Saturday, October 10, 2009

An Open Letter to the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh

October 10, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I write to express my concern about the tone of the recent letter released on the diocesan website. While I have always accepted that, at least from a purely legal point of view, both diocesan entities could make a reasonable claim to the endowment, I had hoped that a spirit of pragmatism would enter into any proceedings concerning parish ownership. A generous reading of the aforementioned letter suggests that a mediated process might lead to a transfer of parish property, but it is so hedged about with reservations that it might almost be better to have said outright that nothing short of a return to the Episcopal Church would enable realigned conservatives to remain in their property.

I am one of probably a rather small number who believes that ACNA's participation in the present legal case was unwise, not because realignment could not legally occur - I happen to believe that it could - but because getting involved in the first place has served only to distract attention from what ACNA claims to be about and prolong the bitterness. That said, the language of reconciliation employed here simply does not comport with reality. If you simply wish to reclaim all parish buildings, then say so. If you wish to extract a "fair market value," then say that.

While I recognize that the Standing Committee embraces a wide spectrum of theological opinion, those of you actively involved in the work of the pre-realignment diocese understand what drove realignment, even if you disagreed with the strategy.To say that "you do not wish to punish" is frankly patronizing (I fear there is no other word), particularly given the fact that such reassurance should be entirely unnecessary if you are simply carrying out a "fiduciary duty." More to the point, you know that for many in Pittsburgh the time for the accomplishment of "fruitful things" has long since passed. It may perhaps be achievable by the right people at the right place and time, but members of the realigned diocese are not the right people and this is not the right place and time for them.

Some of us had hoped to be able to create a framework in which there could continue to be relationships across the Episcopal/Anglican divide, perhaps the only place in the United States where conditions favored such a strategy. The severing of bonds between clergy who have worked together for years is particularly sad. I will not claim that there have been no statements or actions from the other side that have accentuated the present unpleasantness, but I confidently predict that a letter of this sort will formalize the divide in perpetuity. For some on Standing Committee that may be no great loss, but not, I suspect, for all.

Sincerely, Jeremy Bonner, PhD, Trinity Cathedral


AeroAnglican said...

I had real problems with this letter as well. Nicely done. Hope they read it and take a hint.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this, Jeremy. Very thoughtful, well-written, and I hope (for all our sakes) that it is listened to.


Ethan Magness+

Gary said...

Sorry, but your nicely written letter is entirely unpersuasive. No matter what pieties that may be expressed, the attempt to take Episcopal Church property with you is theft, pure and simple. We undoubtedly have our theological differences. I regard the accusations against the Episcopal Church, for its alleged failure to maintain traditional values, to simply represent code words for homophobia and bigotry. Anyone who wants to leave the Episcopal Church and start their own church to practice bigotry is welcome to do so. However, you must start your church with property which has not been stolen from the Episcopal Church.

Jeremy Bonner said...


I would point out that I have always had my issues with claiming property. I did not make the claim that the Episcopal Diocese had no legal claim but merely deplored the absence of pragmatism and grace. To me "theft, pure and simple" is as tendentious an assertion as are the suggestions from some in ACNA that the recent legal decision is "unfair."

The historical realities are that few in the 19th century would have imagined a parish or diocese leaving with their property but equally few would have imagined The Episcopal Church taking such actions as to place it so at variance with its sisters and brothers in the wider Communion.

The tone of the letter that I critiqued was ill-judged and legalistic and I said so. If you read the posting above this one, you will see that I have also challenged my own side to act with pragmatism and grace.

I do think it's interesting that both sides aren't falling over themselves to be more generous to each other. After all, if the Presiding Bishop had kept faith with the Dar-es-Salaam Communique (which she signed) there would have been no realignment in the first place. What price a sovereign national church if this is to be the end point.