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.