October 18, 2011

Duncan Responds to Supreme Court Order

Archbishop Robert Duncan has posted a letter on the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh Web site addressed “to all clergy and lay leaders of the Anglican diocese.” (I guess laypeople who are not diocesan “leaders” needn’t bother their little heads with litigation that their bishop brought upon his see.)

Here is the text of the letter:

18th October, A.D. 2011
Feast of St. Luke


Dearest Brothers & Sisters in Christ,

I write to you today to inform you that our appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has been rejected. We accept that the courts have not found in our favor and will, of course, comply with all court orders.

We remain committed to reaching a negotiated settlement with the Episcopal Church diocese. In light of this judgment by the courts, we will redouble that commitment to reaching a final resolution of all issues between the Episcopal Church diocese and the Anglican diocese through negotiation.

We intend to persevere in our mission, which is to be Anglican Christians transforming our world with Jesus Christ. We do this chiefly by planting congregations. As at every annual Convention since realignment, congregations are being added to our diocese both locally and across the country, for which we give thanks to God. We pray God’s continued favor on our mission, his grace towards those who remain within the Episcopal Church, and his help for our beloved Communion as we move into the challenges and opportunities of this new millennium.  May the Gospel of our Lord Christ find a fresh hearing all across his Church and his world!

Faithfully your Bishop and Archbishop,
The Most Rev. Robert Duncan
Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh
Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America

Duncan, of course, is reacting to the decision I wrote about in “Pa. High Court Rejects Duncan Appeal.”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision was no surprise to Episcopalians who have been following the trajectory of the Calvary lawsuit. Whether Duncan’s supporters were prepared for the defeat, I do not know. They should have known that the Duncan appeal’s having twice been rejected by the appeals court made a request to the highest state court in the Commonwealth unpromising.

Having lost definitively in the courts, Duncan now focuses on “reaching a negotiated settlement” respecting “all issues between the Episcopal Church diocese and the Anglican diocese.” All the issues that remain are parish property issues, and the stipulation signed in 2005 gives “the Anglican diocese” no standing in reaching negotiated settlements involving parish property. (An overarching settlement with the departed congregations seems unlikely.)

At some point, if the Anglican Church in North America survives, I believe that the Episcopal and Anglican dioceses in Pittsburgh will be able to peacefully co-exist, blessing one another’s work, even. That cannot happen while parish property issues remain unresolved.

I find it curious that Duncan, insisting that the diocese will pursue its mission, asserts that that mission is primarily about “planting congregations.” The strategy, I would suggest, is more about poaching congregations than about winning souls for Christ. Despite the setbacks in Pennsylvania courts, the strategy is working well. Although Duncan had to surrender the conspicuous financial assets of the diocese to the Episcopalians, he kept office equipment, telephones, computers, and the like, as well as cash on hand, which allowed him, with buildings and people liberated from The Episcopal Church, to build his Anglican diocese.

The small parishes in the diocese were courted and manipulated by Duncan to gain their considerable votes in the diocesan convention leading up to the 2008 realignment vote. (Diocesan canons favored small congregations.) These parishes are now more liabilities than assets to Duncan. I suspect they will now be sacrificed, and Archbishop Duncan will use their adversity to heap more abuse on The Episcopal Church. Meanwhile, the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh continues to plant congregations, mostly outside Southwestern Pennsylvania, congregations whose convention deputies will outvote the Pennsylvania natives.

Such is politics in Christ’s Church.


  1. This comes to mind: In late 1862 Confederate President Jefferson Davis addressed the legislature of his home state, Mississippi. He, too, had to bring the people he led to the understanding that salvation for their cause was not coming from elsewhere. He quoted the Psalms: “…but this I say, ‘put not your trust in princes,’ and rest not your hopes in foreign nations. This war is ours; we must fight it out ourselves…,”.

    So now, too, the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh must make its own way with its own resources towards the fulfillment of its own mission. I have little sympathy for the clergy and lay leaders of the North American Anglican Church who I believe understood exactly what they were doing and, if there was any competence in their advisors, should have understood the weakness of their legal position. I feel badly for many of the laity of their congregations who have done nothing worse than to put their trust in their leadership.

    I wish I had the right plan for the way forward. To do the right thing will take the wisdom of Solomon, the courage of David, the strength of Sampson and the piety of Christ.

    Geoff Hurd

  2. Thanks for sharing the text of this, Lionel. I was somewhat surprised that the Post Gazette didn't run something, given the continuing interest Ann Rogers has had in the story.

    But I would just say that I thought Archbishop Duncan's letter was appropriate and gracious.

    The referenced negotations related to parish properties are described in the second paragraph of the 2005 Stipulation, and Judge James of the Court of Common Pleas seemed to take that paragraph seriously when he indicated that the Episcopal Diocese could not evict congregations from their traditional place of ministry without his permission. I suspect he will want to see evidence of that good faith negotiation. And, of course, our Episcopal Diocese has taken the initiative to invite congregations of the Anglican Diocese to enter into negotiation.

    My assumption and hope is that in some cases, perhaps in many cases, such negotiation will result in the ability for these congregations to continue in their traditional locations, with the Episcopal Diocese at the same time receiving agreed compensation for its interest in the property.

    Like the Anglican Diocese, we in the Episcopal Diocese need to figure out how to develop a model of sustainable ministry within a very fragile institution. Anglican Diocese "new plants" in Somerset and Slippery Rock seem to be doing well, and I think Paul Cooper's initiative is also quite promising in continuation of earlier ministries. Karen Woods also has a good new congregational initiative, beginning as a house-church, here in my neighborhood of Highland Park, which I am glad to welcome. Fields are white for the harvest. It seems to me also that the model we're developing with Tim Hushion and Steve Smalley out at St. Christopher's is quite promising, and I know we're all going to be trying to find ways to support that new work. But as Bishop Price noted last night at the Preconvention meeting, there are lots of challenges even in supporting the work of continuing ministry in so many of our smaller congregations.

    I was quite disheartened by the financials presented at the Preconvention meeting last night. Bishop Price spoke about the need going forward to "think outside the box," and I believe he's right on track with that. But I'm not sure we've shown yet that we can do that. It's going to be a rough learning curve, and it's unclear whether an institution struggling to find a model for survival will have the ability to grow in numbers and holiness. Leadership will be key, and it will be interesting to see if our nomination process will bring forward nominees for bishop who who will be able to help us move forward. I guess Jackson Kemper isn't going to be on the list, but perhaps there will be a son or daughter . . . .

    Bruce Robison

  3. Bruce,

    I, too, expected a story in the Post-Gazette. I suspect we’ll see one eventually.

    My experience is that it is difficult for organizations to move forward with interim leadership. Bishop Price, for all his talents, is necessarily reluctant to strike out in a new direction, as doing so could limit the options of the new bishop or force him or her to effect an uncomfortable course change.

    Obviously, getting properties back without their congregations is a mixed bag. I think we are doing well under the circumstances, but, because of costs involved, we are in no hurry to move the process along.

    I should note that negotiations with individual congregations is not proceeding in accordance with the stipulation. According to the agreement, churches are to petition the diocese if they wish to leave. Then negotiations begin. To my knowledge, that procedure has been followed zero times. What negotiations there have been have been ad hoc. In principle, all the churches that have not settled with the Episcopal diocese are still in the Episcopal diocese and subject to the oversight of Bishop Price.

  4. we will redouble that commitment to reaching a final resolution of all issues between the Episcopal Church diocese and the Anglican diocese through negotiation

    Today's math quiz, children: What is 2X0?

    I suppose being told, "No, you can't steal your brother's car, or you'll go to jail," makes it much more palatable to see about a ride-sharing arrangement, huh?


Anonymous comments are not allowed. All comments are moderated by the author. Gratuitous profanity, libelous statements, and commercial messages will be not be posted.