October 29, 2013


“These folks prayed for me when I was in the hospital when they didn’t even know me. When I first came to visit, they knew me because they had been faithfully praying for me. They are serious pray-ers,” she says.
These two sentences are from a story on the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh Web site,  “Music, Prayer, & Art: Planting a Church in the Strip District,” a story I discovered while researching my last post, “Having It Both Ways, Take 2.”

“Pray-ers,” of course, is an odd rendering, but one can appreciate why it was used in this instance. Most often, “prayers” refers to certain spiritual acts, but “prayers,” pronounced differently, i.e., with two syllables rather than one, can also refer to people engaged in such acts.

Praying hands
Technically, the passage above would not have been ambiguous had the word in question been written normally; “they” in the second and third sentences both have the antecedent “folks” in the first sentence. Thus, the noun complement (predicate nominative) “prayers”  must also refer to “folks.” Since “prayers” more commonly refers to spiritual acts, rather than to persons engaged in those acts, however, the reader might easily stumble over how to pronounce “prayers.” Unfortunately, the non-standard orthography that is meant to avoid ambiguity in the above quotation interrupts the flow of the text anyway by virtue of its novelty.

It is easy to construct a sentence in which, absent further context, normal orthography is unable to disambiguate the use of “prayers.” Consider
She crept into the chapel and listened careful to the prayers.
Should “prayers” be read as the one-syllable word or the two-syllable word? Because the verb “to listen” can be applied either to people or to sounds that might be emitted by people, one cannot know, from this sentence alone, which usage was intended (and therefore which way one should pronounce “prayers”). The possible interpretations of the sentence are related, but the difference is significant, and a careful writer would likely want to rule out the unintended meaning.

So, should the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh have used “pray-er” or “prayer” or something else? Actually, were I the writer, I would have wanted to recast the sentence to avoid even a suggestion of ambiguity. Unfortunately, the sentence is part of a quotation, so that might not offer a conscientious  alternative.

If one absolutely has to get creative in order to disambiguate the interpretation of “prayers,” we do have a mechanism that is more standard than inserting a hyphen into a word. We can use a diaeresis, a diacritical mark that indicates that a vowel is to be pronounced in a separate syllable. Thus, we could write
  Alas, most readers would stumble over that as well.

Having It Both Ways, Take 2

Nearly two weeks ago, I wrote about the strange case of Episcopal priest Whis Hays, who is a candidate this weekend for a seat on the Committee on Canons of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. In my post “Having It Both Ways,” I wrote
Bob Duncan played fast and loose with church boundaries, and, if our new bishop proves similarly permissive, for whatever reason, it will provoke bad memories. I believe this matter should be handled promptly and openly.
If Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh Dorsey McConnell has acted to correct this anomaly, I am unaware of it. (The Rev. Mr. Hays no doubt needs time to consider his options.) In any case, I am aware of an equally outrageous situation involving Episcopal priest Paul Martin Johnston.

During the period when Trinity Cathedral claimed to be the cathedral of both the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh—a situation that was itself an anomaly—Johnston served at the downtown Pittsburgh landmark. (I wrote posts about Trinity’s well-meaning but vain attempt to have it both ways at the beginning and end of this period.) After the cathedral chapter chose to return to the Episcopal diocese, Johnston left the cathedral.

The Rev. Paul Martin Johnston
The Rev. Paul Martin Johnston
All of which brings us to the present day. The Rev. Paul Johnston is one of three clergy at a church plant called the Anglican Church of the Incarnation in the Strip District, a commercial area of Pittsburgh largely involved with food. The church is in what is called the Upstairs Gallery above a restaurant and wine bar, Bar Marco. Other clergy involved with Incarnation are Ann Paton and John MacDonald. Laurie Thompson also seems to have some connection to Incarnation.

Incarnation seems like a very exciting Christian experiment. It exists in a commercial area and is quite deliberate about connecting to its neighborhood. (It uses a Strip District cycle of prayer that includes all manner of commercial enterprises, and it solicits local businesses for people to pray for.) But its most distinctive feature is its emphasis on the arts. Its home page contains this slogan: “Passionately living the good news of Jesus Christ through the Anglican tradition of worship and beauty.” The same page explains its name this way:
God is creative. So, God is incarnational—that is, God makes spiritual mysteries tangible for us. To Christians, the coming of Jesus—God’s radiance and creative Word made personal—is the Incarnation writ large. The same Spirit who animates Creation and the Incarnation inspires us to do beautiful things. Make art. Appreciate beauty. Worship liturgically. Ask profound questions. Take care of the environment. Cook. Do beautiful acts for others.

Some of our favorite saints were creatives: St. Cecilia (picture), who legend has it sang at her martyrdom; St. Gregory, for whom Gregorian chant is named; St. Dunstan, an Archbishop of Canterbury who was an artist, calligrapher, and bell maker; and St. Hildegard, scholar-composer-poet-spiritual advisor-scientist-administrator–dramatist-multitasker.
Music seems especially important at Incarnation, and not the mindless drivel characteristic of so many church starts.The official launch of the church on April 14, 2013, included by “a low-brass quartet of euphoniums.” How neat is that!

Of course, the problem with Paul Johnston’s involvement with the Anglican Church of the Incarnation is its association with the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. The church is not an ecumenical enterprise. On a page titled “Our Identity,” Incarnation proclaims:
  1. We are Christians.
  2. We are members of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
  3. We are members of the Anglican Church in North America.
  4. We are members of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Three out of four of these statements are true. Despite the grandiose ambitions of Archbishop Robert Duncan, the Anglican Church in North America and its dioceses are decidedly not in the Anglican Communion. Claims to the contrary are deceitful, and, although he may not have considered it as such, Johnston is a party to this deception. Significantly, no Episcopal Church connection is discernible in the “Affiliate Links” at the bottom of the page.

The Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh Web site has a helpful but undated story about Incarnation. According to “Music, Prayer, & Art: Planting a Church in the Strip District,” Incarnation began as a house church and started meeting regularly for worship in February 2012. Its domain name, incarnationchurchpgh.org, was registered four months later and, as noted above, the launch of its current worship site took place in April of this year.

The Anglican Church of the Incarnation seems like a wonderful enterprise, and I am personally tempted to go there and see it for myself. Paul Johnston’s association with Incarnation is prohibited by Episcopal Church canons and suggests endorsement by The Episcopal Church and perhaps even a legitimate claim to be part of the Anglican Communion. This is unacceptable.

Like Whis Hays, Paul Johnston should be made to decide what church he is in. Is he in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, or is he in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh? Of course, the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh is in a church not in communion with The Episcopal Church. Moreover, our dioceses are still involved in litigation, with the prospect of additional litigation being initiated in the future. This is not a time to blur distinctions.

Paul Johnston cannot have it both ways.

October 28, 2013

Gene Robinson to Visit Pittsburgh

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson will visit East Liberty Presbyterian Church  November 9 and 10. According to an October 23, 2013, press release from the church, a reception and conversation with Bishop Robinson will be held on Saturday, November 9, beginning at 4 PM. The bishop will be the guest speaker at the adult education session Sunday at 9:45 AM. He will also preach at the 11 AM service. The public is invited to all three events.

The Pittsburgh visit seems to be part of a book tour, as Robinson’s latest book, God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage will be available for purchase and signing.

East Liberty Presbyterian Church is located at 116 South Highland Avenue in the East Liberty section of  Pittsburgh.

As best as I can tell, neither the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh nor any individual Episcopal church has any part in Robinson’s Pittsburgh visit. No doubt, any acknowledgement of the former Bishop of New Hampshire’s presence in the diocese would be uncomfortable for Bishop Dorsey McConnell who has again postponed his decision on the blessing of same-sex unions, this time to mid-November. (See “Kicking the Can down the Road.”)

October 26, 2013

GAFCON Declares War on the Anglican Communion

At the start of GAFCON II, which ended today in Nairobi, George Conger, in a post titled “Whither Gafcon II,” described GAFCON as “a movement in search of a mission.” He observed, “The anger-tinged passion that drove the Jerusalem conference is absent from Nairobi.”

GAFCON logoTo judge from the communiqué issued at the end of the conference, sometime between October 21 and October 26, the GAFCON folks seem to have recovered their hostile edge. Conger can be excused his sunny view of the conference to come, however; his story was peppered with irenic quotes from GAFCON leaders. Perhaps attitudes changed as the week wore on; perhaps Jensen, Zavala, et al., were simply keeping their powder dry for a dramatic barrage at the end of the conference.

Of course, GAFCON did not literally declare war, and some of my colleagues think that to suggested that it did is either an exaggeration or is impolitic. It is unclear how much of a threat the GAFCON movement is to the Anglican Communion, but bitter experience has taught me that threats from the right are best recognized and attended to.

The Nairobi Communiqué and Commitment

The tone of the so-called “Nairobi Communiqué and Commitment” is set in the introduction with this improbable statement: “We believe we have acted as an important and effective instrument of Communion during a period in which other instruments of Communion have failed both to uphold gospel priorities in the Church, and to heal the divisions among us.” Translation: The institutions of the Anglican Communion didn’t do what we wanted, but we did. GAFCON didn’t heal any divisions; it simply acted as an echo chamber for those elements of the Communion that already agreed with one another. The message is clear, however. The structures of the Anglican Communion have failed, and new structures are needed.

Following the “Introduction,” GAFCON brags about how it has interfered in the affairs of sister churches. Interestingly, a “fellowship of confessing Anglicans” of the first GAFCON communiqué became the “Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.” In this latest communiqué, it has become the “Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GFCA).” That is, a vague concept has morphed into a concrete institution seeking a global reach.

“The GFCA and the Future of the Anglican Communion” is an opportunity for GAFCON to set out its philosophy:
  • We are willing “to submit to the written Word of God.”
  • We are unwilling  “to be in Christian fellowship with those who will not” so submit.
  • Promoters of “the false gospel”—presumably this refers to, among others, The Episcopal Church—are urged to repent of sins which “God himself abhors and which are made clear”—to GAFCON at any rate—“in his Word.”
  • We hold 1998 Lambeth Resolution I.10 to be authoritative.
  • “We want to make clear that any civil partnership of a sexual nature does not receive the blessing of God.”
Nothing here is really new, of course, but the unwillingness to be in fellowship—read “communion”—with those who don’t share GAFCON’s brand of bibliolatry is worrisome. This is a clear shot across the bow of the Anglican Communion as we have known it and an indication that GAFCON, if it doesn’t want to form its own communion, at the very least intends to ostracize some churches of the existing communion. To the degree that GAFCON participants fairly represent church, how can those churches be effective members of the Anglican Communion?

Heretofore, the GFCA (mostly known as the FCA until recently) has been but a diaphanous presence on the Anglican scene. Not only has GAFCON announced that it intends to “strengthen” the GFCA, but that strengthening seems intended to yield an organization more tightly organized that the Anglican Communion itself. GFCA is to become “more than a network.”

Here is where the communiqué gets interesting. A three-part strategy is articulated for beefing up the GFCA. There are really more than three parts, as some rather disparate plans are lumped together, but I’ll deal with the strategy as laid out in the communiqué. We can fairly characterize the three areas of action as theological, organizational, and financial.

The theological part of the GFCA plan includes:
  • “Proclaiming and contending for the gospel of Jesus Christ.” “Proclaiming” seems straightforward, and, from the context, I take “contending for” as another way of engaging in apologetics, or, as GAFCON has put it, preparing “convincing theological rebuttals of any false gospel.”
  • Supporting theological colleges based on “the faithful reading of Scripture,” as defined by GAFCON, presumably.
  • Finding “new ways of supporting each other in mission and discipleship.” I guess good ideas were in short supply on this front.
  • Because of its importance, I’ll quote this part of the plan in full: “Authorising and affirming faithful Anglicans who have been excluded by their diocese or province. The main thrust of work here would be devoted to discerning the need for new provinces, dioceses and churches—and then authenticating their ministries and orders as Anglican.” Of course, much of this work has been the responsibility of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Consultative Council. But the GFCA is to not only arrogate these decisions to itself, but is also to get more deeply involved into churches, making decisions about dioceses and even individual churches. This cannot be dismissed as idle talk, given the GAFCON role in the establishment of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and the interference GAFCON bishops in individual Episcopal churches.
As for organization, GFCA is to operate “on a more systematic basic.” To this end, a Primates’ Council—is this another Primates’ Council?—a Board of Trustees, an Executive Committee, and regional liaison officers will be established. Conservatives do love to create organizations.

On the financial front, GAFCON has a simple plan that both supports new structures and weakens the existing Anglican Communion: “In particular, we ask provinces to reconsider their support for those Anglican structures that are used to undermine biblical faithfulness [emphasis added] and contribute instead, or additionally, to the financing of the GFCA’s on-going needs.” Readers are expected to ask themselves why they would want to support “Anglican structures that are used to undermine biblical faithfulness” at all.

The communiqué does not declare that the GFCA is intended to replace the existing Anglican Communion, but the disdain shown to Communion structures and sister churches, the withdrawal of bishops for Communion gatherings, and the plan to create new organizational structures surely makes it look as though GAFCON is building a new parallel (or replacement) Anglicanish communion.

The communiqué continues with a section titled “Our Priorities.” This section is mostly motherhood and apple pie for the Anglican far right. It does contain one interesting admission, however: “We recognize that we have differing views over the roles of men and women in church leadership.” Women’s ordination, of course, is one of the cracks in the ACNA edifice. Apparently, the clear meaning of scripture is murky on this matter. Oh, and GAFCON wants to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to Muslims. Good luck with that. I see martyrs in the future.

The communiqué ends with a not very interesting “Conclusion,” followed by “The Nairobi Commitment,” yet another laundry list of things to do. The Commitment reaffirms the Jerusalem Declaration and recapitulates much of what has gone before (evangelize Muslims, emphasize the faithful reading of scripture in theological education, continue to interfere in disordered churches, support heterosexual marriage, etc.). One notable new idea is introduced, namely recognition of the Anglican Mission in England “as an expression of authentic Anglicanism both for those within and outside the Church of England.” The implication is that the Church of England is not an expression of authentic Anglicanism. England is the next target for the ecclesiastical subversion suffered by The Episcopal Church in recent years.

Further Thoughts on the Communiqué and Commitment

So, has GAFCON declared war on the Anglican Communion? It plans to continue to interfere in the internal affairs of sister church for the sake of doctrinal purity; it dismisses the relevance of Anglican Communion bodies, preferring to build its own organizational structures; and it plans to take money away from the Anglican Communion to carry out its plans. All of that seems hostile to the existing Communion. Yes, GAFCON looks like a threat.

Can GAFCON carry out its plan? That is much less clear. Neither GAFCON nor the GFCA seems to have formal institutional (i.e., church) members. They represent collections of church-associated individuals. Perhaps they are just blowing off steam. Nonetheless, some of these people have effected real damage on churches in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere. If GFCA really gets its act together, it could become an alternative communion or, less likely, a powerful force within the Anglican Communion.

How should The Episcopal Church respond to the GAFCON threat? What I expect our church will do is nothing at all. The primary threat is to the integrity of the Anglican Communion. We are already fighting what I have called the militant traditionalists at home. It isn't clear what more we can do. The Church of England should be concerned on its own home front, however. (There is some poetic justice here, as neither the Church of England nor its Archbishops of Canterbury have been of much help in the defense of The Episcopal Church against the militant traditionalists.)

What we should not do is give the Communion disciplinary powers, whether through the Anglican Covenant or by other means. Such mechanisms would be both dangerous in the wrong hands and fundamentally un-Anglican. Although GAFCON sees the so-called Instruments of Communion—or is it Instruments of Unity these days?—as ineffectual, they have clearly been manipulated to be Instruments of Mischief. This is particularly true of the Primates’ Meeting, which, mercifully, has not met often of late.

My own view is not that the Anglican Communion is too weak, but that it is too strong. I believe that The Episcopal Church should insulate itself from both the Communion and the GFCA. It should reject the Anglican Covenant and declare that, although it will participate in the Anglican Communion, it is not bound by any actions of the Communion. This is a piece of business for the 2015 General Convention.

October 24, 2013

A New Hymn: Holy Eucharist

A few months ago, during a service at my church, I thought of the line
As we kneel before your altar
 This was the beginning of my hymn below, which I call “Holy Eucharist.” The hymn has had a long gestation period, and I cannot recall all the steps that led to the final version of it. The text remained stable for a long time as I developed a tune and a four-part arrangement. I made the final changes to the text a few days ago and finished the arrangement today.

Somewhere along the line, I began thinking of Eucharist Prayer C. Most of the hymn is inspired by this text from page 372 of the Book of Common Prayer:
Lord God of our Fathers; God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.
Of course, the final verse is inspired by the dismissal that appears on pages 340 and 366 of the BCP.

If it is hard for me to remember just how the text came to be, I completely lost track of all the versions my tune “Prayer C” went through. My first tune was made up of only quarter notes. A later version was in 3/4 time, and one version was partly in common time and partly in 3/4 time. The final version is in 4/4, but I’ve considered so many variations, I cannot be confident that my “final” version is really final.

I am posting the hymn here in the hope that people will try it out and give me feedback. At some point, I will call it done and put it on my Web site. For now, the music is here, and a sound file is here. The text is below.

Holy Eucharist

As we gather round your table,
And we wait for wine and bread,
Make us grateful for the solace
That attends us as we’re fed.

Though beset by daily trials
And distressed when things go wrong,
We have come to you for patience;
Precious Savior, make us strong.

We acknowledge all our failures—
Things we’ve done and left undone—
So we ask you for your pardon,
Through the victory you’ve won.

Though our creature needs are many,
And our virtues sometimes few,
Yet we come before your table
That our lives you might renew.

With assembled friends and neighbors
’Neath the mystic witness cloud,
May we be one holy body
With Communion’s grace endowed.

And now, we, refreshed and strengthened,
From your banquet must depart,
Going forth in love and peace to
Serve with joy in every heart.

Update 10/25/2013: In my initial post, I neglected to thank the people who helped with the arrangement of this hymn. Without them, I would only have a melody, and even that would be worse than the current one. So, thanks to Bob Senay, Doug Starr, and John Murphy.

In Need of a Ministry of Presence

When a new CEO joins a corporation that has been in trouble, people expect the new leader to hit the ground running and to work very hard until some sense of normality is restored to the organization. It would certainly be considered improper for the new CEO to spend much of his time on other than corporate business.

It became clear in the pre-convention information meetings held last week that not all Pittsburgh Episcopalians are convinced that their new bishop, Dorsey McConnell, has exhibited the kind of dedication expected of him in his first year in office. In particular, Bishop McConnell appears to have been out of Pittsburgh for more than three months.

Of course, a new bishop cannot avoid being away from his or her see. Bishops are expected to attend semiannual House of Bishops meetings. They are also expected to undergo training in how to be a bishop. Bishop McConnell has been to House of Bishops meetings and the so-called Baby Bishops School. He has also been out of the diocese for other events that might be seen as  reasonable professional activities. He visited General Seminary to receive an honorary degree, for example. He is also afforded a one-month vacation, which is typical for Episcopal bishops.

Bishop McConnell has been out the diocese for personal reasons—for a graduation and a wedding, for instance. It is difficult to know how much away time has been devoted to such events, as little of the bishop’s calendar has been made public. I don’t think anyone outside the diocesan office has been keeping track of such absences, but people have often been told that the bishop is away from the diocese for one reason or another.

One might be inclined to excuse absences of a day or so here and there, but, as the days add up, it would not seem unreasonable to request that vacation days be used for personal trips.

Then there is the matter of the bishop’s 10-day sojourn in Uganda. Including travel, I believe that the total time away from Pittsburgh for the Uganda trip was more like two weeks.

Even before McConnell was elected Bishop of Pittsburgh, he was serving as president of the Board of Directors of Pilgrim Africa. The Pilgrim Africa Web site describes the organization this way:
Pilgrim Africa was founded in 2001 as an indigenous Christian response to the plight of more than 1.5 million refugees living in IDP camps in the war torn regions of Northern Uganda. Today, Pilgrim has grown to be an international organization with catalytic regional and national interventions in Public Health and Education.
Pilgrim Africa logo
I’m not sure I understand just what all this foundation-speak means, but I have no reason to think that Pilgrim Africa is anything other than a fine Christian charity doing the Lord’s work  in East Africa. That said, the cash-strapped Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh can ill afford either to pay for Bishop McConnell’s travel to Uganda or to allow him to do so on the diocese’s time, rather than as part of his one-month vacation.

To gentle suggestions that the Pilgrim Africa pilgrimage may have been an unfair imposition on the diocese, Bishop McConnell noted that the search committee that brought him to Pittsburgh knew about his work with Pilgrim Africa. Perhaps, but he did not say—presumably because it is not true—that he had negotiated travel funds and time off to work on behalf of the organization on whose board he heads. Certainly, deputies to the 2012 convention that approved the 2013 budget did not know that the bishop was going to take time off to work for Pilgrim Africa, and the budget did not suggest that the diocese would be paying for such a trip. (Lack of transparency in the diocesan budget is a topic for another day.)

From the viewpoint of the diocese, there are three problems with Bishop McConnell’s elective travels. The most obvious difficulty, of course, is money. The 2013 budget benefited from some one-time income that we knew would not be available in  2014. Indeed, the 2014 budget involves draconian cuts that raise concerns about the ability of the diocese to perform even its most basic functions. The diocese cannot afford to underwrite activities of the bishop unrelated to his job. Whatever the virtues of Pilgrim Africa, it is a personal ministry of Dorsey McConnell, and it was presumptuous to assume that his ministries automatically become those of the diocese. Additionally, it is difficult to cut the bishop slack on his personal travels in light of the drastic salary cuts in the 2014 budget, which are unaccompanied by even a symbolic cut in his own salary.

Second, the bishop is needed in the diocese. All too often, when clergy or laypeople have wanted to see or communicate with him, he has been unavailable. That, in many instances, his absences were unavoidable, is all the more reason for him to be present in the diocese whenever possible. The bishop’s being away from the office has had a negative effect on its operation. The diocese has been getting along with a pitifully small staff, and, in the absence of a Director of Administration—McConnell’s reluctance to hire an office manager is perplexing and counterproductive—tasks and decisions that should be made by a Director of Administration have been delayed awaiting action by the bishop.

Finally, activities like the Uganda trip trigger bad memories. Former bishop Robert Duncan spent much of his time away from Pittsburgh in the opaque process of engineering “realignment.” Henry Scriven had to be hired as an assisting bishop largely because our diocesan was seldom around.

No one suspects Bishop McConnell of plotting another schism in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, but it is particularly unfortunate that the bishop has such close ties to Uganda. Duncan’s schismatic designs were supported by then Archbishop of Uganda Henry Luke Orombi. Orombi spoke at a diocesan convention, for example, and assumed oversight of schismatic Episcopal parishes (though not in Pittsburgh, where that was unnecessary). Nor is it comforting that the bishop visited the Rev. Canon Dr. John Senyonyi of Uganda Christian University. Duncan had close ties to Uganda Christian University. Several figures involved in North American “realignment” have been associated with the Church of the Province of Uganda or with Uganda Christian University (e.g., Orombi, Alison Barfoot, and Stephen Noll). Senyonyi gave an address to GAFCON II just three days ago. His brand of Christianity makes some of us in this diocese uncomfortable, and the association with GAFCON, which has been supportive of Duncan’s Anglican Church in North America, makes us very uncomfortable.

As for this last concern, I grant that I may seem a bit paranoid, but a little paranoia should be understandable. As I said earlier, I do not believe that Bishop McConnell is a threat to The Episcopal Church. I do, however, worry that his orientation may be uncomfortably evangelical. When the episcopal candidates were having their walkabout, for instance, McConnell seemed most guarded about his theological views (as opposed, for example, to Ruth Woodliff-Stanley, who was very forthright about who she was). I believe that many in this diocese do not really know what our bishop thinks and feels in his heart of hearts or just how committed he might be to a truly diverse diocese. It has, of course, been Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics who have led the “realignment.” His report to convention is not thoroughly reassuring. His “Missional Communities” strategic goal is easy to buy into, but I would like to see “A Public Gospel” be about helping God’s people in need, and not simply about “bring[ing] the proclamation of God’s mercy and hope in Jesus Christ out of our churches and into the public square,” however desirable that might be. As for “Leadership Formation,” I want to know more about what the bishop means by “formation and empowerment.”

In the end, I want our bishop to be more careful about what buttons he pushes and to not make unwarranted assumptions about what will be readily accepted by Pittsburgh Episcopalians. That may be a lot to ask, but it comes with the territory.

October 21, 2013

Convention Questions

The Board of Directors of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh met October 14 to discuss materials for the upcoming diocesan convention. The primary focus was on the proposed budget, which involves significant cuts. The board developed a list of questions to which board members felt answers were needed. The hope was that many of these questions would be asked and answered at the three “pre-convention information sessions” on October 15, 17, and 20. In large measure, these questions were asked, but the answers were not always satisfying. The questions, as distributed October 15 by the board, are reproduced below.

Last night, the PEP Board met to discuss the Convention and what constructive questions could reasonably be asked at the pre-convention meetings.

Although the board discussed other matters as well, much of our conversation centered on the budget. Much of the work of the diocese, of course, is reflected in the budget, and we have much less money to spend this year than last. This problem is largely dealt with in the proposed budget by cutting staff salaries. We thought perhaps there were other, better, options.

Here are some questions we believe should be asked at the upcoming meetings that begin tonight. (The schedule of meetings is here.)
  1. It seemed this year like we missed the bishop a lot. It turns out that he was out of the diocese for something like three months. Does that have an impact on the budget? Should it?
  2. The bishop’s travel expenses budgeted for last year and this coming year are $10,000. That seems quite steep for travel. Did we pay for his African trip? How much? Since it is not a mission of this diocese and this is an austerity budget, should we reasonably expect to be paying for it? Shouldn’t the bishop be taking vacation time for such activities and paying for them himself?
  3. We have three canons. Although we love them as people and priests, does the diocese really need three canons? What, exactly are their duties? If the Canon Missioner position is to end in June as announced, is the budgeted salary for half a year? Or if the Canon Missioner continues, is the salary for the whole year?
  4. Do we have job descriptions for diocesan canons and staff? Do we know how much time each task is expected to take? How are the individual budgets administered? How is performance evaluated?
  5. If we are cutting salaries, how is the work going to get done? Are we truly restructuring or just cutting salaries with no actual thought as to how the same amount of work is going to get done in fewer hours?
  6. Canon VII states that “[t]here shall be a Treasurer for the Diocese” and “[t]here shall be a Director of Administration for the Diocese.” The diocese currently has neither. The budget shows a salary line for “Treasurer and Director of Administration” that is 28.9% less than what was budgeted last year. Managing the office and managing the finances are rather different skills. Do we expect to find them in one person? Or are we funding two (or even one) half-time job?
  7. The budget line for Other Youth Missions ($10,000 in the 2012 budget, but $0 in the 2013 and 2014 budgets) is perplexing, given of goal of reaching out to youth. The Episcopal Youth Event (EYE), which is held every three years, will be in Philadelphia in 2014, and it would be exciting if our youth could participate. Why are we not accumulating funds for them the same way we do for our General Convention deputies?
If we are going to function with less money in the budget, perhaps we should be about reorganizing the diocese and the budget around what our priorities truly are. We are neither a “corporate” diocese nor a circuit-riding diocese. We have to create a structure and a budget that answer our needs more efficiently.

—The PEP Board of Directors

October 16, 2013

Having It Both Ways

The Rev. Whis Hays
The Rev. Whis Hays
A priest canonically resident in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is a candidate for a seat on the Committee on Canons of Bob Duncan’s Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. The Rev. Whis Hays is husband of the Rev. Canon Mary Maggard Hays, Duncan’s Canon to the Ordinary. He is best known as the founder and now Executive Director of the youth ministry organization Rock the World, headquartered in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.

After the 2008 schism of the Pittsburgh diocese that led to the creation of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, it was widely assumed that Whis Hays would be among the clerical defectors. A year later, when the Standing Committee of the Episcopal diocese asked priests if they were in or out of The Episcopal Church—see “Diocese Completes Non-Disciplinary Release of Clergy”—Hays indicated that he remained an Episcopalian. He has attended some clergy events of the diocese and remains a priest of The Episcopal Church.

Until August 2010, Hays was Executive Director of Rock the World, an independent organization with close ties to the Anglican diocese. (See “Announcing Rock the World’s New Executive Director.”) Matt Sweet, who assumed the Executive Director position, resigned less than a year later, and Hays resumed his old post on an interim basis. Although the Rock the World Web site suggests that this would only continue only through part of 2012, the report to the 2013 diocesan convention from Rock the World is signed by Hays as Executive Director. (See Documentation section below.)

  It seemed likely that Hays maintained his Episcopal Church ties less out of theological conviction than out of a desire to claim certain benefits from the Church Pension Group that accrue to retired clergy remaining in the church. If that is so, one wonders why he would endanger his status by seeking a position of responsibility in the Anglican diocese.

I assume that Bishop McConnell will eventually have a talk with Hays about the odd path he seemingly has chosen. It is difficult to see how Hays can maintain his status in our church while serving in a church with which we are not in communion. There are pitfalls here. Bob Duncan played fast and loose with church boundaries, and, if our new bishop proves similarly permissive, for whatever reason, it will provoke bad memories. I believe this matter should be handled promptly and openly.


Rather than interrupt the above narrative with background material, I offer documentation of Hays’s involvement with the Anglican diocese here.

Lamentably, like the Episcopal diocese, the Anglican diocese has offered its 2013 pre-convention journal only as a collection of files, rather than as a single file. (See “Convention Journals” regarding the situation in my own diocese.) Those files are available here. The report of the Nominating Committee that has put forward Hays for a position on the Committee on Canons is on page D14 of Section D. (The single page, with the relevant line highlighted, is here.)

The Committee on Canons of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh is provided for in Canon XI of the diocese. That canon reads as follows:

Canon XI
Of the Committee on Canons

Section 1. The Committee on Canons shall consist of three Clergy and three Lay persons and shall be elected by ballot at Diocesan Convention.

Section 2. The terms of office of members of the Committee on Canons shall be three years on a staggered basis. No member who has served for two consecutive three-year terms shall be eligible for re-election as committee member until the expiration of one year.

Section 3. The Committee on Canons shall elect a chairman from among its membership.
The canon be found on the Anglican diocese Web site along with other canons and the diocese’s constitution. (For convenience, the relevant page can be found here.) Notice that
  1. The canon specifies only “three Clergy and three Lay persons,” the implication being that such persons are canonically resident in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh or are members of a parish of the diocese.
  2. The canon makes no provision for members who are not so connected to the diocese.
That the Nominating Committee recommended Hays as a candidate for a position on the Committee on Canons indicates that he is being treated as a member of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Under the circumstances, I believe that a case can be made for a disciplinary action against the Rev. Whis Hays. Episcopal Church canon Canon IV.16.3, for example, reads as follows (emphasis added):
If it is reported to the Standing Committee of the Diocese in which a Priest or Deacon is canonically resident that the Priest or Deacon, without using the provisions of Canon III.7.8-10 or III. 9.8-11, has abandoned The Episcopal Church, then the Standing Committee shall ascertain and consider the facts, and if it shall determine by a vote of three-fourths of all the members that the Priest or Deacon has abandoned The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or worship of the Church, or by the formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the Church, or in any other way, it shall be the duty of the Standing Committee of the Diocese to transmit in writing to the Bishop Diocesan, or if there be no such Bishop, to the Bishop Diocesan of an adjacent Diocese, its determination, together with a statement setting out in a reasonable detail the acts or declarations relied upon in making its determination. If the Bishop Diocesan affirms the determination, the Bishop Diocesan shall place a restriction on the exercise of ministry by that Priest or Deacon for sixty days and shall send to the Priest or Deacon a copy of the determination and statement, together with a notice that the Priest or Deacon has the rights specified in Section 2 of this Canon and at the end of the sixty day period the Bishop Diocesan will consider deposing the Priest or Deacon in accordance with the provisions of Section 4.
One may quibble about the phrase “formal admission,” both in terms of what it means and what facts might be relevant but to which I have no access. Certainly Hays is being treated by the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh as if he has been admitted into that diocese, even though he is supposed to be an Episcopal priest canonically resident in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Episcopal Church canons also enumerate standards of conduct for members of the clergy in Canon IV.1, where we find the following: “[In exercising his or her ministry, a Member of the Clergy
shall: (h) refrain from:] (6) conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” I don’t think I need to explain the relevance of this provision.

The current constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church can be found here.

Finally, I noted above that Rock the World is an independent organization, but one closely allied with the Anglican diocese. In the first line of the report in the pre-convention journal, which I mentioned above, Hays writes: “Rock the World Youth Mission Alliance is pleased to have our headquarters in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.” Rock the World may not be in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, but it is certainly in bed with it. (The report can be found on page E20 of Section E of the pre-convention journal.)

October 15, 2013

Kicking the Can down the Road

Kicking the can
Sex is something we don’t like to talk about in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Some people don’t like to talk about it, anyway. Progressives in the diocese have been trying to discuss sex for years, but conservatives, and particularly conservative clergy, have, metaphorically at least, put their fingers in their ears, closed their eyes, held their breath, and begun to turn blue whenever the dreaded topic of sexuality was raised.

With the departure of Bob Duncan and his merry band of reactionaries, progressives had hoped that we could begin to act like a diocese of adults and join the mainstream of The Episcopal Church. We eagerly awaited the long-delayed authorization of a trial liturgy for blessing same-sex unions. Our joyful anticipation received a blow from our bishop-elect even before deputies congregated in Indianapolis for the 2012 General Convention, however. Bishop-elect Dorsey McConnell announced June 28, 2012, that our diocese would engage in a dialogue concerning sexuality before he made a decision about whether we could bless same-sex unions in this diocese and—this was a total surprise—whether we would ordain partnered homosexuals in Pittsburgh. (See “A Letter from Pittsburgh’s Bishop-elect.”) McConnell wrote the diocese, “My hope is that we would launch this process [of dialogue] in January 2013 and come to some preliminary recommendations by Pentecost, though if we need more time, we can certainly take it.”

On June 28 of last year, I wrote
And yet, the tenor of this proposal seems different from the conversation about human sexuality that Bishop Ken Price proposed for the diocese but never initiated. What the bishop-elect proposes seems too much like the diocese’s having a referendum on whether it is going to defer to the judgement of the General Convention or not. I would have preferred an approach more like that of Texas Bishop C. Andrew Doyle. I believe, in other words, that Dorsey McConnell has made his first major mistake with regard to the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
This has proven to be one of my more prescient remarks.

The sexuality dialogue not did begin in January. The first session was held in March—see “A Day of Dialogue”—and the project ramped up slowly, in part, because self-identified conservatives were slow to volunteer to participate. Pentecost came and went, and the termination date of the sexuality dialogue experiment and the day of decision for the Bishop of Pittsburgh continued to recede into the future. The dialogues ended quietly in September, and the expectation was that the bishop would announce his decision about how our diocese would deal with homosexual persons before our November annual convention.

Anxiety about the decision of the bishop as to whether we would join the Episcopal mainstream or remain in the conservative backwater cultivated by Bishops Hathaway and Duncan grew as the resolution of the sexuality issues was repeatedly delayed.

Yesterday, I learned that Bishop McConnell, on October 4, had written to the clergy in an e-mail message as follows (any errors are in the original):
From: Dorsey McConnell <dmcconnell@episcopalpgh.org>
Subject: A Note to All Clergy of the Diocese
Date: October 4, 2013 1:00:03 PM EDT
To: undisclosed-recipients

Dear brothers and sisters:

You will recall that at clergy conference just last week, I had indicated that I was preparing to announce a diocesan policy concerning same-sex blessings on or around the 15th of October.Since our time together, I have heard from several of you, and I have spoken more broadly with my staff and others in diocesan leadership.These discussions have led me to conclude that a new date is in order.

Several factors are influencing this shift.

First, the Theology Committee that has been assisting me will meet again on October 8th.According to the plan I had announced, this would leave me with only a few days to reflect on and incorporate their
final counsel.

Second, we would then quickly arrive at the run-up to Diocesan Convention. I want to use our annual gathering (particularly my address) as a time for us to focus on our long-term mission priorities as a diocese. I do not want the policy statement to pre-empt this focus. Rather, when it is announced, the decision needs to be framed within the larger picture of how we might go forward together in our common life in Christ, which I hope to articulate at Convention.

Which brings me to my third – and perhaps central – reason for reconsidering my own October deadline: it is critically important how we communicate the policy to our parishes. Yes, “we” – because it is incumbent on me as bishop to make and expound the decision, but I also realize that you as pastors will be on the front-line in your congregations, fielding questions and ministering to a variety of responses from your people.I want to do this right, in a way that offers you all active assistance and support, even if it requires a few more weeks to prepare the message and lay the groundwork for its dissemination.

I have from the beginning noted that, should we need more time, we should not hesitate to take it.Given all this, I am now aiming for the 15th of November, after Convention but before Thanksgiving, as a more
suitable goal.

As always, I invite your further comments and counsel.You remain in my prayers, and I continue to ask for yours.

Faithfully your bishop,

(The Right Reverend) Dorsey McConnell
Bishop, The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh
/crux est mundi medicina/
It is hard to know where to start enumerating what is wrong with this letter. To begin with, the bishop has told the clergy he is postponing his announcement, but laypeople are left in the dark, anticipating an imminent announcement and becoming more anxious by the minute.

The bishop has talked about empowering the laity, but, in his letter to the clergy, McConnell seems more concerned with managing the the reactions of laypeople than empowering or ministering to them. The church does not exist for the convenience of the clergy; laypeople are not a problem to be managed.

Why is the bishop waiting for his Theology Committee? There is a wealth of theological analysis of the homosexuality issue to be had. Cannot the bishop decide what to do on the basis of what others have said? Does there need to be a distinctively Southwestern Pennsylvania theological take on the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of partnered homosexuals? Does the bishop not realize how his vacillation conjurers visions of Bob Duncan’s walking apart from the despised Episcopal Church?

As an aside, I must object to the decision of General Convention that left the matter of using the provisional liturgy for same-sex blessing to individual bishops. This seems too much like the medieval practice of imposing the religion of the local prince on all his subjects. The provision may have been necessary to get a liturgy for same-sex blessings past the House of Bishops, however.

The bishop is deluding himself if he thinks that delaying decisions on sexuality issues until after convention will cause deputies to focus on his vision for the future of the diocese. The future of the diocese is inextricably tied to how the diocese deals with homosexuality, and the absence of decisions about the sexuality issues cannot but obsess convention deputies and distract them from whatever the bishop wants to say. (It is not clear what the bishop wants to say, as his address is still missing from the pre-convention journal.)

Bishop McConnell has, from a progressive perspective, only one option—he must authorize same-sex blessings on a local option basis and consent to the consecration of partnered homosexuals. To do otherwise is to resurrect the hostilities to diocesan leadership engendered by Bob Duncan.

One can only surmise that the clergy that the bishop has “heard from” are conservatives attempting to postpone the inevitable as long as possible. I have been unable to identify anyone on the bishop’s “staff and others in diocesan leadership” that McConnell may have consulted. He certainly seems not to have taken lay opinion into account when deciding to postpone his decision more than an year into his episcopate. The reality is that the conservative clergy who remained in the diocese in the face of the 2008 schism assumed that acceptance of homosexuals in the diocese was inevitable, as indeed it is, if not in 2013, then certainly at some later time.

Dorsey McConnell cannot sit on the fence forever. One suspects that he knows what he must do.Why doesn’t he do it and get it over with? If I am wrong in thinking this, we have made a terrible mistake by electing this man as our bishop. I pray that that is not the case.

October 10, 2013

Convention Journals

It had long been the practice of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to publish a pre-convention journal to be distributed to deputies before the annual diocesan convention. The journal included the agenda, minutes from the previous convention, reports, resolutions, diocesan budget, etc. Sometime after the convention, the diocese published a printed and bound convention journal that provided an archival record of the meeting. The convention journal, for example, included not only the issues dealt with but also the disposition of those issues.

The Episcopal diocese never produced a convention journal for the 2008 convention, at which the vote was taken to leave The Episcopal Church. What became the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh did produce a final journal. In fact, the Episcopal diocese chose, unwisely, I think, to discontinue the publication of convention journals. This had two unpleasant consequences. No longer were convention records available in a convenient booklet. There were instead available only on unbound, letter-size paper. Moreover, to research decisions taken at a convention, it became necessary to consult two pre-convention journals—one to see what was proposed and one to find the disposition of the item in the minutes of the next convention’s pre-convention journal.

As if the elimination of convention journals was not bad enough, Pittsburgh Episcopalians now find themselves less than a month away from the 2013 annual convention without a pre-convention journal. By this time in previous years, deputies had already received a copy of the pre-convention journal in the mail, and a PDF version was available on the diocesan Web site. In five days, the first information meeting takes place, and parts of the pre-convention journal are still not available. Apparently, the diocese has decided to no longer distribute the pre-convention journal except electronically. If deputies want paper copies, they must print them themselves at great inconvenience and expense. Worse still, as of this morning, this is what can be found of the convention material on the diocesan Web site:
Pre-Convention Journal

The latest versions of the 2013 Pre-Convention Journal information and reports will be posted here (in yellow) as they become available for download in PDF format. [Editorial note: available materials are shown as links here, but they are not yellow.}

 Section C – Action Items
  • Bishop’s Annual Report
  • Board of Trustees
  • Canon for Formation
  • Canon to the Ordinary
  • Commission on Archives & History
  • Commission on Ministry
  • Committee on Constitution and Canons
  • Diocesan Council
  • Standing Committee
Section F – Other Reports 
  • Administrator for Property & Archivist
  • Advisory Task Force on Collaboration
  • Chaplain to Retired Clergy
  • Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania
  • Coal Country Hangout Youth Center
  • Commission on Racism
  • Episcopal Relief & Development
  • Fresh Start
  • Order of the Daughters of the King
  • Shepherd Wellness Community
  • Trinity Cathedral Chapter
  • Trinity School for Ministry
Section G – Statistics
  • Listing of Clergy of the Diocese
  • 2012 Parochial Report Statistics
  • District Chart with Allocation of Deputies
  • List of Parishes
In other words, not only are parts of the “document” missing, but deputies are apparently being asked to print out nearly 50 individual PDF files. This is ridiculous!

No doubt, the handling of convention materials has been affected by a lack of resources at the diocesan office. A heavy burden has been transferred to deputies, however, who had no reason to expect that they would have to assemble their own pre-convention journals.

Why are parts of the journal missing? Have people not submitted reports in time? Was anyone paying attention to the schedule? Was there a schedule? Perhaps it is significant that the first missing piece of the pre-convention journal is titled “Statement of Purpose.”

October 9, 2013

Government by Morons

113th U.S. Congress: Government by Morons

I posted the graphic above on Facebook the other day. Facebook status updates quickly disappear from news feeds, however, and I thought the message I was trying to send deserved greater visibility as the ship of state is careens headlong toward the edge of the world. (That metaphor seems appropriate, given the extortion of the body politic being practiced by the monomaniacal flat-earth ignoramuses that somehow got elected to Congress.)

My graphic was inspired by an October 1 essay written for Esquire by Charles P. Pierce titled “The Reign of Morons is Here.” I urge you to read it. Of course, I also must tip my hat to Mad magazine.

Feel free to use this graphic wherever you think it might do some good.

October 8, 2013

A Final (?) Hymn Revision

For far too long, I have been working on my hymn “Heavens and Earth, All of Creation,” an alternative text for the David N. Johnson tune “Earth and All Stars.” (The tune appears as #412 in The Hymnal 1982 paired with a text by Herbert F. Brokering.) I have posted two versions of the hymn on this blog (here and here) and undertook yet another revision at the suggestion of Bishop of Pittsburgh Dorsey McConnell. I hope to have arrived at the final version of “Heavens and Earth, All of Creation,” which I believe to be a better general hymn than Brokering’s. You can read (or sing) the latest incarnation of my hymn on my Web site, along with an explanation of the latest changes.

Any takers for singing this in your church?

Church choir

October 2, 2013

The Missionary Society

Warning. What follows is really “inside baseball.” On the whole, it will affect the average Episcopalian, let alone the average any one else, very little. Which is important to remember when one sees all the energy put into this.
Thus began a September 18 post by Andrew Gerns on The Lead concerning what he characterized as a “re-branding” of The Episcopal Church (or the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society—the DFMS) as “The Missionary Society.” It was not completely clear just what this “re-branding” was all about, but the Gerns report raised considerable anxiety among readers. The post attracted 19 comments with few positive words about “The Missionary Society.” Generally negative essays by Torey Lightcap and Mark Harris appeared on their respective blogs. On September 21, Jim Naughton called attention to Mark’s post and offered his own attempt at providing context for what appeared to be going on at the church’s New York headquarters.

Even before Andrew’s post, I had taken note of what seemed like an odd development in church communications. In the recent controversy over the UTO, communications from the general church—more on this term below—mostly referred to “the DFMS,” not to “The Episcopal Church.” (See, for example, the ENS story of September 6.) Because the controversy involved money, however, I didn’t make too much of the phenomenon at the time. (The DFMS handles the financial affairs of the church. Again, see below.)

I think I have figured out at least some of what is going on in the church, and I will try to explain and evaluate it.


Most people, even most Episcopalians, have never heard of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America is the subject of Canon I.3. White and Dykman covers the history of this canon, though the current volume was written before the most recent changes were made. [Annotated Constitution and Canons for the Government of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America otherwise known as The Episcopal Church is available as a scanned PDF from the Archives of the Episcopal Church. For the convenience of the reader, a searchable version of the chapter on Canon I.3 can be read here, and the current text of the canon, which differs slightly from what is shown in White and Dykman, can be read here.]

The origins of the DFMS can be traced to the General Convention of 1808 and a concern for how the church could be extended into the western territories of the expanding United States. As is stated in the current Canon I.3, a constitution for the DFMS was finally approved in the Special General Convention of 1821. The DFMS was incorporated as a New York corporation in 1846.

The DFMS did indeed allow the expansion of The Episcopal Church westward and supported foreign missions as well. In 1826, the DFMS was charged with opening missionary outposts in Liberia and Brazil, the church’s first foray into the foreign mission field. At its inception, the DFMS was financed by subscription. By 1835, the importance of missionary work had received greater recognition, and the General Convention made every baptized member of the church a member of the DFMS. Eventually, the DFMS was more fully integrated into the wider church. According to Article I of the DFMS constitution (which is set forth in Canon I.3), the DFMS “shall be considered as comprehending all persons who are members of the Church.”

The exposition of Canon I.3 in White and Dykman contains the following explanation:
The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society is the corporate body of the national Church, General Convention not being incorporated, and, until the formation of the Episcopal Church Foundation in 1949, the only corporate body for receipt of gifts and legacies for administration by national authority.

While all the powers and duties of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society are to be exercised by the Executive (formerly the National) Council, whose members are the directors of the society, it was necessary to retain the prefatory matter and Article I of the canon as it stood before 1919, as well as to provide for the officers of the society, as the society was an incorporated body, holding the title to the real estate of said society. The only present function of the society is to act in the nature of a holding corporation. [emphasis added]
As is pointed out above, the Executive Council is the Board of Directors of the DFMS. Its bylaws and those of the DFMS are the same. Moreover The Episcopal Church carries out its corporate (primarily financial) business as the DFMS, but this is a legal fact of virtually no significance to the members of the church. It is simply how society mandates that certain things must be done. (Episcopal Church paychecks are drawn on a DFMS account, for example.) For all practical purposes though, The Episcopal Church and its Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society are one in the same.

The Missionary Society

We are only discussing the DFMS because of an initiative announced July 25. (See “Sauls announces innovative missionary program: Connecting Episcopal Church dioceses, staff.”) This ENS report begins
Episcopal Church Chief Operating Officer Bishop Stacy Sauls has announced an innovative missionary program designed to connect dioceses and staff in a collaborative manner: The Diocesan Partnership Program.
It goes on to explain that Diocesan Partnership Representatives (who are “DFMS staff members”) will work with dioceses to make resources available for local initiatives and to build networks and partnerships. What appears to be happening here is that church staff members are being designated the points of contact for individual dioceses. This is new, but the work the representatives are to facilitate presumably has been going on for a long time. The Diocesan Partnership Program, ENS notes, was to start in September.

Then, we get to the re-branding paragraph:
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.”
Bishop Sauls’ thinking is further elucidated in a blog post by Bishop Daniel Martins written at the fall meeting—significantly in September—of Episcopal Church bishops:
Next we heard from Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS), which is the Episcopal Church’s public incarnation under New York corporation law. This is the infamous ‘815’, the “national church.” Bishop Sauls spoke of his desire to reorient the staff culture of the DFMS from a hierarchical model of a “home office” receiving financial resources up the stream and delivering program down the stream, to one of facilitation, connection, and coordination in support of ministry and program that take place at a local level. To push this cultural shift along, he has instructed DFMS staff to shed that moniker in favor of simply The Missionary Society.

My two cents: Even insiders, who know about the origin of the DFMS in 1835 and its evolution since then, have an awkward time articulating the precise relationship between the DFMS per se, and the prior and more fundamental (but unincorporated) entity known the Episcopal Church. The vast majority of Episcopalians are gratefully unaware that there is such a thing as the DFMS, and most clergy can’t think of a compelling reason to make that the topic of the next Rector’s Forum. I don’t see how this branding change makes anything clearer. It may indeed have the opposite effect by adding another layer of nomenclature complication.
This is not to say that Sauls’ thinking is made clear to the rest of us by Martins’ essay. In private correspondence, Sauls described “The Missionary Society” as the name of a program. Presumably, the Diocesan Partnership Program is part of The Missionary Society program, but I have no idea of what else The Missionary Society might encompass. Martins isn’t explicit enough about what Sauls said, but he seems to be saying that, rather than referring to “815” (i.e., 815 Second Avenue, the address of the Episcopal Church Center), staff members at church headquarters should refer to their workplace as The Missionary Society.


“The Missionary Society” almost assuredly inspired by the name of the DFMS, but, as I have pointed out, it is not at all clear to what it refers. The July announcement indeed looked like an attempt to re-brand the entire church. Martins’ description, however, makes it seem as though the staff of the general church is being given a new collective name. Will we see signs like the following or not?

The Missionary Society Welcomes You

I suspect not. Will the telephone at 815 Second Avenue be answered with “The Missionary Society”? Maybe.

We do have a nomenclature problem, however, even apart from the present discussions and speculations. “The Episcopal Church” is sometimes used to refer to local churches and institutions, along with dioceses, and the staff and volunteers that carry out the work of the General Convention. Sometimes, it simply refers to the church bureaucracy above the diocesan (or provincial) level. The term “815” carries this latter sense, though not everyone working at the highest level (sometimes called the “general church”) even works in New York City. (David Sibley discusses, among other things, the nomenclature problem here.)

In times past, Episcopalians often spoke of “the National Church” to distinguish the top-level of the Episcopal Church hierarchy from the rest of the church. Our current Presiding Bishop dislikes this usage, insisting the The Episcopal Church operates in multiple countries. She has a  point, of course, but isn’t Anglicanism about self-governing churches informed by the particular societies in which they operate? If the American church has branches in other countries, this is a result of its missionary efforts and is a temporary and anomalous situation existing only long enough for those branches to stand on their own as national or regional churches.

I tend to use “The Episcopal Church” to mean the entirety of our denomination and “the general church” to refer to the highest level of the church administration. I don’t know if Bishop Sauls was, in part, trying to solve the nomenclature problem through the use of “The Missionary Society.” If The Missionary Society is a group of people, rather than a program, it cannot be a subset of people of The Episcopal Church, since, as I noted above, the DFMS includes all Episcopalians. (Does it not include staff who are not Episcopalians?)

“Mission” and “Missionary”

Episcopalians have spoken much about “mission” in recent years, but that term has seldom been carefully defined. I think that nearly everyone sees mission as getting beyond worship and fellowship and interacting with the wider society. Some see the work outside the church doors in terms of telling the Good News to non-Christians. Some see it primarily as working to mitigate human suffering and improve society. The word “missionary” however, usually suggests the former, and it often carries overtones of overbearing zeal or colonial arrogance. I do not personally want to think of my church as “The Missionary Society.” It is not likely to be a helpful moniker, however one chooses to define “mission.”

I think we have seen a tendency to conflate “mission” and “missionary.” This is not helpful. The Navy SEALs who hunted down Osama bin Laden were on a mission (were carrying out mission), but hardly anyone would call them missionaries.

Nevertheless, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori seems to be on the same page as Bishop Sauls. An introduction on the Episcopal Church Web site to the Five Marks of Mission is titled “The Missionary Society” and begins with a quotation from the Presiding Bishop. The text that follows is unattributed, however:
The Church, especially the Episcopal Church, is a missionary society for the welfare of the world. That is true for Episcopalians corporately (our official corporate name is the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society), but more importantly, it is true spiritually.

The Missionary Society is a strategy for achieving our common purpose, building partnerships throughout the Church to engage God’s mission to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

The Missionary Society seeks partnerships for mission—dioceses, congregations, and networks. It brings resources from the churchwide level—funding, expertise, and human—to leverage for mission with local partners. We are all about mission. And partnerships allow us to do more mission together.
I think that many of us would be comfortable saying that our church “is a missionary society for the welfare of the world.” We would be less comfortable thinking of our church as “The Missionary Society.” When I first encountered this text, my mind immediately rebelled against a society being described as a strategy. If, of course, “The Missionary Society” is the name of a program, the second paragraph above makes perfect sense.

Final Thoughts

To the degree that the Diocesan Partnership Program or The Missionary Society, qua program, is about improving the diocesan/general church interface, it sounds like a good thing. Certainly, my experience has been that it can be difficult to get to the right person at the Episcopal Church Center when calling on the telephone. If someone in a diocese could call a specific person and that person would take responsibility for satisfying the local person’s need—it might take some time, of course—that would be a very good thing. I don’t ever need to hear the terms “Diocesan Partnership Program” or “The Missionary Society.” Moreover, I don’t want to. As Andrew Gerns suggested, this is inside baseball.

That said, I would like Bishop Sauls (or Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori or someone in a position to say) to explain precisely what The Missionary Society is and how the term is to be used. I think this program—if that’s what it is—is benign, but I know that others fear that it is somehow part of a power struggle between the General Convention and the Executive Council, on one hand, and the senior staff of the general church, on the other. (See Jim Naughton’s post, cited earlier, on this topic.) I don’t see that, but what do I know?

I do know from my vantage point in the Diocese of Pittsburgh that the general church has often been viewed with suspicion from those in this and some other diocese. Perhaps Sauls’ initiative will make a positive difference. Please, however, give us a better explanation for what is going on in our church.