April 14, 2013

Democracy in the Diocese of Pittsburgh

Cover of “Lets’s Have Democracy in Our Diocese” brochure
In my last post, “Remembering the Bad Ol’ Days,” I called attention to Harold Lewis’s complaint about how Diocesan Council, under the influence of Bishop Duncan, decided that a number of resolutions that had been proposed for the 2004 annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh were declared  to be too divisive to be considered.

As it happened, Harold’s was not a lone voice crying out in the wilderness. Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, which had had a hand in producing the suppressed resolutions, issued a brochure aimed at shaming the diocesan leadership into reconsidering their action and at encouraging deputies to insist on taking votes on Resolutions #4–9.

The cover of PEP’s tri-fold brochure on buff-colored card stock is shown at the left. You can view the entire brochure, which characterized the six “controversial” resolutions here.

As it happens, the resolutions were on the convention’s agenda, but the allies of the bishop were prepared to make sure that none of them passed. The minutes of the convention, which were published in the final 2004 Convention Journal, explain what happened.

Resolution #4 was introduced. Mary Roehrich spoke in favor of the resolution. Then, according to the minutes,
Dave Hoover, St. Peter’s, Uniontown, member of Diocesan Council, moved Resolution #4 be postponed indefinitely; seconded. Mr. Hoover spoke to the motion stating that Diocesan Council has recommended almost unanimously that a vote would cause greater division than what currently exists.

The Bishop stated that our rules of order allow for 20 minutes of debate on each resolution with no deputy speaking more than once.

Debate followed; vote on the motion to postpone indefinitely: voice vote inconclusive; standing – passed.
Resolution #5 suffered much the same fate. In this case, the Rev. Stan Burdock, another Diocesan Council member, offered the motion to postpone indefinitely.

Resolution #6 was also postponed, this time by a motion from the Rev. Linda Manual.

The Rev. Philip Wainwright offered a motion to postpone Resolutions #7–9, but Bishop Duncan postponed entertaining the motion pending the announcement of voting results and instructions for the next ballot. Before resolutions were considered further, however, the bishop announced that the time allotted for convention business had expired, so no action was taken on Resolutions #7–9.

What happened next was simply bizarre. Here is the description from the Convention Journal:
There was no motion to extend debate, and no objection for 5 minutes of prayer with an announcement; the Bishop called the President of the Standing Committee, the Rev. Doug McGlynn, forward to lead prayer with other members of the Standing Committee. Dr. McGlynn requested that Canon Catherine Brall and Mrs. Kathleen Marks join him.

Noting we were at a critical point in our diocese, Dr. McGlynn asked for prayers for reconciliation and a right heart towards one another.

Mrs. Marks read a portion of scripture: Colossians 3:12ff
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, wholly and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of God rule in your hearts since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

A period of prayer followed.

The Bishop then announced that with the advice and consent of the Standing Committee and in light of the continuing civil suit brought by two of our parishes and the deepest desire to turn this from its present course, in order to encourage the process of resolution and reconciliation, if it please God, and in order to open all the means of response possible in the situation, notice was given under Canon 15, Section 6 of the canons of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh that consideration of the dissolution of the union between the Convention of this diocese and the parishes of Calvary Church, East Liberty, and St. Stephen’s Church, Wilkinsburg, will be a part of the agenda of the next meeting of this convention whether that be a special or annual meeting. The Bishop stated that he made this announcement with deepest grief, but the Canons require that it be made at an annual convention. The suit has extended for 13 months. He expressed himself the previous day as to what he believes is the proper course. This does not mean Convention will have to do this, but that it’s an un-hoped for possibility.
Some explanation is required here. Calvary Church, led by the Rev. Dr. Harold Lewis, had sued Duncan and other diocesan leaders in 2003 over their attempt to circumvent the Dennis Canon. St. Stephen’s, led by the Rev. Diane Shepard, had joined the suit, which, at the time of the convention, remained unresolved. Clearly, the bishop’s little drama described above was not spontaneous. A passage of scripture on unity was read and prayers were asked as the bishop prepared to threaten Calvary and St. Stephen’s with being thrown out of the diocese. (The canon used by Duncan has since been rescinded.)

What is not reported in the minutes is that the bishop spoke to Harold and Diane before the second day of the convention (November 6, 2004) began and urged them to withdraw the lawsuit. The two rectors refused. The subsequent threat to use Canon 15, Section 6 against their parishes made the request to terminate litigation look a lot like blackmail. Harold and Diane left quickly after the business of the convention concluded. On behalf of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, I immediately telephoned the Presiding Bishop’s chancellor.

Bishop Duncan’s threat was never carried out. By the time of the 2005 annual convention, parties in the Calvary lawsuit (as the litigation was generally called) had signed the stipulation that ultimately assured that diocesan property would stay with The Episcopal Church.

Why rehash all this history now? Bob Duncan has gone, and the Diocese of Pittsburgh has a new diocesan bishop. Well, after major factions of four dioceses have left The Episcopal Church, it should be obvious that (1) Bishops in The Episcopal Church have too much power; (2) the church is reluctant to act in a timely manner against bishops who abuse their power; and (3) the tools for reining in rogue bishops are limited. The task force that is considering changes to the church’s polity should be considering not only how The Episcopal Church can be run more efficiently (read “cheaply”) and how it can enhance its “missionary” character. It should also consider how the church’s polity can be changed to limit the power of bishops and make it easier to get rid of rogue bishops before they inflict too much damage to their dioceses and to the general church. To date, it does not appear that the general church has learned very much from the experiences of San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Quincy, and South Carolina.

Update, 4/15/2013. I revised my description of Bishop Duncan’s conversations with Harold Lewis and Diane Shepard. The conversations occurred before the convention session, rather than at the end of it, as my original post implied.

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