Talk of ‘provision’ as Pittsburgh votes to secede

by
08 November 2007

by Pat Ashworth

Secession debate: the Revd Brad Wilson addresses the Pittsburgh diocesan convention last Friday PA

Secession debate: the Revd Brad Wilson addresses the Pittsburgh diocesan convention last Friday PA

THE diocese of Pittsburgh has voted to start the process of amending its constitution so that it can secede from the Episcopal Church in the United States and align with another Anglican province.

The resolution, passed by a clergy vote of 109 to 24 and a deputies vote of 118 to 58, has no effect unless a second vote goes the same way next year. It "signifies an intention, gives a warning, opens a possibility, introduces a period of preparation for anticipated consequences", said the Bishop, the Rt Revd Robert Duncan, in his address.

He cited "a growing acceptance in the diocese that our differences are presently irreconcilable, and that, for most, realignment of the diocese with another province of the Communion . . . would be preferable to carrying on the fruitless effort of continued federation with the Episcopal Church.

". . . A charitable and gracious provision for the minority to stay within the realigned fellowship of the Episcopal diocese of Pittsburgh or to be given freedom to separate from us and align more directly with the wider Episcopal Church has also emerged as a course for which there is, I believe, a strengthening consensus."

The matter came down to "an unavoidable choice between two cultures", he told those who might be wavering. The culture of the Episcopal Church was "theologically innovative, at the edge of mainstream Christianity, secularly attuned, declining, canonically fundamentalist, and ready to sue and depose to obtain its way". Pittsburgh, on the other hand, was, "Scripturally centred, critiquing the secular agenda, among the fastest (and few) growing dioceses of the Episcopal Church (relative to population decline), focused on congregational mission, allowing vast freedoms in the form and manner of ministry".

Bishop Duncan spoke of his growing conviction that "the things we presently hold in common need to continue to be administered for the good of all, even if we find ourselves in two different Anglican provinces at the end of the day. . .

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"I intend to challenge the Cathedral Chapter . . . to make plans for how our cathedral can continue to serve all of us - and all of the community - in the separated future that lies ahead. Magnanimity and grace can characterise our future, if we choose it."

The Presiding Bishop, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, renewing her offer of an Episcopal Visitor, wrote to him before the convention, warning him that the proposed resolutions would violate the constitutional requirement that the diocese conform to the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church.

She called on the Bishop to "recede from this direction and to lead your diocese on a new course that recognises the interdependent and hierarchical relationship between the national Church and its dioceses," and warned: "If your course does not change, I shall regrettably be compelled to see that appropriate canonical steps are promptly taken to see whether you have abandoned the communion of this Church . . . and whether you have committed canonical offences that warrant disciplinary action."

Bishop Duncan responded: "Dear Katharine. Here I stand. I can do no other. I will neither compromise the Faith once delivered to the saints, nor will I abandon the sheep who elected me to protect them. Pax et bonum in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, a group which wants to remain in the Episcopal Church, described the vote as "tragic" and one that could lead only to pain, increased litigation, and charges being filed against Bishop Duncan under the disciplinary canons of the Church.

 "It becomes clear . . . that he expects both to leave the Episcopal Church and remain in control of its assets, which he would then generously offer to share with those he had dispossessed."

English bishops back Duncan over warning letter

THE BISHOPS of Chester, Chichester, Exeter, and Rochester issued a statement on Tuesday in support of the Rt Revd Robert Duncan, the Bishop of Pittsburgh, after the warning letter sent to him by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori.

She wrote to Bishop Duncan on Wednesday of last week, asking him to lead his diocese "on a new course that recognises the interdependent and hierarchical relationship between the national Church and its dioceses and parishes" (see above).

If his course did not change, she wrote, "I shall regrettably be compelled to see that appropriate canonical steps are promptly taken to consider whether you have abandoned the Communion of this Church . . . and whether you have committed canonical offences that warrant disciplinary action."

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The English bishops' statement, which was instigated by the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, read: "We deeply regret the increase in the atmosphere of litigiousness revealed by the Presiding Bishop's letter to Bishop Duncan. At this time, we stand with him and with all who respond positively to the Primates' Dar es Salaam requests. We hope the Archbishop's response to Bishop John Howe of Central Florida will also apply to Bishop Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh."

The Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, said on Tuesday that the statement gave personal support to Bishop Duncan. He described the Presiding Bishop's letter as "aggressive, inappropriate, and unfortunate". "They are acting as if it is the OK Corral. This is the North American culture: it is a managerial rather than a pastoral approach."

Dr Forster emphasised that issuing the statement did not imply support for decisions taken at the Pittsburgh diocesan convention.

When asked whether the Presiding Bishop was within her rights to act as she had done, Dr Forster said that if a whole diocese voted to realign with another province, that needed to be addressed on its own terms. "I'm not sure simply saying 'It's illegal' is the best way to produce some healing. What's needed is a pastoral, healing approach, which attempts to find a way forward."

Bishop Duncan is "holding out the prospect of those who wish to stay doing so, and promises to be fair and generous in his dealings with them. I think I'm asking for a similar fairness and generosity from the Episcopal Church towards those parishes who do want to leave," said Dr Forster.

He also commented on the Archbishop of Canterbury's response to the Bishop of Central Florida, the Rt Revd John Howe (News, 26 October) - that any diocese compliant with Windsor remained in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Anglican Communion, and that the organ of union with the wider Church was the bishop and the diocese rather than the provincial structure. "Part of the Archbishop's comment is that these are matters for the bishop and the diocese. They are the primary unit.

"That doesn't give a diocese the right to do what it wants willy-nilly, but there has to be a fundamental respect, it seems to me, if a diocese says, 'We wish to align with a different province,'" Dr Forster said.

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