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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Negotiating with TEC II - The Chess Match Continues

St James Church Makes Historic Move

St James Anglican Church in Penn Hills vacated their building and moved out it was announced by our Diocese yesterday. click here for story Ann Rodgers of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette covered the story in her usual very balanced way in this morning's edition of that paper here . The TEC Diocese weighs in their own way here; interestingly they announce an "evangelical" priest, Vicente Santiago, a former rector who stayed in TEC is returning. I'd love to see a report on how many folks actually show up on Sunday. My bet it will mainly folks from other TEC parishes who attend to show their support of the TEC Diocese. And TEC blogger Lionel Deimel gives his pravda-esque spin here (scroll down) especially note that he implies they may have vacated because of money problems "they couldn't afford it" -- heifer dust! They walked because they weren't going to pay twice for a building they paid for once already. They believe their money would be better spent on mission not on maintaining a fifty year old building that is failing apart and that has no visibility in the community. And Deimel's headline is a laugher as well, "Third Congregation Settles with Episcopal Diocese", they didn't settle anything with TEC - they vacated their building rather than settle. Talk about doublespeak!

The beat goes on! And it looks like it'll be a long hot summer.

UPDATE July 4,2011 - Lionel Deimel reports on St. James Episcopal Church's restart service on July 3. Click here.

No surprises: it was as I expected it to be. I think Lionel was somewhat optimistic of their future prospects . I also think his putting the word "Anglican" in quotes was a bit pointed as if the congregation that vacated was something other or less than that. Get real Lionel.


  1. Hope Fr. Santiago brings someone other than his wife with him.

  2. Unsure, David, about the full context of this. There really is no formal record, and it's just a matter of "who knows exactly what they were thinking?" Similarly the folks up in Warrendale/Cranberry seem to have decided to opt for a fresh start and so more or less abandoned the property without an effort to find a mutually agreeable settlement.

    I think it's clear that Doug+ and the congregation were anxious, but it is also clear that no one ever asked them to "pay twice" for the property--because in any event the St. James folks never sat down for such a conversation. To say that the current market value of the property is one of the pieces of information that needs to be ascertained in the course of a negotiated settlement does not mean that it will determine the terms of the settlement.

    For reasons that we might talk about the congregations of the East Suburbs (the Penn Hills, Verona, Monroeville, Murrysville) have struggled since at least the mid-1980's. Congregations in the suburban North, South, and West have done better. The aging Roman Catholic demographic of the Penn Hills and the growing edge of an African American community moving east from the East Hills do not seem to have been good "mission territory" for these congregations to this point. Though perhaps there will be new openings and a fresh spirit in the future.

    The Penn Hills congregation has been supported financially over many years by a few deeply loyal and generous families, but as the generational trajectory moves along as it inevitably will it's not clear that those resources would be sufficient to sustain and grow their ministry.

    So, all said, this was not a "settlement." The property of the Penn Hills church was on the roster of assets listed by the Special Master subject to the terms of the 2005 stipulation. That stipulation indicates that if congregations want to leave the Episcopal Diocese "as congregations," then they must enter into a negotiation with the diocese, and then that the terms of any settlement must be approved by the court. Doug+ and his leadership did their own calculus and decided what they decided. My prayer is that God will bless their ministry in the season ahead.

    What ministry will be able to continue from the traditional site of St. James Church I guess we'll need to see. The Episcopal Diocese certainly did not want to board the place up and leave all those 12-step groups, scout troops, etc., without a place to meet, and as yet we don't really know whether a congregation of some sort may not gather. If a few folks from neighboring congregations--including Highland Park--might drop in for worship for a Sunday or two over the summer, as a sign of support and fellowship, that seems like a kind and generous thing. I personally do know of several families "historically" members of St. James Church since the 1960's who for various reasons haven't attended much in recent years. Perhaps there might be an outreach to revive their interest--and perhaps Vicente's familiarity with the community will be a resource for new mission. I pray all God's blessings upon that initiative as well.

    I'm disappointed in my friend Dan's comment.

    Bruce Robison

  3. Thanks Bruce for your thoughts. I should have said "again" rather than "twice" on the money issue. And I also should have mentioned the Dennis Canon issue which Doug pointedly stressed in the Post Gazette and which quite pointedly the TEC Diocese, Lionel and you have not addressed

  4. The deal about the Dennis Canon is that the Episcopal Diocese is subject to its provisions and can reach no agreement which is contrary to its basic requirement that the officers of the diocese act as fiduciaries for the diocese.

    There is of course no prior assumption that fiduciaries must place financial concerns ahead of concerns about mission, ministry, spiritual integrity, values of Christian charity. Only that in the end they must affirm their belief that they have as officers of the Episcopal Diocese acted in what they understand to be the best interests overall of the diocese--which is what is required by the Dennis Canon.

    When I was president of the Standing Committee back in the early 2000's the diocese "sold" property in Aliquippa to the Church Army for use in its ministry. I think the price was $1. Now, an argument could have been made, even in Aliquippa, that the diocese could have gotten a better financial return on the open real estate market. Maybe $10, given the specifics of that case. But the principle is there. We decided that the best interests of the diocese would be served by this because the "best interests" of the diocese included a desire to provide Christian ministry and outreach in a distressed community. If we weren't equipped to do it, we were glad to see that someone else was, and to support them in that effort.

    Real estate and other assets are subject to this fiduciary trust, says the canon, and in any final agreement it makes sense that the Episcopal Diocese include language affirming awareness of that duty--if only to protect itself from charges that they acted to negotiate without reference to the duties described in the canon. Non-Episcopalians don't have any responsibility to fulfill the duties directed by the canon, but their signature at the bottom of an agreement would simply acknowledge their understanding that their partners in the agreement were acting in accordance with the duties prescribed for them in addressing the disposition of subject assets.

    That's my take, anyway.


  5. Interestingly, back maybe in 1998 or so I and we here at St. Andrew's were pleased to welcome the late Bishop Dennis as co-officiant at his niece's wedding. I hadn't met him before, but he was a most gracious and gentle and good humored man, and it was a pleasure to have him here.


  6. I understand your willingness to uphold the Dennis Canon and I can acknowledge but why are we required to do so in order to settle?

  7. I'm not a lawyer, David, but

    I believe the requirement is that both parties acknowledge that the disposition of the *assets* is subject to the fiduciary trust described in the Dennis Canon.

    Which is what, then, Judge James with the Special Master's list has *already* determined for us (unless the Supreme Court chooses to overturn his ruling) in reference to the Penn Hills property. For one. The title indicating "ownership" of that property is held by the Board of Trustees of the Episcopal Diocese, and in accordance with the Dennis Canon the Diocese *must* exercise its fiduciary duties in its disposition of that property.

    If the Anglican congregation refuses to acknowledge that the negotiation must be subject to the Dennis Canon, what they are actually saying is that they don't believe the Episcopal Diocese is the party they should need to negotiate with. I understand this feeling. But Judge James has determined differently.

    A precondition of negotiation, then, is essentially to acknowledge that it is taking place in compliance with the second paragraph of the 2005 stipulation. Congregations may leave the Episcopal Church as a matter of will. But congregations may "take their assets with them" only by negotiated agreement with the Episcopal Diocese acting in accordance with its diocesan bylaws and with the duties required of it by the Episcopal Church in the Dennis Canon.

    Bruce Robison

  8. The words Dennis Canon appear nowhere in the Stipulation agreement. It is the TEC Diocese not Judge James or us who want to assert its authority in this matter. Until the fiction that our diocese didn't realign and doesn't exist and somehow we are still part of your diocese and subject to your canons: these negotiations will go nowhere.

  9. I don't "want" to assert the authority of the canon. In fact I disagree with it and would be glad to vote to strike it from the books. But as an officer of the Episcopal Diocese I am bound to follow it in the meantime.

    My own "belief" is that both our dioceses "exist," that both are continuous from the diocese that existed prior to October, 2008, and that neither are exclusively continuous. Some of my Episcopal Diocese friends disagree with my take, as do some of my Anglican Diocese friends.

    I do not believe that members of the Anglican Diocese are subject to the canons of the Episcopal Church. Of course not. The courts have found, thus far, that whatever happened when the diocese realigned, what didn't happen is that the assets of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America could be held by any body other than the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America.

    As a matter of pragmatic reality the 2005 Stipulation as interpreted by the courts requires the Episcopal Diocese, and not the Anglican Diocese, to function as the referenced Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America in negotiation about parish assets, most especially those listed by the Special Master.

    And the Episcopal Diocese must conduct such negotiations in accordance with its fiduciary duties as defined in law and by the canons.

    I imagine the words "Dennis Canon" could be finessed--why not?--and the negotiation could just include a mutual acknowledgment that any successful resolution related to subject assets must be concluded in accordance with the canons of the Episcopal Church. That's not my call.


  10. St. George's Helmetia NJ and St. Andrew's Mt Pleasant SC come to mind amicable settlements

  11. Bruce's disappointment with my comment is justified, and I apologize.

  12. David -- I agree about New Jersey and South Carolina. Both negotiated settlements, by the way, in which the Episcopal Diocese acted in accordance with its fiduciary duties in the stewardship of the trust directed by the "Dennis Canon." I would be glad to see similar results in negotiations here.

    Dan -- Blessings. Hope you and Della and family will have a great Fourth of July weekend.


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  15. Yes he was. He disobeyed his bishop in getting re-married w/o the bishop's permission. He was inhibited for failure to respond to a godly admonition when Oct 4, 2008 occurred. The inhibition must have been lifted by TEC.

    Were those items given to Grace or loaned to you? What was your understanding when they were acquired?

  16. It is true that Vicente Santiago voluntarily accepted a one-year suspension. That period came to an end, and Acting Bishop Henry Scriven approved his restoration as a priest in good standing in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in October, 2008, just prior to the convention that led to the division of the diocese..

    I understand that in the past when churches have closed that, along with the essential parish records, many memorial items have gone to the diocesan archives--from which they may be lent for use in other congregations. Often these loans have been open-ended, but I believe the archives continues to account for them all in their inventory.

    I imagine there must be some provision in the bylaws governing the archives regarding "deaccession," but I don't know the specifics.

    It is unusual for a closed church to be reopened, and I imagine the idea of returning now to the parish in Barnsboro those items that had been deposited in the archives would make sense as a meaningful sign of continuity. That would seem gracious and neighborly. I don't know if the archives has a specific rule about lending, but perhaps if these items were returned for use in Barnsboro an additional request could accompany them asking if other similar items might be available for loan.

    It will be interesting to see what happens with these congregations. I imagine Deacon Staples, who has had a rich and important ministry and so many long relationships in the Northern Cambria area, may have some sense of whether a congregation can be gathered at St. Thomas Church. Knowing the area, I doubt that the picture is of a church plant leading to a large, self-sustaining program sized parish. But a meaningful presence for worship and outreach seems a possibility.

    So also Vicente Santiago, who was Doug's predecessor at St. James Church. I agree that it is unlikely that many or even any current members of the St. James congregation would be likely to "stay with the building." But there are a number of families in the Penn Hills/Verona area who have had historic links with St. James and with the Rosedale parish but who may not have been active in recent years, and some of them may wish to return now. I would imagine that it's all somewhat experimental, but I would pray for good ministry there, as I would continue to pray for the St. James Anglican congregation.

    Of the three mentioned at this point, I would imagine the place where it makes most sense to deploy some resources for the eventual redevelopment of a stronger Episcopal Church presence would be Cranberry. The building and location in Warrendale are less than ideal, but I imagine Steve Smalley, who with his wife Kris moved over there a year ago or so, perhaps with some consultation with Chris Barker, might have some good ideas about a renewed work there.

    Bruce Robison

  17. "I'd love to see a report on how many folks actually show up on Sunday"

    Lionel Deimel attended the service and has just this report on his blog. He found the service an "uplifting experience" despite a congregation of "about 10". He observed that 1) no one from the "relocated" congregation attended, despite the tacky recruiting letter sent to them from Bishop Price and 2) there was one couple, who left the church years ago, that represented possible new parishoners for the parish.

    It seems to me highly unrealistic to believe that this building will ever again be home to a viable parish. But TEC Pittsburgh is flush with cash from its legal victories and appears ready to prop up Potemkin churches...

    It will indeed be interesting to see how many ACNA parishes will choose to simply walk away from their buildings rather than pay for them all over again. How many of these can TEC actually afford to finance? Can they find enough priests to staff them all? Can they overcome the horrible public relations that come with the repeated evictions of congregations from their churches?

    I would personally recommend that not one penny of ransom be paid to TEC for these churches and that every ACNA parish simply leave the buildings behind. Despite TEC fantasies there will be no rush to repopulate these churches. It would be a Pyrrhic victory for TEC and these empty buildings on Sunday mornings would represent a beautiful testament to the godless heresy rampant in TEC...

  18. Somewhat to my surprise, I'm told that there are still about ten people every Sunday at St James's, even though the 'diocesan contingent' has returned to its various home parishes. Two of the new regulars are the former members who came on the first Sunday, the rest are local people who have never been Episcopalians. There are smaller congregations in both dioceses! Not yet a success story, but not yet the failure that many in both dioceses (including me) expected. The departed congregation no doubt continues in new premises, and Vicente can be trusted to preach orthodox Christianity, so this is so far an outcome that all of us can rejoice in.

    Philip Wainwright