March 28, 2012

Musings on the Candidacy of the Rev. Canon Scott Quinn

Over the next few weeks, I plan to offer specific observations about the nominees to be the next Bishop of Pittsburgh. Do not expect my posts on this subject to be systematic, comprehensive, or definitive. I will try to be helpful, however, and I invite comments from other Pittsburgh Episcopalians.
The Rev. Canon Scott T. Quinn
The Rev. Canon
Scott T. Quinn
The Rev. Canon Scott T. Quinn has been a fine rector of Nativity, Crafton, for nearly 30 years. The parish was on life support when he arrived. Under his leadership, the congregation has grown, the building has been put in good repair, and an endowment of nearly a million dollars has been accumulated. He is well-liked throughout the diocese and has performed admirably as Canon to the Ordinary since the schism of October 2008.

Nevertheless, after the Nominating Committee announced its nominees to become the next Bishop of Pittsburgh, I was dismayed to learn that Quinn was being nominated by petition. There were several reasons for this:
  1. Although the nomination-by-petition process was different from and less prone to unfair manipulation than the surprise nomination from the floor that ultimately allowed Bob Duncan to become bishop, the nomination of Quinn felt distressingly familiar.
  2. Nomination by petition was designed to provide a safety net should the Nominating Committee do a poor job of identifying nominees. That had not happened.
  3. In particular, the Nominating Committee had identified four exceptionally well-qualified candidates. If people were willing to nominate Quinn by petition, his name had surely been submitted earlier; the Nominating Committee apparently found other candidates to be more qualified. There was reason to respect this judgment.
  4. It was widely believed that a bishop were best chosen from outside the diocese. No one I spoke to—admittedly a small, unscientific sample—named Quinn among priests of the diocese who might reasonably be considered were one to put aside the prejudice against internal candidates.
I have already made a general case against electing our next bishop from within the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in 2012—see “Pittsburghers Nominate Episcopal Candidate by Petition”—so I will not repeat what I have said already. In light of the many reasons to select a bishop from outside the diocese, one has to ask what it is that Quinn brings to the table that is so compelling.
The answer is not obvious. Quinn’s higher education, for example, is unremarkable (Pitt and Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry) and was obtained only within the Pittsburgh area. The group of candidates identified by the Nominating Committee, on the other hand, includes a lawyer, a Fulbright Scholar, a priest with a master’s degree in social work from Columbia, and a priest with a newly minted doctoral degree. Quinn has no professional experience beyond a single diocese, a limitation shared by only one other candidate. In contrast to the variety of positions held by other nominees, Quinn has held a single job his entire professional life.

Last week’s walkabouts suggested the main reason Quinn (and perhaps his backers) believes that he should be our next bishop. More than once, he went out of his way to explain that he believes he is the person who can best stand up to Bob Duncan. This is not to say that this is Quinn’s only argument for his candidacy, but it seems to be the one that distinguishes this candidate from the others. (Quinn’s experience with small parishes is seen as a strong selling point, but is not unique among the five people standing for election next month.)

I was taken aback by the thought that “standing up to Bob Duncan” was such a concern to a potential bishop, and my astonishment is shared by many others. Primarily, I was dumbfounded that anyone thought that the principal task of the next bishop would be dealing with the Archbishop of the Anglican Church of North American and Anglican Bishop of Pittsburgh. To think that is to be obsessed with the battles of the past, rather than looking to the future. I found this concern rather depressing, whereas I viewed the suggestion by Ruth Woodliff-Stanley that Pittsburgh was poised to be on the cutting edge of The Episcopal Church exciting.

Largely, we are done with our deposed Bishop Duncan. The next bishop will not have to fight Duncan over Trinity Cathedral, and the difficult property disputes largely will be in the hands of attorneys. The next Bishop of Pittsburgh might choose to fight for a seat on the board of Trinity School for Ministry, but Quinn, a graduate of the seminary, has indicated that he is now persona non grata there, hardly a good place from which to advocate for a place at the table. Our next bishop may run into Duncan at ecumenical gatherings, but I think that someone without a history of animosity toward Duncan might have an easier time maintaining equanimity in situations where conflict is best avoided.

Even if one sees significant and ongoing conflict between the Episcopal and Anglican bishops of Pittsburgh, it is unclear why Quinn is particularly well-equipped for the role. The Nominating Committee rightly put a high value on experience with conflict resolution; suspicions and animosities remain in our diocese, and there may be future disputes between Episcopal and Anglican churches. One looks in vain, however, for such experience in Quinn’s résumé.

Quinn seems to have had personal issues with then Bishop Duncan and, in any case, was certainly not among Duncan’s inner circle of co-conspirators. I know of no instance, however, when he personally took a significant public position against Duncan and his schismatic machinations. Late in Duncan’s episcopate, Quinn was meeting with conservative priests who finally declared that they would stay in The Episcopal Church. In fact, he was one of three priests who presented the letter to that effect to Duncan. No doubt, this took a certain amount of courage, but he was, in fact, only doing what was required by his ordination vows in declaring that he would remain in The Episcopal Church. I am unaware of Quinn’s ever having taken a riskier  and more public stand as did, for example, Cynthia Bronson-Sweigert in response to the passage of Resolution One in 2002. (See ENS story here.)

Although Quinn did not embarrass himself in the walkabouts, his answers to questions seemed briefer, more superficial, and less responsive to the nuances of questions than those of the other candidates. Moreover, there was evidence of the baggage carried by any candidate from the diocese. Quinn was challenged by at least one priest and some laypeople. Because he is well-known in the diocese and because people are aware of what he did and did not do over the years, Quinn will have supporters and detractors holding strong opinions should he become bishop. People are worried that this will make it harder to bring the people of the diocese together into the respectful unity that has long been absent in Pittsburgh.

I am concerned that Quinn, and even more his supporters, are fearful of the future, fearful of being more directly exposed to trends in The Episcopal Church, fearful of ideas that have not come from and do not honor the traditions of Southwestern Pennsylvania. I would hope that people vote their hopes and dreams when selecting our next bishop, not their fears and their prejudices.

Finally, there is the matter of Quinn’s admitted learning disability. This is an especially sensitive issue in Pittsburgh. Alden Hathaway was elected with the knowledge that he had certain learning disabilities and would not be able to be as effective an administrator as other bishops because of them. His deficiencies did indeed prove troublesome and ultimately required the diocese to hire Bob Duncan as Canon to the Ordinary in an attempt to compensate for them. The point, of course, is not that the election of Hathaway led to the election of Duncan, but that Hathaway’s known limitations caused the diocese problems and cost it money. We should not make such a mistake again, particularly with such talented alternative candidates to pick from.


  1. What, exactly, do you mean by his higher education, specifically, Pitt, was unreamarkable? Would attending Harvard, Yale, or Chicago make him a better person? I've seen some pretty "unremarkable" people come out of the Ivy League.

  2. My first draft of this piece was perhaps clearer on the education front. I did not mean to slight Pitt. TESM is not my favorite seminary, however. It has not been known for its academic rigor, but it has been known for its antipathy toward The Episcopal Church. In any case, other candidates have advanced degrees or degrees with honors from schools like Yale, Princeton, and Swarthmore.

    Education at a “good” school may not make you a better person (though one might hope for that). It should make you a better educated person. Like many things, however, cost and effectiveness (or quality) are not perfectly correlated.

  3. Lionel: Your comments are very thoughtful and helpful. Lets not get too hung up on each candidate's undergraduate education, which is just one lesser point. Pitt is a fine school as evidenced by my eight years there, but its students and teachers do not have the same level of learning as some of the best schools. Further I would never think of Pitt as a training ground for the clergy. For one thing, when I attended the undergraduate school, I was only able to take two Bible study classes with credit towards a degree. Any more such classes would not have counted towards the degree, but would have cost just as much. Again, the career after college and the skills developed during that career are much more important.

  4. Further thoughts—

    I think what is more important than the raw educational accomplishments is that fact that Scott Quinn seems to have had little exposure to the world outside Southwestern Pennsylvania. Moreover, he seems to represent continuity with the past. Many of us, on the other hand, want to break from the past and head off in a new direction.

  5. Having had the opportunity to work with a broad range of clergy across the church during my years of work in leadership of NNECA (National Network of Episcopal Clergy Associations), I would very much take issue with your comment that Trinity has issues with "academic rigor."

    My observation is that Trinity M.Div's actually have on average a much stronger foundation in Biblical languages, Bible, history, and historical theology, including the classics of Anglican theology, than M.Div's from most of the other seminaries of the Episcopal Church.

    For a long time I thought there was a weakness in fields of Pastoral Theology, though I believe in recent years additions of such excellent faculty as Leander Harding and Martha Giltinan have made a great difference in that area.

    My understanding from the GBEC is that Trinity students over the last three decades have performed about on par with other Episcopal seminarians on the GOE's (popular contrary assertions notwithstanding).

    Academic profiles of those preparing for ordained ministry are somewhat different from those heading to graduate and professional schools in other areas. I know that in my class at CDSP back at the beginning of the 1980's we had some students who were academic stars with earned Ph.D's and brilliant careers in diverse fields and others who were of more modest academic proficiencies and potential, but who sought good grounding and preparation for a ministry of leadership in the church.

    I'm sure that every seminary class includes a similar range. Although the Episcopal Church and wider Anglican world has always had a high sense of value on the character of a learned clergy, we do understand that seminaries and divinity schools exist to serve a diverse church, and that the kinds of academic criteria that might be useful in other graduate-level institutions need to be understood in a somewhat different framework.

    What distinguishes Trinity, of course, is its direct association with evangelical Anglicanism. In this way the school is somewhat similar to the Nashotah House in Wisconsin, which associates itself more directly with the Anglo-Catholic movement.

    In earlier days the General Seminary in New York also had a strong "Catholic" identity, and I believe in fact that under its current leadership the Seminary in Virginia is seeking to recover a stronger sense of its once-distinctive evangelical identity.

    The curriculum and flavor of each seminary is to some extent distinctive, and I suppose that it may be that information that a priest attended Trinity or Nashotah or EDS or CDSP might signal something either positive or negative, at least initially.

    It's important to note that students sometimes attend a seminary not because it matches "perfectly" their own pre-existing orientation in concerns theological or ecclesiastical, but because of the direction of a supporting priest or bishop, or because other personal or family concerns create a geographical priority. (I know that I, for example, had hoped initially to go to Virginia, but went to CDSP at the direction of my bishop, who was on the seminary's Board of Trustees.) There are students from the Anglo-Catholic tradition at Virginia and from the Charismatic part of the Church at Sewanee. It's also of course true that people evolve and change in their perspectives through long life experience, and "where you were" twenty or thirty years ago may not be a good indicator of "where you are" today.

    Again, all that said, I think it is understandable for someone to express concerns about Trinity or any other seminary for perhaps a number of reasons. But I don't believe there is any evidence that "academic rigor" should be one of them.

    Bruce Robison


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