Thursday, November 01, 2007

Pressing on by Day and by Dark: Thoughts on the 142nd Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh

These are momentous days, our Bishop reminded us in his September 11 pastoral. The rubber has hit the road as Pittsburgh’s Episcopalians (if only for a little longer) take stock. As one who has spent the last two years chronicling 250 years of Anglican and Episcopal activity in southwestern Pennsylvania, there are times when this moment seems but the inevitable culmination of fifty years of national cultural shift and regional religious realignment. Today’s orthodox standard bearers (or, if you prefer, neo-Puritan revolutionaries) follow in the footsteps of Austin Pardue and the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer, Sam Shoemaker and the Pittsburgh Experiment, John Guest and Trinity School for Ministry, and others whose lives have shaped the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh: Festo Kivengere; George Stockhowe; John Howe; John Rodgers; Alden Hathaway. “We stand where we have always stood,” Bishop Duncan declares. It might be more accurate to say that the course set in the past half-century has remained broadly on trajectory, for renewal has been partial and growth has been impeded both by the poor demographics of the region and by human failing. Many in the Diocese share the Bishop’s theological concerns but heartily wish that he could confine himself to stating his views and refusing to allow any deviation from the apostolic faith within the boundaries of Pittsburgh. If this jurisdiction of the Church remains unsullied, so the argument runs, why compromise local relationships by bringing such divisiveness to a head?

In conversation with a clerical acquaintance last Sunday, I found myself reflecting on what I – as a voting delegate – am being called upon to endorse on Friday. I view the proposed amendments with considerable ambivalence; from a catholic perspective, they seem somewhat lacking. In some respects, the Bishop’s assertion that we stand where we have always stood is misleading. The leadership team, after all, admitted that they came to the conclusion that not to do anything would be more divisive than to act. Waiting in the wings are parishes like St. Stephen’s, Sewickley, ready to follow the example of Christ Church, Plano or the CANA churches. A holistic strategy that endeavors to keep one step ahead of parochial secession is offered as an alternative, yet that very admission speaks to our divided state. Can we really trust in Common Cause to remain common over the long haul? Can we be sure that those of us who secede will be of one mind as to our ultimate foreign affiliation? This may only be a preliminary step, but once that Pandora’s Box is opened, it may become all too apparent that orthodox unity is as fragmentary now as it was in the 1970s. And just around the corner, I don’t doubt, are a bunch of canon lawyers ready to take down the Diocese in the courts.

At the same time, I can’t help thinking of friends from Montana whom I first met at Hope and a Future in 2005. Then members of an Episcopal parish, they now belong to Christ Church Anglican in Butte, a mission of Uganda. They saw the writing on the wall and left without their property to begin the work of converting the world in another place. I ask myself, how catholic it is for those of us in hitherto ‘safe’ jurisdictions to praise them for their faith, yet offer them nothing in the way of institutional support. A few years ago it was accepted that an ACN bishop who offered pastoral care to such a group was likely to find himself facing a presentment for boundary crossing; hence, the African ‘incursions.’ It does not seem right that we should continue to stand apart from them indefinitely. The International Convocation was a good beginning, but it left such parishes isolated from their brethren still within The Episcopal Church. So on Friday, I expect to vote in favor of the proposed changes to constitution and canons, but I will do it without the conviction that I would wish at such a time as this. Not because I feel it is disloyal to my commitment to The Episcopal Church, for loyalty must be to doctrine as well as discipline, but because, in so doing, I have taken it upon myself to advance a course that will move American Anglicanism away from the catholic model that defined The Episcopal Church from the struggles of the 1870s to the struggles of the 1970s.

There has been much quoting of Tolkien by conservative Anglicans over the past few months. I am reminded of that moment when the Company has been divided and Aragorn must decide whether to follow Frodo and Sam or instead seek to rescue Merry and Pippin from their captors: “And now must I make a right choice and change the evil fate of this unhappy day . . . . My heart speaks clearly at last: the fate of the Bearer is in my hands no longer. The Company has played its part. Yet we that remain cannot forsake our companions while we have strength left. Come! We will go now. Leave all that can be spared behind! We will press on by day and dark!”


Dan Crawford said...

Thank you, Jeremy. In view of the latest comments from Mr. Beers (his hearting aching for "pastoral care") and the letter from Mrs. Schori to our Bishop, I am firmly convinced that remaining in the Episcopal Church is at best a betrayal of Christ and at worst, an embrace of something I dare not name. Neither Beers nor Schori nor any of their minions have any concern for the beliefs of the conservatives in the church. Their desire is to bully and coerce others to an acceptance of their views. "Be sober and watch, for our adversary the devil roams about as a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him, strong in the faith." (1 Peter, I think.)

I pray the diocese will overwhelmingly resist Satan tomorrow and the day after and the days and months following.

Anonymous said...


Jeremy Bonner said...


You're quite correct. It should be 142nd. As a historian, I should have got that right. I will correct it.

Bizzy's Daddy said...

As the Holy Ghost leads, so must you go. Take heart, I know of many who would go with you if they could.

Your Goddaughter will be proud of you for your work this weekend when she's old enough to understand it.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy, Please know your friends at Christ Church in Butte are praying for your encouragement, spiritual protection and wisdom.

We appreciate you so much!