Episcopal diocese opposes national church
Delegates from the 11-county Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh on Saturday overwhelmingly approved a series of resolutions drafted in response to the national church’s decisions approving a gay reverend as a bishop and allowing blessing services for same-sex unions.
Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan summoned leaders from the 77 parishes in the diocese to a special convention to consider six measures that could lay the groundwork for the 2.3-million member Episcopal Church USA to split along conservative and liberal lines. The Pittsburgh diocese has 20,000 members.
Duncan called the decisions made in August at the Episcopal Church USA’s general convention “unity-breaking acts” that depart from biblical orthodoxy and 20 centuries of church tradition.
“We would not be here, if they had not gone there,” Duncan said, referring to the national church’s decision to approve the consecration of the Rev. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.
Robinson is a divorced priest living in a same-sex relationship. The national church also approved blessing services for same-sex unions during its national convention in Minneapolis.
Carolyn Haines of Christ Episcopal Church in Greensburg, Westmoreland County, who supports Duncan, said she is “brokenhearted” that national church leaders have caused a rift among the faithful.
“I feel like we’re not leaving the church, the national church is leaving us,” she said.
Opponents of Duncan’s resolutions, however, believe it is the bishop who is sowing the seeds of schism.
“I came here to try to get us not to do this,” said Rachel Nicholson, a delegate from St. Thomas Church in Canonsburg, Washington County. “The Anglican tradition is all about unity, even where people disagree. And we want to stay in unity.”
Following nearly six hours of emotion-tinged debate yesterday at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Monroeville, delegates approved by roll call vote each of the six resolutions presented by Duncan.
Members of the Episcopal Diocese in Fort Worth, Texas, which along with the Jacksonville, Fla., diocese was considering the national church’s decisions this summer, conducted a similar vote yesterday.
The resolutions approved yesterday will be presented at a meeting Oct. 7 to 9 of the American Anglican Council in Dallas. Duncan is first vice president of the organization, which is leading the effort to return the church to orthodoxy.
The measures also will be discussed at an international meeting of church leaders in London called by the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who is the spiritual leader of the world’s nearly 80 million Anglicans.
Duncan said the decision to call a special convention in the diocese was made with a “heavy heart,” but he saw no other alternative.
“We are trying to call the Episcopal church back to its senses,” he said. “And we are asking the worldwide communion to help us. The majority in this diocese will never accept what the general convention has done. Nor will the whole Christian church throughout the world.”
The Rev. Cynthia Bronson-Sweigert, pastor of Church of the Redeemer in Squirrel Hill, said while a majority in the Pittsburgh diocese agree with Duncan, it is not a widely held position outside the area.
“Out of the 96 dioceses in the country, only about 11 are holding special conventions,” she said. “As a whole, the church in the U.S. supports the decisions made at general convention.”
Bronson-Sweigert, who is part of the group Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, said rather than addressing the disagreement with the actions taken at general convention this summer, the resolutions proposed by the bishop are aimed at splitting the church.
Lou Camerlengo, a parishioner at Redeemer, presented the bishop with petitions containing 750 signatures of those opposed to Duncan’s resolutions.
The Rev. Donald Green, a Lutheran minister who heads the ecumenical group, Christian Associates of Southwestern Pennsylvania, called the crisis facing the Episcopal church “a real challenge” that warrants the prayers of all people of faith.
“The issues of human sexuality that the Episcopal church is dealing with are being watched closely by many denominations because they are grappling with the same questions,” Green said. “This is a time to show great empathy and compassion for our brothers and sisters in the church.”
A synopsis of the six resolutions approved Saturday during a special convention called in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh:
Affirms that the General Convention departed from its constitution in approving the Rev. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire, and permitting same-sex blessings, and holds these acts to be ‘null and void, and of no effect, in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.’
Asks for intervention in the ‘pastoral emergency created by the apostasy’ by the General Convention. The resolution asks that the international leaders of the church recognize the orthodox position as the ‘legitimate expression’ of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.
Seeks to establish a mechanism by which orthodox congregations and members of the clergy can be served across diocesan boundaries by a bishop who is ‘committed to historic faith and order.’
Recommits the church to its missionary activities in and outside the boundaries of the diocese while at the same time exempting local churches from sending assessment funds to the national church. Funds would instead be diverted to church organizations that ‘uphold and propagate the historic faith.’
Would allow congregations that do not agree with the actions of the special convention to withhold funding from the diocese and seek alternative episcopal oversight.
Would shift ownership of church buildings and other assets from the diocese to individual churches.