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Friday, February 11, 2011

Realignment and St. Paul’s Kittanning

St. Paul’s Kittanning PA
Its Been Three Years:
Reflecting Back

Three years ago next week Gale and I were called into the Bishop’s Office. It was a dreary, cold, damp, gray Tuesday morning when I received a phone call from the Bishop informing me that charges of “sexual harassment” had been leveled against me. I was shocked and stunned. I hadn’t a clue of who could have said such a thing and what I had done. Confused and fearful, Gale and traveled to Pittsburgh for a 4:00 PM appointment. We entered the Bishop’s office to find Bishop Duncan and Canon Mary Hays. The bishop handed me a cover letter written by the Senior Warden and a listing of eight examples of how I had failed as a pastor written by the church organist. Included were two instances of my using “inappropriate language” with the organist during private conversations at lunch. He claimed I had challenged his sexuality. Oh well –so much for joking around with the organist. As a result I was asked to take a three month paid leave of absence from the parish for reflection, healing and, hopefully, restoration.

I felt betrayed by the Senior Warden whom I had just appointed three weeks before. Why didn’t he come to me first before going to the bishop? I felt “sucker punched” by the organist whom I had hired just five months before. Fortunately most of the list of pastoral failures were items in which the bishop and the canon were already aware of from my perspective well before Gale and I came to the meeting. They were conflicts or challenges of which I had been involved in pastoring a highly dysfunctional parish with a long troubled history of dysfuntionality.

What has become clear to me over the past three years was a lot of this was a dysfunctional way of working out fear of realignment in a divided parish. I was a strong proponent of realignment and a leader in the diocese to do so. The Senior Warden was torn about it. In fact unbeknownst to me at the time, he had contacted one of the prominent “conservative” clergy who was part of the opposition to realignment for advice. The organist and the Senior Warden had become fast friends at this time and so they “cooked” up a plan to stop St. Paul’s Church from realigning by sidelining me, the leader of the parish. And it worked!

During my three month leave of absence, it became clear to the bishop and to me that my time a rector of Kittanning would be coming to a close. I resigned effective June 1, 2008. I had served over ten years as rector. Of the 28 rectors in the parish’s history I had the third longest tenure in service and was about a year shy of having the second longest tenure. Sadly most of the renewal of the parish of which I had labored for years and years was undone by the organist as soon as I departed. The projector and screen were removed from the nave. The electronic keyboard was removed from the chancel and all the praise music was exorcised from the music files.

In October 2008 the vestry fired the interim rector appointed by Bishop Duncan and appointed a TEC loyalist ensuring their fate. Early in December on the strength of a 4 to 1 vote, the vestry voted to remain in TEC and not realign with the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. I found it ironic that the future history of St. Paul’s was decided by four people in the parish. Within months of the vote the Senior Warden, the organist, the TEC appointed interim, a third of the vestry and 50% of the congregation left the parish including many of the strongest leaders, the young families and the newest attendees.

Had I been able to stay would the parish have realigned? Possibly but with some of the same loss only from the other side. One positive result is that my friend the Rev. John Bailey at St. Andrew’s New Kensington has gained many new members and at least two vestrymen from the exodus at St. Paul’s

On June 15, 2008 I began as priest-in-charge of St. David’s Anglican Church in Peters Township PA. It has been a parish with much different challenges but it has been a great blessing in our lives.

Has realignment cost me? Yes it has, but it is worth every bit of the cost knowing I have followed where God has called. In my darkest days in the spring of 2008 I took strength from Romans 8:28. “All things work for good for those who love God and are called according to his purposes.”


  1. I'm touched by this, David, and I appreciate your openness. I understand some of the very tough historical and interpersonal dynamics that were present at St. Paul's, and it was clear to me during your years there that you were working faithfully to build a solid, Christ-centered ministry. There are a number of parishes on both sides of the present divide that suffered deep trauma through these past years--and often, in places that were already fragile or dealing with other kinds of imbalances, the stresses of the division exacerbated other pathologies. I do continue to pray for the ministry of St. Paul's. I think Kathy has been doing a good job there. But it will probably be years before the dust settles. As you comment, though there is much sadness in the story, God's continuing creativity keeps on keeping on, and from the mess comes something new as a blessing, in unexpected ways, at New Ken, and at St. David's . . . .

    In any event, just to say that I think we're still pretty much in the storm, and it will be a while before we really will be able to assess long-term what the effect of all this has had. Knowing that Jesus is victorious in the end, despite our failures, is reassuring . . . .

  2. Thanks Bruce. You are a wise and understanding pastor and a valued friend. I look forward to our lunch.