May 15, 2012

PEP Meets with Bishop-Elect

Pittsburgh’s bishop-elect was in town yesterday for a brief visit, and Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP) took the opportunity to have a conversation with him.

PEP logo

About 35 PEP members brought food for a potluck supper to Church of the Redeemer, Squirrel Hill. They were joined for dinner by Dorsey McConnell, who listened to a brief history of PEP given by PEP president Joan Gundersen, followed by a lively dialogue between PEP members and the next Bishop of Pittsburgh.

Although some questions probed McConnell’s views and intentions, a majority of remarks from those gathered around the table were aimed at explaining the state of the diocese and the path by which it arrived where it is. Much hurt and frustration were in evidence. Many stories told were set in the Duncan era, but it was clear that Pittsburgh Episcopalians believe that blame for the 2008 schism must be shared with Trinity School for Ministry, with Pittsburgh clergy, and with prior Pittsburgh bishops.

The bishop-elect’s least well received response was elicited by a question about same-sex blessings: If, as expected, the General Convention approves trial use of a liturgy for blessing same-sex unions, would a Bishop McConnell allow that liturgy to be used in Pittsburgh? McConnell repeated the noncommittal response he gave at the March walkabouts—see “Walkabout Reflections”—namely, that discussion and consensus would be needed before same-sex unions could be blessed in Pittsburgh.

Although I doubt that McConnell’s answer satisfied anyone in the room, he segued into comments about the episcopate in our church, which were more reassuring. He called the church’s model of episcopal ministry “less than collaborative,” and, although it is largely shaped by canon, he said, “My own sense is that model is almost gone.” It is, he asserted, on the wrong side of both mission and economics.

In actuality, McConnell did more listening than talking—probably not a bad strategy—and he did say some things people seemed happy to hear. For example, he expressed the hope that the diocese would become more proactive in getting out its own message and not simply trying to counter statements from the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

In response to a question about engaging youth, McConnell suggested that evangelicals have concentrated on the faith of individuals and progressives have focused on society. The two concerns “have gotten pulled apart,” he said, but young people are looking for a faith that is both “spiritually vital and socially engaged.”

Thoughts on the Meeting

Last night’s discussion was cordial, and I suspect that many left Redeemer in a hopeful frame of mind, anticipating a more coöperative, less imperial Pittsburgh episcopate. PEP will be watching, not without some anxiety.

In particular, if a trial liturgy is approved for same-sex blessings and Pittsburgh parishes are not allowed to use it, I believe the prohibition will be taken as a sign that the new bishop is intent on returning the diocese to the bad ol’ days from which we thought we had been delivered. I sincerely hope that no one wants that.

In any case, the role of PEP was articulated in a new statement of purpose handed out at the meeting. You can read it here. No further comment seems necessary.


  1. In response to a question about engaging youth, McConnell suggested that evangelicals have concentrated on the faith of individuals and progressives have focused on society. The two concerns “have gotten pulled apart,” he said, but young people are looking for a faith that is both “spiritually vital and socially engaged.”

    This is a very astute observation of the reality I have seen over the past decade in those under 30 with whom I have talked.

  2. I am sorry to read the implication in Lionel's report that Bishop Hathaway and Trinity School of Ministry had a mostly "bad" effect on the diocese and hope I misunderstand . It my opinion, there was much good in their ministries and to characterize it as all bad is to strike a wedge among us. I was very grateful for both Bishop Hathaway's ministry, despite some faults, and for that of TESM, where I took a January term course. I have enjoyed workshops given by professors there. It also appears from the comments posted by Lionel that the issue of same-sex blessings is the main one that PEP is concerned with--if the new bishop does not do what PEP would like to see done on that issue, it's back to square one and the "bad old days." I thought the issues with Bishop Duncan had to do with serious defects in leadership style, which sought to alienate rather than to work together. I think it's very important to allow for balance in the diocese. I do understand how important the LGBT issues are for many, but am saddened that they seem to cloud all others and be the "litmus test" not only for those who followed Bishop Duncan, but for many of those who have remained, but from opposite points of view. For the one, you're not Christian if you believe in same sex blessings and marriage, for others you're not Christian if you don't, or want to continue to go slow. Is this really where we are, according to Lionel's report?

  3. In reply to an earlier comment: The issue of same sex marriage was made the issue by Duncan and other ultra-conservatives, after Bishop Robinson was elected. It was the ultra-conservatives who demanded that their definition of Christianity be strictly implemented with a threat of revolt. In the "big tent" approach, no one is compelled to accept same sex marriage, but neither should supporters of same sex marriage be excluded. Both the individuals and society will be enhanced by committed, loving relationships. The suggestion that the problem with Duncan was just his leadership style is superficial and revisionist.
    Moving on, perhaps we should look at Duncan as the end product of prior failures of leadership and teaching. However, the election of Duncan remains vivid in my mind. He was elected from the floor because most of the voters believed Duncan to be more moderate in his views than the very conservative candidates promoted by the nominating committee. Either Duncan mislead us from the outset or his deep seated need to be a primate later overwhelmed him. However, we must remember over and over again that the sense of the electorate at Duncan's election was that a moderate rather than a conservative was needed to run this diocese. Looking at the lay votes from the first round of the McDonnell election, and the floor vote from the Duncan election, I may be imagining things but I perceive some continuity in the goals of those voters.
    I applaud Bishop McConnell's apparent and hopefully sincere view that a more collaborative and less imperial style of leadership is emerging by necessity. Although displeased by his answer, upon further reflection I cannot fault him too much for wanting to learn more about the views of the people who make up the diocese. Upon further reflection, I have also concluded that Lionel showed great insight in an earlier comment, when he stated that one by-product of the schism is that the remaining Episcopalians are probably more liberal than the holdover clergy. I hope that McDonnell takes to heart the results of the first round of voting. Ultimately, he was elected due to the intransigence of the clergy, and their denigration of the less learned views of the lay voters. Further, a couple of those clergy voters have admitted that careerism was their important consideration. If McDonnell does not learn the reasons why the lay voters initially did not support him, and does not respond to those reasons in the course of his episcopate, then he will become isolated from the faithful whom he intends to lead. We are condemned to live in interesting times.

  4. Gary-- I guess you're saying those of us who did not approve at all of Duncan's departure but remain evangelical or conservative on many issues--but are not priests--are "holdover laity"? And do you really think the 12 clergy who signed the statement in the PPG that they agreed with Duncan's theology but not his departure were just fibbing? I know and trust most of those clergy and simply do not buy that. Please don't start a new wedge in the diocese by dismissing both clergy and laity who think differently from you on some issues. We don't have to be all alike. --I'm not talking about the sexual issues here--that's a separate issue, as far as I'm concerned.

  5. I'm very glad to hear that the dinner and conversation went well. My impression of Bishop-elect McConnell is that he is indeed a good and sensitive listener, and I think it is quite meaningful that he was able to schedule this event during his first, very brief visit to Pittsburgh since the election.

    Gary's recollection of the 1995 election is quite different from mine. Of the four persons on the ballot I think David Anderson was the clear "Evangelical conservative." Bob Duncan, a local favorite, was a clear "Anglo-Catholic conservative." My friend Gary Nicolosi was generally speaking a moderate from what we sometimes call the "renewal" bunch of the Church, and Dennis Fotinos a moderate from the "broad church" bunch. The relatively simple (3 ballot) election of Bishop Duncan was I think to show a clear preference across most of the diocese for a known, local person. I don't believe anyone had any real lack of clarity about his basic theological orientation. Had he not been on the ballot my guess is that the contest would have been between Anderson and Nicolosi, with Anderson the likely result. My guess, anyway, 17 years down the road.

    Bruce Robison

  6. Thanks for the recollections of the 1995 election, Fr. Robison. --About leadership style and theological orientation: what we did not know about Bishop Duncan, I think, was the direction his leadership style had taken in his previous diocese. One person from that diocese told me that at times it was like a "reign of terror." When he first came to Pittsburgh, however--was he bishop suffragan?-- he was supportive and helpful. That changed. Perhaps all PEP is talking about is leadership style, not theological orientation. In the case of Bishop Hathaway, as an evangelical lay person who benefitted from and very much enjoyed his support of Cursillo and similar movements and organizations in the church--and as a political liberal who was glad of his support of unions in some difficult situations in the steel industry--I only saw his theology. As for his leadership style, I was in several situations where I thought he was being "bulllied" by those who disagreed with him, but I did not see how he worked with clergy and other lay organizations in general. I do know that he said administration was not his strong suit--he thought of himself as primarily a preacher and teacher. --About his theology, which might be called "evangelical"--he was a social liberal, not especially evangelical, until he got what he called "le mal africain," that is, until he met people like Festo Kivengere from Uganda: a loving, dynamic Christian who was able to deal with Idi Amin from the point of view of strength in his own Christian faith, rather than fear. (He was NOT the type of African Anglican that some of the leading clerics in Nigeria have been--negative and judgmental).

  7. I'm afraid I agree that Trinity Seminary was a strong reason for the breakdown of our diocese- not that I wish ill thoughts for the seminary, but I simply think it was (and still is) a problem that we have too many clergy from this sphere. Naturally a local seminary will have a strong impact on a diocese, but when it is a seminary with an agenda (which is Trinity), it leads to exclusion of those from other perspectives. What to do with Trinity, and how it shapes our life may be the biggest issue for our new bishop

  8. I'm very glad to hear Bishop McConnell's comments about collaborative leadership, although I'm not so sure the non-collaborative model is 'almost gone'. Being gone in Pittsburgh will do for the moment, though.

    This is the one area in which I would agree that TESM must share some of the responsibility for recent events here. I consider their theological base quite sound, apart from a quibble or two about details, but their training for ministry has always seemed sub-standard to me precisely because it is so 'leadership'-oriented: get an Evangelical elected as rector and then he can change everything by issuing orders. I've known too many TESM grads who conducted their ministries along these lines, with predictable results, and if they didn't learn this at TESM they at least didn't learn to avoid it. And it seemed to me this authoritarian tendency that inclined them to support or at least indulge Bishop Duncan's own authoritarian tendencies. Even with this fault, however, I think TESM was a positive thing for the diocese and the church and I hope it continues to be a force for reform in the Episcopal Church.

    I don't understand why the clergy voting differently from the laity is described as 'denigration' of the laity. I think we can assume both orders were doing what they thought best for the church.

  9. an interesting take on TESM Philip. Perhaps this is exactly the point at which we intersect at St Andrew's- on the leadership point. Our leader is Jesus, and he never expressed a preference for Rite I or II, not to mention incense. But he did have some things to say about humility.

  10. Hadn't thought of TESM's top-down style leadership training being an important contributor to what happened in our diocese, but I agree that with at least some clergy that was key to what took place. Our own rector, however, is a TESM graduate and he did not act that way: on the contrary, throughout the discernment process our parish endured during "the Troubles," our rector was careful not to take sides or try to influence us in either direction. Instead, he made sure there was ample opportunity for all voices to be heard, and that we were aware of what was going on every step of the way.

  11. Celinda, I totally respect your position. But still, i have to think about what it means to be neutral given such a situation. From my view, Bishop Duncan launched a new church and wanted to take people and real estate with him. (I call that a "church" crime) But whatever we think, that was in the past, and perhaps a divorce had to happen. So here's to keeping together in the future, and hoping for better behavior (from everyone)


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