Thursday, July 26, 2007

Pittsburgh Continues Plans to Split

In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, District meetings are being held to discuss their future. From my understanding, a "District" is very similar to what others might call a "Deanery" or a "Convocation"...small groupings of churches from a particular geographical area. Representation from these groups are usually included on various diocesan governing bodies.

These District meetings were proposed at the May Diocesan Leadership Retreat, at which the options presented to the Districts were first identified.

Bp. Duncan was present for the recent District X meeting. Those who attended were handed this document as they entered. The second page, entitled "Choices to Make," identifies the topic for discussion at this meeting:

After a number of discussions, three basic options are gaining support in the diocese given TEC's unwillingness either to return to mainstream Christian belief or to make room for Episcopalians like those who represent the majority here in Pittsburgh by providing Alternate Primatial Oversight.

1. Diocese does not alter relationship with TEC, but declines to participate in national structures:

Pros: No escalation of conflict by diocese, pastoral care for parishioners regardless of convictions.

Cons: No resolution to conflict, national structures maintain veto power over diocese's election of bishops, continuing strain on people and leadership. Parishes and individuals wanting stronger action would separate.

2. Diocese alters relationship with TEC (Note: Two distinct ways of proceeding in this direction are being discussed. Some believe that the diocese should simply "leave the keys" to property and diocesan financial resources - thus bringing lawsuits to an end. Others believe that the diocese has a responsibility to protect the resources in its care).

Pros: Clarity and consistency with past decisions, keeps the majority of the diocese united.

Cons: Expensive and ongoing litigation (see note above), a number of individuals and parishes would separate from diocese, not yet clear what Anglican structure the diocese would be a part of.

3. Diocese takes no corporate action but helps parishes who believe they must separate to do so.

Pros: Procedure outlined in lawsuit settlement, negotiations could be non-adversarial.

Cons: Fragmentation of diocesan majority, eventual diocesan leadership turnover, no guarantee that parishes would not be sued individually, parishes may split, those that remain will be part of a weakened diocese.
The group gathered for this District meeting was overwhelmingly in support of choice #2. There was debate regarding leaving the keys or facing lawsuits.

A question and answer session with Bp. Duncan revealed a few items of interest:

A. The Calvary lawsuit has raised the concern that the diocesan leadership and vestry members could be jeapordizing their personal assets if option #2 was taken. Bp. Duncan has placed his wife's name on all of his personal property. He advised all members of vestries that would vote to leave TEC to make sure that their personal property has a co-owner and than that the co-owner is not on the vestry.

B. Bp. Duncan claimed that David Booth Beers, PB's chancellor, had told Bishop Love of Albany and another bishop that if he (Duncan) "steps out of line" TEC will take action against him. Bp. Duncan seemed confident that he will not be inhibited, as TEC does not want to make him a martyr.

C. Regarding the Network dioceses, Dallas and Rio Grande were identified as going with option #3. Parishes that wish to leave will be assisted by the diocese, but all assets will be returned to TEC.

Albany and Central Florida were reported as not having declared a postion.

South Carolina is anticipated as going with option #2, but they have to get Mark Lawrence elected as their bishop first, before declaring their intention of leaving (note that this is what all the noise about "proper" consent forms not being used in Virginia and other places is about; a last ditch effort by South Carolina to play the martyr card, and so pick up some sympathy votes from bishops and standing committees to get consents this time around, so that they can then leave).

The implication is that the remaining five dioceses, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, San Joaquin, Quincy and Springfield, are chosing option #2, and are preparing to leave. If you reside within any of these dioceses, you may want to take note of this. Your leaders are conspiring to jump ship in the near future. Time to make alternative plans.

D. Bp. Duncan stated that a vote will be taken at Diocesan Convention regarding leaving TEC. That vote will have to be reaffirmed at the next Convention. During that year, the Primates will form an alternative Province for them to join. Pittsburgh's next Diocesan Convention is scheduled to commence on November 2, 2007.

The difficulty for Bp. Duncan is that although he has much support within his diocese, it is debatable exactly how much support he has for the option of leaving TEC, especially when the final destination is unclear. Many of the congregations are conflicted on this. If he leaves, there will be a large enough faithful remnant remaining to reconstitute the diocese.

What is troubling is that for some reason he seems to believe he can leave, but still be the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. You would think that by now he would have gotten the message that TEC is serious when we say that individuals may leave, but dioceses and congregations cannot.

There is, of course, the strange case of the trial balloon for all this manuevering known as the Diocese of San Joaquin. They did indeed vote to leave, and are simply waiting for the second affirmation of that vote at their next Diocesan Convention before bolting. Yet, no action has been taken against them. Most likely, this hesitation by TEC's leadership is what is encouraging Bp. Duncan to follow their model.

As I learn more about Pittsburgh's plans, I'll try to pass that information on.


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