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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Diktat or Negotiating in Good Faith …. What Does It Mean? part 2 - Update

In the part two blog entry, Click here, I mentioned TEC-Pgh Canon for Formation Dr. Jay Geisler had recruited at least three seminarians to populate ACNA church buildings awarded to TEC-Pgh by the courts. I have learned of two more (now totaling five) TSM seminarians now involved in the TEC-Pgh Diocese. One an over forty-something seminarian and recent MDiv grad who was not ordained or placed by his sending diocese of South Carolina and is now helping to re-develop St Christopher's, Warrendale and a sometime seminarian from an AMiA parish in St. Louis MO and more recently attending Christ Church at Grove Farm. At one time this chap was also shilling coffee from Rwanda via the AMiA and visited my former parish in Kittanning.


  1. David,

    I'm not really sure I get what your angle is on this.

    TSM has always had a number of seminarians unaffiliated with any diocese. It seems to me to make good sense for my diocese *and* your diocese to reach out to good candidates for ministry and invite them into the harvest.

    I would agree that it would be inappropriate for Jay to reach out in any focused way to students already under the care of ACNA bishops--as I think it is (or, let's say, "would be") inappropriate for folks affiliated with the Anglican Diocese to be putting pressure on Trinity students under the care of TEC bishops to leave their churches. Trinity as a seminary is quite clear that it is to be an "Evangelical Seminary in the Anglican Tradition," while remaining as well one of the eleven accredited seminaries of the Episcopal Church. My assumption is that in the present and in the future the student body, faculty, adminstrative staff, and board will all include some who are Episcopalians and some who are in other churches. Hopefully we'll all find a way forward to have a respectful and mutually enjoyable relationship in that common ground. Again, assuming that "unaffiliated" students at TSM will from time to time be recruited for ministry in my diocese, and in your diocese. All to the good.

    I've met several, though perhaps not all, of the students you reference here, and the ones I've met seem to me to be people who would add very positively to the already large number of distinguished clergy in our Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh who are Trinity alums . . . .

    Bruce Robison

  2. I am sure they will as they take over ACNA parishes

  3. Seems to me these are separate issues.

    One has to do with two properties, in the Penn Hills and in Warrendale/Cranberry, on the Special Master's List, that were essentially abandoned, without any negotiation, by Anglican Diocese congregations, with keys, not in response to any request, voluntarily handed over to the Episcopal Diocese. It's not clear to me that these "places" can any longer be described as "ACNA parishes." The good people of those congregations in the Penn Hills and Warrendale have moved to new sites of ministry.

    Apparently those planning mission strategy in the Episcopal Diocese have decided that new church plants might be worth exploring in these locations (I have my doubts about the Penn Hills location of a new-church plant, but Cranberry is a no-brainer)--and I guess we've all known for many years that Trinity grads can make great "church planters."

    Bruce Robison

  4. Bruce,

    Your phrase "without any negotiation" intrigues me. From what we have seen so far, TEC-Pitt does no negotiating - it just imposes conditions. Negotiation suggests that two parties are dealing with one another in relatively good faith to reach agreement on matters of mutual interest. We haven't seen much of that so far, and given the stance taken by TEC-Pitt, I would expect even more congregations to "essentially abandon" their properties.

    I do appreciate the efforts of TEC-Pitt to provide employment for graduating seminarians. Moving into "abandoned" church properties is one of the forms of "church planting".

  5. Dan, and Dave,

    What I see is that Judge James specifically ordered that no congregation is to be separated from its place of worship without his approval. Period.

    He has given consent when there was a settlement with mutual agreement--at St. Philip's. (And he also signed-off on the agreement with Somerset Anglican Fellowship, though that was somewhat a different kind of case.)

    I understand that in those cases where negotiation has taken place or is taking place, the representatives of the Episcopal Diocese come to the table with a set of proposals representing what they perceive to be the "best case scenario" for the Episcopal Diocese. I assume the congregation responds with an equally robust presentation of its preferred conclusion--and then there is progress, give and take, and agreement. Or there is no progress, insufficient give and take, and the parties go back to their corners. That's a typical scenario for Act I in just about every negotiation I've seen.

    There is a question about what will happen after that.

    Let's say that no agreement is found, despite round after round of effort. Then, I suppose, at some point perhaps the Episcopal Diocese will go to Judge James and say something like "this property is on the Special Master's list, and despite good faith efforts we have been unable to reach an agreement with the congregation presently in residence, and we ask you to order them to vacate."

    Then I suppose the representative of the congregation will go before the judge and reply, "we represent a congregation of people who have a long and even generational interest in this property, our home for worship and ministry. We take seriously Paragraph II of the Stipulation you approved settling the dispute between the diocese and Calvary Church back in 2005, and so we attempted to enter good faith negotiations with the Episcopal Diocese. We were willing to meet them half-way, but for "this reason" and "that reason" we found them unwilling to enter into meaningful, good-faith negotiations.

    We ask you to reject their motion and instead to order them back to the table to continue negotiations until a mutually agreeable settlement can be found."

    [Part One, Continued Below]

  6. [Part Two, Continued]

    Now, Dan, and David, I'm no lawyer, but it seems to me far from certain, one way or the other, how Judge James would rule. And either way, I imagine there would or could be appeals.

    I write this as one on the Episcopal Diocese side of the stream who, acknowledging the fiduciary duties I and we have under the canons and in law, has argued long and as forcefully as I can for an approach to these property issues which will include the highest possible regard for the moral and spiritual interests of Anglican Diocese congregations, which will resist any potential "poison pill" elements (including the request for so-called "disaffiliation," which I personally find offensive). An approach to negotiation in which both parties will bend over backwards to find win/win resolutions.

    So, in any event, there is I think pretty obviously a long process still out there. If my friends Doug Sherman and Paul Cooper and their congregations have chosen not to continue in that process but instead to walk away from their buildings, that is of course very much their choice. In some ways in terms of congregational vitality and ongoing mission, it might be a very good one. No one can say what the effect of all this dragging out month after month and year after year will have on congregational vitality. Seems to me it can't be good. New skins for fresh wine, etc. But I just think it's important to be clear that we're only in the early stages of whatever sorting out is going to happen, and that to speak at this point of any congregation being "forced out" of their buildings is simply incorrect. There's no way to know something like that will ever happen. It might or it might not. But it hasn't happened yet. When people report that these
    congregations have been "forced" from their buildings, they are not saying what actually happened.

    Bruce Robison

  7. Making "fair market value" and disaffiliation upfront pre-conditions prior to any negotiation is a non starter and the result is forcing ACNA parishes to leave their property. I am willing to bet the farm that most if not all of the 22 parishes who Judge James awarded to TEC-Pgh will walk out before they agree to either of those pre-conditions.

    As for the 15 whose titles are held by their vestry and who are being claimed by TEC-Pgh under their Dennis Canon, they won't agree to the pre-conditions either. So TEC-Pgh be ready to inherit 40 empty parishes and the negative publicity and the decades of bad blood that will ensue.

    Today All Saints' Rosedale announced they are leaving their property. Church of Our Savior will be next and so on and so on.

    Mark 8:36, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

  8. Bruce,

    As always, you make a reasonable claim for a reasonable TEC-Pitt. The difficulty is that we have heard these reasonable arguments before and seen them betrayed by the behavior of TEC-Pitt. And though I appreciate your personal good faith and your personal desire to avoid what continues to happen, no one else on the TEC-Pitt side seems to agree with you. And they certainly have not behaved in any manner resembling your idealized description of how they behave.

  9. Well, it may be the case that my view is a minority view among the TEC leadership. I don't actually know that it is, since we haven't taken a poll--and, in fact, the rules of confidentiality are such that I in fact only know the provisions of successful negotiations and the public statements published by our diocese after the resolution of the St. Philip's negotiation, which said (I paraphrase) that "there is no template," and every negotiation will be based on the unique circumstances of each congregation. All else is just hearsay. If troubling . . . .

    But even if it be the case that the opening gambit of our TEC negotiators is to state absolute preconditions "market value + disaffiliation," I suppose there are several responses possible. You can walk away from the table saying the proposal is a "non-starter," mail the keys to Monroeville, and start new. Or you can walk away from the table and await the next move, continuing all the while to conduct ministry where you are and preparing a testimony for Judge James affirming your openness to a reasonable conversation following the provisions of Paragraph II of the Stipulation. Or you can file a counter, saying, "we don't like the proposal you put out, but we think a fair settlement would be, $xxxx, which is less than market value but which affirms a real and substantial value to the diocese of ministry from this place and in this community--and no disaffiliation."

    Perhaps the TEC negotiators then walk away. Or they reply with a counter-counter. And so on.

    If our negotiators from the Episcopal Diocese were to walk away, the next move I guess would be, at some point, to go to Judge James to ask for permission to evict. But that hasn't happened yet, and it's not clear to me that very many folks on this side of the stream actually think that such an action would be "in the best interests" of the Episcopal Diocese. (Which is the key component of the duty of a fiduciary.)

    We have a lot on our plate, for one thing--and the Ann Rogers story and KDKA video of elderly parishioners being escorted by the Sheriff from the church their parents were buried from under the watchful eye of the diocesan Chancellor is probably not something eagerly anticipated. We would aim more for Austen or Trollope, I think, and this prospect is a little too Dickensian . . . .

    I'm very sorry to hear about Dave Rucker and the folks of All Saints Verona. He's a fine priest, a friend, and certainly he has had a very effective and conscientious ministry there--in what has always been a very challenging location. Don't know what their "Plan B" is, but I will pray that the next chapter will be one of blessing.

    Bruce Robison

  10. Bruce

    Are you saying the TEC Standing Cmte, of which you are a member, have no input into the TEC-Pgh strategy and are not briefed at all prior to settlements?

  11. Rich Creehan, the Baghdad Bob of TEC Pittsburgh, attempts the same sort of brazen spin and self-deception Fr. Robison is engaged in here:

    "there were back and forth attempts to find a solution. At no time did we force them into the decision that they've come to on their own"

    Right. We all know a statement can be strictly true and still be dishonest if the intention of the statement is to deceive its audience. And what we have here is an attempt to pretend TEC Pittsburgh had nothing to do with these departures and is baffled by them...

    I hope Judge James is watching the outcome of his fine legal mind...