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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Group Called TOTTR

I wrote this piece in 2009 and came across it again today. Folks involved in the recent history of the Diocese of Pittsburgh might find it interesting --thinking especially of Jeremy Bonner a Pittsburgh based historian who wrote the most recent history of the Diocese in 2009.

Name and Brief History: The name TOTTR was originally coined early in the group’s life by the evangelical Episcopal clergymen who had begun meeting in the Diocese of Pittsburgh for support, prayer and ecclesiastical planning. Shortly after beginning to meet, the Bishop of Pittsburgh, Alden M. Hathaway, upon learning about the formation of the group, exclaimed in a fit of jocularity, “Thunder on the Theological Right!” Hence the acronym TOTTR was adopted by the group as a moniker.

TOTTR as a group of clergy had been called together in the mid-1980s by William D. “Mike” Henning, then Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministry at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. Besides Mike the group was comprised of John H. Rodgers, Jr., Dean of Trinity School; Christopher Leighton, Rector of St. David’s, Peters Twp.; Mark Lawrence, Rector of St. Stephen’s McKeesport; Scott Quinn, Rector of Church of the Nativity, Crafton; and Jim Simons, Rector of St. Michael’s in the Valley Ligonier.

Callings to new ministries, over the years, changed the composition of the group. Original members John Rodgers, Scott Quinn and Jim Simons remained active when the group disbanded in September 2008. A major defining passage in the group’s history was the sad, untimely demise and death of Mike Henning due to stomach cancer in the late summer of 1994. In 1995 Jeff Mikita was elected to join TOTTR. The election of Jeff, newly ordained, was part of a strategy to disciple younger clergymen for future leadership roles in the Diocese. Jeff was the first clergyman of the group to leave TEC. He returned to the church of his childhood, the Orthodox Church and was re-ordained as an Orthodox priest a few years after joining.

From the late 1990s through its disbanding in 2008 TOTTR nominated or supported the nomination of every person, lay and ordained, elected to the diocesan Board of Trustees, to the Standing Committee, and as a General Convention Deputy. TOTTR also developed and implemented a strategy within the electing convention to insure the election of a conservative bishop in 1995.

A divergence of opinion in the group began in the fall of 2004 over the future of our evangelical witness within the Episcopal Church. Could we grow or even maintain such a witness in face of the liberal ascendancy and the onslaught of revisionism in TEC? At a meeting in the fall of 2004 all ten members agreed that TEC had no ability to reform itself but we differed however on whether to support George Werner in the upcoming diocesan elections for the General Convention deputation. In an interview as President of the House of Deputies George stated he had voted to consent to the election of the openly homosexual, Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire. Only three of the members pledged to support George. George was not elected as a deputy or alternate.

The divergence surfaced again in the spring of 2007 over the issue of diocesan realignment. Six members supported separating from TEC and four members did not. TOTTR tried to maintain group cohesion in the midst of these differences but the gulf between the re-aligners and the non re-aligners widened. Increasingly the two factions acted more and more independently. The group decided after a particularly painful gathering in May 2008 to cease meeting. A farewell dinner was held at the Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier in September 2008

When the group ceased meeting its membership consisted of John, Scott, Jim, Geoff Chapman, Rector of St. Stephen’s Sewickley; Brad Wilson, Rector of Fox Chapel Episcopal Church; Jeff Murph, Rector of St. Thomas Oakmont; Peter Moore, retired Dean of Trinity School; Jim Shoucair, Rector of Christ Church North Hills, David Wilson, Rector of St. David’s, Peter’s Twp and Mark Zimmerman, Rector of Somerset Anglican Fellowship.

Purpose: The purpose of the group had been two-fold; to meet together 4-5 times per year for mutual support, edification and prayer and to work to maintain and expand a united evangelical witness and ministry in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, and in the wider Anglican Church.

Covenant: In order to accomplish the aforementioned purpose of TOTTR each member of the group pledged to maintain, as far as possible and under the grace of God, the following terms:

1. To attend the all mutually agreed upon gatherings from start to finish when able. "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching". (Hebrews 10:25)

2. To care for each other by prayer through spiritual, emotional, pastoral and physical support between and during our gatherings. "Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith". (1 Thess 3:10)

3. To come prepared to share personal, family and ministry cares, concerns, victories and defeats in an honest, open and transparent fashion. (In order to maintain an equitable time for each to share, this may mean committing our sharing points to paper beforehand.) "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace". (Ephesians 2:13-15)

4. To maintain as confidential all interactions unless released to do by the group or individual concerned."It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings". (Proverbs 25:2)

5. To agree to act in concert, when necessary, to maintain and expand a united evangelical witness and ministry in our diocese and the wider church. "He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it". (Titus 1:9) "I urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints". (Jude 3)

6. To pursue lives that are marked by Christian spiritual growth, especially by a whole-life surrender to the Lord Jesus, by holiness of character, by humility towards God, by faithfulness in family and ministry, and by genuine love towards all. "In our time together we will be ready to give and receive encouragement towards these ends. As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend". (Proverbs 27.17)

TOTR Roster

Original Members

Mike Henning – died 1994
John H. Rodgers, Jr. - ACNA Diocese Pgh
Christopher Leighton – left diocese 1994
Mark Lawrence – left diocese 1997
Scott Quinn – TEC Diocese Pgh
Jim Simons – TEC Diocese Pgh

Subsequent Members

Doug McGlynn – elected 1992, left diocese 2003
Brad Wilson – elected 1992, left diocese 2009
Jeff Mikita – elected 1995, left TEC 2000
Jeff Murph – elected 1995, TEC Diocese Pgh
Geoff Chapman – elected 1995, ACNA Diocese Pgh
Peter Moore – elected 1996, left diocese 2008
David Wilson – elected 2000, ACNA Diocese Pgh
Jim Shoucair – elected 2003, TEC Diocese Pgh
Mark Zimmerman - elected 2005, ACNA Diocese Pgh


Dr. Jeremy Bonner comments here

Rev. Philip Wainwright comments here


  1. David,

    Good to have this in the public domain.

    I've put up a post linking your entry with Catholic and Reformed.


  2. David:
    Thanks for post. I was not aware of this group. In my first incarnation in Pittsburgh - (76-78) we began a local FOW group with Andy Osmun, Phil Houghton and a few others - I think John Guest and John Yates came once or twice.

    My 2nd incarnation in Pitts (82-85) there was no such group as apparently formed somewhat later.


  3. Hi Jim
    I think it was formed soon after Christopher came to St. David's by which time you had left.

  4. I'd never heard of this group, David, and I'm wondering why it was a quasi-secret fellowship. Given that members were "invited", it seems almost Masonic.

    I saw Jeff Mikita several years ago at a gathering of Orthodox (OCA) clergy in Ambridge. He looked resplendent in cassock and full beard.

  5. Dan

    Not so much quasi-secret but certainly a low key group that didn't try and bring attention to itself and that mostly worked behind the scenes


  6. Just to note that Brad Wilson is still canonically resident in TEC Diocese of Pgh, even though he and Carol now live in friendlier winter climes . . . .


  7. well David, you didn't help anyone by bringing this public.

  8. Peter

    I disagree. I don't think it hurt anybody and I thinks it's an important part of the history of the Diocese and explains how and why things happened here as they did.

  9. David,
    My ecclesial roots were initially planted in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (although now I am in the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh), as I was confirmed by Bp. Hathaway many years ago. I know some of the people in your group and am sad that it was not able to bridge the recent division. However, God is still in charge of all, and I will pray that someday we may all (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican) be visibly united in the one Body of Christ.