December 19, 2011

Dioceses React to Trinity Cathedral Decision

Both the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh have now posted responses to the vote last week by the Chapter of Trinity Cathedral to return the parish to being exclusively an Episcopal cathedral. (See “Trinity Cathedral Casts Its Lot with TEC.”)

The Chapter vote was taken Thursday night, December 15, 2011. The Episcopal diocese posted the story “Trinity Cathedral Reaffirms Tie to Episcopal Church” on Saturday. The story includes this explanation suggesting why it is now appropriate to end the unorthodox arrangement of being a cathedral in two different (and, in many ways, antagonistic) churches:
“Trinity's effort to serve two dioceses was well-intentioned in its time, which was a period of uncertainty,” said Bishop Kenneth L. Price, Jr. of the Episcopal Diocese. “With much of that uncertainly behind us, the Episcopal Diocese stands ready to help the Cathedral grow in its mission as a church open to all and serving all in the name of Jesus Christ in the heart of the city,” said the bishop.
Today, December 19, a story has finally been posted on the Web site of the Anglican diocese. It is worth quoting “Trinity Cathedral Withdraws from Anglican Diocese” in full:
Governing body reverses position by nullifying special resolution
On December 15, 2011, the governing body of Trinity Cathedral voted (11-7) to withdraw from the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh and affiliate exclusively with the Episcopal Church (TEC).

The motion, introduced by Mr. Andrew Thiros, was intended to nullify a special resolution passed overwhelmingly by members of Trinity Cathedral in 2008 to serve both the Episcopal Church diocese and the Anglican diocese. The vote was conducted when three members of the Anglican diocese were absent and without prior notification to members of the governing body. The special resolution under which Trinity Cathedral had been operating required a two-thirds majority of both the Cathedral governing body and a two-thirds majority of all members of the Cathedral to be altered or overturned, neither of which was satisfied by the December 15 motion. Nonetheless, the governing body, under the leadership Bishop Ken Price (TEC), contends that the motion to affirm the charter of Trinity Cathedral effectively invalidates the special resolution.

The December 15 motion was an about-face for the governing body of Trinity Cathedral, which had previously affirmed “their intention neither to withdraw from The Episcopal Church nor to withdraw from a realigned Diocese of Pittsburgh, and affirm[ed] that they do not wish to be associated with one exclusive of the other.” It is also a reversal of the position of the Episcopal diocese which had previously been supportive of sharing the space at Trinity Cathedral.

Trinity Cathedral had served as a point of unity for the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. It was used for Anglican ordinations and services for high holy days, such as Easter and Christmas.
“We are saddened to learn that Trinity Cathedral has decided to end their relationship with us. We have invested in their best interests over many years. They have chosen to embrace exclusivity, rather than inclusivity,” said Archbishop Robert Duncan.
The story from Archbishop Duncan’s diocese suggests that the vote was unfair. After all, three Chapter members from his diocese, it is claimed, were not present. Of course, if they had been present and voting, the vote would still have been 11–10 in favor of returning to the status quo ante. I have been told that “Special Resolution” appeared on the meeting agenda for Thursday night, and it would not have taken much of a leap of imagination to recognize that a motion such as the one actually passed could possibly be presented.

My reading of the Special Resolution does support the claim that two-thirds of the Chapter and two-thirds of the congregation were needed to retract the provisions of the Special Resolution. In any case, the Cathedral’s charter, which was never changed, requires that all members of the Chapter be members of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Many—perhaps all—the provisions of the Special Resolution were improper from day one. Moreover, since only members of The Episcopal Church could properly vote, it is reasonable to expect that any valid vote on returning exclusively to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh would have been unanimous.

In reality, Trinity had not “served as a point of unity for the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.” Each diocese held events at Trinity, but the events were more or less exclusively attended by parishioners from whatever was the sponsoring diocese. Episcopalians and “Anglicans” came together at Chapter meetings and in regular worship services. The two-church arrangement was more a source of conflict than reconciliation and did not seem to have the potential to become otherwise.

It is disingenuous for Duncan to suggest that Trinity Cathedral has embraced “exclusivity, rather than inclusivity.” He has not made any of “his” parishes especially welcoming to Episcopalians! Trinity Cathedral is no more choosing exclusivity than would be a Lutheran church that did not also host Methodist services. The archbishop is simply bitter, as another property he tried to remove from The Episcopal Church has apparently slipped through his fingers.

December 16, 2011

Trinity Cathedral Casts Its Lot with TEC

Sign in front of cathedral
Sign designating Trinity as the Episcopal and Anglican
cathedral (click for larger view)
Pittsburgh’s Trinity Cathedral is once again exclusively the cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. In anticipation of the split of the diocese in 2008, the Cathedral Chapter declared in a Special Resolution that the cathedral would be available both to the Episcopal and to what came to be known as the Anglican diocese. In recent years, members of the Chapter have come from the congregation and from each of the two dioceses, and Trinity Cathedral has been the cathedral of both dioceses. It had become increasingly clear, however, that this unorthodox arrangement was not really working.

At last night’s Chapter meeting, the question of returning to a strictly Episcopal church (and to being the cathedral for only the Episcopal diocese) was put to a vote. The question was carried, after which members of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh on the Cathedral Chapter walked out.

This afternoon, the following e-mail message was sent from the Trinity Cathedral office:

December 16, 2011

Dear Trinity Cathedral Family and Friends,

Yesterday evening the Chapter of Trinity Cathedral voted to re-affirm its Charter of Incorporation. Article II of the Charter states its purpose as “For the support and maintenance of a cathedral church for the public worship of Almighty God according to the faith, doctrine and discipline of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America” and Article V further clarifies Trinity Cathedral’s historic identity: “This corporation acknowledges religious allegiance to the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America and that portion of the same known as the Diocese of Pittsburgh and will be subject to and governed by the laws, rules, and regulations of the same as set forth in the constitutions and canons of said Church and said Diocese.” Chapter’s decision brings to conclusion the difficult and weighty matters with which they had been wrestling during the past six months. It also effectively ends the governance provisions of the Special Resolution which was adopted by Chapter in August, 2008 and ratified by the parish in September, 2008.

This decision was not made lightly or hastily. All the members present were given ample time to express their views before the vote was taken. Many, if not most of the comments made during the lengthy time of discussion had been previously raised in past several months of the Chapter’s work on discerning the best possible future for the Cathedral. This work began in discussions with the bishops of both the Episcopal and Anglican Dioceses of Pittsburgh and included the production of several drafts of a “White Paper” that attempted to explore all feasible options. In the end, the Chapter was not able to achieve consensus about the direction and the timing of the best path forward.

In the current Strategic Plan for Trinity Cathedral, the two central priorities are “Grow the Parish Family” and “Strengthen Our Role as Cathedral.” We believe that the clearer sense of our identity as an Episcopal Cathedral will help us to refocus our efforts and gain ground on both priorities. Our mission, “to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in the heart of this metropolitan community” remains unchanged. We will continue to be a “house of prayer for all people” and everyone is welcome in our worship and community. This vote, and the reaffirming of our Charter, does not compel anyone to leave our Cathedral, regardless of their affiliation. We would welcome opportunities to host the Pittsburgh diocese and larger body of the Anglican Church in North America should they choose to use our facilities for future events.

Our parish family should have an opportunity to discuss Chapter’s decision and its impact on our corporate future. With the Christmas season nearly upon us and many of you planning for travel and other obligations, there will be a Special Parish Meeting on Sunday, January 7, 2012 at 9:15 a.m. in the Blue Room. Until then, I ask that you would continue to keep Trinity Cathedral and its leadership in your prayers.

In Christ Jesus,

The Rev. Canon Dr. Catherine M. Brall, Provost


-- Kate Ferrick
Parish Administrator
Trinity Cathedral
328 Sixth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222-2508

Update, 12/17/2011, 6:50 PM: A story about the vote of the Trinity Cathedral Chapter is now on the Web site of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. The statement from Canon Brall is now also on the Trinity Cathedral Web site. I have seen no comment from either the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh or the Anglican Church in North America. As yet, Episcopal News Service has not reported on Thursday’s decision by the Chapter.

December 15, 2011

United States–Iraq War Ends

Although all American fighters will not be out of the country until the end of the month, a ceremony was held in Iraq today formally ending the Iraq War.

Perhaps now is a good time to be clear about what will be written in our history books and what we will tell our children and grandchildren.

Who were we fighting?

Did we win?

I cannot answer those questions. Can you?

December 14, 2011

Changes Needed in the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church

Having both participated in and observed the power struggles that have taken place in The Episcopal Church in recent years, I have often wished that the constitution and canons of the church were different than they are. I have long wanted to offer a comprehensive list of desirable changes to our church’s canon law, along with scholarly discussion justifying the need for change and the benefits to be gained thereby.

Episcopal Church shield
Somehow, my project has never really gotten off the ground, and I have even forgotten some of my brilliant proposals for canonical renewal. A General Convention is fast approaching, however, and a provocative hatchet job now may be more interesting—perhaps even useful—than a scholarly essay at some indeterminate future time.

I therefore will offer some suggested changes, along with at least a brief case for each one. I invite readers to offer their thoughts on my suggestions or to propose their own changes to the Episcopal Church constitution and canons.

Revise Constitution Preamble

I was speechless when, in September 2003, then Bishop of Pittsburgh Robert Duncan argued that, in approving the consecration of Gene Robinson to be Bishop of New Hampshire, the General Convention had violated its own constitution. I did not then—and I do not now—understand the logic of this charge, but it has often been repeated by conservative church militants. I think that two lines of argument have been put forth—that the church violated “historic Faith and Order” and that it somehow violated an obligation to the Anglican Communion. Neither argument makes any sense, but that is beside the point.

The Preamble, which was added to the constitution in 1967, reads as follows:
The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church), is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. This Constitution, adopted in General Convention in Philadelphia in October, 1789, as amended in subsequent General Conventions, sets forth the basic Articles for the government of this Church, and of its overseas missionary jurisdictions.
It is not apparent to the casual reader that the actual purpose of the Preamble is to establish “The Episcopal Church” as the legal equivalent to “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.” Various unsuccessful attempts had been made over the years to shorten the church’s name. When, in the 1960s, such a change had become widely acceptable, concern were expressed that a name change might have unanticipated legal ramifications. It was therefore decided to create an alternate legal name. The wording of the Preamble was proposed by Dr. Clifford P. Morehouse, who was president of the House of Deputies. The text involving the nature of the church and its relation to the Anglican Communion was, as we would say in Louisiana, lagniappe. The Preamble was adopted by the General Convention without amendment.

There are two reasons for removing unnecessary provisions from the Preamble. First, they have been used as a cudgel against the church, unfairly, to be sure, but convincingly to some. Second, should we find ourselves not in the Anglican Communion at some future time—we could remove ourselves, we could be ejected, or the Communion could self-destruct, three plausible developments—references to the Anglican Communion that could not be removed for six years would, at best, be embarrassing. Conservatives have argued that separation from the Communion would present a “constitutional crisis.” This is silliness, but we have been harmed by silliness before. We would do well to remove the threat, if not to our legitimacy, at least to our tranquility.

In my post, “A Preamble Proposal,” I offered this alternative to our present Preamble:
This Constitution for the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (otherwise known as the Episcopal Church, which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church), adopted in General Convention in Philadelphia in October, 1789, as amended in subsequent General Conventions, sets forth the basic Articles for the government of this Church, and of its overseas missionary jurisdictions.
I propose that this become the revised Preamble, though perhaps we should retain “The Episcopal Church,” rather than “the Episcopal Church,” as I suggested last year.

Mandate Support of the General Church

It is unconscionable that dioceses like my own, at least in the years before the departure of Bob Duncan and his merry band, demanded a diocesan assessment be paid by parishes to the diocese while refusing to contribute any funds to the maintenance of the general church. This is both poor stewardship and blatant hypocrisy. It makes it easier for dioceses to keep the rest of The Episcopal Church at arm’s length. General Convention should determine a fair contribution from each diocese and demand payment. Hardship exceptions are needed, but there should be consequences for non-payment. The assessment on dioceses should be a single figure, so that dioceses have no incentive to pay part while objecting to paying another part.

Bring Transparency to Consent Collection

Once a bishop is elected by a diocese, a majority of standing committees and a majority of bishops with jurisdiction must consent to the consecration of the bishop-elect. The collection of consents is usually a formality that proceeds quickly, concluding long before the expiration of the 120 days allowed by Canon III.11.4. This is not always the case, however. Votes by standing committees and (particularly) bishops are only made public if the voters themselves make them so. Knowing the status of the voting is helpful in the case of controversial bishops-elect. It could alert the electorate to concerns of which many may be unaware, for instance. At the very least, final vote tallies should be released, which is both a check against fraud and an acknowledgement of American democratic values.

One might also ask the question whether 120 days are really necessary to collect consents in the Internet age. Perhaps 90 days would be enough. (Those 90 days should be calendar days, however, and there should be no excuse for extending the period as the presiding bishop did after the first election of Mark Lawrence.)

Provide a Mechanism to Remove a Dysfunctional Bishop

Appropriately, it is difficult to remove a bishop from office. There are times, however, when the relationship between a bishop and the bishop’s diocese has become dysfunctional and, apparently, beyond redemption. Such a situation can exist even in the absence of offenses by the bishop that could lead to the institution of disciplinary procedures under Title IV. (The relationship of the Diocese of Pennsylvania and Bishop Charles Bennison comes immediately to mind.) There should be a way for the diocese to remove its bishop. Perhaps bishops should even be elected for a fixed term, as they are in some other churches. I don’t have a plan here, but one is needed.

Clarify that Accession is Irreversible

Section 1 of Article V of the church’s constitution, which relates to the admission of new dioceses, contains this sentence:
After consent of the General Convention, when a certified copy of the duly adopted Constitution of the new Diocese, including an unqualified accession to the Constitution and Canons of this Church, shall have been filed with the Secretary of the General Convention and approved by the Executive Council of this Church, such new Diocese shall thereupon be in union with the General Convention.
The clear intent here, I would argue, is that every diocese is to be forever bound by the provisions of the General Convention’s constitution and canons. Nevertheless, a number of dioceses have removed accession clauses from their constitutions, sometimes with the transparent intention of leaving the church altogether. I believe this was first done by the Diocese of Dallas and done most recently by the Diocese of South Carolina. It was done in my own diocese of Pittsburgh prior to the 2008 schism.

Dioceses that have removed or qualified accession clauses in their constitution have, as far as I have been able to determine, justified their moves by one of two arguments. South Carolina has argued that, as one of the original dioceses, the Article V restriction does not apply. Originally, however, all dioceses were required to accede to the constitution. (The required accession to the canons was added to the constitution much later.) The other argument, one used in Pittsburgh, is that, although a new diocese must have an accession clause in its constitution, Article V does not require that the clause remain in the constitution. The clause could be removed immediately after the diocese was admitted to the General Convention. This argument is silly and presumes that the General Convention is stupid, but there is a loopy logic to it.

It is time for the nonsense that dioceses are somehow sovereign and not necessarily bound to the constitution and canons of the General Convention to be put to rest. We need a constitutional amendment that declares that (1) every diocese must maintain a constitutional provision of accession to the General Convention’s constitution and canons, and (2) even in the absence of such a provision, the diocese is nonetheless so bound.

Clarify a Bishop’s Responsibility for Improper Changes to Governing Documents

Changes to accession clauses by dioceses have had few consequences. In the case of Pittsburgh, for example, Episcopalians in the diocese were able to get Executive Council to declare that the qualification of accession in the constitution was null and void. Well, we see how effective that determination was!

I argued in November 2006 that weakening a diocese’s accession clause is intrinsically unlawful and that support for it by a bishop is a punishable offense. (See “Unqualified Accession.”) Our church leaders, on the other hand, have had the view that crippling the accession clause is not an offense, but using the change to justify some otherwise improper action is. Thus, we wait until a diocese tries to leave the church before we take action! This is a bankrupt, even suicidal, policy.

The canons should state that any bishop who supports or abets the weakening of the diocesan accession clause should be subject to church discipline. Even this would not be an air-tight rule. Mark Lawrence has argued that changes to the South Carolina constitution were done by the South Carolina convention, not by him. Lawrence, of course, could have ruled the change out of order. He did not. (He might have a defense if such a ruling were overruled by the convention.)

Allow Clergy Discipline to be Handled Outside Diocese

Alas, Episcopalians have learned in recent years that dioceses sometimes run off the rails. They have also learned that there is little they can do about it when it happens. (See my recent post “Whither South Carolina?”) A few years ago, I consulted with members of another diocese that subsequently claimed to have left the church about a particular priest who seemed clearly guilty of canonical violations but who was presumably doing the bidding of his conservative bishop. Bringing charges against such a miscreant was pointless, as the diocese would never have found him guilty. As I understand the revised Title IV, this problem remains. Even if a bishop were removed for his or her part in gutting the diocese’s accession clause, there is presently no way to discipline clergy who voted for the change. We need a way to impose discipline on clergy from outside a diocese in extreme situations.

Provisions for Dealing with a Rogue Diocese

Consider the Diocese of South Carolina. Its bishop has been complicit in removing the accession to church canons and could conceivably be removed for that (see above). Even if Mark Lawrence were removed from the diocese, as I explained in “Whither South Carolina,” the church would still have a rogue diocese on its hands, one hostile to the general church and convinced of its own independence. Even if the more extreme clergy were deposed, South Carolina contains many laypeople holding similar views. What can The Episcopal Church do about such a situation now? Virtually nothing.  Despite charges that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is a tyrant intent on subduing the sovereign Diocese of South Carolina, she is, in actual fact, lacking usable tools to restore South Carolina to sanity.

The Episcopal Church needs a constitutional procedure for dealing with a diocese—South Carolina is but the latest example—that has gone rogue and divorced itself, virtually, if not literally, from the wider church. There should be a mechanism for the church to replace diocesan leadership with leaders friendly to the general church until such time as the diocese can be made a sane participant in church life.

No doubt, this will be seen as my most radical proposal, and I will be denounced as an enemy of democracy and a friend of tyranny. So be it. I love my church and am sick of seeing it undermined from within while Episcopalians stand by wringing their hands. Having a democratically governed church need not mean having a church at the mercy of small, but determined minorities.

Completing the Job

Careful readers will observe that the foregoing suggestions mostly have to do with maintaining the integrity of The Episcopal Church internally. To complete the job of protecting our church from all enemies foreign and domestic, we should reject the Anglican Covenant (see “A Revised Proposal for General Convention 2012”) and amend the constitution to protect ourselves both from agreements that would limit our autonomy and from dioceses that would attempt to enter into such agreements. (Some conservative dioceses have wanted to adopt the Anglican Covenant as a diocese.) I have not really thought of an appropriate wording for such an amendment, but I would like to see the Anglican Covenant be not only unwise but also unlawful for The Episcopal Church and for any of its dioceses to adopt.

This ends my quick-and-dirty list of tasks for General Convention. I’m sorry that my list is not clearer or more compelling; this is the best I can do in a hurry.

Readers, what do you think? Which ideas a good and which do you think demented? Do you have other ideas? Let’s have a discussion.

December 12, 2011


I bought a semi-boneless ham the other day. Isn’t semi-boneless an odd term? My ham does have a very conspicuous bone through its center. According to RecipeTips.Com, a semi-boneless ham is
A whole or half ham from the leg primal cut that has only the leg bone remaining. The hip or shank bone has been removed, making it easier to carve.
So a semi-boneless ham is boned, in the sense of having a bone and, at the same time, boned, in the sense of having at least one bone removed. A semi-boneless ham is not a boneless ham at all!

In the case of ham, the use of semi- has come to have a very specific, if curious meaning. Just think of the opportunities for using semi- to qualify otherwise definitive-sounding terms: semi-fat-free, semi-smoke-free, semi-salt-free, semi-gluten-free, semi-guileless, semi-fearless, semi-pointless, semi-moonless, and so forth. The possibilities are endless (or, perhaps, only semi-endless).

December 7, 2011


Because of some technical problems with one of my computers, it is very difficult at the moment to post anything to my Web site. Normally, I would add a page to the Poetry section of Lionel Deimel’s Web Log when I finish a poem. Since I cannot do that just now, I will offer my latest poem here.

There isn’t much I want to say about “Reciprocity” other than that it would be a mistake to read anything autobiographical into it. The repeated first stanza—inspired by I don’t know what—was written first, and the rest of the poem flowed from those four lines.


by Lionel Deimel

Would I be happy were I free
Instead of being blue
Because you’re now a part of me,
But I’m not part of you?

We seem to be a perfect pair—
I finish what you say,
I dress to match the clothes you wear,
And ask about your day.

You have so many thoughts to share
And stories to recite;
You awe me with your savoir faire,
Beguile me through the night.

Our music tastes are quite the same;
We often vote alike;
I hate the authors you think lame;
And love to ride your bike.

You sometimes call when you’ll be late,
But sometimes you forget;
You seem untroubled by my wait,
Evincing no regret.

You seem to have some other friends
Whom I have yet to meet;
I have a list of odds and ends
You never can complete.

I’ve learned to like the things you do—
That’s something you’ve not done;
Why can’t you try out something new,
Because I’d find it fun?

Would I be happy were I free
Instead of being blue
Because you’re now a part of me,
But I’m not part of you?

December 4, 2011

A Hymn for John the Baptist

I attended a wonderful Service of Nine Lessons & Carols for Advent at Pittsburgh’s Calvary Episcopal Church this afternoon. Music was provided by the Calvary choirs and Chatham Baroque. The service included a number of congregation hymns—it is always wonderful to sing hymns in a reverberant space with a large congregation—all on Advent themes.

The text of one of the hymns, “The son of Zechariah,” had unfamiliar words, though it was set to the familiar Es flog ein kleins Waldvögelein. As it happens, the hymn was written by Calvary’s rector, the Rev. Dr. Harold Lewis, who is responsible for quite a bit of poetry. The hymn is the only one I can think of that is substantially about John the Baptist. As I sang the hymn, which is reprinted below, the words alternately surprised and delighted me. (I have done my best to render the text, which was printed in the program with music, as a proper poem.)

The son of Zechariah


The son of Zechariah to Jordan’s shores once came.
The Harbinger, the Herald, in Jesus’ holy Name
He preached to all repentance, to crowds, the vipers’ brood,
With camel’s hair his raiment, and locusts as his food.

A voice, in desert crying, “Prepare for God a route,
Your Savior soon is coming, from Jesse’s Tree a shoot,
To rescue you from Satan, and from the snares of Hell,
To bring you to his bosom, the Lord, Emmanuel.

The people, so expectant, Messiah-seeking horde,
Asked John if he were Jesus, the long-awaited Lord.
“I baptize you with water. One mightier than I
Is coming; I his sandals, cannot presume to tie.”

“He will baptize with fire, the Holy Spirit’s blaze,
He old men will astonish, the youth he will amaze.
The tax collectors, soldiers, and folk of every kind
Will claim Him as Redeemer, and in him peace will find.”

Forerunner of our Savior, who leapt in Lizbeth’s womb,
Declared that in Christ’s Kingdom there is for sinners room.
You baptized Christ the Savior, and then the heavenly Dove
Descended on him boldly, sign of the Father’s love.

O blessed John the Baptist, with wonder, awe, and mirth
Help now to make us ready to celebrate Christ’s birth,
Attended by his angels and all the heavenly host,
We sing to God the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost.

Copyright © 2009 by Harold T. Lewis. Reproduced by permission.

December 2, 2011

Mary Roehrich on South Carolina

As regular readers know, I seldom offer guest postings. The essay below is one of my exceptions. It was written by my friend Mary Roehrich, a board member of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh and member of the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

After I wrote my last post, “Whither South Carolina?,” I contacted Mary because she has complained more than once about how The Episcopal Church has dealt with the situation in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, and I thought she would find my post interesting. When I spoke to her, she shared the essay below, which she was about to send to various individuals and private lists. I asked for and received Mary’s permission to reproduce her message here.

Mary is, of course, responsible for everything in the essay below, which was written independently of my contribution. I have only edited her text for format.

To loyal Episcopalians in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina,

I am about to commit liberal blasphemy. Please hear my plea.

The faithful Episcopalians in the Diocese of SC are in a new place, not a very comfortable place, but different than where they were before. You desire to remain in your diocese and in TEC. As a veteran of the separatist wars in Pittsburgh I have a suggestion. You probably need a new approach. +Mark Lawrence has said he is and will remain a bishop of TEC. Take him at his word and challenge him to use your good offices to achieve his goal.

Meet with the Bishop and say “the strategy we have tried to keep SC in TEC so far has not been successful. If it is your desire to remain in TEC, it is also ours, and we are willing to help you in any way we can that does not threaten our integrity. The Bishop is the chief pastor of our diocese and we need pastoring as much as anyone else AND we are willing to support your goal of staying in TEC. What do you need that we can provide?”

He is probably annoyed with those of you who signed the deposition, and you are angry with what he has done. Try to put the anger aside and deflect his anger and find a way to demonstrate Christian forbearance and love in a material way that breaks through his isolation and your alienation. Get part of him on your side by showing him that your side has something to offer HIM and the diocese.

This approach was not tried successfully in Pittsburgh and I have always thought it was a major mistake. Robert Duncan is a different kettle of fish from +Mark Lawrence and I think you may have a better shot. In the end it is not what he has done that you have to answer for, but what you have done. You will have to put up with the consequences of everyone’s actions surrounding this issue but if you have gone the extra mile in spite of provocation you will be in a better spot.

The church center was of no use to us during the early stages of conflict with Bob Duncan and did not try to reach out effectively to him or to us in spite of repeated pleas from PEP [Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh] to pay attention (as early as 2003). They actually came late to the party, after the first vote for schism, and were best at informing us of what they wanted, not asking what they could do for us. I have the impression they are doing the same thing in SC and suspect it will be equally as effective.

So to all intents and purposes the ball is in your court. Call on +Mark Lawrence to be the best Episcopal Bishop he can be, and be to him the best, not necessarily the most compliant, Episcopalians you can be.

I am not directly involved in your diocese, and there is a great deal about your history and present situation I don’t know, and you probably don’t like being preached at from someone from the outside like me. BUT SOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE in order for your diocese to change its current disastrous course. Try getting the bishop to consider you as more than collateral damage. I know such a course will be exceedingly difficult, take a long time, make you vulnerable in ways you have avoided and it may not be what you want to hear. BUT desperate times call for desperate measures. Mix it up, catch ’em off guard.

Yours in faith and fear,
Mary C. Roehrich
Member of the Standing Committee, Diocese of Pittsburgh
Director of PEP

December 1, 2011

Whither South Carolina?

I was upset earlier this week when I learned that Bishop of South Carolina Mark Lawrence would not be charged with abandoning the The Episcopal Church. (I was in a meeting when I learned of this development, and members of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh can testify that I was visibly upset!) I can understand the decision not to charge Lawrence; there are reasonable arguments both for and against bringing charges. In fact, I have no doubt that Lawrence has violated his responsibilities as a bishop and should be subject to the disciplinary procedures of Title IV, but the proper charge probably is not one of abandonment.

Here is Section 1 of Canon IV.16, which deals with abandonment by a bishop:
If a Bishop abandons The Episcopal Church (i) by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of the Church; or (ii) by formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the same; or (iii) by exercising Episcopal acts in and for a religious body other than the Church or another church in communion with the Church, so as to extend to such body Holy Orders as the Church holds them, or to administer on behalf of such religious body Confirmation without the express consent and commission of the proper authority in the Church, it shall be the duty of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, by a majority vote of all of its members, to certify the fact to the Presiding Bishop and with the certificate to send a statement of the acts or declarations which show such abandonment, which certificate and statement shall be recorded by the Presiding Bishop. The Presiding Bishop shall then place a restriction on the exercise of ministry of said Bishop until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon. During the period of such restriction, the Bishop shall not perform any Episcopal, ministerial or canonical acts.
Clearly, the issue before the Disciplinary Board for Bishops was whether Lawrence had abandoned the church “by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of the Church,” not whether he had in some way strayed from “the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of the Church,” which I believe he certainly has. It is not hard to argue that Lawrence has not made a relevant open renunciation, however. In fact, the bishop has consistently indicated his intention to remain in The Episcopal Church, even while failing to make a convincing declaration of loyalty to the church.

Almost certainly, the question of abandonment was raised because the charge of abandonment is handled differently and more expeditiously than other less ambiguous charges. That an abandonment charge led to the deposition of Pittsburgh’s Robert Duncan no doubt encouraged those who raised the abandonment question regarding Mark Lawrence. It must be admitted, however, that Duncan had gone further in distancing himself from the church. But, even in that case, one might question whether the open-renunciation requirement had been met.

I believe that Lawrence should be charged with violating the canons of both the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and those of The Episcopal Church, but I say this with trepidation. The situation in South Carolina is a mess, and The Episcopal Church lacks effective tools to deal with it.

It is true that Bishop Mark Lawrence has not acted as an ideal Episcopal bishop, but he is hardly the first conservative Bishop of South Carolina with an ambivalent (or perhaps unfavorable) view of The Episcopal Church. It was, in fact, inevitable that a Mark Lawrence (or someone even more antagonistic to The Episcopal Church) would be elected bishop in 2006. As I pointed out in my essay “No Consents: A Crucial Test for The Episcopal Church,” episcopal candidates were being asked to respond to very telling questions. Here are several multiple-choice questions asked of candidates and Lawrence’s answers:
  1. There should be room in the Episcopal Church for priests and bishops who accept homosexual conduct as a valid, non-sinful choice. Answer: disagree
  2. There should be room in the Episcopal Church for priests and bishops who consider homosexual contact a sin. Answer: strongly agree
  3. The church should not divide over this issue [homosexuality]. Answer: strongly disagree
  4. If the Diocese of South Carolina does not become separate in some formal way from ECUSA, I intend to resign my orders as an Episcopal priest. Answer:unsure
  5. If the Diocese of South Carolina separates in some formal way from ECUSA, I intend to transfer from this diocese to an ECUSA diocese. Answer: strongly disagree
  6. The solution to our problem in ECUSA is for ECUSA to repent of its actions and return to traditional standards. Answer: strongly agree
  1. The solution to our problem in ECUSA is time; we should wait and let the fuss die down. Answer: strongly disagree
  2. The solution to our problem in ECUSA is for the conservatives to go along and get along (not that big an issue). Answer: strongly disagree
  3. As a priest, I should not follow my bishop’s direction when it conflicts with Scripture, traditionally interpreted by the Anglican Church. Answer: strongly agree
Presumably, Lawrence’s answers were the sort the South Carolina electorate was looking for. Despite the existence of clergy and laypeople in South Carolina fiercely loyal to The Episcopal Church, evidence suggests that, on the whole, South Carolina Episcopalians are even more hostile to The Episcopal Church than is their bishop.

The widespread sentiment within South Carolina means that, if the church were to remove Bishop Lawrence, the South Carolina problem for the church would still be unresolved. The diocese, if it did not do something even more radical—there would be a lot of angry church members in the diocese in that eventuality—would simply elect another problematic bishop. At that point, all the church could do is refuse to consent to the consecration of the bishop-elect. It is unclear that the church would have sufficient resolve to reject bishops-elect until an acceptable one was chosen. Recall that Lawrence was rejected once—do not believe that his failure to receive sufficient consents was simply an administrative quirk—but he was given the required consents when elected again and after he provided a fig-leaf of reassurances that he would behave himself. Many of us suspected that the bishop-elect gave those reassurances with his fingers crossed.

Whereas it is not true, as Lawrence would have it, that Episcopal dioceses are sovereign, it is equally true that the general church has few options when a diocese deliberately runs off the rails. There is no way to remove or even discipline non-episcopal diocesan leaders from outside the diocese. This is, alas, a deficiency in our canons. Were Bishop Lawrence deposed, it is possible—likely even—that the  Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina would try to leave the church, perhaps aligning itself with the Anglican Church in North America. Or it might appeal for help from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who might view South Carolina as another Rwanda in need of his well-intentioned, if extralegal, intervention.

In other words, The Episcopal Church has no good options in South Carolina other than to encourage Episcopal Forum of South Carolina and other loyal Episcopalians to work for change from within. Given the state’s conspicuous hostility to outside authority generally and the conservative leanings of the people of South Carolina, I do not have high hopes for significant change anytime soon.

Should the church charge Mark Lawrence with an offense that can be successfully prosecuted? In the end, I don’t know. He deserves to be removed from office, but will his removal have consequences worse than those attendant to his continuance in office? I fear that The Episcopal Church will simply have to watch the train wreck and hope for the best.

In the meantime, General Convention should consider whether canons need to be changed to deal effectively with circumstances like those now present in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

Update, 12/3/2011: Yesterday, I posted an essay by Mary Roehrich dealing with the situation in South Carolina. I invite you also to read “Mary Roehrich on South Carolina” if you have not already done so.