April 12, 2013

Remembering the Bad Ol’ Days

I have spent a lot of time recently trying to eliminate the ocean of paper I have accumulated over the years. Many of the documents I have had to deal with relate to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and the efforts by Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh and its allies to derail the race to schism being engineered by Bishop Robert Duncan. I am incorporating paper documents into an electronic archive, thereby allowing me to reduce the volume of the paper ocean.

An important figure in the opposition to the machinations of our former bishop was Harold Lewis, the recently retired rector of Calvary Church. Harold’s most important act was surely his suing Bob Duncan over the attempt to declare that parishes had complete control over their property—why did not someone do this in South Carolina when Mark Lawrence issued his quitclaim deeds, an even bolder move than Duncan’s?—but his rhetorical skills were also important in the battle for the hearts and minds of Episcopalians. I was reminded of this when I came across one of Harold’s “Rector’s Ruminations” in the October 31, 2004, issue of Calvary’s newsletter, Agape.

Agape logo
I want to quote from Harold’s “Conventional Wisdom” in that issue. Much of Duncan’s scheming went on behind closed doors. Most Pittsburgh Episcopalians, and certainly Episcopalians elsewhere, were blissfully unaware of what was being done or what was its ultimate purpose. “Convention Wisdom” exposes one way in which our former bishop manipulated people and subverted rules and conventions to advance his agenda.

Harold’s letter was distributed just before the 2004 annual convention of the diocese, and the essay addresses the agenda of that convention. The most important order of business was a vote on amending the diocesan constitution to weaken its accession clause. After addressing that clearly improper action, Harold moves on to a section labeled “Suppressed Resolutions.” I want to quote that section in its entirety and without very much comment. You should know that Canon Mary Hays, who is quoted in this passage, was responsible for doing much of the bishop’s dirty work. (Harold’s entire essay can be read here. I apologize for the holes in the PDF file; I used to put documents in 3-ring binders.)
It is customary in most dioceses for conventions to go on record as voicing their opinions on issues facing church and society. This mirrors the practice of the General Convention, which has often spoken out against racism, gender discrimination, homophobia and war. In this spirit, several groups in the Diocese have submitted resolutions for consideration at Convention. One such resolution asserts that the Diocese of Pittsburgh is a “constituent and inseparable part of the Episcopal Church.” Another affirms the ministry of ordained women; another decries violence against homosexual persons. At a meeting of the Diocesan Council, that body voted overwhelmingly that these and other resolutions should not come before Convention. The bishop, in supporting that vote, dismissed the resolutions as “inviting a return to the contentiousness of the 70’s and 80’s.” Canon Mary Hays, speaking in favor of the suppression of these resolutions, stated: “In a different time and a different place, the words of these resolutions would be perceived differently, but we are viewing the world thorough a particular set of lenses, the lens of polarization. This makes all of these resolutions divisive and makes it difficult, if not impossible to consider [them].” It is amazing, as Florence Atwood observed at a pre-Convention hearing, that such resolutions should be deemed divisive, whereas a resolution dissociating the Diocese from the National Church should not be considered divisive!
As usual, Harold did a fine matter of getting to the heart of the matter. By the way, the understanding of the current Diocesan Council with regard to convention resolutions submitted to it is that resolutions can only be rejected for being in the wrong format, not for their content.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Lionel. Harold Lewis was always a dear friend of mine and I would have joined his lawsuit if I hadn't retired as rector of Christ Church. He was always a voice of reason in this divided diocese.


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