishes whose discussions are described in the report structured consideration of the Covenant in various ways. Generally, the whole congregation was invited to participate, though one discussion was carried on only by the parish vestry.

A few excerpts from the report will give some sense of what was said in discussions of the Covenant:
Some of the questions that surfaced during the studies were: What happens if we don’t sign it? Is this the only way to move forward? Who would benefit the most? Is the Covenant active or passive? Why are we doing this now? Will it actually do or change anything? How do we balance autonomy and interdependence?

Uniformly, all parishes reported positive reactions to the first three sections of the Covenant as an accurate and helpful description of Anglican belief.

In the question of how most people were inclined to feel toward the Covenant, five of the six parishes reporting indicated ambivalence leaning toward a guarded hopefulness (though with more skeptical minorities). One parish reported negative attitudes toward the Covenant. One parish vestry unanimously endorsed the Covenant.

Most parish responses indicated generally low enthusiasm for the whole enterprise, often related to the perceived esoteric nature of the text and terminological difficulties in understanding it as well as an uncertainty as to what effect it might have on the Episcopal Church.
It would not surprise me to learn that the attitudes in Pittsburgh are not that different from those in other dioceses. That is disappointing here, however, since there is a direct connection from the Covenant to the episcopate of deposed bishop Robert Duncan, from whose depredations the diocese is still suffering. It is also disappointing that Sections 1–3 of the Covenant consistently receive high marks from those studying the Covenant. (The Central New York was as accepting of those sections as were Pittsburgh Episcopalians.) As I have argued earlier (here and here), Sections 1–3 exist primarily to allow the operation of the nearly universally condemned Section 4.

The full Pittsburgh report can be read here.

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