Saturday, October 04, 2008

To the Grey Havens: Diocese of Pittsburgh Convention, October 4, 2008

Then Elrond and Galadriel rode on; for the Third Age was over, and the Days of the Rings were past, and an end was come of the story and song of those times . . . And when they had passed from the Shire, going about the south skirts of the White Downs, they came to the Far Downs, and to the Towers, and looked on the distant Sea; and so they rode down at last to Mithlond, to the Grey Havens in the long firth of Lune. As they came to the gates Cirdan the Shipwright came forth to greet them. Very tall he was, and his beard was long, and he was grey and old, save that his eyes were keen as stars; and he looked at them and bowed, and said: ‘All is now ready.’ Then Cirdan led them to the Havens, and there was a white ship lying, and upon the quay stood a figure robed all in white awaiting them. As he turned and came towards them Frodo saw that it was Gandalf; and on his hand he wore the Third Ring, Narya the Great, and the stone upon it was red as fire. Then those who were to go were glad, for they knew that Gandalf also would take ship with them. But Sam was now sorrowful at heart, and it seemed to him that if the parting would be bitter, more grievous still would be the long road home alone . . . and as he looked at the grey sea he saw only a shadow on the waters that was soon lost in the West. There still he stood far into the night, hearing only the sigh and murmur of the waves on the shores of Middle Earth and the sound of them sank into his heart.
And so, without great fanfare, the greater part of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh passes to the Southern Cone, almost exactly five years after its leaders first proclaimed at St. Martin’s, Monroeville, their intention to uphold historic Christian teaching and practice, whatever the Episcopal Church might choose to do. Once again assembled in St. Martin’s, the church where George Stockhowe presided over Pittsburgh’s Episcopal charismatic renewal, deputies affirmed a decision to realign with the Province of the Southern Cone. In the clergy order the vote was 121-33 (with three abstentions and two invalid votes) and in the lay order 119-69 (with three abstentions). The vote in favor was 76.1 percent in the clergy order (compared to 81.9 percent in 2007) and 62.3 percent in the lay order (compared to 66.7 percent in 2007). There were twenty-six more clergy delegates and fourteen more lay delegates present this year.

There were moments both of drama and pure entertainment. The sight of assisting (not Assistant, as he made clear) Bishop Henry Scriven ringing a large hand bell to summon dilatory delegates to their places should live long in the memory. Likewise, Canon Missioner Mary Hays’ description of herself as a “Pittsburgh babe,” by which she intended merely to reference herself as a comparative newcomer, evoked a storm of merriment. And perhaps equally sobering, in the immediate aftermath of the vote, Father Jim Simons of St. Michael’s, Ligonier, rising to ask that his opposition be recorded in the minutes (rejected by the presiding officer as running contrary to the earlier convention decision not to hold a recorded vote) and the somewhat ponderous announcement of Dr. Harold Lewis of Calvary that, in light of the realignment vote, his delegation could no longer be part of proceedings, a statement which, I fear, did not evoke quite the sentiments from the rest of the assembly that he might have wished.

Convention convened at 8:30 AM, with Standing Committee president David Wilson in the chair. After an invocation from Canon Hays, Wilson announced that the practice in the absence of the bishop is to appoint a presbyter to preside and Jonathan Millard of Church of the Ascension, Oakland, was appointed without objection, Wilson happily handing over a copy of Roberts’ Rules of Order for Dummies. Father Millard welcomed a certain representative of the Province of the Southern Cone, permitted on the floor by virtue of a provision whereby clergy from churches in communion with the Episcopal Church may be present with voice but no vote. Thunderous applause followed.

A quorum was reported to be present. After the presiding officer ruled out of order a motion that the credentials of lay deputies pledged to realign be regarded as invalid, discussion moved to the question of the admission of four new church plants – Seeds of Hope, Bloomfield; Charis 247, Coraopolis; Grace Anglican Fellowship, Slippery Rock; and Somerset Anglican Fellowship, Somerset. Procedural debates held up proceedings for a while as St. Francis-in-the-Fields, Somerset, from which Somerset Anglican Fellowship had been carved to accommodate more fervent advocates of realignment, objected to the Diocesan Council’s proposal to give each entity two delegates (when the old parish would have been entitled to three). Father Millard ruled that St. Francis be given its full complement, based on its original parochial report. Following this, Father Charles Martin, a hoary old parliamentarian of conventions past, rose to question whether it was appropriate to admit four new congregations to membership whose first act would be to vote themselves out of the Episcopal Church. As I understood it, his point had less to do with the appropriateness or otherwise of realignment than with whether it was proper to admit them now (rather than after the realignment vote). A cynic might be tempted to ask whether these plants were admitted at this time at least in part to bolster the “aye” vote. All the new parishes were admitted.

As was the case a year ago, convention approved use of a paper ballot that would provide a record of the vote without subjecting individuals to undue pressure (as a historian I rather regret this as it would be interesting to have the record of names to compare with the listing from the 2003 convention, but there you are). There followed a short discussion of the minutes from last year’s convention, where it was asserted that the chancellor did not make public a ruling that a list of those opposing realignment permitted by Bishop Duncan would not be printed in the minutes. There being no verifiable proof (only differing memories of that day), the convention retained the original language.

Convention Eucharist was scheduled before the realignment vote (a smart move to ensure one last Communion as one church). David Wilson was preacher and once again demonstrated that David Wilson of the blogosphere and David Wilson, the pastor, are two very different creatures. Preaching on the text, “Take Courage; It is I; Don’t be Afraid,” he offered a moving retrospective on his years of service as a laymen in three parishes, as a priest in three, and on more committees than he could remember. “There is no other diocese I have desired to be a part of,” he told the delegates. In coming to Christ, he had been able to look back and see the hopeless, sinful, self-centered, self-directed individual that he had hitherto been. Yet doing what has to be done takes courage. “The safe place is always in the boat,” not trying to walk on the water. What God called realigners and reorganizers to do took courage, but He still wants us to be risk-takers. Such risk-taking should not prevent us from drawing from the strength even of those who are diametrically opposed to us. “We may be opponents today,” he added, “but can we be worthy opponents?” Ultimately, whatever the vote, there was nothing to fear because God is with us and He would see us through the present difficulty. “Can we,” he asked in words that are strangely absent from much of the discourse at present, “bless each other as we separate?”

Convention then adjourned for district meetings with the declared intent to reconvene at 11:40 AM. In the visitors gallery I saw one Bill Eaton in a clerical collar and identified by his badge as AMIA, while in the corridor I encountered John Guest, still following diocesan conventions forty years after he first arrived in Pittsburgh.

Bishop Henry was heard to cry “I’m hungry, I want my lunch!” and delegates filed back to complete the process. After a procedural amendment regarding lay membership on the Board of Trustees, we turned to the composite amendment changing Articles 1, 12 and 13 of the Constitution. Joan Gundersen moved that since this conflicted with a “higher order rule” (the Constitution of the Episcopal Church) we should not proceed, but the presiding officer accepted legal advice that this part of Roberts’ Rules did not apply to questions of disaffiliation.

There followed twenty minutes of valuable testimony. Deacon Becky Spanos’s reminder to everyone present of the Episcopal Church’s neglect of the culture of life was a welcome reminder of the burden that so many within the renewal movement have had to bear, yet the testimony of Kris Opat (of the Three Nails plant), a TESM student and protégé of Whis Hays, that he could not support realignment demonstrates how many people are torn. From All Saints, Leechburg, a cry of pain for the “undefined Christianity” of recent years, was measured against a warning from Christ Church, North Hills, that withdrawal will leave the Episcopal Church even less accountable than it is today. From Battle Brown of Seeds of Hope the word that “Today is a Sad and Glorious Day,” to the pledge of Father Jay Geisler of St. Stephen’s, McKeesport, that he will not sever friendships after realignment. And my personal favorite (a fellow Brit), Father Philip Wainwright of St. Peter’s, Brentwood, affirming that many of the national church leadership are among the lost but that we are sent to call the lost to repentance. Many in Pittsburgh’s diocesan leadership have tried time and again to get them to see, Father Wainwright admitted, and he blames no one who feels they can do no more, but if anyone was in any doubt then perhaps God was still calling them to stay and fight. A motion to continue debate was defeated; clearly most delegates had had enough.

At 12:15 PM balloting began. While waiting for the result, delegates approved a provisional budget and parochial assessments, being warned that various parishes (on both sides) had indicated that they would cease to pay assessments starting tomorrow, depending upon the outcome of the vote. Responsibility for adjusting the budget was handed to Diocesan Council with instructions to report back to delegates in writing in six months time. Bishop Henry (soon to depart for England for a job with SAMS) reported on his experiences of the ongoing life of the diocese. Parishes, he said are getting on with mission. At a recent visitation to St, Philip’s, Moon Township, he confirmed 54 teenagers and young adults! We are still in relationship with one another, despite everything. Canon Hays praised the way that everything had been done in the past few years with “grace and generosity,” and expressed her anticipation for the future. She noted her particular gratitude to her mentor, the newest bishop of the Southern Cone.

At 12:58 PM, the result was announced, followed in succession by Father Simons’ objection and the departure of the Calvary delegation. As voting got under way on the clauses acceding to the Southern Cone, a message was read aloud from Archbishop Gregory Venables welcoming the Diocese of Pittsburgh to their new province. Following adjournment, delegates were asked to wait while the Standing Committee held a hurried conference. When they emerged at 1:16 PM, it was to announce that a special convention on November 7-8 will elect a “new” bishop. In the interim, Archbishop Venables has appointed Robert Duncan as episcopal commissary for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. To rapturous applause our new commissary took the lectern to declare: “It’s my joy to once again give episcopal leadership.”

And so here we are, whether like Frodo to sail into the west or like Sam to stand upon the shore and listen to the sigh and murmur of the waves. And truly an end has come to the story and song of these times.


Bruce Robison said...

A very fine and, as always, wonderfully written summary, Jeremy. Thank you.

Bruce Robison

Dan Crawford said...


Bruce and I disagree on realignment, but we both agree yours is a "wonderfully written summary".

Calvary was not the only delegation to leave shortly after the vote was announced. I saw at least three other delegations depart during the short recess.

And thank you for the reference to The Return of the King. I carried that feeling with me most of yesterday, and it is with me this morning.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy, Well done. You've captured the events of the day and the tension beautifully.

Laurie said...

Jeremy, your description of the convention has a bit of Virginia Wolfe style [Mrs. Dalyrimple?] that delineates a back and forth dialogue that is in essence a simple ethnography of Angllanism in in the USA. Nice touch.

Thank you.


David Zampino said...

It's been years since I left the Episcopal church, but this posting (especially the poignant Tolkien reference) brought tears to my eyes.

Bp. Duncan preached my graduation sermon (Nashotah House 1998) and remains a man I greatly respect. May all of the faithful men and women involved in this painful decision reach their destinations in peace.


Papa Z