May 27, 2012

Pentecost at St. David’s

Sign at St. David’s
St. David’s sign. The old church can be seen at the right.
Episcopal Church services returned to St. David’s in Peters Township on this day of Pentecost. (See “Changes Coming to Pittsburgh Diocese.”) The Rev. Kris McInnes, associate rector of my own parish, St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, conducted services at 8 o’clock and at 10:30. He also presided over an informational meeting between the services.

Although the word had been put out in various media about what was to happen today, it was unclear just how many people would show up at St. David’s. (Among other things, Kris and St. Paul’s’ rector, the Rev. Lou Hays, had sent a letter to people who have been worshiping at the church.)

When I arrived at the East McMurray Road property, I was delighted to find that the signage now declared the church an Episcopal, not an “Anglican,” facility. I was also happy to see that the electronic portion of the sign had been reprogrammed, not only welcoming worshipers to an Episcopal church but also giving the times of services and of the parish meeting.

I had not visited St. David’s since the 2002 diocesan convention at which then Bishop Robert Duncan’s take-no-prisioners march to the right became painfully evident. I had forgotten what an impressive facility St. David’s is. The parking lot is enormous, there is a rectory on the property, and there is a good deal of undeveloped land behind the church. In 2001, the congregation built a completely new worship space that, unfortunately, never seems to have attracted sufficient worshipers either to fill it or pay for it. The new church is of a pleasing contemporary design and is well-equipped to support worship in a variety of styles.

St. David’s Episcopal Church
St. David’s. The new church is at the right.
As I was taking pictures outdoors, Elaine Coleman drove up and said hello. She is a former St. David’s parishioner who has been worshiping at All Saints’, Bridgeville, and wanted to see what was happening at her former parish. She was one of a number of people who had once worshiped at the Peters Township church who showed up this morning, though most such people came only for the 10:30 service.

When we entered the building, we were greeted with a table containing sign-up sheets—more on that later—and a table containing a variety of breakfast foods and a cake. Juice was plentiful, but coffee was in short supply. (This is a problem that needs to be fixed by next Sunday!) The people who had attended the early service were milling around and talking.

I was able to have a brief conversation with Kris, who was making more coffee in a painfully small coffeemaker. He told me that there were 10 people at the early service. Kris grew up at St. David’s, and I asked him how it felt to be coming home. He indicated that it did not feel quite as strange as it might have. He had left for college before the new church was built, so, although he was, in a sense, returning to his roots, he would be leading services in a place where he personally had never worshiped regularly. Obviously, however, he knew most of the people who would attend St. David’s this morning, and his mother and sister were prominent among the St. David’s people returning to the Episcopal Church fold.

Only 10 people attended the informational meeting. Kris did a fine job of describing the provisions that have been made for St. David’s, including financial ones. The diocese has committed to making up any deficits for a year, and it will do so for at least another year if all goes well. The priests from St. Paul’s, Kris and Lou, are committed to staying as long as necessary. Rental income, he suggested, will help the financial situation a lot. (There is a preschool at St. David’s. I don’t know what other sources of rental there might be, though the rectory could perhaps be rented.)

Kris explained that services had been scheduled at 8 and 10:30 because those are the times at which services have been scheduled at the church, but he suggested that the two services might soon be consolidated into one. He asked if anyone would be upset if only a Rite II Holy Eucharist were offered on Sunday morning. No objections were registered.

There is an urgent need, Kris said, for a treasurer. People from St. Paul’s are available to help a new treasurer get up to speed. (Only the ability to balance a checkbook is required, we were told.) Additionally, there will need to be volunteers to be on altar guild and vestry, and other volunteers to serve as ushers, chalice bearers, and the like. He invited people to put their names on the sign-up sheets I mentioned earlier to begin building a list of parishioners and possible volunteers. We want to be transparent, he said, and not cut corners. Some changes will need to be made to parish bylaws, allowing for a vestry smaller than the currently required 12, for example.

Inevitably, I suppose, someone asked if the things that had been said about The Episcopal Church during St. David’s’ “Anglican” days were true. (The person who asked the question referred to a “packet of materials” that had been promoted at the church. I presume the “packet” was the scurrilous document from the American Anglican Council, “The Episcopal Church: Tearing the Fabric of the Communion to Shreds.”) Kris pointed out that only a few church leaders were quoted in the material in question and that the church’s theology is determined by its prayer book, not by its leaders. He suggested that bishop-elect Dorsey McConnell is quite orthodox in his beliefs and will work to bring us together. The focus at St. David’s will not be on church politics, he added, but on love, charity, and grace. I added that The Episcopal Church has both liberal and conservative bishops and that Anglicanism, historically, has been characterized by its theological diversity.

The meeting was, in fact, rather brief, and we were soon back in the narthex discussing St. David’s, enjoying the refreshments, and greeting new people as they arrived. Of greatest concern to those with a longstanding connection to St. David’s was the disappearance of some stained glass. Apparently, the departing congregation agreed not to take the stained glass but did so anyway. (One hopes there was a misunderstanding, and the property will soon be returned.)

By the time we were ready to begin the second service, there were roughly 40 people in the church, including a handful of children. I'm not sure how many were in what category, but the congregation included people who had remained at St. David’s after the 2008 schism, recent and not-so-recent former parishioners, and well-wishers.

Worshipers were provided with a service leaflet that contained the entire service, so neither prayer book nor hymnal was required. The service itself was fairly traditional. There was no choir, of course, but hymns from Hymnal 1982 accompanied by electronic organ represented about half the music used in the service. The rest of the music was provided by a small praise band, which included Kris on guitar. (Apparently, about half the instrumentalists who had been playing at St. David’s stayed and half left.)

Communion at St. David’s
Kris begins distributing the elements of communion.
Kris delivered a fine sermon based on the reading from John’s gospel. He emphasized that St. David’s will be a church of love, charity, and grace, a place where love and peace will be offered where there has so often been discord and hate. He pointed out that apostles Matthew, a tax collector for the Romans, and Simon the Zealot were poles apart yet were brought together by Jesus. If those two could get along, he said, we can all come together at the same table.

At the announcements, Kris repeated some of what he had said at the earlier meeting, and again encouraged sign-ups and volunteers. He also read a letter from Bishop Price. The bishop wrote that there is no more appropriate day than Pentecost for a congregation to begin a new life together. Jon Delano, a layperson from St. Paul’s who is chair of District III and a member of the Standing Committee, said a few words as well that might best be characterized as a welcome and a pep talk.

The rest of the service proceeded uneventfully, and worshipers greeted the preacher, partook of the refreshments, conversed, and, eventually, said their goodbyes.

It was, I think, a good beginning for a St. David’s returned to its former status in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Lou will preach next week. I hope that no one will be disappointed that he doesn’t play guitar.

May 24, 2012

What’s Wrong with My Oxalis?

My Oxalis—see picture below—seems to be sick. In many ways, the plant seems fine, but the leaflets have developed white spots. Can anyone suggest what the problem might be and what I should do about it?

Sick Oxalis
Sick Oxalis
Click for larger picture.

What to Do about Pakistan?

An interesting thought occurred to me yesterday.

What sparked the idea was the news story that Pakistani doctor Shakeel Afrid had been convicted of treason for his assistance to the CIA in finding Osama bin Laden and sentenced to 33 years in prison. This was just the latest indication that Pakistan, ostensibly an ally, is substantially hostile to U.S. interests and coöperates with the U.S. only insofar as it is necessary to collect billions of dollars in foreign aid and other compensatory payments. Pakistan–U.S. relations are most problematic with respect to our operations in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas, where, it seems, we operate drones with impunity to kill members of the Taliban. That the Tribal Areas provide safe haven—relatively safe haven, anyway—for the Taliban is one reason the war in Afghanistan has dragged on so long.

My thought may be half-baked, as I haven’t considered all possible implications, particularly, but not limited to, the fact that Pakistan is a nation possessing nuclear weapons. Anyway, here is my idea: Why not just declare war on Pakistan and fight a real war in the Tribal Areas?

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.

Changes Coming to Pittsburgh Diocese

Calvary Rector to Retire

The Rev. Canon Dr. Harold T. Lewis has announced that he will be retiring from his current position as rector of Pittsburgh’s Calvary Church. He plans to devote his time to writing. Lewis is the author of several books and numerous hymns. He will perhaps remain best known in Pittsburgh for the lawsuit he initiated against then bishop Robert Duncan and other diocesan leaders in 2003. The litigation resulted in the parties signing a stipulation two years later. That agreement was responsible for the court’s awarding diocesan property to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh after Duncan supporters voted to leave The Episcopal Church in 2008.

St. David’s to Return as Episcopal Parish

I noted on March 26, 2012, that the parish property of St. David’s, in Peters Township, is to be returned to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh later this month by the congregation—part of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh—currently occupying the building. There has been much speculation as to the future of the property, on which there is a substantial mortgage.

As it happens, not everyone will be leaving Peters Township to begin worshiping in an unused Roman Catholic church in Canonsburg on May 27. Some people will be staying behind to become the congregation of a restored St. David’s Episcopal Church. Initially, the congregation is expected to number somewhere in the 30s, but it is likely that former parishioners who have stayed away from St. David’s during its “Anglican” period will return. Others may be drawn to a more mainstream Episcopal church from the residential neighborhoods surrounding the East McMurray Road property.

St. David’s, for the time being at least, will not have its own priest. Instead, two priests from my own parish, St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, will conduct services at St. David’s. Rector Lou Hays and associate rector Kris McInnes (who grew up at St. David’s) will alternate performing duties at the nearby church. This is made practical by the addition of Michelle Boomgaard to the St. Paul’s staff as associate rector. The recently ordained Boomgaard has been serving as an assistant at Church of the Redeemer, in Squirrel Hill. A grant from the diocese is allowing St. Paul’s to replace Mabel Fanguy, a part-time priest who left St. Paul’s recently, with the full-time Boomgaard.

Episcopal services return to St. David’s on Pentecost, May 27.

Update, 5/15/2012: A letter to “My sisters and brothers in Christ” from Harold Lewis arrived in the mail this morning announcing the upcoming retirement of Calvary’s rector after sixteen years. According to the letter, Lewis’s resignation takes effect February 28, 2013, but his last Sunday will be November 25, 2012. He and his wife Claudette plan to remain in Pittsburgh after his retirement.

May 13, 2012

Three Silly Poems

Every now and then, my inner Ogden Nash comes to the fore and I begin thinking of poems lacking, well, gravity. Having written no poetry since Labor Day—I think that effort was pretty good, however—perhaps offering a few silly poems is better than letting yet another month pass without writing any poems at all.

So, here are three poems offered just for fun, rather than for inspiring sober reflection.


The element you’re prone to meet when you’re dead
Is lead.


To that stack of porno prints, might there be a link
To your printer’s being out of ink?
Ya think?


Alchemists of old, I’m told,
Were keen on turning lead to gold.
That failure rates were very high
Did not convince them not to try.

Periodic Table entry for gold
You may have noticed that two atomic elements feature prominently in these poems. I was so pleased with my poem “Mercury” that I’ve long thought of writing a series of poems about each of the atomic elements. It’s easy to understand why no one has done this before, however. Rhyming words like “molybdenum” and “praseodymium” would have taxed even the talents of the real Ogden Nash. Anyway, thoughts of the Periodic Table were, in part, responsible for two of the three efforts.

May 8, 2012

Is It Possible to Reject the Anglican Covenant?

In its upcoming General Convention in July, The Episcopal Church will have to decide how it will deal with the Anglican Covenant. Although we know of two resolutions—both sponsored by bishops—that would put The Episcopal Church on a clear path to adopting the Covenant, it is widely believed that the 2012 General Convention will not go in that direction.

If The Episcopal Church neither adopts the Covenant nor commits to doing so, what are the alternatives? Four basic approaches have been suggested: (1) ignore the Covenant, (2) defer a decision on the pact, (3) gently say no, or (4) reject the Covenant definitively.

OptionsAny resolution likely to be passed in Indianapolis, irrespective of its overall thrust, will assuredly emphasize the desire of our church to remain in the Anglican Communion, even if it is somewhat vague about what that means. One proposed strategy for General Convention is for the church only to affirm our commitment to the Anglican Communion, saying nothing at all about the Anglican Covenant.

The obvious drawback to this strategy is that it will be interpreted by our sister churches for what it is—passive-aggressive. It is well-known that only the General Convention can decide on the Covenant on behalf of The Episcopal Church, and it is equally well-known that the Covenant has been extensively studied. All the Anglican churches have been asked to consider the Covenant. To fail to do so will be seen as arrogant.

Likewise, deliberately postponing a decision will be seen as insincere or irresponsible. The General Convention went along with the Windsor Report in 2006 and agreed (sort of) not to consecrate any partnered gay bishops. In 2009, it accepted the Covenant design project without objection. The expectation is that it is now time for the General Convention to make a decision, not simply kick the can down the road yet again in the hope that we can forever avoid acting like adults.

Then there are the resolutions that say no thanks to the Covenant but don’t quite slam the door. Resolution A126, from Executive Council, is in this category. This resolution begins by expressing “profound gratitude” to those who labored on the Covenant. It then offers the obligatory commitment to the Communion before it pledges the church to “recommit itself to dialogue with the several provinces when adopting innovations that may be seen as threatening to the unity of the Communion. It declares that the church is “unable to adopt the Anglican Covenant in its present form.” In other words, the resolution first accepts an obligation that is one of the most objectionable features of the Covenant, after which it implies that the church might be able to accept a covenant in a somewhat different form.

All of the aforementioned approaches seem designed to keep The Episcopal Church “still in the process of adoption.” In particular, §4.2.8 of the Covenant text reads
Participation in the decision making of the Standing Committee or of the Instruments of Communion in respect to section 4.2 [The Maintenance of the Covenant and Dispute Resolution] shall be limited to those members of the Instruments of Communion who are representatives of those churches who have adopted the Covenant, or who are still in the process of adoption.
One has to ask, however, why we even want Episcopalians to participate in the disciplinary process of §4.2, a process that I, for one, find to be un-Anglican and an invitation to mischief. (Note that rejection of the Covenant, per se, does not remove a church from the Communion nor its members from the Instruments.) Some have argued that, by being at the table, our representatives can vote against applying sanctions. But participating in the process lends it legitimacy I believe we do not want to grant. Further, it seems cynical to put ourselves in a position where The Episcopal Church cannot be disciplined but can participate in the disciplining of other churches.

This brings us to the final approach, which attempts to say a definitive no to the Covenant. I place the model resolution from the No Anglican Covenant Coalition in this category. This resolution avoids expressing gratitude for that for which we are conspicuously not grateful, declares allegiance to the kind of Communion we actually want, suggests that we find ways of strengthening that Communion, and declares that we “decline to adopt” the Covenant for good and sufficient reasons.

In the end, however, we have to ask if it is actually possible to reject the Covenant. Before Church of England dioceses determined that Covenant adoption would not return to the current General Synod, I speculated whether, in such a situation would nevertheless leave the Church of England “still in the process of adoption.” (See “What If the Church of England Votes Against the Covenant?”)

Like so many other concepts, the Anglican Covenant fails to define what it means to be “still in the process of adoption.” This really indicates a lack of imagination on the part of the Covenant drafters, who clearly believed, contrary to all reason, that all Communion churches would quickly adopt the Covenant simply because the Archbishop of Canterbury asked them to do so.

Is the Church of England “still in the process of adoption”? I don’t know. In principal, the Church of England could reconsider the matter when a new General Synod is seated in 2015.  Even if General Convention 2012 resolves, in the words of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition resolution, to “decline to adopt” the Covenant, it might still be “in the process of adoption.” After all, with no time limits on Covenant adoption, the 2015 General Convention could, in principle, revisit Covenant adoption. In fact, the 2012 General Convention cannot bind future General Conventions to not take up Covenant adoption. Therefore, I suggest that it is probably impossible to remove our church from being “still in the process of adoption.”

The reality is that the Anglican Covenant has the potential to haunt the Anglican Communion forever. The only way to escape its malevolent influence is to encourage churches to reject it and to encourage the churches that have adopted it to withdraw, as provided for in  §4.3.1:
Any covenanting Church may decide to withdraw from the Covenant. Although such withdrawal does not imply an automatic withdrawal from the Instruments of Communion or a repudiation of its Anglican character, it may raise a question relating to the meaning of the Covenant, and of compatibility with the principles incorporated within it, and trigger the provisions set out in section 4.2 above.
Ironically, even withdrawal from the Covenant seems as though it might trigger repercussions.

May 4, 2012

The Pope and the Saints

I am listening to a discussion on NPR about the bounties offered to New Orleans Saints defensive players to take out opposing players and about the penalties imposed by the National Football League for the incentive system to injure opponents. To date, I have neither read nor heard any defense of the Saints’ program. There is, of course, some irony in the name of the team caught in what is generally considered unethical—perhaps even sinful—behavior.

To add further irony to the day, while listening to Tell Me More, I encountered a link to a story on the Mail Online Web site. The story is titled “Pope Benedict XVI makes £150,000 donation to ‘disaffected’ Anglican church so it can convert to Catholicism.” Anglican readers, without my help, can figure out the content of the story.

Question for the day: How is what Pope Benedict XVI did any different from what the Saints did?

Extra Credit Question: Who imposes penalties on the Pope for unsportsmanlike conduct?