Although bishops of The Episcopal Church are most usually elected from outside the diocese, this is not always the case. I’m sure that there are people who would readily point out that Gene Robinson was Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of New Hampshire when he was elected bishop of that diocese. That Robinson was elected is a strong indication that he was well liked and appreciated in his own diocese.
The point I want to make is that, although there may be some drawbacks to electing a priest from within a diocese, there can be overriding reasons for doing so. I also want to argue that, for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh electing a bishop in 2012, the case against an internal candidate is simply too compelling to be dismissed. To support this assertion, I want to make one additional argument that crystallized in my mind only after I wrote “Pittsburghers Nominate Episcopal Candidate by Petition.”
Under former bishop Bob Duncan, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh was slowly but systematically isolated from the wider Episcopal Church, and The Episcopal Church came to be represented as an evil influence to avoid. I won’t attempt to provide a definitive accounting of everything our now-deposed bishop did in this regard, but a short list should act as a reminder to people who have been following diocesan affairs for the past decade. My list includes actions taken directly by Duncan, as well as those passed by the diocesan convention with his vigorous support:
- Resolution One, passed in 2002, warned members of the 2003 General Convention of actions the diocese could not accept if passed.
- Parishes were allowed to designate the part of their assessments that had previously gone to The Episcopal Church to be diverted to other charities. Eventually, the diocese refused to forward any money to The Episcopal Church.
- The accession clause of the diocesan constitution was changed to give the diocese final say about what it would and would not do.
- Clergy conferences were held on days when the Province III Synod met, so that representatives from the diocese could not attend.
- Eventually, the diocese claimed to have withdrawn from Province III.
- Trinity School for Ministry became virtually the only seminary from which diocesan priests were drawn.
- Speakers at diocesan events such as clergy conferences and convention dinners were mostly drawn from outside The Episcopal Church and were critics of The Episcopal Church.
- When attending House of Bishops meetings, Duncan did not lodge in the same facilities as most other bishops and usually left early after business of special interest to him had been discussed.
- Duncan accepted David Moyer into the diocese after Moyer had been deposed by the Bishop of Pennsylvania.
- Duncan was an important figure in the development of the Anglican Communion Network, a precursor of the Anglican Church in North America.
- Duncan helped create the Anglican Relief and Development Fund, which directly competed with Episcopal Relief and Development.
Sad to say, even though The Episcopal Church came eventually to the aid of Pittsburgh Episcopalians who reached out to it, that aid, at least before the actual schism of October 2008, was less substantial than one might have hoped. Had it not been for the work of Calvary Church and Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh within the diocese, Pittsburgh would not be preparing to elect its next bishop two months from now.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh has too long been isolated from the wider church. Electing a bishop from within the diocese, however well intentioned, can only feed the insularity that so often seems to characterize Southwestern Pennsylvania generally. Instead, we need to reach out to the wider church for a bishop, bringing in new blood and new ideas from outside the Pittsburgh cocoon. We need to re-connect to the general church in as many ways as possible.
Who knows? With the right leadership, Pittsburgh, taking lessons from its long night of isolation and episcopal manipulation, might even become a leading diocese of The Episcopal Church.