November 12, 2014

Diocesan Convention 2014: An Outsider’s View

The annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh was held this past weekend, on November 7 & 8, at Trinity Cathedral. Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP) had a table in a room that hosted displays of many organizations with a connection to the diocese. PEP board member Beth Stifel attended the convention as a visitor. She was there primarily to talk to people who stopped by the PEP table, where we were promoting the November 14 screening of the documentary Inequality for All. In the essay below, Beth offers her thoughts as a non-deputy attendee.
This past weekend’s convention was the second over which Bishop Dorsey McConnell presided. There was no hype, no palpable anxiety, and little, if any, animosity in evidence. People were enjoying seeing one another. That’s what I noticed as an observer who was there to greet people at the PEP table, not to participate in the main business of the convention.

I spent most of my time in a room filled with displays from various organizations, and I felt as though I had been transported to a not-so-spiffy version of the mid-seventies. As I looked around, I thought about what a visitor would notice:
  • A lot of us were white-haired.
  • The exhibits seemed to be from the mid-seventies era and were not outstanding examples of the same.
  • The room in which a lot of gathering was happening felt dim and dreary.

Where were the younger members of our congregations, who were nowhere to be seen?

Neither computers nor evidence of their use was apparent. PEP’s table was the only one offering a PowerPoint presentation. This is the twenty-first century, people! High school students in Pittsburgh were required to be computer literate in the mid-eighties! We certainly should care enough about our organizations to produce current and relevant displays using commonly available technology.

Near and dear to my heart, the Neighborhood Youth Outreach Program had a fairly nice poster. Where was the technology-based presentation illustrating the incredible things they do with song and dance? They will have one next year!

Every organization that had an exhibit probably has someone who can put together compelling video to promote the group. This isn’t rocket science. Such a presentation lets the community see what you’re doing and helps you communicate important information to your audience. I suggested to cathedral parishioners that a history of the cathedral might be great, perhaps in the form of a did-you-know presentation. We need accessible displays that say that the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is committed, interested, welcoming, and really in the twenty-first century.

The room housing the displays was dirty. The carpet was filthy. The table covers had seen many better days. It felt a lot like the grandfather’s house where the furniture hasn’t changed in 40 years and dusting rarely happens.

I’m not sure that, if I didn’t know the people there, I’d even want to find out about the groups represented. I happened to know that the people at the displays were smart, interesting, and fun. Not knowing that, I could easily have walked in, looked around briefly, and left.

There are simple things we could choose to do that would make us feel better about ourselves and would let visitors know that we respect ourselves and want to be relevant.

The room itself needs some work to make it more pleasant. I’m not sure about the cost, but fresh and clean, with better table covers, would go a long way. A new floor covering would be wonderful. A paint job would change the whole feeling of the room. (The recent transformation of Brooks Hall at St. Andrew’s, Highland Park, shows how a little redecorating can work wonders.) Such changes would cost money, of course, but they would let visitors know that Trinity Cathedral is a friendly, welcoming place. It is, after all, the center of our diocese and the bishop’s seat. We can and need to do better.

I firmly believe the gospel is relevant in our time. Communicating with people under 45, however, demands that we demonstrate that we live in the twenty-first century. Otherwise, there will be no one for us to talk to.


  1. Did I read it correctly that Jim Simons was not elected to the Standing Cmte? WOW. That seems to suggest that there is some kind of message being promulgated.

  2. You read correctly. I don’t have any inside information, but I suspect that some people wanted to see some new faces. Many remarked on the failure of Jim to win.


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