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Saturday, September 3, 2011

From the Anglican Curmudgeon: The Two Faces of PEG (Pittsburgh Episcopal Group)

One of the things about a curmudgeon that riles people up is
that curmudgeons are always pointing out facts which people
wish they would not mention, let alone bring into sharper focus.
But, properly considered, it is the primary duty of a curmudgeon
to call people's attention to inconvenient facts, just as it is the
primary duty of a messenger to deliver the message, whether
good news or bad. It is not the messenger's fault if the news is
upsetting; nor is it the curmudgeon's fault if the facts are, shall
we say, uncomfortable. And so, if the foregoing sentences have
not caused the reader to click away by now, then allow me to
follow up on some observations I made in this week's edition
of Anglican Unscripted.

There is a group of Episcopalians in the Pittsburgh area who
congregations, and clergy, modeled on the former Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, since they have adopted its former Constitution and Canons. They of course think they are a Diocese of the Episcopal Church just because they have done this, and because ECUSA found it convenient to go along with the charade in order to have a vehicle with which to maintain lawsuits and take over church property. But they are not a true Diocese, because the only legal entity that was the Diocese of Pittsburgh exercised its constitutional right under the First Amendment to join a different Church.
have formed themselves into an association of parishes,
Read It All


  1. Of course, David,the point is that the "Supreme Court" of the Episcopal Church has rejected this argument and in 2009 seated as Deputies of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh a deputation consisting of of some individuals elected at the Diocesan Convention, 2007, and of others, elected to fill positions vacated by clergy and laity who had left the Episcopal Church, who were elected at the Special Convention of December, 2008.

    It may be sort of interesting or fun in the blogosphere to argue that the General Convention was wrong in deciding thus that the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in December, 2008, was the "same" diocese as the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, 2007, but in my view anyway it's a little like arguing for the status of the Pope in Avignon or the Stuart monarchy in England . . . .

    The practical danger of this sort of thing, of course, is that the sour tone creates a more toxic atmosphere-- the danger is that some of the folks on this side of the stream with a little less of a sense of humor than some others of us might well take this seriously enough to say that if folks in the Anglican Diocese want to use this kind of argument to attack the Episcopal Diocese, why in the world should we listen to those who argue on our side of the stream that Christian people should find a respectful way to settle their differences without such harsh measures as "disaffiliation."

    Blessings --


  2. Bruce

    Did I miss something!Is disaffiliation suddenly off the table?

  3. It can be a little silliness back-and-forth, David. What I'm saying is that one of the rationales that those who would favor a strict requirement disaffiliation in every situation bring forward is that the folks of the Anglican Diocese are obsessively working, day and night, to try every possible angle in an effort to undermine the ministry of the Episcopal Diocese. Why would "we" in those cases be inclined to reach generous and favorable settlements with folks who are doing that? When I personally make the argument against disaffiliation, I find it is much less persuasive when those to whom I am speaking begin to think about those would be repeating the "Curmudgeon's" argument. And of course the substance of the argument itself, which we would address fairly straightforwardly, is of even less influence than the mocking and disrespectful tone.

    But simply to say: the Curmudgeon's argument hangs in the end on a single assumption, which is that the vote of the October, 2008 Convention to "realign" the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh with another Province of the Anglican Communion was effective in doing what it purported to do. I don't believe it was effective, and the General Convention of the Episcopal Church has not recognized it as having been effective. I do however believe that those clergy and congregations and other individuals who in October, 2008, accepted status in the Province of the Southern Cone, indicated by doing so that they were no longer members of the Episcopal Church. Which was I think the whole point all along.

    So I will say, though I wish we could get past all this, that the purported action of October 8, 2008, to "realign" the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh with the Southern Cone had no effect, because there is no provision allowing such a "realignment" in the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, and because the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh was constitutionally bound in "full accession" to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh that was authorized by the General Convention of 1867 has continued, without any interruption on October 8, 2008, to this day.

    But does it strike you that this exchange may be one that it's really not worth having?


  4. Bruce,
    I agree with you that the argument is now pointless. It didn't used to be, as the continuity of the diocese, which both sides maintain for their own reasons, was essential to the ongoing lawsuits. But temporally, the courts have decided. Ecclesiastically our two bodies have decided, also, though they have decided differently. And relationally this is on on which we can simply "agree to disagree." While I firmly believe that we had every right and justification to disaffiliate and did so legally (meaning I disagree with your argument itself) I do agree with you that the Crumudgeon's aggressive tone is not particularly helpful right now. We're fueling a fire we ought to just let die; its not helping either side. And thank you for saying so clearly that you find the disaffiliation clauses as offensive as we do. Its nice to remember that someone "over there" has noticed.

  5. Bruce

    I am not nearly as articulate as you and Tara and I do believe you are as offended as you say with the disaffiliation requirement. If it continues to be required, and I no illusions that it will not be, it will be as CS Lewis says, "always winter but never Christmas" between our diocese for a long,long time.

    Thank you Tara for expressing to Bruce what I wish I was thinking.

  6. CORRECTED COMMENT Bruce, I am not nearly as articulate as you and Tara and I do believe that you are as offended as you say with the disaffiliation requirement. If it continues to be required, and I am under no illusion that it will not be, it will be as CS Lewis says, "always winter but never Christmas" between our diocese for a long,long time.

    Thank you Tara for expressing to Bruce what I I was thinking and wished I would have written.

  7. Bruce writes:
    "one of the rationales that those who would favor a strict requirement disaffiliation in every situation bring forward is that the folks of the Anglican Diocese are obsessively working, day and night, to try every possible angle in an effort to undermine the ministry of the Episcopal Diocese."

    Because you are close to those who favor "a strict requirement", perhaps you might provide some real evidence relating to who, how, when, where the "Anglican Diocese is obsessively working, day and night, to try every possible angle in an effort to undermine the ministry of the Episcopal Diocese".

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  9. Thanks, Dan. I actually don't see much evidence of that these days locally--not counting an occasional blip like David's rebroadcasting of Haley's piece. There's more of it of course on some of the shouting blogs on the national stage, and perhaps a natural tendency there, from folks who don't live here, to project every bit of hostility felt against the Episcopal Church generally onto our local situation. We can't do much about that--and what I hear from folks "outside" Pittsburgh on the progressive side is much the same. If folks on one side see no one but the Presiding Bishop's Chancellor when they look at any expression of the Episcopal Church here in Pittsburgh, some folks on the other just pop Les Fairfield's old wartime video into the player whenever they reference anyone on the Anglican Diocese side of the stream.

    Of course, even locally, as Faulkner wrote, the past isn't dead. It isn't even really past. Memories of aggressive, negative, and often secretive, personal campaigns to undermine clergy and congregational leadership in places like Oakmont and Ligonier and Indiana and Mckeesport (where I think some of this may still be continuing) are still way too fresh to discount, and for some the diocese's one-time strategy to deal with the Calvary lawsuit by "dissolving" the parish canonically seems the day before yesterday.

    So anyway, all I'm saying is that the current situation between the Episcopal Diocese and congregations of the Anglican Diocese is located in a season where in many cases trust has not been restored at very personal levels. We have a lot of work to do, and it's going to take time. I don't know that there's any way to make this happen, except for all of us on both sides to practice restraint as best we can and express as much personal affection and respect as we can--which will be at a different level for different people, partly depending on what affection and respect there was in the first place--and then to pray our way forward. No easy answers, but if we can refrain from pouring additional fuel on the fire, I think we'll be better off in the end.

    Bruce Robison

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  11. Ethan,

    Just as a footnote, I would say that I agree with you entirely on moral and spiritual grounds and as a matter of character and experience that "neither the Anglican Diocese nor the Episcopal Diocese is entirely continuous." There needs to be some real humility for all of us on this topic, and a spirit of mutual recognition. Neither diocese is entirely continuous, but both dioceses are in some ways continuous. It's a messy picture, but efforts to tidy things up often end up I think covering up deeper realities.

    My original statement of continuity simply has to do with the constitutional status of the Episcopal Diocese within the Episcopal Church, "from the point of view of the Episcopal Church."

    Different things happened in the San Joaquin Diocese, for example, where my friend Rob Eaton, a duly elected member of the diocesan standing committee who did not realign but who remained in the Episcopal Church, was deprived of his seat when an entirely new standing committee was elected at a reorganizing diocesan convention.

    In Pittsburgh there was no such "reorganization," and so at General Convention in 2009 Jim Simons and Scott Quinn and Dave Laughlin and Steve Stagnitta--duly elected as deputy alternates at our diocesan convention in Johnstown in 2007--were seated as deputies on the basis of that election. The post-October 2008 diocese was not required to take any further action to, say, "re-elect" them.

    Haley's argument is that a new Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh should have been formed and admitted after 2008, because from the point of view of the Episcopal Church the diocese essentially extinguished itself in October 2008. My only point is that the Episcopal Church hasn't accepted his argument and has continued to recognize the Episcopal Diocese, say, in 2011, as the "same" diocese canonically, within the Episcopal Church, as the diocese that was formed in 1867.

    Bruce Robison

  12. Bruce

    I can accept your arguement as facts-on-the-ground to that point. It is however problematic and downright insulting to carry it further and say therefore the parishes that are part of the ACNA-Pgh Diocese 1. are really "non-participating" parishes of the TEC-Pgh Diocese 2. and that they having been accruing monthly assessments since October 2008. 3. TEC-Pgh demands access to the ACNA laity to ascertain if they really wanted to realign as part of the "discernment" process.

  13. Yes, I think there's a tit-for-tat there. If on one hand there is an argument that the diocese in fact "realigned," then it follows logically, pace Haley, that any remnant individuals or congregations of individuals who wanted to be members of the Episcopal Church should organize a new diocese and make application under the Episcopal Church canons for the admission of new dioceses. Since that process hasn't been followed, some will decide to call the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh a "faux" diocese.

    Likewise on the other side of the stream, if the argument is that individuals and congregations of individuals are always free to leave the Episcopal Church and to join other denominations or to found new ones, but that dioceses and parishes as canonical structures cannot so depart, then it stands to reason that the parish of St. David's, Peters Township, could never have left the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, but simply ceased participating. It still exists out there "in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh," at least as a hypothetical canonical entity, currently functioning it seems without officers, since all the former officers--rector, vestry--made themselves ineligible to continue serving when they indicated they were no longer communicant members of the Episcopal Church (meaning that the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese has ecclesiastical authority there). As we know, the argument is that these "hypothetical" parishes "of the Episcopal Church" continue to be subject to canonical diocesan actions, including payment of assessment, and are actually the entities that own parish assets, and it is as their trustee, to defend their interest, that the Episcopal Diocese has applied the Dennis Canon.

    I think, in any event, that we understand the foundational arguments. I don't know if that is helpful. My own view is that if both sides stick to their guns, eventually we'll all get shot. I don't expect the first move to come from the lawyers and officials from either side. Needs to start at the grassroots and move up the chain that way. And I guess we're the grassroots.

    Bruce Robison

  14. Well, Bruce, if you define "Grass roots" as "those of us who are up to our neck in the mud" then yeah, I guess that's it. And while the lawsuit is one thing I'm willing to write off, I feel pretty firmly that we did leave legitimately, formally, and appropriately. And the fact that TEC is not willing to face up to that fact is a serious denial that can do them nothing but harm in the long run. Now if TEC wants to recognize as their Pittsburgh Diocese, I have no right to complain; I left. But if the party line is that we had no right to leave, then they're wrong and we not only left but escaped a hostage situation.
    Hostages... with buildings for ransoms.

  15. Thanks, Tara, and yes, I understand. What we knew from the beginning--and we had these conversations all of us so many times in the 2006-2008 time frame--was that in the end the canonical consequences of realignment would be determined by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the ecclesiological consequences by the various judicatories of the Anglican Communion, and the legal consequences by the courts of the Commonwealth. In a sense these were and are all out of our hands. What we knew for sure was that nobody knew for sure what was going to happen. My friends said, "whatever the cost."

    What is in our hands, of course, is how we conduct ourselves along the way.



  16. "Whatever the cost"... yeah, I said those words. I still mean them. Part of what's going on right now is to count the costs and see who flinches. And honestly, I can't fault those who do flinch. It's the human condition.

    Anyway, Bruce, I'm glad you're the kind of friend with whom I can say such harsh words and remain friends. That's been one blessing in the divisions, true friends are proved true, beyond question. Its easy to be friends in easy times.

  17. I sure hope Bruce allows his name to go forward in consideration to become Bishop of TEC-Pgh. His is the best hope (and probably only) for a preferable future for ALL Anglicans/Episcopalians in Western PA.

  18. I'm in total agreement, David. Bruce is intelligent, irenic, and gracious. I think that he has a respectable position on current Anglican/Episcopal matters, and while we may have parted ways over strategy in relation to TEC, we have not parted ways over the 'faith once delivered.' The church always needs leadership like that, regardless of the label on the door.


  19. Hmm... I'm totally torn. On the one hand, count me as a third uncountable vote in the "Bruce for Bish- 2012" campaign. On the other hand, if the fact that WE would like to see him in office gets out, we'll doom any chance he might have.

    So um, I shall simply whisper my agreement in dark corners. David, did you know your blog was a dark corner??

  20. just wanted to add, that I have been Bruce's organist since before he was rector of St. Andrew's. i'm basically a total liberal and also a traditionalist in TEC (yes, we're all hybrids) but Bruce is totally genuine and one of the most compassionate people I've ever met. And Bruce is basically in charge of a pretty liberal flock at St. Andrew's, and is still alive, so that says a lot about the potential for the church- either TEC or ACNA.

  21. I'm with Tara

    An endorsement on this blog and especially from me is the kiss of death.

    At least if he doesn't make the final cut or get elected if he does he can point right back to the AY blog on Sep 6, 2011 -- that's the reason right there

  22. With thanks, friends, for the kind words. Always an honor to appear on the roster of "Dave's Picks," to be sure . . . .

    St. Andrew's is indeed something of an unusual place these days--though I think in days of yore the type was more the rule than the exception. We have and seriously support, of course, a wonderful and often acclaimed program of music in the sacred and classical tradition--of which Peter above is very much the architect and sustainer--and yet, interestingly, on any given Sunday nearly a third of our congregation will the 9 a.m. "no music" service. Likewise I'd probably divide the congregation in terms of theological orientation and churchmanship into "thirds." About a third would call themselves very much "liberal" or "progressive," about a third would call themselves "conservative" or "traditional," and about a third would express little personal active interest in the issues that tend to mark those differences. About a third of the congregation is what I would call "passionately Anglican and Episcopalian," including a fair number of cradle Episcopalians and cradle Anglicans from other lands--England, Canada, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, the West Indies. About a third come from Roman Catholic backgrounds and think of the Episcopal Church as "more or less like the Catholic Church except with married and women priests and more flexibility about remarriage after divorce." And about a third come from Presbyterian and other backgrounds who think of the Episcopal Church as "Protestant Christianity with a more formal Sunday service." A significant number of our Sunday attenders joined the church within the last, say, 10 years, a significant number have been around 20 and more, and a significant number had parents and grandparents who were here in generations past.

    The pastoral life and administrative oversight of such a congregation is of course more than a little like herding cats, as the saying goes--but to me, the messiness is really at the incarnational heart of ministry and exactly the place where we need to plant ourselves to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord.

    In that context one of the saddest aspects of the current tendency to division is that what is left in the wake will inevitably two bodies "incurvatus in se," as Augustine and Luther would have said. Turned in on ourselves. Places with less internal friction--places of mutual agreement and mutual admiration, but without the continued pressure of deeper relationship in the midst of difference. And this I think likely to be the trend on both sides of the stream.

    Bruce Robison

  23. Bruce's call for more respect and greater sensitivity about language in how we refer to those "on the other side" is a point that I'd like to see addressed on more blogs. I know how I react when I see the TEC diocese called "rump" or "faux" and that hardly even registers on the the nastiness scale.

    It's very sad to read about congregations leaving their buildings. I hope and pray that better solutions will be found for some of the larger parishes in the ACNA Pittsburgh diocese.