Monday, August 20, 2007

A Footnote to Pittsburgh's Episcopal History: The Strange Case of Alfred Arundel

For those who imagine that tensions between bishops and clergy are a new phenomenon, let me offer you the case of Dr. Alfred Arundel. After twenty years of dedicated service to historic Trinity Church in Downtown Pittsburgh, the good doctor ‘retired,’ privately complaining that he had been eased out at the behest of well-to-do elements in the congregation who objected to his preoccupation with Christian Socialism. In July 1912, Arundel – who had maintained his canonical residence, despite leaving the diocese – accepted a call to St. Mark’s Church on Pittsburgh’s South Side. That call and Arundel’s acceptance of it were both roundly condemned by the then bishop of Pittsburgh, Cortlandt Whitehead. For almost a year, however, Arundel retained his position, much to the glee of the local press, who found irresistible the combination of colorful personalities, Socialism and ecclesiastical politics.

At some point, I hope to confide the details of the Arundel affair to paper, but for the moment I offer this document as illustrative of another period of existential angst in the life of the Episcopal Church. The author, George Guthrie, was a Pittsburgh lawyer and member of Calvary Church in East Liberty, who had been elected mayor of Pittsburgh in 1906 as the standard bearer of the civic reform faction (or, as Pittsburgh’s machine politicians bitterly called them, “that damned Calvary crowd.”) With Arundel already established at St. Mark’s, the bishop was keen to learn what steps he could take to deal with this case of clerical defiance in his own back yard.

Guthrie’s letter speaks to the political and legal culture of the Episcopal Church almost a century ago. It is interesting that Whitehead – like many other Episcopal bishops of his day (Edwin Lines of Newark was another such case) – was not particularly concerned by Arundel’s Christian Socialism. What bothered him was the latter’s lack of diplomacy with his congregation (a common failing among clerical Social Gospelers) as well as his defiance of the bishop within his diocese.

Thankfully, I am neither a civil nor a canon lawyer and consequently have no knowledge of how corporation law in the state of Pennsylvania has changed since 1912. What I find fascinating is how the relationship between parish and diocese is understood. Guthrie’s emphasis on the parish as the defining unit of the Church (at least in Pennsylvania) would seem to give the lie to the notion that, from the Episcopal Church’s formation in 1789, parishes were uniformly understood to fall under the authority of the diocesan structure. In Pennsylvania – for at least 125 years – they clearly did not, even if this principle was rarely tested in court. Short of a presentment – something Whitehead was clearly loath to pursue, as it would have been assumed to be a consequence of Arundel’s politics – the bishop could do nothing. Worse still, while St. Mark’s could be denied seating at the diocesan convention if that body so willed, Arundel could not.

In a certain sense, both parties in the present conflict might take something away from this little historical episode. Liberals would certainly identify with Arundel, though I’m not certain whether he would have identified with them (my acquaintance with a similar case in Newark in 1916 suggests that many Social Gospelers were fairly moralistic Progressives when it came to the family and sexuality). Guthrie’s advice – in the tradition of Gamaliel (Acts 5:38) – could also be seen as endorsing a call to ‘continue the conversation.’ As noted above, however, the document does seem to dispel the idea of a uniform conception of the nature of the Episcopal Church across the United States from 1789 to the present day. While there may have been efforts to codify uniformity – particularly since the Second World War – these cannot be said to have been in place from the beginning. All along, the Episcopal Church has struggled with a series of identity crises – liturgical, theological and geographic – which make appeals to the traditions of an ‘historic’ Church of the Early National Era of dubious utility.

September 7th, 1912

The Right Rev. Cortlandt Whitehead,

My dear Bishop

I am in receipt of your letter of 22nd ult. and have given it very careful consideration: I have also consulted with Mr. Burgwin on the questions involved.

Permit me to say that during the summer vacation I have thought a good deal about the technical questions to be decided and have on two or three occasions discussed them with chancellors of other dioceses without, however, exposing the particular case involved.

I will be very glad to go over the questions with you when you return; but in the meantime I think it proper to lay before you briefly the very serious difficulties which confront us.

As you will remember, I have resisted the fiction of canonical residence, by which a clergyman who has an actual physical residence in one diocese is permitted to claim a canonical residence in another in which he has no actual residence and where he has no employment or work, or connection of any kind, clerical or otherwise; but you will also remember that I was not able to convince you that I was right in my position.

If the fiction of canonical residence is to prevail, I am afraid that you are practically helpless in this matter, unless you are prepared to have formal charges made against the recalcitrant clergyman.

Having a canonical residence in this Diocese, he does not require your consent or approval to authorize him to take up any clerical employment which may be offered to him in it. Under the laws of the Church, your consent is necessary before a clergyman can acquire a canonical residence in your Diocese; but when your consent is given and he has acquired such residence, you have no power to prevent him from taking up some new clerical position.

We must also recognize the independence and the property rights of the parish involved under the Civil Laws of this State, so long as it does not violate any Canon of the Church.

Much of the difficulty and uncertainty we have with regard to the parishes of the Episcopal Church in this State comes from the fact that we have attempted to assimilate into our Church system some phraseology and functions of the English system of parish government without observing that in England these assimilated parts were not ecclesiastical, but municipal and governmental functions.

As an illustration: In England, as you know, the parish is, broadly speaking, the equivalent of our townships; and the vestrymen are simply those residents of the parish who have the right to sit in the vestry and vote on matters affecting what we would call “Township interests,” but what they call “Parish interests.”

The result has been a very confused situation.

In this State the parish is the unit in our Church system. It can be formed at any time by a voluntary association of individuals for that purpose, who, if they desire, can be incorporated or not as they see fit.

No preliminary authority is required from either the Bishop or the Convention, either for the formation or incorporation of a parish in this State.

The Parish in this State is not the child of the Convention. It does not require for its existence any authority from the Convention. It is not entitled to representation in the Diocesan Convention until its charter and by-laws have been approved by the Convention. But its existence and operation is not dependent on such recognition, so far as the civil law is concerned.

Pardon me if I emphasize the point by reference to another system with which we are both familiar.

In Masonry the seat of authority is in the Grand Master and the Grand Lodge. No Masonic Lodge can be constituted without the authority of the Grand Lodge and the action of the Grand Master; and when a Lodge so constituted dies its warrant and all its properties revert to the Grand Lodge.

There is nothing like this in the Episcopal Church in Pennsylvania.

The Bishop has “ecclesiastical” authority over the clergyman having canonical residence in his Diocese. He may also refuse to visit a parish whose conduct he disapproves; but he has no power to dissolve it or to interfere with the legal administration of its property.

One very peculiar thing in our system of parish government in this State is that generally speaking there is no selection of persons in admission to legal membership in a parish.

The vestry of a parish might refuse to rent a pew to an applicant, or to receive contributions from a particular person; but to do so would be an arbitrary act, and while in particular cases it might be a desirable thing to do, there is no specific warrant for such action. Moreover, if it did not meet with the approval of a majority of members, they could change the policy at the next parish election.

There isn’t anything in the laws of our Church which concerns the qualification of the members of a parish or regulates the right of selection over new members.

The clergyman may repel an evil-liver from communion, but that does not expel him from the parish.

There may be, however, some isolated parishes in which this question is covered by the by-laws; but such regulations are local. So far as the general laws of the Church are concerned a member of a parish is not even required to be baptized.

An acknowledged atheist, or acknowledged Mohammedan, might be a member of a parish with the right to participate in the management of its affairs.

If this recalcitrant clergyman is a canonical resident of the Diocese, he will, as soon as he takes up clerical work in it, be entitled, under the law, to a seat in the Diocesan Convention with all the rights of a member. He cannot be excluded except after trial and conviction on a proper charge. You can, of course, refuse to visit the parish; but so far as I can see that is the limit of your power.

As the church property belongs to the parish, I do not think that a bill for an injunction, as suggested by you, could be maintained by anybody but a member of the parish having a property right to be protected.

Finally, permit to say that even if you had the legal standing to prosecute a bill for an injunction, under the circumstances suggested by you, I doubt the expediency of it.

So long as they do not teach or practice things prohibited by the Canons of the Church, I think it would be a very dangerous step to attempt to interfere with their teaching any social doctrines, however clear we may be that such doctrines are false and improper. Certainly, I know that any such attempt would result in advertising these people and giving them a prominence which they do not deserve, but which is exactly what they seek.

Moreover, if an attempt were made and failed, even though for purely technical reasons, the effect on the public mind would be very disastrous.

As I understand the controversy, your objection to this man is not his teaching of the so-called “Christian Socialism,” (however much you object to it), but to his personal character. If he is to be resisted, it should be on the real ground.

His teachings, if false, will come to naught. They may have a temporary hold; but if false they will die out. The only danger which we have to fear in false theories of government is when the teaching is done in the dark and the advocacy of them is made an honorable badge of freedom.

I have written very fully, as I would like you to have these thoughts in your mind. On your return I will be very glad to go over them with you, and if I am wrong, will, of course, acknowledge my error.

I am,

Very sincerely yours,

George W. Guthrie

Source: Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, RG3/2.2, Box 3T

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