This is my fourth and final installment of reflections on the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh held November 1 and 2 at Trinity Cathedral in downtown Pittsburgh. Part 1 can be read here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.I was surprised that the Committee on Constitution and Canons offered quite a few changes for the convention to vote on this year. These were mostly little tweaks to bring diocesan rules up-to-date.
I was particularly pleased with one change. A proposal was put forward to amend Article IX of the constitution to allow the president of the Standing Committee to be either a clergy or lay person. This change is actually more important than it seems. By tradition, the senior clerical member of the Standing Committee has automatically been “elected” president, and the senior lay member has been similarly selected to be secretary, (See “Who Can Be President of the Pittsburgh Standing Committee?”) Constitution and Canons offered a simpler amendment than I had suggested, but a perfectly acceptable one. It merely indicates that lay and clerical members can become either president or secretary. The change passed easily and will become effective when passed again by the 2014 convention.
I was less pleased with the disposition of the proposed change to Canon XII. (You can read the proposal extracted from the pre-convention journal here.) The change was not accepted but was sent back to the committee instead.
When I first read the proposed change to Canon XII, it was not obvious just what the point was. The stated rationale for the change made it seem like another technical change. In fact, in the early days of the Duncan episcopate, a resolution was passed that allowed parishes to divert part of their assessment that was destined for The Episcopal Church to some other approved cause. This allowed the many parishes hostile to Episcopal Church—most such parishes are now in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh—to minimize their contribution to the church. Funds were diverted to many causes, with a number of contributions going to Anglican Relief and Development, Duncan’s alternative to Episcopal Relief and Development.
Disallowing such diversions was something I thought convention should have done immediately after the departure of much of the diocese in 2008. I was told that such a change was premature, however, as some parishes that remained were not ready to end their diversions. It seemed an insult to The Episcopal Church to continue to allow them, however.
I was not present for the debate about the Canon XII revision, but, having been told earlier that some clergy were uncomfortable with with the proposed change, I had suggested options for adopting the change but delaying its effect. Apparently, these options were presented to the convention, but the convention voted simply to refer the proposal back to the committee with no particular instructions as to what the committee should do with it.
This is the second time in as many years that the convention has taken such an action rather than debating and letting the fate of a proposal be determined by an actual vote. Last year, a proposal intended to give more deputies to mid-size parishes was referred back to committee, largely without discussion or instruction as to what the committee was supposed to do with it. The proposal was not brought back this year.
In the case of the Canon XII proposal, there was debate, though it appears not to have dealt with what I considered to be the real issue, namely, are we going to wholeheartedly support The Episcopal Church or not. The failure to adopt the proposed change suggests continuing ambivalence toward the wider church. No doubt, its opponents would dispute this interpretation.
Apparently, a group of conservative priests had discussed their unhappiness regarding Canon XII and were prepared to speak against the proposed change. That the rationale for the proposal offered by the committee failed to take note of the elephant in the room meant that many deputies probably did not really know what was at stake. Another problem was the sound system, whose inadequacies I mentioned in an earlier post. In asking deputies for their versions of the debate, I learned that many of them had no idea what was happening because they could not hear the discussion.
I find it demoralizing that (1) the lack of a viable sound system in Trinity Cathedral was so deleterious to the conduct of the diocese’s business, and (2) that, yet again, deputies seemed ill-prepared to deal with proposals with which they had been supplied details in advance.
In light of the problems with the Canon XII proposal and other problems I noted in earlier posts regarding the Trinity Cathedral convention, I have two recommendations for the leadership of our diocese and parishes:
- Hold the 2014 convention somewhere else—anywhere else. St. David’s would be a good choice, but St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, or Calvary would be fine.
- Encourage parishes to hold deputation meetings after deputies have attended information meetings sponsored by the diocese and before convention to discuss in depth the matters coming before the convention. Attendance at such meetings should be mandatory for parish deputies.
Thus end my rants concerning the 2013 annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. I have no illusions that everyone will agree with everything I have written. At least one good friend telephoned me to complain about one of my comments. No doubt, others have also been annoyed. Whether you agree with my observations or not, I hope that I have caused people to think more deeply about how we run our diocese, how we stage our conventions, and how we could do a better job. If you disagree with anything I’ve written, leave a comment expressing your opinion. I don’t want to discourage positive comments, however, and I invite those as well. May our 2014 convention be a better one; may our diocese be stronger a year from now; and may all of us in the diocese be equipped to move forward together.