December 31, 2013

Merry Christmas?

As every good Episcopalian knows, Christmas does not end on December 25; it begins on that date. Christmas continues through January 5. Epiphany, the following liturgical season, begins on January 6. Most of what secular society thinks of as the Christmas season is, liturgically, at any rate, Advent. Advent is a time of preparation for the Incarnation, but, in the population imagination, it might be designated the Shopping season.

Prior to December 25 of this year, I mostly refrained from wishing people “Merry Christmas,” though I did reciprocate if someone wished me the same. (I considered telling strangers “Blessed Advent” but concluded that people would simply find that weird.) Since Christmas is now here, I’ve decided that I should begin wishing “Merry Christmas” to people with whom I interact.

I must report that this is not going well. In doing Christmas shopping (i.e., post-Shopping-season shopping), I have wished a number of sales clerks “Merry Christmas.” So far, I have elicited three different reactions. The first person I greeted responded to “Merry Christmas” with “Happy New Year,” which is something of a non sequitur. Others simply ignored me. And the woman at Dairy Queen  closed her drive-up window before I could say anything at all.

Well, Merry Christmas!

Christmas wreath

December 24, 2013

A Bizarre Parkway Experience

I was driving toward Pittsburgh on the Parkway East a few miles from the Squirrel Hill Tunnel the other day and saw flashing lights ahead of me. As I approached them, three flatbed PennDOT trucks carrying large illuminated signboards pulled away from the shoulder and positioned themselves parallel to one another, each in one of the three traffic lanes. The signs, which are usually used to display arrows, each showed a horizontal row of yellow lights. Two police cars pulled in behind the trucks.

I was driving in the center lane and found myself directly behind the police car in my lane. I kept back a few car lengths, and the cars in the lanes to my left and right kept a bit farther back. I had been traveling 55 MPH or so but suddenly found myself is a strange procession moving at about 5 MPH. What, I thought, was going on? Traffic was backing up behind me. I have no idea how far.

We proceeded at the same slow pace. I saw no accident or construction that might provide an explanation for what was happening. About a mile down the road, all the vehicles in front of me pulled off to the shoulder, and traffic resumed its accustomed pace. On the roadway to my left, however, I could see vehicles that had likewise slowed outbound traffic to a crawl. They, too, seemed to be pulling off the road. As I resumed normal speed, although I didn’t know how many cars were backed up behind me, I could see that the outbound lanes were jam-packed.

There seemed to be no purpose to the delay I had just experienced. Was it akin to the bizarre lane closures on the George Washington Bridge that may have been some sort of political retribution?  Who knows?

December 23, 2013

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, 2013

I wrote the poem below in 2002 and added it to my Web site, along with a description of its origin. I’ve posted it occasionally at this time of year. Merry Christmas to all, in spite of everything.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
by Lionel Deimel


The jingle bells are back,
Ringing jingle-jangle ding-dong-ding
On the street corners and at the mall,
Where the giant Damoclean snowflakes
Hang menacingly from the store ceilings
Over the heads of the make-up consultants,
Displaying their perfect faces, Santa Claus hats,
And belligerent helpfulness.

The colored outdoor lights are back,
Contending with high-pressure, sodium streetlamps
To banish night and veil the pallid twinkle of the stars,
Letting the phosphor-white icicles,
Dripping electrically from the eaves,
Highlight the unnatural landscape
Of rotund, glow-from-within snowmen
And teams of gene-damaged reindeer.

The entertainments are back—
The last-minute, Oscar-hopeful blockbusters
Playing beside cheap trifles luring the momentarily vulnerable;
Pick-up-choir, stumbling-through-the-notes Messiahs
Competing with earnest Amahls and Peanuts Specials;
The cute-but-clumsy, tiny ballerinas tripping through Nutcrackers
Sorely in need of crowd control;
And the latest made-for-TV, hanky-wrenching, feel-good melodrama.

The emotions are back,
With love-thy-neighbor, brotherhood-of-man yearnings
Schizophrenically vying with loathing for the driver ahead,
As we pursue our private quests
For perfect love-showing, obligation-meeting, or indifference-disguising gifts,
Our anticipating the giving-terror, receiving-embarrassment,
The disappointing joy, and the exhilarating letdown assuring us at last
That Christmas is upon us.

Snowflake  Snowflake  Snowflake

December 16, 2013

Lessons and Carols at St. Andrew’s

Cover of bulletin
I read the third lesson at A Service of Nine Lessons and Carols yesterday at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, in Highland Park. I read Isaiah 9:2, 6–7 from the Authorized Version.

The passage is very familiar (“For unto us a child is born,” etc.). I had trouble with verse 7, however. In the Authorized Version, the verse reads as follows:
Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
The first sentence is clearly a run-on sentence. It took a friend to point out that it is a sentence with one too few verbs. Until I realized that, I spent untold time trying to figure out the grammatical structure of the sentence in order to figure out how to read it.

More modern translations render the verse much more sensibly. For example, the New Revised Standard Version offers this version of verse 7:
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
The New International Version translates the verse this way:
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
My solution to the reading problem was simply to read verse 7 as if it actually made sense. This seems to have work just fine.

The service, by the way, was glorious. The St. Andrew’s choirs performed to their usual high standards. Yesterday was the first time I had attended a service in the church with its newly installed floor, and I was impressed. Aisles are quarry tile, and hardwood is below the pews. (The center aisle has smaller tiles in two colors bordering the central tiles—a nice touch.) The result is a sound that envelops the listener.

December 12, 2013

Back Together

Earlier this year, I took an on-line songwriting course. I’ve only just gotten around to revising and posting the song I wrote as my last assignment, “Back Together.” Warning: it involves adult themes. (That’s to get you to read and listen to it.) You can find the song on my Web site here.


December 8, 2013

St. David’s Update

The Rev. Kris McInnes
The Rev. Kris McInnes
From time to time, people ask me how St. David’s, Peters Township, is doing. The diocese does not always give us updates, not even when there are significant deployment changes. We are likely to get even less news next year, for which there are significant cuts to the diocesan communications budget.

St. David’s, whose congregation left the Episcopal diocese for the Anglican diocese and then returned the property with but a skeleton congregation, seems to be doing pretty well. St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, which had been helping St. David’s in its efforts to become a healthy, mainstream Episcopal parish, today held a reception for the Rev. Kris McInnes, who is shedding most of his duties at St. Paul’s to become the sole priest-in-charge at St. David’s at the start of the new year.

The changes for St. David’s and for St. Paul’s were explained in an e-mail notice sent to St. Paul’s parishioners on November 22:
In May of 2012 we entered into a companion relationship with St. David’s Episcopal Church in Peters Township. When the property and a remnant of the congregation returned to the Episcopal Church, St. Paul’s agreed to a two-year relationship in which Kris and I would serve as Priests-in-Charge of St. David’s to work with its members to help heal and rebuild the parish. In exchange for our help, the Diocese agreed to provide funding during those two years for half of the cost of an Assistant Rector for St. Paul’s, thus allowing us to call the Rev. Michelle Boomgaard on a full time basis rather than a half time basis.

Rebuilding has gone well at St. David’s, due in large part to the hard work and commitment of Kris along with the members of the congregation. In 18 months St. David’s has grown to the point that it is larger than the average parish in the Diocese, and is well on its way to self-sustainability. Therefore, the Bishop and I, in consultation with Kris, have decided that effective January 1, 2014, Kris will become the sole Priest-in-Charge at St. David’s on an almost full time basis. He will continue a limited role at St. Paul’s as Assisting Priest, helping with occasional 6 pm and 8 am services and some pastoral care. Michelle will become our Associate Rector. The funds that the Diocese has been providing to help with her compensation will be redirected to St. David’s to help them provide Kris’ compensation.

This is a significant moment in the life of the Diocese, St. Paul’s, and St. David’s. We can be justly proud of our contributions to bringing St. David’s back to health and vitality. We can also be proud of having nurtured Kris in his journey from Curate to Assistant Rector to Associate Rector and now Priest-in-Charge. We will miss having Kris with us as much as we would like, but we can feel good about our contribution to the larger Church. We are very fortunate to have the services of Michelle who has become such an integral part of St. Paul’s over the past 18 months.

Kris will be preaching and celebrating at the 8:45 and 10:45 a.m. services on December 8. Please join us for what will likely be Kris’ final appearance at our main Sunday morning services. There will be a special reception in Kris’ honor between the two services. Please also consider making a contribution toward Kris’ St. David’s Discretionary Fund. Discretionary Funds are used by clergy to assist people in need in the parish and the community. You may write a check to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church with “Kris” noted in the memo line.

Lou Hays+
The December 2013 newsletter of St. David’s includes a letter from Kris explaining the coming changes and reviewing the progress made by the parish:
You may not have heard that as of January 1, I will become the sole Priest in Charge at St. David’s and take on a very limited role at St. Paul’s as a pastoral assistant. This will make me full-time at St. David’s. I am so very happy to be able to make this move and I am confident it is where God is calling me to be.

When I started helping out at St. David’s I had some mixed feelings about coming home to the parish where I grew up. At the same time, I knew that St. Paul’s was in the best position to help the continuing parish of St. David’s and I welcomed the opportunity to help rebuild. In the year and a half since, we have seen tremendous growth and vitality return to St. David’s and I have found myself falling in love with this place and this community all over again in new and exciting ways.

Last year at this time the congregation was half the size it is now and there was tremendous uncertainty surrounding the future of our life together. Now, a year later, we are are stronger and more confident in our identity and mission.

A year ago, almost all of our Lay Eucharistic Ministers, Lectors, and Altar Guild members were volunteers from St. Paul’s. Today we have a corps of about a dozen parishioners who fill these roles (and we are always looking for more who would like to join in). A year ago, the community garden was just an idea and today we look back on a harvest totaling almost 600 lbs of fresh, organically raised produce. Add to this the wonderful Acolytes that serve at the altar each week and the ever growing praise band and choir and we have a recipe for a bright future together.

There are such wonderful, loving people who call St. David’s home and I look forward to inviting many more members of the community to come and join the great worship and mission we have here. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people with which to share in the work.

With Love,
Fr. Kris
St. David’s is not yet self-supporting, but it is well on its way to becoming a stable parish. The diocese and the clergy and laypeople of St. Paul’s have been important in bringing St. David’s this far. A significant factor in the success of this enterprise has also been the small cadre of parishioners who chose to return with the physical plant to The Episcopal Church.

Not every property that has been returned to the diocese has benefited from the availability of a priest who is a son of the parish. I suspect that Kris’s connection to St. David’s was critical to the progress made there. Moreover, as Lou Hays implied, Kris has matured as a priest since he first came to St. Paul’s. There was reason to have doubts about the young priest in dreadlocks when he first came to St. Paul’s. His early sermons seemed to be informed more by the Internet Movie Database than by serious biblical scholarship or theological reflection. His farewell sermon today at St. Paul’s dispelled any residual doubts as to whether St. David’s was being left in good hands, however.

We should all be grateful for the ministry of the Rev. Kris McInnes and wish him well in his new position.

December 7, 2013

More Mispronunciations

A few years ago, I wrote a post titled “Trying Too Hard.” It was all about over-scrupulous (but misguided) pronunciation. For example, I noted that some people say skoo-wul for the single-syllable word “school.”

Tonight, I watched (via Comcast On Demand) the live production of The Sound of Music that was broadcast on NBC two nights ago. I caught two words pronounced incorrectly: “mittens” and “kittens.” These words should not be pronounced as mit-tens and kit-tens. Look it up.

December 5, 2013

Duncan Speaks Again

Archbishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Church of North America has again offered his views on developments in another church. (See also “Thoughts on the Duncan Statement,” in which I analyzed Duncan’s pronouncement about Bishop Dorsey McConnell’s recent pastoral letter.)

This time, the target of the archbishop’s displeasure is the Church of England, in particular, the recently released Pilling Report. That report endorses blessing same-sex unions and recommends church-wide facilitated conversations on human sexuality. It does not recommend any change in doctrine, but it does not rule out future change. Duncan, however, does. His attitude toward doctrine is quite conspicuous in his latest pronouncement (emphasis added):
The Church must not waiver from its received teaching. Scripture and the catholic consensus must be treated as givens, the attitude of the signatories not withstanding. Those who would re-construct the received moral order in the 21st century to respond to a culture bent on self-actualization, rather than dying to self, will do no better than those who—quite unsuccessfully but with much damage—in the 20th century sought to re-define the doctrines of the Trinity and the person of Christ.
Conservatives have never quite gotten over Bishops Pike and Spong.

It was arrogant of the archbishop to comment on developments in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, though he at least has a connection, however troubled, to our diocese. Duncan has less of a connection to the Church of England, despite his attempts to assume the mantle of Anglicanism.

The two recent statements from Archbishop Duncan have many elements in common. They begin with positive statements—this part is quite abbreviated in the Pittsburgh statement—and follow up with his criticism, which suggests great disappointment on his part. That criticism emphasizes the need to avoid change and to engage in self-sacrifice. (Duncan seems to have a Puritan’s aversion to joy.) The statements conclude with a commitment to pray for all those benighted people who don’t understand the will of God the way he does. This last element is the ecclesiastical equivalent of the Southern expression “bless their hearts.”

I’m sure Archbishop Duncan is doing God’s will as best as he understands it.

Bless his heart.

December 4, 2013

Tunnel vs. Tunnels

Pittsburgh has three twin-bore vehicular tunnels. Two of these are now being rehabilitated, and the third was recently refurbished. Each carries its name on its portals. I began thinking about those names when I saw the newly rebuilt portals of what Pittsburghers generally refer to as the Liberty Tubes. Over the twin bores on both the north and south side of Mt. Washington are the words, incised in large capital letters, “LIBERTY TUNNELS.” (Liberty Tunnels has always been the official name of the bores.)

What is curious is that the names of the other tunnels are the “Fort Pitt Tunnel” and “Squirrel Hill Tunnel.” Worldwide, paired tunnels are generally given singular names. Why is “Liberty Tunnels” (or “Liberty Tubes”) plural? I have no idea.

December 1, 2013

Where Were You?

I wrote a song back in 2002 called “Where Were You?” I know a whole lot more about songwriting now than I did them—this may not be saying a lot—so I decided to clean up the song a bit. I changed the lyrics slightly and greatly improved the tune. The song is something of a romantic lament written in a woman’s voice. You can see the music here, listen to the tune here, and read about the song here.


November 28, 2013


Posting the poem below, written in 2002, has become a Thanksgiving tradition. I read for the first time at a family Thanksgiving dinner that year. More information about the poem can be found on my Web site here.



So many holidays for this and that—
But most are just a time for recreation,
Not opportunities for celebration
Or contemplation of their origins.

Who gives a thought to Martin Luther King?
He’s on our minds his day like any other,
When seldom do we think who is our brother
Or bother reaching out to those in need.

We see a baseball game on 4 July—
We sing our anthem, watch the color guard;
But Revolutionary thoughts are hard
To mix with scorecard, chili dog, and beer.

The labor on our minds on Labor Day
Is but our own that we don’t have to do.
We must instead to summer bid adieu
With picnics for a special few, or bed.

Ah, Christmas is a special time of dread—
That deadline of the frantic shopping season
Through which we march for half-forgotten reason
That escapes us fully when the day has come.

Thanksgiving, though, is different from the rest—
We gather in our family and friends;
We stuff the turkey and each person who attends,
And, in the end, how can we not be thankful?


November 27, 2013

Thoughts on the Duncan Statement

Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, Anglican Bishop of Pittsburgh, and deposed Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh Bob Duncan apparently could not help himself—he just had to comment on Bishop Dorsey McConnell’s recent pastoral letter. Our bishop is not in the habit of commenting on what Archbishop Duncan does, and I think it is fair to say that most Pittsburgh Episcopalians don’t give a damn what Duncan does or says, save insofar as it involves property he controls that rightly belongs to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

It is quite remarkable just how offensive Duncan can be in such a short statement. It is curious, by the way, that his statement, which is identified as a press release on Anglican Ink, does not appear on the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh Web site. That site has a page of press releases, but Duncan’s remarks about Bishop McConnell’ pastoral letter is not listed there. Make of that what you will.

I don’t expect that Bishop McConnell will respond to Duncan’s statement, but someone should point out what a nasty, sanctimonious commentary it is. I am happy to take on the job. In the table below, Archbishop Duncan’s statement is shown on the left, and my comments on the text are on the right.

Duncan Statement Commentary
The announcement made by Bishop Dorsey McConnell of the Episcopal Diocese will cheer some, but make many Christians in our region (and around the globe) sad.  Why is Duncan even commenting on this? He left the diocese behind. Let him attend to his own affairs. Duncan makes a false contrast between the Episcopal Diocese and “many Christians in our region (and around the globe).” There are many Anglicans “around the globe” who also may be expected to cheer Bishop McConnell’s pastoral letter.
Scripture and Tradition present counter-cultural models for the ordering of society in marriage and family (as in everything) through sacrifice, chastity and self-denial. No mention here of Reason, the third leg of the Anglican stool.

Why is it that conservatives are so fond of pain and suffering? It distresses them no end to think that someone might be having fun. Does God really call us to be miserable?

The statement seems to imply that “Scripture and Tradition” provide a comprehensive handbook for all aspects of life. This is bad, un-Anglican theology.
There was a day—not so long ago—when the Christian leaders of our City spoke with one voice, but that day of united witness is past. I doubt there was ever such a day except when dealing with motherhood and apple pie.
We continue to pray for Bp. McConnell and the clergy and people of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, How generous of Duncan to pray for the poor bastards who aren’t as enlightened as he is! I’d rather he didn’t bother. We can pray for ourselves; thank you very much.
as well as for all those living with same-sex attractions, Duncan views “living with same-sex attractions” as akin to living with psoriasis or multiple sclerosis. But homosexuality is not a disease; it is just how God made some of us.
recognizing that there is a fundamental divergence on the moral and pastoral responses we in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh are called to offer. There are differences to be sure. I’m not sure that what the Anglican diocese is called to offer and what it thinks it is called to offer are quite the same. In any case, the real message here is the arrogant “we’re better than you are” and “we’re right and you’re wrong.”

Wallet Woes

I was driving home the other day and noticing the disparity in gasoline prices. Usually, the price of gas varies little from one station to another. Lately, however, the price differential between gas stations has been remarkably large. Most of the stations I passed offered regular gasoline for $3.399/gallon. The price at some stations, however, was as low as $3.259/gallon, a 14 cent difference.

Although my gas tank was well short of empty, I decided to stop at a Sheetz station that advertised the $3.259 price. I drove up to a pump and inserted my Sheetz loyalty card—it provides a 3 cent/gallon discount—into the card reader. The screen told me to rescan the card. This happened a number of times, causing me to conclude that something was wrong with the reader. Frustrated, I drove to a different pump. The card reader at that pump wouldn’t read my Sheetz card either. Neither could it read my credit card.

I locked the car and took my cards inside. There, the clerk was similarly unable to scan my Sheetz card. She suggested that the card was damaged and offered to give me a new card, assuring me that my credits for coffee purchases would transfer to it. This was to be effected by scanning my driver’s license, which, in Pennsylvania, contains both optical codes and a coded magnetic stripe. The card didn’t scan. Frustrated, I walked out, declaring that I would buy gas elsewhere.

Fast forward a day. I still hadn’t filled my gas tank when I visited Aldi, a supermarket that accepts debit cards but not credit cards. When I tried to pay for my purchases, my debit card would not scan. Repeated tries were to no avail. Aldi did not have the capability to simply enter my debit card number. A manager helpfully offered to put my cart in the freezer—my purchases included frozen salmon—while I visited my bank.

By this time, I realized that most, perhaps all, of the cards in my wallet must have had their magnetic stripes erased. While driving to the bank, I was trying to think where I might have encountered a strong magnetic field. It was only when I was sitting at the desk of a bank officer who was ordering me a new debit card that the it came to me. I had had an MRI on my knee three days earlier.

The MRI was done at Indiana Regional Medical Center. After I checked in, a technician led me to a room with a locker where I could store my coat and metal objects such as my belt buckle. I was surprised and delighted that I didn’t have to change into a hospital gown. The brass zipper and rivets in my jeans, I was assured, were not a problem. For the MRI, I lay on a table with my legs in the machine but with my head and upper body slightly out of it. Unfortunately, my wallet, which no one suggested that I remove from my pocket, was clearly exposed to the magnetic field. In 25 minutes, all the magnetic strips in my wallet got zapped.

I am now working at getting new credit cards. I still have one more to order, and I have to find out if Sheetz can associate my loyalty card with my driver’s license without being able to read the stripe on my driver’s license. I do hope I don’t have to replace my driver’s license.

I’m going to have a little talk with the people at the hospital. And I’m beginning to see the utility of using optical codes, rather than coded magnetic stripes.


November 26, 2013

Three Cheers for Bishop McConnell

I was very pleased with the pastoral letter released by Bishop Dorsey McConnell yesterday. The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh has been waiting a long time to learn the degree to which homosexuals would be integrated into the life of The Episcopal Church in Southwestern Pennsylvania. I don’t understand why the delay was necessary, but the final outcome was surely worth the wait.

The Substance

What was released by the diocese yesterday was more than most people expected. The package consisted of the pastoral letter proper, guidelines for using the provisional liturgy for same-sex blessings, an assessment of the rite itself, and a report on the diocese’s sexuality dialogue. The final item was signed by the co-chairs of the committee that ran the dialogues, Bishop McConnell and Dana Phillips.

As many readers no doubt know by now, the bishop will allow same-sex blessings to be performed in the Diocese of Pittsburgh:
Since this local character [of communities of faith] exists in variety of conviction, I find it reasonable that this variety should be allowed to express itself in local practice, by allowing the decision of whether or not to use this rite to be made by each pastor, in his or her own parish. This “local option” will allow each rector or priest-in-charge to minister pastorally according to his or her commitments and conscience, while putting none under constraint or duress.
The other major decision announced by the bishop concerns ordination:
As for the somewhat related matter of ordained ministry, I believe the principal determining factor in regard to my role as ordinary rests in my discernment, in concert with the Church, as to whether God is calling any given individual to Holy Orders. Therefore, I will not alter the non-discrimination policy begun under Bishop Price; an individual’s being in a committed same-sex partnership will not, in and of itself, be a barrier either to ordination or call in this diocese.
The pastoral letter was followed by guidelines for how the provisional rite for same-sex blessings is to be used. I was particularly pleased by the bishop’s commonsense approach to rule-making here. Rather than establishing elaborate procedures to be followed leading up to a blessing ceremony, he has chosen to take himself out of decision process and to trust his priests to behave responsibly. His list of rules ends with the following:
It shall be the responsibility of any pastor contemplating the use of this rite to assess the likely pastoral and liturgical implications, and to address them with the couple, the parish leadership, and the bishop well in advance of the prospective date of its use.
A priest would be a fool to do otherwise.

Bishop McConnell also released a critique titled “The Provisional Rite: An Assessment.” Had his assessment prefaced his letter, one might have anticipated that he would prohibit use of the rite approved by the 2012 General Convention entirely. I suspect few who have studied the rite are totally happy with it, and the bishop’s criticisms will help the church develop a more satisfying liturgy. That The Episcopal Church is also studying marriage encourages the hope that future ceremonies for both straight and gay couples will reflect a coherent and contemporary theological understanding of what is taking place.

The final piece released yesterday is “Summary Report: Conversations on Human Sexuality and Communion.” The report is remarkably short of statistics, noting only that 124 people participated in the dialogue project, and, of those, only 92 were involved after the project graduated from the pilot stage. The report lists six “themes” emerging from the discussions, which, somewhat abridged are
  1. The diocese needs to avoid making issues of human sexuality THE defining issue of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.
  2. Education is needed across the diocese on Episcopal polity at the congregational, diocesan, and national levels.
  3. No one should be marginalized due to their position on issues regarding human sexuality.
  4. We need more time together.
  5. What could happen?
  6. The conversations need to continue.
What is particularly curious about this list is that none of the “themes” directly addresses the two questions that were supposed to be the subject of the dialogue, namely same-sex blessings and the ordination of partnered homosexuals. Moreover, lacking raw data, statistics, and demographic information, it is difficult to know what to make of the “themes.” According to the report, “Responses were written on a flip chart, typed, and forwarded directly to Bishop McConnell for his review as part of his personal discernment on the issues.” This raises the question whether a different person (or objective committee) would have identified a different set of “themes.” Did the bishop find the messages he wanted to find?

Further Thoughts

Bishop McConnell’s decisions were not unexpected. Given the recent history of the Pittsburgh diocese, they seemed quite necessary. There are already a number of gay priests in the diocese, and two parishes have just called gay priests. Failure to authorize the blessing of same-sex unions would have felt like a return to the reactionary days of the Bob Duncan episcopate. Instead, Pittsburgh has decisively joined the mainstream Episcopal Church. (The overwhelming majority of Episcopal dioceses are allowing the blessing of same-sex unions, and many that do not are the “usual suspects,” such as Albany and Dallas.)

We can only hope that the bishop’s pastoral letter does not invite defections from The Episcopal Church. In this diocese particularly, it would be easy for a parishioner to leave an Episcopal parish and to find a nearby “Anglican” parish that is comfortably homophobic. Doubtless, some will do so. I do not expect that any priests will walk, however, as they surely knew, when they chose to stay with The Episcopal Church, that this day would come.

I hope that Pittsburgh Episcopalians who are disappointed by Bishop McConnell’s decisions will recognize that those decisions will have little effect on their lives. They can easily find an Episcopal church without gay clergy should that be necessary, and the blessing of someone else’s relationship does not affect them or require their complicity. If they have been content to be in a church that blesses same-sex unions in other dioceses, why should such a ceremony in a church across town be of any concern? We will have to see how this works out in practice.

Finally, I’d like to say a few things about the sexuality dialogue. Was it successful? It’s hard to tell. For one thing, it surely did not succeed if one takes its stated goal of involving 500 people seriously. To be sure, it offered to a small number of people a model of how controversial matters might be discussed. I am skeptical, however, of the report’s assertion that “this type of dialogue is good and needs to continue.” In fact, “this type of dialogue” is very resource intensive, and, by its intimate nature, exposes participants to a limited number of viewpoints. One has to wonder if larger groups involving more coherent presentations might be more useful in exposing large numbers of people to the diversity of views held in the diocese. Additionally, since the dialogues discouraged engaged discussion, they did not facilitate testing one’s own views and being open to modifying them.

At some level, I suspect that most people found the dialogues interesting, perhaps even useful. One would have liked to have seen statistics from an evaluation instrument intended to gauge, with some objectivity, how people felt about the experience, however. Nevertheless, just as acceptance of homosexuals has increased with the increased visibility of homosexual people, encounters in the dialogues with people of differing views likely served to defuse, at least to some degree, irrational suspicion and hostility toward those holding opinions different from one’s own.

The sexuality dialogue was supposed to “inform” the decisions of the bishop, but no one knows quite what that means. Was the bishop seeking guidance, trying to gauge the likely consequences of his decisions, or trying to lessen conflict within the diocese? Just as people had a right to question Clarence Thomas’s candor when he denied having given Roe v. Wade any consideration, it is difficult to believe that Bishop McConnell has not long known what his decisions would be.

Once the sexuality dialogue was announced, the bishop was pretty much precluded from making his decisions public until the project had run its course, lest he destroy the illusion that the dialogue really mattered. Surely, most of the material that was released yesterday could have been written long before November 25; most of it could have been written before the sexuality dialogue project was concluded. The delay from October 15 to November 25 just seemed gratuitous and irritating.

Anyway, it’s time to move forward.

Other Reports and Comments

Two Pittsburgh groups issued statements about Bishop McConnell’s announcements. The first to appear was from Integrity Pittsburgh. Predictably, Integrity’s statement expressed appreciation for the pastoral letter, but it is difficult not to see the statement as argumentative and mean-spirited. In part, it said
We’ve patiently waited for this first step, and we thank the bishop for it. We feel this is only the beginning of full inclusion of LBGTQA people into the life and ministry of the church.
It would have been more gracious to have been thankful now and to ask for other actions—What do these people want? They never say explicitly.—later.

The statement from Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP) was more positive in tone, ending with
PEP is optimistic that, with these decisions now in place, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is equipped to move forward in love with vigor and intention.
It is curious that the stories I have seen about the pastoral letter mention same-sex unions but do not mention the acceptance of clergy in committed same-sex relationships. This is true of the stories from Episcopal News Service, The Living Church, AP, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Many in Pittsburgh consider both decisions important. Taking, as it usually does, every opportunity to criticize The Episcopal Church,  The Living Church spent most of its story on the bishop’s criticism of the blessing rite.

No doubt, other commentaries and news stories will be forthcoming. Perhaps they will be more comprehensive in scope.

November 22, 2013

Realign with Me

The Web server for my Web site, Lionel Deimel’s Farrago, went down earlier today, and the outage caused problems on the site that had to be corrected. As long as I was working on the site, I took the opportunity to make a few updates, most particularly, to the introduction to the Poetry section of the site. In the process, I looked at a few pages I had not reviewed in quite a while.

One of those pages I looked at was “Realign with Me,” a parody on church realignment intended to be sung to the tune of “You Belong to Me.” Readers may find the page amusing. You can find it at here.

Still Ticking

Over the past few days, those who follow me on Facebook have noticed graphics like the one above on my Facebook page. Of course, these images refer to the promised decisions by Bishop Dorsey McConnell, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Will Bishop McConnell allow the blessing of same-sex unions in the diocese? Will the diocese eschew disqualifying candidates for holy orders because they are in a committed, same-sex relationships? Pittsburgh Episcopalians have waited for more than a year for answers to these questions. They are still waiting.

ClockEven before becoming bishop, McConnell delayed his decisions pending the completion of an unspecified dialogue on sexuality among his flock, the results of which were somehow to “inform” the bishop’s decisions. The plan, unrealistic as it turned out, was to complete the dialogue and announce decisions by Pentecost 2013. Devising a plan for the dialogue took longer than expected and was hopelessly optimistic in its expectations of participation, particularly by self-identified conservatives.

Pentecost came and went. People expected decisions by mid-summer, then by September, then by October, and certainly before the November diocesan convention. In October, the bishop informed the clergy, but not the laypeople, that he was “aiming for the 15th of November” as an announcement date. (See “Kicking the Can Down the Road.”) At the convention on November 2, he said
I have been in extensive consultation with many of you, and I believe I will be able to issue a pastoral letter on the subject in the middle of this month, on or about the 15th, though it may actually be several days later given the particular demands of my schedule and the fact that the 15th falls on a Friday, not a particularly good day to issue a pastoral letter.
It has now been a week since the 15th, and no decisions have been announced. Moreover, today is another Friday, not a particularly good day to issue a pastoral letter. ( God only knows why!) Will we get a decision next week, or the week after, or the week after that? How long is McConnell going to postpone acting like a real bishop who takes his obligations seriously?

I cannot speak for everyone in the diocese, but I do know that many people are experiencing mounting anxiety about what Bishop McConnell will do. Increasingly, they are experiencing anger over the repeated postponement of the announcement of decisions they suspect were actually made a year and a half ago.

Under Bishop Robert Duncan, two important characteristics were lacking in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh: transparency and trustworthiness. Budgets were obscure, and the intentions of the bishop were unclear. People had reason to suspect ulterior motives in many actions taken by the Bishop of Pittsburgh. Moreover, the people were lied to by their bishop, who, we were repeatedly told that he had no intention of leaving The Episcopal Church. Until, of course, he did.

Pittsburgh Episcopalians had hoped that a new episcopate would return transparency and trustworthiness back to the diocese. Instead, many feel manipulated by a process whose purpose was vague and whose ultimate consequences—if indeed the process had any influence at all on what the bishop might finally pronounce—have repeatedly been scheduled for revelation without that revelation occurring.

Do we really know what Bishop McConnell is about? Can we trust that he will do what he says when he says he will do it?

The clock is till ticking.

November 19, 2013

Sheet Music Available for “Heavens and Earth, All of Creation”

As regular readers know, I have been working on a hymn called “Heavens and Earth, All of Creation.” In particular, I have written an alternate text to David N. Johnson’s tune “Earth and All Stars.” (My most recent post on this project is here.) My hymn received its world premier of sorts last Saturday, November 16, having been sung by a group for the first time at a Cursillo Ultreya.

I would like to have some churches sing my new hymn and provide feedback as to how they like it and whether they feel it serves a particular need. This has been a hard sell, as I have not heretofore provided sheet music for “Heavens and Earth, All of Creation.” I have now remedied that deficiency. The page about the hymn on Lionel Deimel’s Farrago has a link to the music, which you can view directly here. For the accompaniment, see Hymn #412 in the organist’s edition of The Hymnal 1982 or the accompaniment for “Earth and All Stars” in any of a number of standard hymnals. (A recording of the tune can be found on the Web site here.)

If you would like to contact me about using “Heavens and Earth, All of Creation” in a worship service, click here.

November 18, 2013

The Clock Is Ticking

I have been in extensive consultation with many of you, and I believe I will be able to issue a pastoral letter on the subject in the middle of this month, on or about the 15th, though it may actually be several days later given the particular demands of my schedule and the fact that the 15th falls on a Friday, not a particularly good day to issue a pastoral letter.
That quotation is from Bishop Dorsey McConnell’s address to the annual diocesan convention on November 2. The “subject,” of course, is the bishop’s decision on whether priests in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will be able to bless same-sex unions and whether the diocese will ordain persons in committed same-sex relationships. Put another way, the bishop will announce whether the church in Southwestern Pennsylvania will move forward in its inclusiveness with both the rest of The Episcopal Church and the country at large, or whether a minority of conservatives in the diocese will succeed in confirming the diocese as a reactionary backwater.

The clock is ticking. Will we finally get a decision from our bishop this week?

By speaking of a pastoral letter, I assume that the bishop intends to issue a letter to be read in churches on Sunday. Of so, why is Friday a bad day to issue such a missive? Friday seems ideal. It is unlikely to get immediate press coverage, yet clergy will have time to digest the message and consider how to represent it to their parishioners. (One hopes that they have been thinking about this for a long time.) Moreover, laypeople, most of whom would not have received information from the diocese either on the Web or by e-mail, would very quickly be able to speak to local clergy about the letter.

If Bishop McConnell thinks Friday is not a good day, I would think that he would view Monday as a very good day. Perhaps we will hear from him today. Or perhaps he will find yet another excuse to avoid declaring his decisions.

Addendum. On October 4, Bishop McConnell wrote to the clergy (but not to laypeople of the diocese) that he was “aiming” for a November 15 announcement, a target he missed. If you have not already done so, you can read his rationale for what we can only hope was his penultimate postponement in my October 15 post, “Kicking the Can down the Road.”

November 13, 2013

Leaving Comments

From time to time, I receive e-mail from people frustrated by their inability to leave comments on Lionel Deimel’s Web Log. Of course, I am in part responsible for their frustration by insisting that people who want to leave comments must be logged into something. I do this largely to be able to tell one person from another, even if I do not actually know who they are. (I eliminated the CAPTCHA challenge, which drove some visitors nuts. I really am not trying to make things difficult.)

The people who have trouble are mostly people who have few or no login credentials for popular services, often because they have see little need for such credentials, but possibly because they have unusually strong fears for their privacy. If you have a Google account (for example, if you have a Gmail address), or an account with LiveJournal, WordPress, Typepad, or AIM you should have no difficulty logging in.

If you are viewing a single post, you should see a text box at the bottom of the page in which you can type a comment. If there are existing comments, they appear above the text box. Type in your comment, and select the account you plan to use in the drop-down box to the right of “Comment as:” If you are already logged into the selected account, you will be able to preview or publish your comment without further actions by clicking on the appropriate button. If you are not logged in, you will be requested to do so.

If you are viewing a page containing multiple posts, look for the link near the bottom of the post on which you want to comment that says “n comments,” where n is 0, 1, 2, etc. Click on the link and follow the instructions in the previous paragraph.

If you do not have an account with one of the entities listed above, you may be able to log in with OpenID. OpenID allows you to use credentials from other sites. For example, if you have a Yahoo! ID, you can enter “” in the “Comment as:” box and type your comment. When you click the “Publish” or “Preview” button, you will be redirected to a page asking for your Yahoo! credentials. When you successfully enter them, your comment will be published or previewed. A page on the OpenID site lists some of the sites whose logins you can use with OpenID, though my impression is that the page is only a rough guide. Unfortunately, you cannot leave comments by logging in with your Facebook account. Sorry about that.

If you currently have no credentials that allow you to leave comments on this site, you might consider obtaining a Typepad account. Typepad requires you to give no personal information other than your e-mail address. A Typepad account is needed to leave comments at the popular Episcopal Café, which is a point in its favor. A WordPress account is likewise minimal in the information you have to supply. If you sign up for one of these services, consider what username you will want to use. You can choose some variant of your name or you can choose an alias that does not disclose just who you are.

I hope this discussion will make it possible for some readers to leave comments who have been frustrated in doing so in the past. If you are still having trouble, feel free to send me e-mail.

November 9, 2013

Observations on the Diocesan Convention (Part 4)

This is my fourth and final installment of reflections on the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh held November 1 and 2 at Trinity Cathedral in downtown Pittsburgh. Part 1 can be read here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.
I was surprised that the Committee on Constitution and Canons offered quite a few changes for the convention to vote on this year. These were mostly little tweaks to bring diocesan rules up-to-date.

I was particularly pleased with one change. A proposal was put forward to amend Article IX of the constitution to allow the president of the Standing Committee to be either a clergy or lay  person. This change is actually more important than it seems. By tradition, the senior clerical member of the Standing Committee has automatically been “elected” president, and the senior lay member has been similarly selected to be secretary, (See “Who Can Be President of the Pittsburgh Standing Committee?”) Constitution and Canons offered a simpler amendment than I had suggested, but a perfectly acceptable one. It merely indicates that lay and clerical members can become either president or secretary. The change passed easily and will become effective when passed again by the 2014 convention.

I was less pleased with the disposition of the proposed change to Canon XII. (You can read the proposal extracted from the pre-convention journal here.) The change was not accepted but was sent back to the committee instead.

When I first read the proposed change to Canon XII, it was not obvious just what the point was. The stated rationale for the change made it seem like another technical change. In fact, in the early days of the Duncan episcopate, a resolution was passed that allowed parishes to divert part of their assessment that was destined for The Episcopal Church to some other approved cause. This allowed the many parishes hostile to Episcopal Church—most such parishes are now in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh—to minimize their contribution to the church. Funds were diverted to many causes, with a number of contributions going to Anglican Relief and Development, Duncan’s alternative to Episcopal Relief and Development.

Disallowing such diversions was something I thought convention should have done immediately after the departure of much of the diocese in 2008. I was told that such a change was premature, however, as some parishes that remained were not ready to end their diversions. It seemed an insult to The Episcopal Church to continue to allow them, however.

I was not present for the debate about the Canon XII revision, but, having been told earlier that some clergy were uncomfortable with with the proposed change, I had suggested options for adopting the change but delaying its effect. Apparently, these options were presented to the convention, but the convention voted simply to refer the proposal back to the committee with no particular instructions as to what the committee should do with it.

This is the second time in as many years that the convention has taken such an action rather than debating and letting the fate of a proposal be determined by an actual vote. Last year, a proposal intended to give more deputies to mid-size parishes was referred back to committee, largely without discussion or instruction as to what the committee was supposed to do with it. The proposal was not brought back this year.

In the case of the Canon XII proposal, there was debate, though it appears not to have dealt with what I considered to be the real issue, namely, are we going to wholeheartedly support The Episcopal Church or not. The failure to adopt the proposed change suggests continuing ambivalence toward the wider church. No doubt, its opponents would dispute this interpretation.

Apparently, a group of conservative priests had discussed their unhappiness regarding Canon XII and were prepared to speak against the proposed change. That the rationale for the proposal offered by the committee failed to take note of the elephant in the room meant that many deputies probably did not really know what was at stake. Another problem was the sound system, whose inadequacies I mentioned in an earlier post. In asking deputies for their versions of the debate, I learned that many of them had no idea what was happening because they could not hear the discussion.

I find it demoralizing that (1) the lack of a viable sound system in Trinity Cathedral was so deleterious to the conduct of the diocese’s business, and (2) that, yet again, deputies seemed ill-prepared to deal with proposals with which they had been supplied details in advance.

In light of the problems with the Canon XII proposal and other problems I noted in earlier posts regarding the Trinity Cathedral convention, I have two recommendations for the leadership of our diocese and parishes:

  1. Hold the 2014 convention somewhere else—anywhere else. St. David’s would be a good choice, but St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, or Calvary would be fine.
  2. Encourage parishes to hold deputation meetings after deputies have attended information meetings sponsored by the diocese and before convention to discuss in depth the matters coming before the convention.  Attendance at such meetings should be mandatory for parish deputies.

Thus end my rants concerning the 2013 annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. I have no illusions that everyone will agree with everything I have written. At least one good friend telephoned me to complain about one of my comments. No doubt, others have also been annoyed. Whether you agree with my observations or not, I hope that I have caused people to think more deeply about how we run our diocese, how we stage our conventions, and how we could do a better job. If you disagree with anything I’ve written, leave a comment expressing your opinion. I don’t want to discourage positive comments, however, and I invite those as well. May our 2014 convention be a better one; may our diocese be stronger a year from now; and may all of us in the diocese be equipped to move forward together. 

November 8, 2013

Observations on the Diocesan Convention (Part 3)

This is my third installment of reflections on the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh held November 1 and 2 at Trinity Cathedral in downtown Pittsburgh. Part 1 can be read here and Part 2 here.
In this third commentary on the recently concluded annual convention, I want to reflect on Bishop Dorsey McConnell’s address to the convention that he delivered last Saturday.

Much of the bishop’s address needs no further comment. Changes to the status of parishes and various personnel changes are simply news events requiring distribution. Those not present at the convention can read about these matters on the diocesan Web site.

A couple of personnel matters mentioned by the bishop do require comment. McConnell noted that Cathy Brall has left Trinity Cathedral to become Canon Missioner, but the bishop has still not explained why a diocese as financially challenged as our own needs three canons, the other two being Scott Quinn and Jay Geisler. What is the remit of each of these canons? Are they all doing the same job, or do they have different job descriptions? In fact, do they have any job descriptions at all? Of all the questions raised by Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP), the matter of why we need three canons is the one people most want explained. Alas, the bishop has not yet provided any explanation.

The bishop did offer this:
Cathy is already making a huge contribution to the life of our diocese, as she joins Canons Scott Quinn and Jay Geisler as part of what I may call my extensive council of advice. There is, actually, no formal designation or boundary to this council of advice, and if you’d like to give me some, all you need do is write me an e-mail or pick up the phone, and you’re there.
I found this passage distressing. Many of us are concerned that the bishop has relied too much on the opinions of Quinn and Geisler. Is the bishop’s observation that he is often surprised by how people in the diocese react the product of consulting an insufficiently diverse group of people? The council of advice for a bishop is supposed to be the Standing Committee. That is not to say that a bishop cannot consult others, but it is true that the Standing Committee is elected by the convention, not simply designated by the bishop. It is therefore likely to be more representative of the diocese at large. Article IV of the Episcopal Church constitution reads as follows:
In every Diocese a Standing Committee shall be elected by the Convention thereof, except that provision for filling vacancies between meetings of the Convention may be prescribed by the Canons of the respective Dioceses. When there is a Bishop in charge of the Diocese, the Standing Committee shall be the Bishop’s Council of Advice. [Emphasis added.] If there be no Bishop or Bishop Coadjutor or Suffragan Bishop canonically authorized to act, the Standing Committee shall be the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese for all purposes declared by the General Convention. The rights and duties of the Standing Committee, except as provided in the Constitution and Canons of the General Convention, may be prescribed by the Canons of the respective Dioceses.
McConnell next addressed another personnel matter pressed by PEP, namely, the lack of a Director of Administration. After announcing that Kathi Workman is the new diocesan treasurer, the bishop promised, though not at a time certain, to name a “Diocesan Administrator.” He observed that the “‘team approach’ to administration” is working just fine. Not everyone would agree.

The bishop made a few comments about the budget. The budget, of course, is a difficult one with which many are uncomfortable, as am I. I don’t know what a more acceptable alternative would look like, however, so I will have nothing more to say about it.

Next, Bishop McConnell began an exposition of what he most wanted to talk about, namely his priorities for the  next decade: Public Gospel, Missional Communities, and Leadership Formation. What people will most remember about this part of the address is the charming story of the bishop’s encounter with the Duck. (Read the text.)

I find myself both pleased and wary of this description of the Public Gospel part of his program. Proclaiming “Jesus crucified and risen” is all well and good, but I would hope that we will also present The Episcopal Church to the public as a church embodying a Christianity that responds to the needs of contemporary Americans and not simply one asserting the understandings of long-dead generations. The public needs to hear that Christianity is broader than the literalist, inflexible theology of many of those who left our diocese in 2008.

It is easy to buy into the bishop’s Missional Communities concept though perhaps harder to make our parishes conform to that ideal. The bishop asked, “Can we begin to change our mindset, so that we live not so much as settled, inward-looking religious families hoping for more people to come to church, but as vigorous, Spirit-filled, apostolic societies moving outward to meet the need of the world and transform it?” Can we indeed? This may be the bishop’s greatest challenge to the diocese.

Wrapping up his vision for the diocese, Bishop McConnell said this: “The final piece of this vision lies in the formation of leaders, both lay and ordained, to guide our missional communities in a public Gospel.” He went on to say, “May I say that nothing in our parishes is going to change culturally if it is not led by lay leadership. Clergy can help you, pray for you, equip you. But unless it is the laity that is leading this transformation, change is simply not going to happen.” It is difficult to argue with this, but it is also difficult to see any moves by the bishop so far that have encouraged lay leadership. He seems to have no systematic means of consulting laypeople, seems to prefer getting advice from his ordained canons to getting advice from the half-lay-half-clergy Standing Committee, and seems unconcerned about the decreasing lay representation on the Legal Committee. His vision for a “leadership training institute” and coöperating with adjacent dioceses, however, is intriguing.

There is an appealing logic to McConnell’s “three priorities, in six words, for the next ten years.” One can imagine translating these priorities into actions, something that was never the case for Bob Duncan’s inscrutable “One Church of Miraculous Expectation and Missionary Grace.” On the other hand, one might question whether the bishop’s priorities should determine the direction of the diocese. (Or his views on same-sex blessings, for that matter, but the General Convention did what it did.) Is the bishop the ruler of parishes or their servant? Should parishes be following the lead of the bishop, or should they expect support from their bishop for their mission as they see it? Alas, we have been trained to be followers.

Skipping over other details of the address, I have two other issues I want to raise. In his second paragraph, the bishop said, “I want to share with you something of my participation in the wider Church, both the Episcopal Church and aboard, and invite you into partnership with Pilgrim Africa.” I thought this was a promising opening. The subject was raised again only near the end of the address:
I also continue to be active in the wider church through my work with Pilgrim Africa, working principally in northeastern Uganda. Now I know that whenever the Church in Uganda is mentioned in this setting, I notice a few people who take a step back and look nervous. I want to assure you that Pilgrim Africa is a pan-Christian, non-denominational relief and development organization working for public health, sustainable agriculture, and education in the northeastern Teso region. We do have wonderful, strong, and cooperative relationships with the Diocese of Soroti and with many other local churches. It is an indigenous organization, alongside of which folks like me come and help with logistical, financial and administrative support. Anyone who is interested in going with Betsy and me this coming July, as we take a team over, is welcome to join us. If any of these priorities of working with war-affected kids, with malaria control, or with sustainable agriculture and food security strike your fancy, please let me know.
I am, I suppose, one of those “people who take a step back and look nervous” when the Church of the Province of Uganda is mentioned. I am willing to believe, however, that Pilgrim Africa is not in the business of endorsing that church’s hostility to our own church or its less than generous attitude toward homosexual persons. While inviting individuals to join him and his wife on his trips to Uganda, he has failed to come to grips with the fact that Pilgrim Africa has not been adopted as a Diocese of Pittsburgh mission project, nor is Pilgrim Africa an obvious choice for adoption by one of our missional communities. Given those circumstances, one has to ask if the diocese is expected to pay for the bishop’s and the bishop’s wife’s trip. Will the bishop take vacation time to go to Uganda? If, in fact, funds for a Uganda trip are buried in the budget, where are they? The bishop has not been forthcoming on this matter.

Finally, there is the question of the bishop’s eventual decision on same-sex blessings and ordination of partnered gays. This essay was delayed until I could read the bishop’s remarks on the subject, as I was reluctant to rely totally on my memory and written notes. The transcript posted on the diocesan Web site contains this:
Sometimes we actually do get to experience that reality [as the body of Christ]. Certainly I’ve heard that was the case among the people who participated in the conversations on human sexuality over the last year. In many instances, they entered the room full of anxiety and then, in the next few hours of dialogue, found a grace that surprised them. They began to see the other, not as an opponent, but as a human being and a child of God, with convictions rooted in their faith in a common Lord. And they reported to me and to my co-chair, Dana Phillips, and to the other members of the planning team the hope that, as we move toward and beyond a decision on the matters of blessing and ordination for persons in same-sex relationships, the grace they discovered in those rooms may abound for others. I share the same hope.
I have been in extensive consultation with many of you, and I believe I will be able to issue a pastoral letter on the subject in the middle of this month, on or about the 15th, though it may actually be several days later given the particular demands of my schedule and the fact that the 15th falls on a Friday, not a particularly good day to issue a pastoral letter. I appreciate your patience and ask for your continued indulgence for just a bit longer and for your prayers always. I do hope that together we will manage to incorporate the results of this decision into our common life in a way that will put the issue behind us and allow us to focus together on the crucial matter of how we are to join God’s mission in the world.
Excuse the rather long quotation; I wanted to include all of the bishop’s remarks on the long-promised, long-delayed decision that will determine whether our diocese will move forward with The Episcopal Church or return to its status as reactionary Southwestern Pennsylvania backwater.

Unfortunately, what is reproduced above is not all that the bishop said. According to the notes I took at the time—as the bishop knows, I am an inveterate note-taker—he also said, if not exactly, then approximately this: “I am under no illusions that anyone in this diocese will approve completely” of my decision. It is this line, redacted in the “official” transcript that took the better part of a week to appear, that increased my anxiety over what Bishop McConnell might do. It no doubt worried others as well.

It has been widely expected that the bishop would allow the blessing of same-sex unions in parishes that desired to do so, with safeguards to assure that the parishes are ready and willing to take such a step. It likewise was expected that the bishop would allow the ordination of homosexuals in committed relationships. After all, he has just allowed two openly gay men to take positions as rectors in Pittsburgh parishes. Progressives would have no problems with these decisions. Conservatives would be unhappy with both decisions but would likely see them as inevitable.

But then McConnell suggested that no one will approve completely of his decision. This implies that progressives are wrong in at least one of their assumptions, and the bishop sees it as necessary to throw a bone to the minority but vocal conservatives of the diocese. If this is the case, McConnell will be making a terrible mistake. There is an opportunity to position the Diocese of Pittsburgh in the Episcopal mainstream. Progressives who worked hard to save the diocese feel that they deserve progressive decisions, and conservatives who stayed in the church assumed that they would have to pay a price in the form of increased acceptance of homosexuality. To fail to authorize same-sex blessings or to prohibit ordination of partnered homosexuals will demoralize or enrage progressives and will embolden conservatives to return the diocese to the regressive days of the Duncan era.

Perhaps Bishop McConnell realized after he delivered his address that he had increased anxiety in the dioceses unnecessarily and that failure to move forward with majority opinion within The Episcopal Church would severely wound his fledgling episcopate. I pray that is the case.

Update, 11/9/2013. Part 4 of my observations on the diocesan convention can be found here.

Observations on the Diocesan Convention (Part 2)

This is my second installment of reflections on the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh held November 1 and 2 at Trinity Cathedral in downtown Pittsburgh. Part 1 can be read here.
Anne Rudig, Director of the Office of Communication of The Episcopal Church, gave a brief talk to the convention on Saturday. Her remarks are now available on the diocesan Web site. It would be helpful to read her remarks before proceeding.

Anne Rudig
Anne Rudig
By happenstance, I sat at the same table as Rudig on Friday night, and we discussed many of the points she raised in her address to the convention.

I do believe that Bishop Stacey Sauls’ plan to designate a staff person at what Rudig called the denominational office to each diocese is a promising idea. People in Pittsburgh will have a particular and, presumably, knowledgeable person to deal with in New York. Not surprisingly, however, there is not a one-to-one mapping of dioceses to staff people. Rudig, for example, is also the contact for Fort Worth and San Joaquin and some other dioceses whose names I don’t remember. Do you see a pattern here? She has been assigned to dioceses that may need a lot of attention. In addition, she is the Director of Communication and a member of the Executive Oversight Group, whatever that is. (See the page on the Episcopal Church Web site here.) In other words, Rudig had significant full-time employment before being designated the general church contact for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Only time will tell how Sauls’ scheme will work in practice. Will Rudig be able to devote enough time to helping the Diocese of Pittsburgh?

One of our subjects on Friday night was the insistence, particularly by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori that neither The Episcopal Church nor that part of it beyond the dioceses is the “national church.” Rudig took pains to remind the convention that our church has outposts in Taiwan and Micronesia, Honduras, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. That’s true, of course, but, as I pointed out in my essay, “The Missionary Society,” a fundamental pillar of Anglicanism is that churches should be national (or, if that is impractical, regional). We have churches in various countries either to serve Americans abroad or as missionary enterprises that, at some future time, should become independent. If “national church” does not seem a proper designation, perhaps we should speak of the “American Church.” We still do not have unambiguous names for our entire church, on one hand, and the top-level policy-making and administrative mechanisms of our church, on the other. We should.

Rudig discouraged referring to 815 Second Avenue as the Episcopal Church Center with the fanciful explanation that the “center” of the church is not in New York City. “The center of the Episcopal Church is right here in the middle of this room.” That, of course, is just silly. “Episcopal Church Center” has always been understood to be a building (or a building, along with those who work in it); no one thought of it as somehow being the locus of the church’s essence.

Rudig continued:
I work for the Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church. And I have been sent out to you to share resources, staff, and opportunities for partnership. I am also here to listen and learn about the hopes and needs of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
This sounds distressingly like “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” In fact, that is really what Rudig is trying to say, with “Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church” substituted for “government.” Bishop Sauls recognizes that the denizens of 815 Second Avenue are not universally beloved of Episcopalians in the hinterlands. (The Diocese of Pittsburgh is home to more than its share of ambivalence respecting those in the denominational office.) We should all hope that the Diocesan Partnership Program delivers the service it promises.

Then, there is that “Missionary Society” thing that I analyzed at length in the post cited above. Rudig works for the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS) because the DFMS is a corporation, and The Episcopal Church, an unincorporated society, is not. In any ordinary sense, however, she works for The Episcopal Church. Every baptized member of The Episcopal Church is a member of the DFMS, whose board of directors is the Executive Council. The DFMS is essentially a wholly owned subsidiary of The Episcopal Church and exists only for legal and financial purposes. It remains unclear just what the “Missionary Society” is supposed to be, and one has to wonder if Sauls is thinking of the DFMS, a.k.a., the Missionary Society, as the general church administration. The matter is hardly clarified by this paragraph from the press release announcing the Diocesan Partnership Program:
The Diocesan Partnership Program is a component of a refocusing effort aimed to partner with ministries on the local level. Looking at the DFMS efforts as The Missionary Society, Bishop Sauls furthered, “We are embarking on a concerted effort in supporting the children, women, and men of The Episcopal Church in engaging God’s mission—to reconcile all of us to each other and to God in the love of Jesus Christ. It is a vision worthy of a Missionary Society for the 21st century. The effort before us is to connect the many parts of our Church and most especially to build partnerships and connections between its many parts by using the resources available to come together at the churchwide level as The Missionary Society.”
Thus, the Missionary Society is DFMS efforts. The page on the Episcopal Church Web site to which Rudig called attention refers to the Missionary Society as a strategy and says that it seeks partnerships for mission. People or organizations seek; strategies do not. The whole Mission Society thing is a hopeless muddle that should be (and probably will be) soon forgotten.

The rest of Rudig’s talk was devoted to convincing the convention that she is the conduit through which assistance and riches could flow to the diocese. And she promoted an upcoming forum, “Fifty Years Later: The State of Racism in America.”

I am delighted that single point of contact has been identified for our diocese, and I am grateful for Anne Rudig’s visit to our convention. In the end, however, results, not fancy names for vague concepts, are what will count in developing effective partnerships within The Episcopal Church. Let’s drop the confused jargon and get on with the Lord’s work.

Update, 11/8/2013. Part 3 of my observations on the diocesan convention can be found here.

Observations on the Diocesan Convention (Part 1)

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh held its annual convention at Trinity Cathedral Friday and Saturday, November 1 and 2, 2013. I was not a deputy, but Beth Stifel and I were representatives of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh. We spent most of our time at the PEP table (see photo below) that was set up in the hallway, where it was very conspicuous. I did steal away from our table a few times to sample other aspects of the convention, but neither Beth nor I got to take it all in. (See my appendix at the end of this post for more information about the PEP table.)

I have already remarked on the distribution of the pre-convention journal. (See “Convention Journals.”) I do not know how most deputies dealt with the failure of the diocese to distribute paper copies of convention materials. I suspect that some people brought an electronic copy of the pre-convention journal with them. Others likely brought complete journals printed on their slow and expensive home printers. No doubt, some deputies printed only selected pages or none at all. The distribution of the pre-convention journal should be rethought for 2014.

I arrived at Trinity Cathedral about three o’clock Friday to begin putting the PEP table together. I was met by PEP president Mary Roehrich, who brought candy and the decorative items for the table. I was distressed to learn that there were either no assigned tables or, if there were table assignments, no one knew what they were. Exhibitors found themselves involved in the convention equivalent of the Oklahoma land rush. PEP was fortunate in snagging a conspicuous location that enjoyed a good deal of traffic. Organizations that found tables along the walls of the cathedral lunch room were less fortunate, as movement in front of their tables was inhibited by small clearances and people talking to one another between the exhibits and the tables set up for conversation and eating. That said, the arrangement seemed better than having displays in the church itself, an arrangement used in recent years.

The agenda of this year’s convention was curious. Unlike previous years, there was no business transacted on Friday. A major result of this was that many clergy and lay deputies stayed away. For those who did come, there was no registration and, therefore, no name tags. (Exhibitors did get name tags Friday, however.) Essentially, Friday was purely social. Of course, it was less social than it might have been, since so many people stayed away.

A pleasant meal was served, courtesy of Trinity School for Ministry. The caterers were late in arriving, however, so less time than planned could be devoted to eating. This turned out not to be much of a problem, and the convention Eucharist began only slightly later than planned. It was All Saints’ Day, and the service began in the church graveyard, which was a nice touch.

After the service, we adjourned to the Green Room (or was it the Blue Room?) for desserts and entertainment. The desserts were tasty, but the room was really too small and would have been horribly inadequate had more people showed up. Entertainment was supplied by Zach Simons—Jim Simons’ son, we were reminded repeatedly—and an improv troupe. As might be expected, the quality of the performance was variable, but it did have some funny moments. The program concluded with a skit with Zach and “Special Guest Star,” who, to no one’s surprise, turned out to be Bishop McConnell. The bishop portrayed Charles Wesley.

Saturday was most notable for its unforgiving schedule. The lack of significant breaks discouraged socializing and strolling past the exhibits. Not even lunch provided a break, as lunch was a working lunch devoted to district meetings. Things proceeded more or less on schedule. A more comfortable schedule would have moved at least some business to Friday, freeing up time on Saturday.

I’m sure that many attendees of the convention would join me in arguing for a 2014 convention held somewhere other than downtown. The problems of holding a convention at Trinity Cathedral begin with the parking. Over the two days, I spent nearly $20 in parking fees and spent an uncomfortable amount of time double-parked loading and unloading passengers and table paraphernalia. As I suggested above, there was too little room around most of the displays and too little room where the Friday entertainment was staged.

The worst feature of using the cathedral, however, is its sound system. I don’t know why the sound system in the church is so terrible, but it is. People in the back of the room could hardly hear anything. People in the front pews could hear only slightly better. Although the problem seemed widely recognized, speakers seemed disinclined to try projecting more. When various measures were being discussed, there were no microphones for deputies speaking from the floor, and the bishop did not think to repeat the questions or remarks before responding to them. No doubt, some deputies tuned out during these interchanges.

There is, I suppose, some symbolic value in staging our conventions at Trinity Cathedral, particularly in light of its recent history as both an “Anglican” and Episcopal church. Surely, however, there are more serviceable venues available in the diocese. Until we Episcopalians recover St. Stephen’s, Sewickley, perhaps the best place for a convention would be St. David’s, Peters Township. The 2002 convention was held there, and, although there are bad memories of that convention, at least the church has more than ample parking.

Appendix: The PEP Table

The centerpiece of the PEP table at the convention was a slide presentation about what PEP does and where it came from. A lot of effort went into the slide show, which began as a wordy 16-page presentation and ended as a lean 11-page show. “Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh: Entering Our Second Decade Supporting The Episcopal Church” provides a quick introduction to PEP and can be viewed on YouTube. Paper copies of the slide show were also available at the PEP table. The other new document developed for the convention was an introduction to PEP titled “What You Should Know about PEP,” which is available on the Web here. The table also included copies of the PEP membership form.

The PEP table was rounded out with several bowls of candy (very popular), flowers (very pretty) and a basket of buttons with the legend “The Episcopal Church Welcomes All.” (See photo at left) PEP first had these buttons made for a convention a few years before the 2008 diocesan split. We had a hard time distributing them until after the split. (We gave out many buttons at the special convention of December 2008.) I am happy to report that many people picked up a button at the 2013 convention, and our supply has now been exhausted. We may want to design a button for next year’s convention. Do any readers have suggestions for a new button design?

Update, 11/8/2013. I am told that the entertainment was in the Blue Room, not the Green Room, on the second floor of the cathedral. Also, Part 2 of my reflections on the annual convention can be found here.