Saturday, August 16, 2008

Narrative Regarding the Signing of the January 29th Statement by 12 Clergy of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

In January of this year a group of twelve clergy (mostly rectors) in the Diocese of Pittsburgh issued a statement declaring that they would not join in the realignment of the diocese, should the diocese vote to do so. I believe that there is a widespread impression that this statement was issued in a way which surprised the Diocesan leadership. However, this is not the case and I think it's important that the story be told to alleviate any misimpressions that are out there.

Bishop Duncan returned from the House of Bishop's meeting in March of 2007 with a great sense of disappointment. On Tuesday of Holy Week (March 20th) he spoke to the assembled clergy after renewal of vows and my impression was that he was emotionally drained. In his 2007 convention address he described his experience at the House of Bishops as "personally devastating" and links the idea of realignment to this event (2007 Post- convention journal page 111).

On May 4th The Bishop called a private meeting at the Duquesne Club to which he invited a dozen or so key rectors to lay out his idea for realignment. I was not invited to that meeting as the proposal was discussed at the April 21st Standing Committee Meeting (I am not detailing any of those conversations as I am not sure which ones were held in Executive Session and therefore not to be made public). Several who were present (including those who now wish to realign as well as those who will not do so) described what happened at that meeting as the plan being "presented" to them.

In May (22-23) the annual leadership overnight of the diocese was held and a long process, facilitated by a consultant, was entered into. At the end of that meeting it was clear that there was considerable momentum for the idea of realignment. After that meeting, I was clear with the Bishop (and I may have told him this prior to that meeting) that I would not be a part of the realignment. In the ensuing weeks several other key rectors had similar conversations with him.

During the summer of 2007 a series of three meetings were held to which the clergy of the diocese, who had previously voted for Alternative Primatial Oversight, were invited. These meeting were organized by a steering committee on which I sat. The leadership team of the diocese was not invited to the first two but did attend the third. These meetings provided the opportunity for some very thoughtful conversation and the presentation of various points of view regarding the realignment. However, it was clear to those of us who did not wish to realign, that momentum was gathering for the constitutional change.

In September a group of clergy met for lunch. The only criteria for attending was, that at that moment, those who came were not in favor of realignment. We talked about how we should approach the situation and how to support each other through what was obviously going to be a very difficult time. We agreed to meet again in October. At that meeting we concluded we were going to continue to meet regularly and that transparency with the Bishop was important. Consequently, three of us made an appointment to see the Bishop on October 15 to openly discuss where we stood. I was among those who were present. During that time we told the Bishop of our meetings, we told him who was in the group, what we believed it represented in Average Sunday Attendance and assessment giving. It was a significant group. Including those who were more progressive and had made their opposition previously known, it represented nearly a third of the diocesan membership. We had a frank and honest conversation. This was three weeks before the vote of the Diocesan Convention.

The Bishop asked us to do two things: first, not to speak out against the resolution and secondly, to vote for it even if we didn't want to realign. His reasoning was that a strong majority vote would provide an impetus for the Presiding Bishop's office to negotiate with him, especially over issues of property.

Even though the group was prepared to issue a statement before the vote, stating our opposition to it, when the Bishop's request was taken back to the group we decided to honor the request. None of us spoke out against the resolution to realign, either before or during convention, and I assume that some in the group voted for it as well.

On November 19th (two weeks after the vote) I met at the diocesan office with two other rectors (both in favor of the realignment) and the leadership team of the diocese to discuss how we might move forward in a diocese that was clearly divided. During that discussion, I mentioned that those conservative rectors who did not want to realign would eventually have to issue a public statement to that fact. The Bishop said he understood this and asked if we could wait until March 1st in order to provide time for him to negotiate with the Presiding Bishop's office. I took that request to the group but they were unwilling to commit to a hard date preferring to wait and see what future developments transpired.

On January 15th 2008, the Bishop was informed by the Presiding Bishop that he had been charged with abandonment of the communion. Up until this point no negotiations had happened between the diocese and the Presiding Bishop's office. The group of rectors who would not realign met on January 18th (a meeting scheduled long before the charges were announced). Since the reason for delaying the statement was to enable negotiations and it was clear that those negotiations were not forthcoming, we decided to write a brief statement about our decision, and pray for the next week about issuing it. At the end of that week we agreed to issue the statement with the twelve signatures. Three members of the group met with the Bishop on January 28th to inform him of the statement after which it was mailed out to every parish on the 29th. Unfortunately, a member of the group sent the statement to the press without consulting the other eleven and so it was in the Pittsburgh papers the day after being sent.

It is not our desire to be disloyal to the diocesan leadership but rather to prayerfully follow where we believe the Lord is leading. Over the past several months Bishop Duncan has made it a priority to visit many parishes of the diocese and to present to the congregation (and often separately to the vestry) his reasons for advocating realignment. As far as I know, every rector who has signed the statement has welcomed the Bishop to make his presentation.

These are difficult times for the Diocese of Pittsburgh and it has been painful for many of us to be divided from colleagues with whom we have deep and abiding friendships. The group that signed the letter has attempted to be as forthright and transparent with the Diocesan leadership about where we are and what we are doing, and we hope to continue to do so in the future. Please keep all of us in prayer.

The Statement may be found here -

The Post-Gazettes' piece from January 2008 can be found here -


PseudoPiskie said...

If there could be a poll of parishioners without the clergy being present, do you believe the support for +Duncan's schism would be a majority of the laity in the diocese?

Jim Simons said...

No. A shift of 30 votes in the lay order last time would have defeated the vote. Very slim margin.

Tony Seel said...

No one should be surprised by the "very slim margin" of the vote for realignment. First, diocesan conventions are often populated by the more liberal and activist members of a diocese. Second, how many people really stand in favor of change? Of course, liberal activists love liberal change, but otherwise there is the moderate middle who don't want to move.

I don't know the Diocese of Pittsburgh, but my guess is that liberal activists plus statists equal a slim majority for realignment.

Unknown said...

Jim Simons,

Your obfuscation is astonishing!! There were only 176 total lay votes cast, and the vote passed 118-58. So OF COURSE a swing of 30 votes would have killed the effort!! How silly! But 30 votes is nearly 18% of the total! That would be like saying a swing of 9million votes in a presidential election would have changed things. Duh.

The lay vote was a resounding success - the clergy vote was a bit closer at 109-24.


Jim Simons said...

Matt: I'm not sure why I'm guilty of obfuscation. I got the statement (about the 30 vote margin) from members of the diocesan leadership team who have repeatedly expressed concern over the thin margin in the lay order and who have spent an enormous amount of time this past year visiting parishes to convince the laity to realign.

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