October 29, 2013

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.


  1. Hi, Lionel. Love to see you at Incarnation Church. If you let me know in advance, maybe we can catch a bite afterwards or enjoy brunch downstairs beforehand. Menu choices we can handle. On the other hand, in our polity, you and I do not make the sorts of decisions you're writing about, ultimately--much to the relief of the Church, I'm sure!

    The collegiality and grace which is extended to me by clergy in both dioceses is not something I'm in a position to make happen. The camaraderie which remains among many clergy of both the TEC and ACNA dioceses helps. But most of the credit for TEC's part in my continuing the curious status I had at the Cathedral goes back a couple of years to +Ken Price, who's a pastoral and pragmatic man. If ever henceforth someone has priorities which differ from the truly serious challenges and opportunities faced by him and now by the very missional +Dorsey McConnell, s/he could review my status. Meanwhile, I'm a bi-vocational priest, I'm teaching four courses this semester at CMU, and I have a few sheep to feed.

    But, big picture, Lionel. Is it possible that your concerns here come from a fading old map of clearly delineated borders and denominational loyalties? The realignments I see in Christianity are not simply a shifting of borders; they are a blurring of borders. Sure, there are issues that matter, and matter supremely. Sure, groups still form around affinities. Yet, I'm seeing more fluid confederacies nowadays than your article leaves room for. Your complaint will not move the Church forward. Incarnation Church has evolved into a sort of college of lay preachers, as it turns out, and one is a Reformed Presbyterian. ++Duncan blesses that. Incarnation is a multi-site ministry, meeting in not only the gallery space, but also homes, Luke Wholey's Wild Alaska Grill, and St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church. Iconic of something more profound?

    Paul Johnston+

    1. Paul,

      Thanks for your comment and your invitation. I would like to avail myself of the latter when my schedule allows.

      Perhaps the day will come when ACNA is just another Christian denomination. We’re not there yet. Bob Duncan is not simply the head of another church; he is the head of a church whose assets were largely liberated from The Episcopal Church and which has actively worked to replace The Episcopal Church as a member of the Anglican Communion.

      This is not to say that ACNA is without its admirable qualities. Incarnation is concrete evidence of that. Think what ACNA’s passion could have done within The Episcopal Church. This was a lost opportunity.

      If I am second guessing one or more bishops here, so be it. Alas, bishops are not selected for their political good sense. If bishops had listened to the cries of laypeople, the schism visited upon The Episcopal Church could have been avoided or its effects mitigated.

      I would be much more sympathetic to your involvement with Incarnation were The Episcopal Church given some credit for its operation. Instead, your work at Incarnation engenders goodwill for the Anglican diocese and suggests that the Episcopal diocese is a less desirable field in which to toil.

  2. Lionel:

    I am a member of Incarnation Church. While we like to be much more about who we are rather than who we are not, and more about what we are doing as opposed to where we came from, perhaps some history is warranted to help mitigate mistaken impressions. Not that your piece is historically inaccurate, but it could result in some unintended inferences.

    We have grown to the extent that the same could not be said of us now, but in the beginning our group consisted largely of the ACNA-inclined folks who were left out in the cold after the Trinity Cathedral vote. A number of deeply injured people were floating around in the darkness with no attempted contact or pastoral care by anyone at the Cathedral or the TEC Diocese. Watching this slowly unfold, I believe that Fr. Paul recognized the pastoral vacuum, and resigned from the Cathedral some time after the rest of us did, in order to minister to us. From the beginning, discussions at our home based services were focused intentionally on healing, not on planting a church. That we grew into a church, and that Fr. Paul emerged as our rector, was all organic.

    I hope this note about our origins helps clarify the following:

    1. Your comment above suggests the Episcopal Church ought to be given some credit for the operation of Incarnation Church. Other than to point out that our parish was born specifically because of its member's rejection from an Episcopal church, I'm not sure how TEC plays into our success.

    2. It is important to understand that Fr. Paul did not lead anyone out of the Cathedral. He is not one of those personality types that people follow blindly from parish to parish. Rather, he saw a genuine need to help people heal, (I believe with the encouragement of the bishops on both sides), and came to our aid well after we had departed.

    3. That we are an ACNA parish comes from the fact that our people identify with the ACNA. But that we have a rector who is not exclusively ACNA says something. It means a lot to me personally that our founding members are folks who did everything they could to make things work at the Cathedral. Unlike many ACNA parishes, they worked very, very hard to stay. They did not leave of their own will, nor did they attempt a majority vote to claim the Cathedral as their own. They were pushed out. Perhaps Fr. Paul's unique status is a nod to the continuance of that perspective.

    Witnessing to Fr. Paul's comment on the state of denominational loyalty, I can vouch for the fact that this experience has led me to understand denominational loyalty means much, much less to me than I could have imagined. Indeed, we even have a few folks at Incarnation who continue to attend at the Cathedral on Sunday mornings, and then attend with us in the afternoons. As you suggest, we look forward to your visit as well.

    John Campbell

    1. This is to confirm the accuracy of John's careful history. As for (2) above, yes indeed, the encouragement was from both the TEC and ACNA bishops. And while there was no immediate plan to plant a church, the possibility was part of early conversations. I think it was a week or two after the Cathedral vote, +Ken was the first to suggest it. A couple of days after that, ++Bob was talking about the possibility. (Which should surprise no one, since before the vote he'd already proposed to Cathedral Chapter that ACNA do a Sunday afternoon church plant both from and in the Cathedral itself. So typically out-of-the-box!) There was also conversation between the two bishops.

      What became the core of the Incarnation Church plant was a slight majority of ACNA-leaning folk, but also a significant number who had leaned TEC but were disillusioned by the apparently disingenuous way the Cathedral's discernment process was mismanaged.

      But, Lionel, we are an itty bitty wee little congregation. Granted, we're blessed with diversely gifted and hardworking laity who compensate for four very part-time clergy. Our annual budget is less than most individual TEC clergy salaries. We're going to stay small by splitting, Lord willing, in 2-3 years max. So, we really don't merit the column inches you've given us unless (a) you had a slow news day, or (b) somehow in microcosm we represent to you some larger worry or insecurity. However, that, on the diocesan level under +Dorsey, would be unfounded.

      But thanks for the free advertising.

      You all pray for us and worship with us anytime. Nov. 24: CMU Baroque and world-renowned period flutist Steven Schultz, with our liturgy drawn from the 1662 BCP. Every week: Gregorian chant and hymnody from spirituals to shaped-note to Anglicana. Often: poetry. Materials are available for you to artfully interacting with the work of the Spirit.


    2. John, thanks for the background, which was very helpful.

      Perhaps the Episcopal diocese could have done more for the people who left the cathedral after the chapter decided to honor its charter and become exclusively an episcopal church. The chaos that resulted from the 2008 schism engineered by Bob Duncan and his minions put a lot on the plate of the abandoned Episcopal diocese, however. The diocese can perhaps be excused for not doing everything it might have done as it struggled to keep body and soul together.

      Additionally, it was not only ACNA supporters who left Trinity after December 2011 who were hurt. Episcopalians who felt their cathedral had been hijacked were hurt. Episcopalians who drifted away from Trinity because they did not approve of the unique status the cathedral attempted to claim were also hurt.

      You said, “But that we have a rector who is not exclusively ACNA says something.” What, exactly? The Incarnation Web site does not acknowledge the fact, or, if it does, I could’t discover where. Those who might know that Paul is an Episcopal priest will necessarily have questions that are not answered on the Web.

      I don’t see any truly bad actors here. Although I cannot speak for the Anglican diocese, I think the Episcopal diocese needs to have a dialogue about what, at least in the short run, the relationship between the two Pittsburgh dioceses should be.

    3. Paul,

      For what it’s worth, I am not the only person concerned about your role at Incarnation. Someone else brought the matter to my attention. In any case, I think the larger question is the relationship of the two dioceses. We are, as I suggested, opponents in court and likely to be involved in nastier litigation to come. What are the implications of that? I have my own views, but I doubt those are universal within my diocese.

      Ken Price was very good for the Episcopal Diocese, but I did not approve of everything he did, nor is the diocese forever bound by his actions.

      All of which is to say that it is time that others discussed arrangements such as those at Incarnation.

    4. Lionel:

      In your question to me, I believe I do pick up on what you are trying to say: If we are so accepting of Fr. Paul's unique circumstances, then why don't we proclaim it? Furthermore, why does our web site appear to proclaim so strongly for ACNA?

      This is just my opinion, but I see this how I view my political affiliation, (as unwise as bringing up politics here may be!). I will proclaim loud and clear that I'm a Republican. That may lead some people to assume that I'm a Tea Party conspiracy theorist. It may lead others to believe I pull the single "all Republican" lever in the voting booth. It may make others think I'm in favor of the death penalty or that I'm opposed to universal health care. All of these assumptions are wrong. But that doesn't make me any less of a Republican.

      We are an ACNA parish. We tithe to the ACNA diocese, we are visited by the ACNA Bishop, and we use the ACNA cycle of prayer. However, we also live very much into the blurring of borders and fluid affinities Fr. Paul alludes to in his initial response. That doesn't make us any less of an ACNA parish institutionally and so, we simply proclaim what we are. I think the rest of our web site and other published materials speak for themselves in terms of the creative directions we're headed as a parish, and I think that's what people find intriguing about us much more than what province we're in.

    5. Lionel, you write, "Although I cannot speak for the Anglican diocese, I think the Episcopal diocese needs to have a dialogue about what, at least in the short run, the relationship between the two Pittsburgh dioceses should be."

      Let's keep it simple. I assume the TEC diocese's discussion on sexuality will not depart from tradition, since--regardless of theological nuance--in the Western PA context a "progressive" outcome would be suicide for TEC. So, then, (1) since +Dorsey and +Bob are similar enough theologically, and both are missionary bishops, they and their dioceses become ecumenical partners in mission, while remaining distinct within their respective provinces, and (2) both dioceses withdraw all legal actions against each other.

      Not necessarily in that order.


    6. Paul,

      My crystal ball is cloudy, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t suggesting the future as you see it. As James Thurber observed,“ Don't count your boobies until they are hatched.”


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