Saturday, November 04, 2006

Diocese of Pittsburgh Convention: November 3, 2006

Pittsburgh’s diocesan convention met today in the shadow of the request for Alternative Primatial Oversight (APO) first rendered by its standing committee on June 28 and subsequently converted into a joint appeal by the Bishops and Dioceses of Central Florida, Dallas, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, South Carolina, and Springfield on July 20. Under the theme of “embracing fruitfulness,” Bishop Robert Duncan remarked that new congregations tend to be more fruitful; more aware of “abiding in [God] in the present.” He drew attention not only to the successful church plants – such as Shepherd’s Heart congregation that serves the homeless of Uptown Pittsburgh – but also to those that have been planted and failed to mature. “To succeed,” he reminded us, “you have to risk things failing that there might be some blossoming that comes to fruit.” The bishop also reminded delegates of the as yet un-met pledge several years ago to double diocesan membership from 20,000 to 40,000 members. If each of us were to bring one person to Christ over the next three years, he pointed out, that goal could still be achieved by 2010. Why could dioceses in places like Sabah and Nigeria achieve what we seemed unable to do?

The Bishop was blunt in his insistence that we could not afford to be complacent. While he cited data suggesting that national gains and losses in membership seemed to correlate fairly closely with opposition to and support for the doctrinal innovations of the national church, Pittsburgh could claim only to be “marginally fruitful,” with one percent growth and a decline in average Sunday attendance of 63 souls.

Just as in 2003 and 2004, the Bishop went on, another defining decision was upon us. Through Resolution One, we are to confirm both the standing committee’s request for APO and withdrawal from the Third Province of the Episcopal Church. This is a “novel” departure but then so are the recent innovations. We do not yet know what APO will look like; that is a decision for the Primates in consultation with the affected dioceses. We remain the Episcopal Church in this place. We stand where it has always stood and where the Anglican Communion has always stood. He welcomed the decision of the Russian Orthodox Church to reopen ecumenical dialogue with the APO dioceses, suspended in 2003. As for the new Presiding Bishop, our prayers are with her as “she inherits a broken church.” Bishop Duncan pledged to work with her, but in the context of what he called “mediated disengagement.” He thanked the diocese for ‘loaning’ him to the wider world. “We are all still far from the fruitfulness God has in mind for us,” he concluded, but we have made progress.

Revenue is up only 1.7 percent and the Diocese adopted a $1.7 million budget, with $443,000 (26%) to administration; $350,000 (20%) to the Office of the Bishop; $347,586 (20%) to congregational mission; $284,072 (17%) to projects outside the diocese, including the Lambeth requirement; and $246,874 (14%) to transformational ministries, particularly youth and clergy development.

In debate on the budget, the question was raised as to how the twelve non-Anglican Communion Network parishes can pay assessments to Province III, to which the Bishop responded that he was under the impression that if the resolution were adopted they could not belong to Province III. A resolution was offered that would allow the dissenting parishes to remain in Province III, but though the Bishop stated that this would not compromise the APO request, it was defeated by standing vote. Another speaker claimed that the budget allowed the Bishop to care for “his people,” even as many parishes were suffering from under-compensated clergy. Concern was expressed for the funding of transformational ministries and specifically for the Commission on Racism (though the chairwoman specifically exempted Bishop Duncan from blame and noted his wholehearted support for the work of the commission). The budget was approved by voice vote.

Resolution One was introduced by John Heidengren, rector of Prince of Peace, Hopewell (a parish that has close ties to Bishop John Rucyahana of Rwanda) who called it an “important and reasonable resolution” that “expresses our desire to remain full and fruitful members of the Anglican Communion.”

After a roll call request had been presented, Dean George Werner, elder statesman and seasoned veteran of many years in the House of Deputies rose to indicate that while he continued to work with Bishop Duncan on diocesan affairs, approval of this resolution would make him an outsider and he would oppose it.

Other opponents of the measure approached Resolution One from the perspective that (1) it was unclear whether we were requesting APO or merely a commissary (the speaker made it clear that they were equally objectionable to her); (2) that the Episcopal Church is still a constituent member of the Anglican Communion; and (3) that the current crisis was merely another ‘little local difficulty’ that would pass as the others had done (this last speaker invoked Bishop Griswold’s recent sermon on “spiritual blindness” and its prevalence among many local leaders.) For the majority, one rector reiterated Bishop Duncan’s notion of “two religions,” and insisted that the letter recently sent by Chancellor Beers to the Bishops of Fort Worth and Quincy was symptomatic of how the new Presiding Bishop intended to act. It would be a mistake, he said, to come under her authority.

At this point, Father David Wilson of St. Paul’s, Kitanning introduced a substitute resolution that embodied the original APO request in tighter language – his effort to provide some clarity rather than continued “fudge,” he explained. The substitute was adopted.

In further debate, a lay delegate asserted that the resolution was intended to pull us away from the Episcopal Church. On the other side, one clergyman spoke to the case of his close friend from seminary Henry Pendergrass who has just resigned from St. Nicholas Church, Flower Mound, Texas. “At some point,” he said, “[this erosion] has to stop.” A clerical colleague from Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh agreed. There are times to be pastoral, he said, but there are also times to be prophetic and this is one of them.

At this point, a representative from St. Andrew’s, Highland Park, arose with an amendment that would revive a defunct diocesan district, and allow dissenting parishes to remove themselves from their existing districts and organize around a common set of values (basically an analogue to the Province X solution proposed for APO dioceses). It would, he said, be “kind and compassionate” to allow them to stay out of the fray. As far as I can judge, the Bishop was not unsympathetic (and may revive the idea at a later date), but it was evident that some orthodox deputies are resentful about how they see the dissenters having behaved (one acquaintance of mine later remarked that back in the 1970s conservatives had to keep their heads down or risk abuse; now the boot is on the other foot). On a standing vote, delegates turned down the amendment, though it looked to be about evenly divided, which, for Pittsburgh, is unusual. A delegate from Christ Church, Indiana, commented at the time that such a proposal would cause a premature rupture in her parish, which she was not keen to see happen.

The convention moved to a roll call vote and Resolution One was approved by 97 votes to 14, with 3 abstentions in the clergy order and by 117 votes to 40, with 7 abstentions in the lay order. (In last year’s vote accepting the Windsor Report, the vote was 85 votes to 12, with 9 abstentions in the clergy order and 118 votes to 45, with 6 abstentions in the lay order.)

And so the deed is done. The only question now is where we go from here. But in the end that’s in God’s hands.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good reporting Jeremy,

Peter Frank