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!


Anonymous said...

Great report Jeremy

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Jeremy, for this report from "ground zero" of the schism.

Lionel Deimel said...

A simple majority in each order is all that was required. Here is the relevant article from the Pittsburgh constitution:

Article XV

Alteration of the Constitution

This Constitution, or any part thereof, may be altered in the following manner only: The proposed alteration or amendment shall be submitted in writing to the Annual Convention, and if approved by a majority of each Order, shall lie over to the next Annual Convention, and if again approved, by a majority of each Order, the Constitution shall then stand altered or amended as proposed.

Jeremy Bonner said...

I just looked up the canons myself. Thanks for the correction, Lionel.