Sunday, November 08, 2009

Like A Mighty Army Moves the Church of God: Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh Convention, November 7, 2009

From across southwestern Pennsylvania (and beyond) American Anglicans flocked to their first convention as – explicitly – the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh (a nonprofit corporation bearing that name now exists). St. Stephen’s, Sewickley, may be commodious but, even so, space was at a premium.

Morning Prayer brought an ironic twist, when the second lesson – Revelation 17, no less – was presented by means of an audiovisual Bible series, with interesting special effects and a voiceover read by none other than John Guest. As far as I could tell the sage of Grove Farm was not physically present (though he was at Monroeville in 2008) but to hear that mellifluous English accent recounting the vision of the Whore of Babylon and the Beast with seven heads and ten horns was unusual, to say the least. Coupled with the other assigned passage from Ezra on the sin of the Israelites in intermarrying with the peoples of the land, one couldn’t help but wonder about the way the lectionary can sometimes fall.

The first order of business was to bring before the assembly the new parishes seeking admission. These included Harvest Anglican Fellowship in Homer City, which drew its first members from members of the congregations in Blairsville and Indiana who rejected the latter’s decision not to realign; the largely African-American Church of the Transfiguration in Cleveland, Ohio; St. James in San Jose, California, whose members left St. Edward’s Episcopal this spring and who have a vision to plant a diocese in the San Francisco Bay area (an endeavor, Archbishop Duncan remarked, in which Pittsburghers should be glad to cooperate); and Holy Trinity in Raleigh, North Carolina, launched in 2004 but the fruit of twenty-five years of visioning by Garland Tucker, and now one of the larger parishes in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, with a membership of around 300.

Archbishop Duncan then introduced two visitors from the Province of Tanzania, noting the connection forged by Alfred Stanway as Tanzanian missionary bishop and later as president of Trinity School for Ministry. There was an enduring connection, he said between the East African Revival and the renewal movement in western Pennsylvania. Bishop John Lupaa brought greetings from his Archbishop and from the 100,000 Christians in 263 churches in the Rift Valley. “I love the Lord,” he told delegates, “the Lord is my Savior and I am serving Him.” Bishop Jacob Chimeledya of the Diocese of Mpwapwa (the father of five children aged from 32 to 3½), whose diocese encompasses 500 congregations, described how, at a recent prayer meeting, healing was given to two people suffering from blindness. He praised the formation of ACNA, saying it had encouraged the churches in Africa after they had lost faith in The Episcopal Church.

Canon Missioner Mary Hays then rose to address the issues of “clergy, church planting and confession.” Pittsburgh’s clergy, she said, are a remarkable group of men and women who have made many sacrifices, not least the recent indignity of being “released” from ordained ministry. She quoted a recent e-mail from a clergyperson who wrote: “It is a great honor to serve among these presbyters at this momentous time in the Church.” On church planting, she recalled the words of Bob Logan ten years ago that anyone can plant a church. Today we have begun to recognize that it’s not a case of either preserving small congregations or planting new ones, but that the latter only strengthen the former. Yesterday the Archbishop had called for 1,000 new churches in the United States in five years and everyone had a part to play in this venture, whether in prayer, funding-raising, spiritual gift discernment or something greater. “It’s time for us not to be cozy or comfortable,” she concluded, adding that, from the point of view of “confession,” we needed to acknowledge that “we’re a part of the reason we’re in this mess.” If that were not so, church planting would have been taking place to a much greater degree in the past decade.

As if to reinforce this admonition, there followed introductions of extra-parochial clergy, who included the leader of a student group in Amherst, Massachusetts (who, brave woman, has the Fairfield brothers, Andrew and Leslie, as part of her team); a recently ordained Canadian clergywoman, whose orders are not recognized by the Anglican Church of Canada; Tom Herrick of the Titus Institute for Church Planting, a former employee of the Anglican Communion Network; ACNA’s first VA chaplain, serving in West Virginia and helping families reintegrate after the return of members of the military from active service; the pastor of Cleveland’s Church of the Transfiguration who prayed to God for months to send the congregation a priest only eventually to get the message “I’m trying”; and David Bane, former Bishop of Southern Virginia, who ultimately discovered he was no longer welcome in the church in which both he and his father has served. Perhaps most striking was the testimony of Father Vincent Raj of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Salinas, California. A priest in the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real (he just retired from the Board of Trustees) Father Raj was at Plano in 2003 and described how he had struggled to hold on his catholic roots from which TEC had now severed him. He was here to commit to ACNA and Archbishop Duncan. A short while later, Canon Daryl Fenton, just back from a trip to Myanmar, brought greetings from that nation. The challenges we face here, he pointed out, are very small compared to those who have nothing but “faith and guts.”

From such heights we passed to the more prosaic matter of the budget. The major shift, as noted in my pre-convention report, is the adoption of the biblical tithe as the standard for giving by parishes to the diocese (as is already the standard for diocesan giving to the province). This was adopted unanimously, although a priest from Atonement, Carnegie, urged that an absolute biblical tithe (not a tithe based on an average of the past three years’ income) be the norm. Jonathan Millard, rector of Church of the Ascension and member of the Standing Committee, then reported that the “Staying Faithful” fund had just received a $300,000 donation, together with a pledge of $200,000 in matching funds from someone not associated with the diocese. He added that the Standing Committee had consulted widely and prayed and fasted before reaching their decision to appeal Judge James’s decision and had noted the admonition of many of the need to “take a stand” on something that is “manifestly unfair,” citing the possible threat posed by the decision to parish – not just diocesan – property. (Interestingly, two other members of Standing Committee spoke to me privately about my letter regarding the appeal and told me of their conviction that this action was also necessary as a way of giving voice to the rights of those in even less friendly jurisdictions.)

Back in October, I was struck by the presence of Don Green of Christian Associates of Southwestern Pennsylvania (the local ecumenical association) at the TEC diocesan convention and yet today here he was again, with the timely reminder that the past year had not been an easy journey for us or “our sisters and brothers” in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. He commended the fact that the Archbishop continued to attend ecumenical gatherings and contribute to the work of finding ways to give public witness to a common faith. He noted the pending admission of the Church in God in Christ and the Mennonites to Christian Associates next year and the work of the Allegheny Jail Ministry, which had cut recidivism rates from 65% to 16%.

Three resolutions now stood before convention and in the first I took direct personal interest. Entitled “The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh – Who We are in Christ,” it affirmed the Jerusalem Declaration as a summary of the essentials of our faith and pledged submission to the leadership of the GAFCON membership “as we look to our future as an orthodox and missionary movement in world Anglicanism.” On seeing the text, I was struck by the omission of any reference to the Anglican Covenant and so drafted an amendment that read as follows:

And be it further resolved that, in harmony with the resolution of the ACNA Provincial Council of June 22, 2009, we express our continued willingness to subscribe to the un-amended Ridley Cambridge Draft of the Anglican Covenant.

In retrospect, it may be that I overestimated the potential for opposition (especially as the sponsor Geoff Chapman afterwards told me that he would have accepted it as a friendly amendment), but so much of what I have read of late has been phrased as if the Jamaica debacle ended any meaningful possibility of change, so I pitched my advocacy in terms of catholic responsibility and the possibility that the Archbishop who is ultimately responsible for implementing the Covenant may not be the present incumbent. Archbishop Duncan then stated that he had been responsible for the provincial council resolution and that – since the amendment referred to the original Ridley Cambridge Draft (with its disciplinary language) - he would “enthusiastically” support it. In response to a request from the floor for the context of the draft, he gave a very polished account of how events since 2003 had led to the Covenant, noting further that it had originally been conceived among the proposals in "To Mend the Net." The resolution passed unanimously.

A second resolution upholding the sanctity of life was introduced by Becky Spanos, 30 years after the first such resolution was adopted in Pittsburgh. Throughout that period, she said, NOEL had tried to change the culture of the Episcopal Church and failed. While some of the language in the resolution might seem stark, “we can’t abort forty million more babies,” particularly when there are so many resources available for parents in need. Co-sponsor Tara Jernigan added that the resolution was the result of many parochial consultations in which she had been asked for the church teaching on this issue. The resolution passed unanimously.

Finally, a courtesy resolution celebrating the work of last year’s Celebrate 250 organizers and of retiring archivist Lynne Wohleber was adopted, and a standing ovation offered, at the prompting of David Wilson, to long-term diocesan historiographer Father John Leggett.

The final business concerned revisions to Constitution and Canons, many of them simply reflecting the shift from TEC to ACNA, with the significant change that all parish property is to be vested solely in the parish corporation. The only debate came over the wisdom of leaving the shelter of the Southern Cone, as far as Anglican identity was concerned, to which Archbishop Duncan responded that Archbishop Venables had encouraged him to embrace the new ACNA framework, but would keep clergy on the Southern Cone books in a form of “dual citizenship” as a safety measure. As vicar general for Archbishop Venables for North America, the link with Canterbury would be maintained, and he would attend the Synod of the Southern Cone next year for the election of Archbishop Venables’ successor. A motion of thanks to the Southern Cone for their hospitality was approved.

A note should here be given of the “multiplication minutes” – short presentations of innovative types of ministry that serve to build up the Body of Christ – that occurred throughout regular business. From St. Philip’s, Moon Township, came news of the new “mission-shaped communities” (MSC) composed of roughly 40 members (small enough for clear vision and large enough for action). An outgrowth of Alpha, they provided the first opportunity for service for many new Christians and in Moon had chosen to focus on reaching children and young adults with physical and emotional needs. From St. Christopher’s, Cranberry, came word of how a congregation with around eighty members had discerned its calling to plant in an area of rapid population increase not one church of 500 people but five churches of 100. From the conveners of the ecumenical Kairos Ministry came news of cursillo adapted to a prison context and the urge to “plant” a church within a penitentiary. After four years, other country jails had observed the results and were asking Kairos teams to come in. Take your best men’s cursillo, one of the priests involved (who testified to conversion from ten years of intravenous drug use) attested and multiply that by one hundred. Their converts included several Muslims and even one follower of Wicca. Finally, from Grace Anglican in Slippery Rock, news of raising up almost a dozen future priests, all but one under twenty-five. “There’s nothing more powerful,” declared the rector Ethan Magness, “than when anthropology and Christology connect with Calvary.”

I have been writing these accounts of Pittsburgh diocesan conventions since 2006. I rather suspect this will be my last for now. I trust that all you who have followed my progress have enjoyed my selections and have been appropriately edified. For this historian it has been a truly remarkable ride.

9 comments:

Dan Crawford said...

Jeremy,

What a wonderful summary. I do pray you will stay in the Diocese and continue your work here.

Bruce Robison said...

Thank you, Jeremy. Wonderfully done. No matter where you are, we'll all need to bring you back year after year as Official Recorder . . . .

I'm glad to hear that things went so well with the work of Convention, and that the spirit was positive and forward-looking. And I'm especially glad to hear that "both dioceses" are now on board for continued engagement with the Anglican Covenant process . . . .

BruceR

Jeremy Bonner said...

Dan,

Thanks for your kind words. When my wife receives her doctorate next year, we anticipate spending a few years in England to be near my parents. Whether or not we return permanently to Pittsburgh is probably going to be governed by opportunities for employment.

Regardless, I doubt if Pittsburgh (and its two dioceses) will ever be out of mind, even if it is out of sight.

Bruce,

Yes. I achieved what I set out to do and hope that in the long sweep of salvation history it will count for something.

Perhaps Bishop Chimeledya's account of those healed from blindness is something from which we can all derive meaning: that all need healing; that it is a divine gift; and that it's most often achieved corporately. The stories from the multiplication minutes tell their own tale, but you and your colleagues could speak of similar transformations in your parochial contexts. And, as a contemplative yourself, you can attest all too well to the power of personal prayer, a quality in which I still consider myself to be seriously deficient.

David Wilson+ said...

Jeremy

I echo but Dan and Bruce's sentiments completely. You've served us and the Lord well and faithfully in difficult times. Your tome on the history of the Diocese proudly graces my bookshelf and this morning I just loaned it out (with the admonition it must be returned) to one of my convention deputies who is also a member of the diocesan board of Trustees.

Jeremy Bonner said...

Thanks David,

I've enjoyed even our sparring across the T19 boards. God bless your ministry.

Ken Herbst said...

Jeremy,
Well done. I have truly enjoyed your comments and candid thoughts on the things happening here. Blessings.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy,

Faithful account of the convention, with one exception. The second resolution did not pass unanimously: there were at least 4 "no" votes and at least 1 abstention.

Good luck to you and your wife, wherever you land.

Jeremy Bonner said...

Ken,

Glad to be of service.

Anonymous,

Thank you.

Just shows that what one hears depends on where one sits (physically and otherwise).

Henry said...

Jeremy,
Thanks for your account of the convention. It's good to read the c comments too. Best wishes to Jennifer for the final studies and come and see us when you are in the Oxford area. Henry