January 8, 2014

Grumpy Tuesday

I’m was not really in a bad mood yesterday, but it did seem to be the day to write about little irritations not requiring extended philippics. On the blog on which I write about my church, I complained about the new automatic door opener that seldom works and the unfortunate lighting used for the two evening Christmas Eve services. I then turned to an issue of wider interest, which I am only getting around to explaining fully today.

Ever since the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh unveiled its new Web site after the departure of the followers of Bob Duncan, that Web site has carried this banner:

The second line of text (“of The Episcopal Church in the United States”) was important, since both the continuing diocese and the organization formed by those who left the diocese claimed to be the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” Nonetheless, the exact wording has always seemed strange, as the official name of the church is the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America or, alternatively, The Episcopal Church.

A slight digression is necessary here. When the church’s constitution was approved in 1789, the name of the church was not established in the constitution proper, but only in the heading, which read “The Constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.” The Preamble of the church’s constitution, which was first proposed in 1967, establishes “The Episcopal Church” as an alternative name for the church. The article “the” seems never to have been considered an integral part of the long name of the church, but, both officially and unofficially, the article has been rendered both as part of and not part of the short name. On the title page of the 1979 prayer book, for example, the name of the church is clearly construed to be “The Episcopal Church.” More often than not, Episcopal News Service has written about “the Episcopal Church,” though it went through a brief period of insisting on “The Episcopal Church.

All of this is to say, that “The” on the second line of the Web site banner is probably what it needs to be. What, then, is “in the United States”? “The Episcopal Church in the United States” is not an official name of the church. If “in the United States” is simply a description, it would seem to be both redundant and inappropriate—redundant because, although there are other Anglican churches with “Episcopal Church” in their names, “The Episcopal Church” is unique; inappropriate because The Episcopal Church has outposts in other countries (e.g., Haiti).  One might quibble about “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America,” but, like it or not, it is the legal name of the church.

I suspect that “of The Episcopal Church in the United States,” which was formulated immediately after the October 2008 split in the diocese, was meant to mirror the language of the stipulation that resulted from the lawsuit that Calvary Church initiated against diocesan leaders, including Bishop Robert Duncan. The stipulation refers to “the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America,” which is close to, but not quite, what ended up on the Web site. The stipulation wording raises the same sort of questions mentioned above. Although Episcopalians generally viewed the stipulation as unambiguous, Duncan and his attorneys argued otherwise. I never have understood why Walter DeForest, who handled the litigation for Calvary, did not use an official name of the church (preferably “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America”).

It is time, I think, to change the banner on the Web Site. I would like to see “of The Episcopal Church,” “a diocese of The Episcopal Church,” or some such replacing the second line of the existing banner.

Below the banner I have been discussing, the diocesan Web site now displays this graphic:

The words “Public Gospel/Missional Communities/Leadership Formation” have recently replaced “Vibrant Episcopal Communities United in Christ.” I don’t know where the former wording came from, but it graced the Web site no later than December 2008. As a slogan for an Episcopal diocese, it is rather generic. (“Wounded Episcopal Communities United in Opposition to Bob Duncan” might have been more specific and honest, but that would have had limited public relations value or usefulness as an aspirational statement.)

Whatever one might say about “Vibrant Episcopal Communities United in Christ,” it reads like a slogan (or motto, if that sounds better to you), and it was positioned where such an element was appropriate.

What then of “Public Gospel/Missional Communities/Leadership Formation”? These are the three priorities articulated by Bishop McConnell in his address to the diocesan convention on November 2, 2013. Whatever the merits of these priorities, they are priorities, not a slogan. To the casual visitor to the Web site, they appear to be a laundry list, though it is not clear of what. In particular, although “Missional Communities” might, in some sense, describe the diocese—we used to use “Vibrant Episcopal Communities” after all—neither “Public Gospel” nor “Leadership Formation” does. The former is obscure, and the latter seems to refer to internal concerns not necessarily of interest to the casual Web visitor. An additional problem is that the only mention on the site of the bishop’s priorities is in his convention address. There is no independent explication of those priorities, as one might expect from the prominence of them on the Web site. Most visitors, however curious, will not know to look at the bishop’s address for more information.

If a slogan is to be on the diocesan Web site, I really don’t know what it should be. “Struggling Churches Seeking to Recover from Schism and Theft of Property” might be an honest description of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, but it suffers from what I take to be obvious deficiencies. For the time being, perhaps we should revert to “Vibrant Episcopal Communities United in Christ.”

Well, perhaps not all my musings about “little irritations” have turned out to be as brief as intended. Sorry about that.

1 comment:

  1. Lionel, the Vibrant Communities slogan came of out the process under Bishop Price that developed goals and a mission statement in 2010.


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