Search This Blog

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Commentary on Price Letter

Mr. David Ball fisks Bishop Price's recent letter to the TEC-Pgh diocese.

October 6, 2011

Rector Wardens and Vestry

Dear Friends in Christ,

We write this letter to provide you and all members of your parish with current information on the property litigation and related negotiations involving the Diocese. It is meant to update the Bishop's letter of May 11, 2011 another copy of which is closed for your convenience.

As you will recall earlier this year, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued their opinion affirming in all aspects the rulings of Judge Joseph James of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas that under the terms of the 2005 settlement of the Calvary suit that our Episcopal Diocese was proper entity to hold and administer, the endowments and other permanent funds of the diocese. These rulings also applied to the buildings being used by over 20 congregations of former Episcopalians who look to the Most Rev Robert W. Duncan to be their bishop as part of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh and as Archbishop as part of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

The Most Rev. Robert W. Duncan IS the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh and Archbishop of the ACNA. So long as the Episcopal Church keeps its head in the sand and refuses to even acknowledge the existence of these entities, no progress will be made. Like it or not, they exist, they have legal status and they have many people who are members. In the case of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, it has many more members than the TEC diocese of Pittsburgh.

Read it all


  1. I agree absolutely that there has been over a number a years a real deficit in the area of personal respect and ordinary courtesy.

    It's one thing to address the particular issues of disagreement, and even to engage in robust argument--and another thing entirely to speak in ways that reflect a diminished view of the person you're disagreeing with.

    The Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, the clergy, congregations, people of the Anglican Church in North America, Archbishop Duncan: all are worthy of course of entirely respectful and even affection regard. Neighbors. Friends and family. Fellow laborers in the Lord's vineyard.

    As are the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, the Episcopal Church, and Bishop Price.

    Whether the sly quotation marks go around "Anglican" when the word is used by our Episcopalian friends to reference those on the Anglican Diocese side to express a lack of respect for the validity of identity of those on that side, or around "Church" when the words "the Episcopal Church" are used by our Anglican friends, to imply a diminished Christian identity among Episcopalians--well, it's all just a sign of the fact that we are none of us as mature emotionally or spiritually as perhaps we will be one day. God willing.

    For what it's worth, I thought Bishop Price's letter was respectful. I've heard lots of folks on "my side" of the stream speak of Archbishop Duncan and those of the Anglican Diocese in ways that are and should be offensive.

    But Bishop Price in his letter here refers to Archbishop Duncan and to the Anglican Diocese in an appropriate and respectful way. I see nothing else, and I think the author of the fisk is reacting to things he's heard elsewhere.

    As per the recurrent property issue, I can only say that we all of us sat together numerous times in 2007 and 2008, looking at the choices ahead, and it was clearly said that no one knew what the consequences of a decision to "realign" would be, but that we would in the end all need to live with what the courts would decide. So many of my good friends said, "whatever the cost."

    I hope and pray, actually, that in as many situations as this can happen, we will be able to settle things in ways that will allow the wonderful and faithful clergy and congregations of the Anglican Diocese to continue and to flourish in the ministry that our Lord calls them to in the place.

    If ways can be found that are congruent with the legal determination of the Commonwealth and the legal and canonical duties of the officers of our dioceses and congregations, I think it would be wonderful if most or all congregations could continue in ministry in their historical homes.

    But the "mess" of entanglement over ownership of assets is a direct and inevitable result of the decision to leave the Episcopal Church, and it seems to me disingenuous to adopt this rhetoric "blaming" the Episcopal Diocese for a situation that is in reality only in front of us because of the decisions made in 2008 by those now in the Anglican Diocese. Certainly I spoke during that long period to a number of attorneys and other informed leaders who were themselves in favor of realignment, for reasons of conscience and with theological convictions that I pretty much shared, who told me privately that they doubted that the rationales being presented for continuity would be sustained by the Commonwealth. All those brochures and FAQ's promising the people in the pews, "Nothing has changed, nothing will change."

    "It's a long shot," one of the most prominent told me.

    And so, I of course understand and even very much share frustration and disappointment. But surprise and especially anger seem misplaced. This is what anybody who looked at the situation in 2007 would and should have known would "probably" happen.

    Bruce Robison

  2. Agreed Bruce. The way things turned out were as some predicted. It is our reaction to the court decisions and how the "winners" choose to implement the decisions that are at issue. And as Ethan so many times has argued, the way in which things are settled will affect both diocese for a long time.

    Please note I have always referred to your diocese and your bishop without quotation marks, with proper titles even when disagreeing with statements or positions.

    If you read his statement carefully, Bishop Price notes the WE acknowledge Bob Duncan as Bishop and Archbishop. He never says that he or your diocese does.

  3. Thanks, David, and I agree with both you and Ethan. And I personally believe we of the Episcopal Diocese could and should do better, in many ways, both in the conduct of our implementation of our legal and canonical duties and in our personal relationships and conversations, one with another, in public and in private.

    My reading of Bishop Price's letter is that he talks about those "former Episcopalians" who now, as members of the Anglican Diocese and the ACNA, are in relationship to and acknowledge now *not* Bishop Price, but instead, "the Most Rev. Robert W. Duncan" as their Bishop and Archbishop. Archbishop Duncan is of course no longer in the ministry of the Episcopal Church, but he is just as clearly still a bishop in what I guess we would need to call the "denomination" of the ACNA. And worthy at the very least of the kind of ecumenical courtesy we would expect of all our leaders. I would expect Bishop Price to use the same kind of language about the bishops of the Lutheran Synod or the Roman Catholic Diocese. And it seems to me that here he does. I personally understand my relationship to Archbishop Duncan to continue to be informed by years of respectful and affectionate friendship, and I understand that some of my Episcopalian colleagues have different personal histories. But I agree that a generosity of courtesy can and will be a healing ingredient, and I pray that it will overflow among us in abundance.



  4. I stand by what I said. Bishop Price might use the similar language about the Roman and Lutheran bishop as Bishop Duncan but he has never acknowledged Bishop Duncan as the Anglicvan Bishop of Pittsburgh personally and/or institutionally in a public statement.

  5. Part I

    Guess I just don't get it. Bp. Price uses the form of address, "the Most Rev. Robert W. Duncan," which clearly indicates and acknowledges status, and in a respectful way I think, and Bp. Price goes on to say that Archbishop Duncan is the bishop followed by those people who identify as members of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh in the ACNA.

    I'm not sure what from your point of view a sufficient acknowledgment would be. I personally would prefer a warmer address and a stronger effort for true reconciliation. Which would necessarily be costly for us on both sides of the stream. But in terms of fundamental courtesy, I don't see a problem here.

    I know there is an interest--which I pay really no attention to, though we're not talking about me here--on the part of the legal beagles on the Episcopal Church side of the stream to draw some very clear conceptual lines.

    They want to emphasize their idea that individuals, laity and clergy, and congregations, made in 2008 a decision to cease being members of the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church Diocese of Pittsburgh and to become members instead of a new entity, the "Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone," when then eventually morphed into the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh of a new denomination, the Anglican Church in North America.

    From this point of view the canonical structure of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church was, in 2008, left intact and entire, if much smaller and with many (though not all) canonical offices vacated all at once.

    Likewise, let's say, the "Parish of St. Swithun's," of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh," continued to exist post-October, 2008, in a hypothetical, canonical space, as a parish of the Episcopal Diocese, though now without rector, wardens, vestry, or congregational members. The properties and assets, etc., and continuing ministry of the now "empty" parish are now at the moment being used by the clergy and congregation of a "new" entity, a parish called, let's say, "St. Swithun's Church of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh of the ACNA."

    As you know from the bylaws of "our old diocese," when parishes offices are vacated, technically speaking the Bishop becomes the rector and the Trustees the Vestry.

    So what the "negotiations" are, from the official Episcopal Church point of view, is a discussion between those who canonically are representing "the Episcopal Diocese Parish of St. David's" and those folks of a new entity, "the Anglican Diocese Parish of St. David's," to explore what transactional agreements and conditions might allow the new parish to take legal possession of assets owned by the old parish.

    It's a little confusing, yes, and so often legal formalities seem far from our human realities. But I think that's about what the legal guys think is going on.


  6. Part II

    What I know Bishop Price and the legal beagles struggle with is how to use respectful and appropriate vocabulary to reference the Anglican Diocese or, say, any of the parishes and congregations of the Anglican Diocese, without themselves blurring some of these hypothetical lines.

    As I say. I'm no lawyer, and my concern is not about satisfying the demands of a perfect legal or canonical theory.

    I believe (whatever the lawyers say) that the Anglican Diocese and the congregations of the Anglican Diocese share in moral and spiritual and relational ways with those of us of the Episcopal Diocese and our congregations in a common heritage of identity. When people ask me questions about "which of these two groups is continuous with the pre-October, 2008 diocese, my reply is: both, and neither.

    But again, I'm not speaking as a lawyer and I'm not worried about the blurring of lines. In fact, I'm generally in favor of the blurring of lines.

    I also believe that the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh and its clergy and congregations and the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and its clergy and congregations are going to be living and working side by side in the ministry of Christ in this community and region for a long time to come.

    More than that, I know that our two groups are deeply connected in all kinds of ways through friendship, marriage, family, work, and community relationships. (See my little essay on the "Our Pittsburgh Diocese" blog.)

    I believe it is essential for us to move as best we can through the bruising experiences of the past few years and to find a new place of forgiveness, mutual respect, kindness, generosity, and Christian friendship.

    When we're mad at each other, hurt by each other, reactive, hostile, drawing lines, calling names, taking offense, etc., that's all really no news to anybody. Situation normal in the human family. Dog bites man.

    But just think what it would be to turn that around. "These Christians, how they love one another." That would be, well, really surprising out there in the world for which our Lord gave his life, among those who don't know him. It might give them pause, actually. It might raise a question or two. And who knows what grace and salvation might flow from that . . . ?

    Saturday blessings,


  7. Thanks Bruce

    I agree with you. I would rather the lines be blurred and the relationships be intact