Monday, November 19, 2007

My Faith Looks Up To Thee

My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray, take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day be wholly Thine!

May Thy rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart, my zeal inspire!
As Thou hast died for me, O may my love to Thee,
Pure warm, and changeless be, a living fire!

While life’s dark maze I tread,
And griefs around me spread, be Thou my Guide;
Bid darkness turn to day, wipe sorrow’s tears away,
Nor let me ever stray from Thee aside.

When ends life’s transient dream,
When death’s cold sullen stream over me roll;
Blest Savior, then in love, fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above, a ransomed soul!

Ray Palmer (1808-1887)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Diocese of Pittsburgh Convention, November 3, 2007

“What’s the difference between Jurassic Park and the Church of England? Well, one’s a fantasy land populated by dinosaurs . . . and the other’s a blockbuster film.” So Assistant Bishop Henry Scriven introduced his homily for Morning Prayer and lent one of the few moments of light relief to today’s proceedings. I find myself writing up the account of today’s proceedings with a rather different perspective from that of yesterday, and I am grateful to Henry for what he has contributed throughout this convention period.

Much of today’s agenda involved routine canonical changes to which few raised objections. A proposal to penalize parishes that failed to submit parochial reports by denying seats to their clergy and lay deputies was sent back to committee after several clergy protested that not every clergyperson in a parish was responsible for the parochial report. A change to clarify the role of the assistant bishop was approved unanimously, Bishop Henry abstaining! A revision of a very detailed canon on the roles of the diocesan archivist and historian to give more leeway to the diocesan leadership was approved despite objections from former members of the diocesan archives and historical commission. A proposal to require annual parochial audits was amended to assure delinquent parishes of seat and voice but no vote. Another proposal to formally define the standing committee as the ecclesiastical trial court (which it currently is under national canons) was sent back to committee on the grounds that a formula needed to be developed to ensure that standing committee did not end up filling the dual roles of judge and jury. Until such a constitutional amendment is introduced, however, standing committee must continue to perform that function. Also returned to committee was an amendment that would have defined a process for planting new churches that placed little emphasis on consultation with the leadership of existing parishes (at least in the eyes of critics) and left matters almost entirely to the bishop (who makes the final decision in any case) and the standing committee.

It was in the matter of the twenty-sixth (and final) recommendation that debate took an unexpected turn with a proposal that the right to request the ayes and nays on a proposition be subject to the approval of a majority of those present and not – as is currently the case – to the request of any ten clergy and ten laity. It was argued that in the current climate, voting decisions will be compromised by external pressures (including the possibility of legal action). After I had unsuccessfully recommended that the proposal be sent back to committee (and the objections were very vocal), I found myself joined by Harold Lewis of Calvary (not a surprise, though not precisely the ally I would have sought). Then, in one of those remarkable displays that periodically occur at our conventions, Bishop Duncan surrendered the chair and came down to address us directly. This, he said, was one of the rare occasions where he and the rector of Calvary Church agreed. The elections of people are secret and for good reason, but votes on matters of principle require us to stand for what we believe. We had found a way to avoid a roll call in this convention (and Father Lewis had concurred with this), but if a majority always got to decide roll call votes, it was likely that there would never be any.

Father Jeff Murph of St. Thomas, Oakmont, then offered as an alternative a modification of the existing rule of order to require that the twenty persons requesting a roll call represent at least five parishes. There followed a most revealing set of exchanges, with several of the leading Evangelicals present insisting that the climate of intimidation and threats against diocesan leaders necessitated a firewall for faithful leaders. Roll call votes, maintained Whis Hays were being used as a form of harassment by the minority. Even if votes themselves are not actionable, someone else pointed out, they may be used to show a pattern of conduct elsewhere. Those opposing the amendment fell into two camps: liberals and moderates who argued the need for it to be possible to show publicly their opposition to conservative innovations (one moderate clergyman argued that any ostracism that derived from such votes would be social in nature, not political or legal); and conservatives who argued that the majority’s support for the amendment seemed to be derived from a position of fear not of blessed assurance. Allowing the minority to go the extra mile was an essential part of the process in which we are currently engaged. Their voices did not prevail, and the amendment passed.

One of the more interesting presences at this convention was John Guernsey of All Saints, Dale City in Virginia, now a bishop under Uganda, who spoke at the Friday evening dinner and preached at the closing Eucharist. While I thought it an unwise move to bring a bishop of the International Convocation to a (still) Episcopal convention, I confess to being pleasantly surprised. His addresses spoke beyond the present divide and directly linked the works of the evangelism to the work of Christian service. “John Guernsey is the bishop I would like to be when I grow up,” Bishop Duncan declared to us.

At this point, I wish to switch from the strictly narrative to the personal. As has now been noted in my earlier posting, I was in error regarding the necessity of a two-thirds majority vote for Resolution One (I plead as my excuse that I heard someone with a track record in the Diocese remark upon it in my district meeting and took it on faith instead of consulting the canons.) I find at the end of two very long days that I am troubled. I am no more troubled about my vote than I was before; amidst a multitude of evils I believe it to have been the right choice. What concerns me is the temper that I see emerging among the majority, of which I still consider myself a member. It is a temper of loyalty at all cost, to person and practice as well as to principle. It is a temper that speaks to the solidarity of the elect and has little time for the more quirkish orthodox spirits that inhabit this Diocese. One almost wonders if the spirit of fear is less a fear of what those outside can do to us and more of how reliable our fellow conservatives will be.

I believe there are measures of orthodox Christianity and that they should govern our leadership choices. Sadly, it would seem, we are now demanding a ‘higher’ standard. As I listened to some conservatives speak today about the climate of intimidation, I couldn’t help but feel that they were missing the point of Bishop’s Duncan’s sermon yesterday in which he reminded us that Christians are called to suffering and ostracism and rejection. If a decision is ‘right,’ why should it alarm us to be called upon to state it? What price conscience, without cost? If our enemies behave badly – and some of them have done and are doing so – it does not exempt us from behaving well. I am loyal to my Bishop in large measure because I believe he has a better sense of balance than some of those who proclaim themselves to be his most loyal supporters. I disagree with some of his judgments, but I have never faulted his sense of pastoral care.

Let us at least be clear among ourselves. We are witnessing the passing of something that was at the core of Anglican identity here in Pittsburgh and at the core of Anglican witness in the United States until now. The loss will not simply be the loss of liberal friends but will almost certainly be the loss of assurance and perhaps of the orthodox ‘diversity’ to which we have been so long accustomed. It behooves those who know that beyond the veil there is perfect freedom, to remember the rest of us who will walk that way certainly in uncertainty, perhaps in pain, because they know that to remain where they are is much the more perilous.

For my lords, it may well be that we shall perish utterly in a black battle far from the living lands;
so that even if Barad-dür be thrown down, we shall not live to see a new age. But this, I deem,
is our duty. And better so than to perish nonetheless – as we surely shall, if we sit here –
and know as we die that no new age shall be.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Diocese of Pittsburgh Convention, November 2, 2007

The Feast of All Souls has now concluded and Resolution One has passed. We have opened the way to seeking membership in another province of the Anglican Communion, should delegates so decide a year from now. But how significant a single vote can can be. We passed it 109-24 in the clerical order (the usual supermajority), but by 118 to 58 in the lay order (with one abstention). One switch from "aye" to "nay" and we would have lacked the requisite two-thirds majority. Make what you will of that. (As is noted in the comments to this report, I was in error on this point. A simple majority at two successive conventions is all that is required.)

There was a certain aptness in beginning proceedings with the stirring lyrics of Frank Mason North's Social Gospel hymn "Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life," for truly all those present yearned for the healing for their hearts of pain. A call was made - in light of the letter from the Presiding Bishop to Bishop Duncan - that the rules be suspended insofar as to eliminate the requirement for roll call votes. From opposite ends of the spectrum, Harold Lewis of Calvary and Whis Hays of Rock the World Youth Alliance endorsed this motion.

Bishop Duncan then spoke on the text from 1 Thessalonians 5:24 ("He who has called you is faithful and he will do it"). We had come, he said, to a "fork in the road." Speaking of the rejection of attempts to implement alternative primatial oversight, he declared the conflict over Mark Lawrence to be symptomatic of the refusal of the Episcopal Church ever again to allow a conservative diocese to elect a bishop of its choice. "We are divided in essentials without prospect of short-term resolution." The views expressed by the minority within the diocese - though reflecting a desire to be true to the Gospel - had only polarized matters further. The alternatives now were mediated separation or the scandal of continued litigation. "There are two roads, mutually exclusive, between which all must decide or default to choose." The pain of those caught in the middle was no less real for that, indeed it was "heartbreaking," as much for himself, who had been in the Episcopal Church a mere three generations, as for those on the progressive side whose family connections stretched further back in time. He offered four behaviors for the time ahead:

Pray - even praying God's blessings on our enemies will transform us as well as them.

Forgive - do not dwell on hurts. Remember those areas of ministry on which we can unite, such as the Wilkinsburg youth ministry. Here he introduced, for the first time, the notion that Trinity Cathedral might exist as neutral space and a common asset for Anglican and Episcopalian alike, and pledged to ask its chapter to develop plans to function in this manner "if we choose it"

Do the Mission - here he admitted that he had tried to do this, despite the distraction of the conflict. He noted that the convention theme was "Taking Christ's Love to our Neighbors," a worthy goal for a troubled time.

Trust - here, he turned to the themes of Celebrate 250 (the diocesan celebration of 250 years of Anglican and Episcopal witness in the region scheduled for 2008). We have lived through revolution, rebellion, civil war, epidemic, fire and flood, strikes, depression and global conflict. On May 31, 1889, the Johnstown Flood (here in the city where we are meeting) took more lives than the 1906 San Francisco earthquake or the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. One-third of the parish of St. Mark's, including the rector and his family, died in that tragedy. And yet still Anglicans have continued to proclaim the only hope of the world, Jesus Christ.

With a little gallows humor, he concluded with the acknowledgment that this might be his last convention, even as he read aloud his brief but pithy response to the Presiding Bishop's warnings. "Even if you don't agree with me," he concluded with a grin, "I know you love me. As I do you, even if I don't agree with you." Vintage Duncan, when all is said and done.

Retired dean, George Werner interposed at this time to give his own take on the Mark Lawrence affair, insisting that everything he had seen led him to the conclusion that the Presiding Bishop had gone out of her way to try and secure his confirmation at the first attempt. Bishop Duncan thanked him for his insights.

A short interlude on the budget followed, with only two observations from the floor; a pro-forma objection from progressives about reductions in social spending and one from your humble correspondent. Without going into details here (since no action was taken upon it) it irks me that, given we will be expecting our clergy to take marked cuts in salary in the next couple of years, that a similar gesture was not made by the leadership team of the diocese (or at least a freeze at the 2006 level of remuneration). To hear statements from the director of administration about bringing the episcopal salary into line with comparable jurisdictions also grated on me in the sense that most of the jurisdictions with which we want to be compared are in the Third World. Financial as well as theological expectations are surely going to have to change. Ah well, it's interesting being part of the awkward squad for a while.

Without further ado, Resolution One (to modify Pittsburgh's constitution) was brought to the floor. The rector of Ascension, Oakland stated that this move was the right course of action. "We will not be bullied," he said, "or sued or dialogued into submission." One of his clerical colleagues, who shared his theological concerns, mourned that there was no "third way" that is fully Windsor-compliant. We have not yet reached the tipping point, he insisted, "We are choosing to make our road across the wilderness in which we find ourselves." From Calvary, Harold Lewis expressed surprise at the many 'erroneous' views of what Calvary intended by its lawsuit. Calvary's perspective was merely one of concerted opposition to the "gay abandon" with which Bishop Duncan had sought to detach the diocese from The Episcopal Church since 2003. The present convention was merely another step on that road. A professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary described how she came to Anglicanism from the Salvation Army "looking for the Church." She feared for her daughters, she said, one of whom had become Orthodox and another of whom was refusing to be confirmed in the present mood of uncertainty. A lesbian member of Redeemer, by contrast, spoke of how her life had been transformed by the love shown her within the Church. Her parish, she said, was unanimous in opposing any sort of separation.

At this point, Resolution Two (seeking re-accession to The Episcopal Church's constitution and canons) was introduced as a substitute. The mover, Joan Gundersen, called the portrayals of the theology of the Episcopal Church leadership caricatures. She described how she had gone through a parish division as a child: "It is painful; no one escapes the pain." She believed there was a place at the table for conservatives and moderates as well as liberals. The rector of St. Martin's, Monroeville retorted by citing the cases of Pike and Spong and the failure to depose either for their pronouncements against orthodox Christian teaching. Today, he noted, the Presiding Bishop stood ready to depose the Bishop of Pittsburgh for standing for the orthodox faith. The substitute resolution was then voted upon and defeated and debate returned to consideration of Resolution One.

For the motion, Geoff Chapman, rector of St. Stephen's, Sewickley, spoke of the failure of the drive to bring about renewal in the Church that began in the 1970s. The resolution was, he said, "a desperate measure in a desperate time." On behalf of Calvary Church and Calvary Camp, Leslie Reimer invited conservatives to take a bold step and not to hide behind legal representations that confused many people as to what constituted the Episcopal Church. The rector of All Saints, Rosedale, indicted what he viewed as the principal contribution of Episcopal theologians today, namely "the metaphor of Jesus Christ." Such a metaphor, he said, saves no one. If nothing is done, authentic Christianity will continue to be coopted. A lay member of Calvary took issue with the way in which the theology of the Presiding Bishop had been denigrated and urged the Diocese to extend an invitation to her so that she might speak for herself. One of the most moving observations came from Jay Geisler, rector of St. Stephen's, McKeesport. Speaking in support of Resolution One, he nevertheless asked what Jesus would say of this gathering and would he not weep at the cost? The close was provided by Brad Wilson, rector of Fox Chapel Church. What is the opposite of catholic? he asked the delegates. Those tempted to answer Protestant would be wrong, for the opposite of catholic is sect. "The faith belongs to the whole church," and we do not have the right to change doctrine as we do discipline. On that note, debate was closed and the ballots were cast.

Today the constitution, tomorrow the canons. A chapter of Anglican history has closed. Who can predict what our future will be. Pray for us all in this tumultuous season!

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!”