Pittsburgh votes to leave Episcopal Church, align with Southern Cone

Proponents, opponents move immediately towards reorganization
October 3, 2008

Deputies to the 143rd diocesan convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh October 4 voted 240-102 to leave the Episcopal Church.

 

Minutes later, in voice votes on three resolutions (Resolutions One, Two, and Three here), the deputies realigned the diocese with the Argentine-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone and set up some initial procedures for accomplishing that maneuver. The vote was the culmination of the diocese's continuing theological disputes with the Episcopal Church and many diocesan leaders later said the decision put the diocese in what they called "the Anglican mainstream."

Both those who supported realignment and those who opposed it outlined plans before the convention was adjourned to deal with the implications of the vote.

"We understand that one member of the Standing Committee remains, and once he determines that he is indeed the sole remaining member, he will appoint others to join in the leadership of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, in accordance with diocesan canons," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told ENS. "As the Ecclesiastical Authority, the Standing Committee will set a schedule for the reconvening of the Convention, electing members to fill offices, and eventually calling a bishop to serve in Pittsburgh. My office will work to provide support and counsel to Pittsburgh, in service to the leadership of the Ecclesiastical Authority."

That person, the Rev. James Simons, rector of St. Michael's of the Valley in Ligonier and chair of Across the Aisle, said after the votes that he would attempt to determine, by the end of next week, the status of other Standing Committee members and then make the appointments Jefferts Schori described. He predicted a convention to elect an interim bishop would be held before the end of the year.

"All of us who remain in the Episcopal Church will look after those who are suffering because of this split," he told a news conference outside St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Monroeville. "We will find someone to minister to us as a bishop. We will be recognized by the national church. We will have a diocese, and it will be healthy and faithful."

Simons also issued a letter to the members of the diocese, explaining the actions he and others will take.

Simons said at least 17 of the diocese's 74 congregations will not realign, predicting that another eight to 11 may follow. "And we know that many individuals -- in some cases large groups -- will be joining us from congregations that realign," he added.

The Pittsburgh Standing Committee announced that it will convene a special convention November 7 to elect a new bishop -- presumably Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, who was deposed two weeks ago.

Duncan and the Standing Committee were prepared for a positive vote for realignment. There were Southern Cone licenses available for all clergy, who were not required that day to decide whether to take the licenses. Deputies were urged to take home to their parishes at least 100 copies of a glossy tri-fold brochure titled "Realignment Realities: What You Need to Know."

According to one of the realignment resolutions, parishes will have two years to decide whether to remain in the realigned diocese.

Simon predicted those alignment decisions will happen sooner rather than later. "We pray for our brothers and sisters as they decide where they stand, just as we pray for those who have left," he said. "We will always welcome anyone -- at any time -- who wishes to bear faithful witness to Jesus Christ in a reorganized Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh."

Presiding Bishop: Episcopalians 'intensely grieved'
Jefferts Schori said she believes that "the vast majority of Episcopalians and Anglicans will be intensely grieved by the actions of individuals who thought it necessary to remove them from The Episcopal Church."

"I have repeatedly reassured Episcopalians that there is abundant room for dissent within this Church, and that loyal opposition is a long and honored tradition within Anglicanism. Schism is not, having frequently been seen as a more egregious error than charges of heresy," she said.

"There is room in this Church for all who desire to be members of it. The actions of the former bishop of Pittsburgh, and some lay and clergy leaders, have removed themselves from this Church; the rest of the Church laments their departure. We stand ready to welcome the return of any who wish to rejoin this part of the Body of Christ.

"We will work with remaining Episcopalians in Pittsburgh to provide support as they reorganize the Diocese and call a bishop to provide episcopal ministry. The people of The Episcopal Church hold all concerned in our prayers -- for healing and comfort in time of distress, and for discernment as they seek their way into the future.

"The mission of God, in which The Episcopal Church participates, is to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We cannot do one without doing the other. We believe that it is in serving the least among us that we discover the image of God, and the presence of a suffering Christ. It is in serving those least that we rediscover our common mission, which transcends our differences. Jesus weeps at the bickering of his brothers and sisters, particularly when they miss him in their midst."

Duncan greeted the convention after the realignment votes with "hola" (the Spanish greeting) and said Southern Cone Archbishop Gregory Venables had made him "episcopal commissary" to the Diocese of Pittsburgh. That announcement was met with scattered laughter at first, followed closely by loud applause and a standing ovation. From the beginning of the convention, Duncan, who has been called "senior consultant to the diocese" since his deposition, sat in the chancel of St. Martin's near where officials were conducting business.

At a later news conference Duncan said that the 119-69 vote in the lay order and 121-33 vote among the clergy made for "remarkable margins" of approval.

"More important still for us as a family of Christians was the way in which we did our work this morning," he said. "It was graceful and charitable. There was no rudeness or unseemliness. Everyone understood the seriousness of what we were doing, understood that the whole world was watching and that we wanted to show ourselves to be Christian people who followed Jesus in a way that speaks of his charity, his grace and his love."

Realignment took four votes to complete
The convention's process of voting to leave the Episcopal Church began with approving the second and final reading of a resolution to remove from the diocese's constitution references to the Episcopal Church and language acceding to the Episcopal Church's Constitution and Canons as the church's constitution requires. A change to Article 1, Section 1 makes the diocese "a constituent member of the Anglican Communion" rather than the Episcopal Church.

The vote was conducted by orders on paper ballots, resulting in the totals that Duncan noted.

After the results of the vote were announced, the Rev. Harold Lewis, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh, led his deputies in walking out of the convention after telling the chair that it "can no longer participate in this convention."

During the 20 minutes of debate before the constitutional vote, the Rev. Kristian Opat, a transitional deacon at St. Paul's Episcopal Church Mount Lebanon, said that he could not vote for realignment. "I refuse to believe that the Spirit who guides the Church is behind this fracture," he said.

Edith Humphrey, a member of Church of the Ascension in Oakland, Pennsylvania, and a seminary instructor, criticized what she claimed were theological innovations in the Episcopal Church.

"Will you rest in a dying body that preaches inclusion without transformation?" she asked, urging deputies to choose instead to live in Christ's body.

The Rev. Philip Wainwright, St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Brentwood, told the convention that "many of the leaders in the Episcopal Church are among the lost" whom Jesus calls his followers to rescue. He suggested that those with doubts about how to vote should consider that perhaps Jesus was calling them to stay within the Episcopal Church to rescue the lost.

"If the gates of Hell cannot prevail against the church, then a gay bishop and those who consecrated him certainly cannot either," he said.

Included in the three voice votes on realignment was a resolution simply proclaiming the Southern Cone affiliation. Another gives all the parishes in the diocese at least 24 months to sign onto the realignment or separate from the diocese in a manner "consistent with all legal obligations, and consistent with the settlement of debts and other diocesan interests related to the parish property or assets." The resolution pledges that such negotiations "shall be undertaken with Christian grace and charity."

A third realignment resolution notes that neither the constitution and canons of the diocese or the Southern Cone address "certain matters of administration, discipline and order that would benefit from a written and publicly available set of policies." Deputies thus adopted the Episcopal Church's Constitution and Canons as "advisory policies" until the diocese can develop such language. The resolution warned that the adoption "should in no way be interpreted to suggest that The Episcopal Church has any authority over the Diocese, any Parish of the Diocese, or any Clergy of the Diocese."

Property concerns raised
Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, long opposed to the diocesan leadership's plans and a part of the Across the Aisle coalition, said that in the midst of the sadness caused by the realignment decision, it was worried about the status of diocesan property.

"We hope that the involvement of the courts in resolving distribution of parish property can be minimized," said Kenneth Stiles, a local attorney and a PEP vice president. "Clearly, the continuing diocese and everyone in it, those who have chosen to 'realign,' and The Episcopal Church itself are all interested parties that must resolve parish property issues. As much as possible, we hope to preserve the possibility of a future reconciliation between the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and at least some of the departing congregations."

Property held by or administered by the Pittsburgh diocese is now being overseen by a "special master" appointed by the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas two days before Duncan's deposition. Pittsburgh attorney Stanley E. Levine and the Campbell & Levine law firm are to prepare and inventory, and "advise the court as to any alleged violations" of an October 2005 court order meant to protect the property for the mission of the church.

"We will negotiate fairly with congregations for what's best and right, considering that stake the diocese has and what stake they have," Duncan said in the post-convention news conference, adding that "in many cases, we don't have any historic stake in the property" but that in some the diocese built the churches.

Pittsburgh became the second diocese of the Episcopal Church's 110 dioceses in which a majority of the leadership has accepted a November 2007 invitation from the Southern Cone's synod to welcome into the province "on an emergency and pastoral basis" Episcopal Church dioceses "taking appropriate action to separate from The Episcopal Church." The Southern Cone has about 22,000 members and encompasses Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.

The former leadership of the Diocese of San Joaquin accepted the Southern Cone's offer in December. The remaining Episcopalians are reorganizing the diocese with the help of the wider church. Two other dioceses, Quincy and Fort Worth, will put similar questions to their dioceses during their conventions in November. Quincy's resolutions are here and Fort Worth's is here.

At the beginning of the convention, deputies admitted (Resolution A located here) four new parishes to the diocese, all of which supported the realignment move about three hours later. The move came despite an objection that the four parishes submitted by-laws in which they agree to accede to the constitution and the canons of both the diocese and the Episcopal Church.

 

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