Pittsburgh Update

Pittsburgh Update publishes weekly summaries of recent developments in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion that affect or could affect Pittsburgh Episcopalians. Emphasis is on reporting, not interpretation. This is a service of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh. This site is in no way affiliated with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh or the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

A Pittsburgh Episcopal Voice          

A Service of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh         

Monday, June 30, 2008

News for Week Ending 6/30/2008

GAFCON challenges Anglican ways

The Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON: see Pittsburgh Update story here) ended June 29 and issued a “Statement on the Global Anglican Future” likely to deepen the Anglican crisis. The Statement declares conference participants to be a “fellowship of confessing Anglicans,” but one “not breaking away from the Anglican Communion.” It justifies continued incursions into provinces, such as the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church, that teach a “false gospel,” announces the development of a “Primates’ Council” that would “authenticate and recognise confessing Anglican jurisdictions, clergy and congregations,” and calls for the Common Cause Partnership, headquartered in Pittsburgh, to be recognized as “a province in North America.”

The Primates’ Council would likely comprise the primates of Nigeria, West Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and Southern Cone, possibly joined by Tanzania, depending on a vote by its bishops.

As part of the Statement, “The Jerusalem Declaration” enumerates “tenets of orthodoxy which underpin our Anglican identity.” The tenets include the “plain” reading of scripture (“the Word of God written”), subscription to the Articles of Religion, and the 1662 prayer book “as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer” to be translated and locally adapted.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, to whose prerogatives the GAFCON statement is a clear challenge, quickly issued a response calling the GAFCON proposals “problematic.” The Primates’ Council will “not pass the test of legitimacy” for some, he said, and the claim to be able to operate across provincial boundaries “is fraught with difficulties.”

Durham Bishop N.T. Wright, in a brief essay, “After GAFCON,” applauds the enthusiasm of the participants, but, like Archbishop Williams, he is unenthusiastic about the details of the Statement.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori also responded to GAFCON. “This statement does not represent the end of Anglicanism, merely another chapter in a centuries-old struggle for dominance by those who consider themselves the only true believers,” she said.

As reported here last week, Pittsburgh’s Bishop Robert Duncan delivered the opening plenary address in Jordan, but he did not follow participants to Jerusalem.

As we write this, press reports on GAFCON are just beginning to catch up with events. Recent stories can be found in the Telegraph, Christian Broadcasting Network, and Time. More stories will surely follow.

Prominent Church of England bishop to boycott Lambeth

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, a prominent conservative voice in the Church of England and spiritual leader of the Diocese of Rochester, says he will boycott the Lambeth Conference as a matter of conscience. “I would find it difficult to be in Eucharistic fellowship with, and teaching the common faith alongside, those who have ordained a person to be bishop whose style of life is contrary to the unanimous teaching of the Bible and the Church down the ages,” he said, referring to Bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson. The openly gay Robinson is the only Episcopal bishop not formally invited to the upcoming Lambeth Conference. The story is reported by Episcopal News Service here.

Church court convicts Pennsylvania bishop on charges of conduct unbecoming; attorneys vow appeal

On June 25, The Episcopal Church’s nine-member Court for the Trial of a Bishop announced a guilty verdict on two counts in the trial of Bishop Charles E. Bennison of the Diocese of Pennsylvania. (See Pittsburgh Update story here.) The court finding was unanimous on the count of failing to respond properly 35 years ago, as rector of a church in Upland, California, after learning that his brother, whom he had hired as youth minister, was “engaged in a sexually abusive and sexually exploitive relationship” with a 14-year-old parishioner. The verdict was 6-3 on the charge of suppressing the information about his brother until 2006 and “fail[ing] to minister to people who he understood to have been injured by his brother’s conduct.” Attorneys for Bennison told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he was “obviously disappointed” and said they plan an appeal to an appeals court composed of nine bishops.

The bishop told the court he was unaware of his brother’s sexual abuse of the victim until several years after it began. He also said the church at the time lacked any process for dealing with such situations and that he received no special seminary training in dealing with problems of that nature. The victim and her mother both testified for the prosecution.

All parties involved have until July 30 to submit additional evidence concerning sentencing, which could range from an admonition to deposition. After the trial court verdict was announced, the Diocese of Pennsylvania Standing Committee issued a statement saying it “shares in the grief of the victims and all whose lives have been impacted by these events. Our prayers and thoughts are with those affected by the trial and the verdict. We pray for healing for all. The canonical process is long and far from over.”

The Episcopal News Service story on the verdict can be read here.

Diocese of Maryland consecrates first African-American bishop

The Rev. Canon Eugene T. Sutton became the first African-American bishop in the Diocese of Maryland when he was consecrated June 28 in a service held at the Washington National Cathedral. For the past eight years, Sutton has served as the canon pastor and director of the Cathedral Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage at the the cathedral. In an interview published June 27 in The Baltimore Sun, the newly chosen bishop said he especially wants to emphasize environmental concerns and education. He has testified before Congress on climate change, and he said in the interview that he would like to explore the possibility of establishing an Episcopal school in Baltimore for low-income children. The Sun’s interview noted that that Sutton is the great-great grandson of slaves and that the diocese’s first bishop was himself a slaveholder.

Virginia state court upholds constitutionality of “division” statute

A state court handling litigation between the Diocese of Virginia and congregations that have left it to become part of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) has ruled that the Virginia statute on “divisions” in religious bodies is constitutional. (See Pittsburgh Update story here.) In an earlier ruling, the court held that the “division” statute was properly invoked by the CANA congregations. The Episcopal Church is party to the lawsuits, and a number of other churches sided with the diocese and church in friend of the court briefs.

Commenting on the court decision of June 27, the diocese issued a statement that said, in part:
“We are unwavering in these beliefs and will explore fully every option available to restore constitutional and legal protections for all churches in Virginia.”
The Episcopal News Service story on the decision can be read here. A story from The Washington Post can be read here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

News for Week Ending 6/23/2008

GAFCON convenes in Jerusalem

The Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) has now convened in Jerusalem and will continue through June 29. (See Pittsburgh Update story on GAFCON here.) The conference, attended mostly by conservatives from the U.S. and representatives from the Global South, is receiving extensive coverage in the press, including The New York Times, Reuters, and the BBC.

Episcopal News Service reported that Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani, who had earlier objected to GAFCON’s being held in Jerusalem at all, has called for participants to show a spirit of “peace, reconciliation and goodwill.” Religion Correspondent for The Times, Ruth Gledhill, has explained on her blog that eight people, not all of whom are even attending GAFCON, have been barred from GAFCON sessions. Among the so-called “GAFCON 8” is Colorado Bishop Robert O’Neill, who was asked by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to monitor the conference.

Participants in a closed pre-conference planning meeting that had been moved to Jordan at least in part because of the objections of the Jerusalem bishop adjourned early on June 19. The meeting was transferred to Jerusalem after Archbishops Akinola and Venables were refused entry into Jordan.

Conference organizers made available an on-line book, The Way, The Truth, and The Life, written by the conference’s Theological Resource Team shortly before GAFCON’s official opening. A statement by Archbishop Peter Akinola in one of the book’s essays was widely reported in the press: “There is no longer any hope, therefore, for a unified [Anglican] Communion.” The Nigerian primate’s rhetoric in his speech at the conference Sunday, June 22, however, seemed to hold out greater hope. (See the Telegraph story here.) Other addresses have been given by Pittsburgh’s Bishop Robert Duncan and Sydney’s Archbishop Peter Jensen.

London gay “marriage” condemned by Archbishops of Canterbury and York

In response to the blessing of the domestic partnership of two gay priests that took place in London earlier this month (see Pittsburgh Update story here), the Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued a brief statement in which they expressed “very great concern” over the incident. Clergy are not at liberty to disregard “the Church’s teaching,” the statement said. The statement was reported in The Guardian and elsewhere.

Duncan names “collegiate vicar” for Common Cause congregations in West

In his capacity as moderator of the Common Cause Partnership, an alliance of “orthodox” groups in the U.S., Pittsburgh’s Bishop Robert Duncan has named a priest as a “collegiate vicar” for the Association of Western Anglican Congregations. The individual chosen is the Rev. Bill Thompson, rector of All Saints’ Anglican Church in Long Beach, California. His appointment was announced June 14 at the Western Anglicans House of Delegates meeting in Newport Beach. Ron Speers, president of the Western Anglicans organization, said, “Hopefully, the appointment of the Collegiate Vicar for us can serve as a model for other CCP-related church clusters elsewhere in the country.” The story was reported by the Anglican Communion Network.

First openly gay deacon ordained in Diocese of San Diego

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported June 21, 2008, that Bishop James Mathes, Bishop of San Diego, recently ordained the diocese’s first openly gay deacon to the transitional diaconate. The new deacon is Thomas Wilson, a former schoolteacher who moved to San Diego eight years ago with his partner of 20 years. The Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity, said the action shows how San Diego’s generally conservative philosophy is gradually changing under Bishop Mathes’ leadership.

Prominent Fort Worth rector reiterates loyalty to Episcopal Church

The Rev. Christopher Jambor, rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church—one of the most prominent parishes in the city and diocese of Fort Worth—has gone on record pledging his loyalty to The Episcopal Church. “[L]eaving The Episcopal Church and claiming to be able to take her assets with you is not within the bounds of our polity. Doing so is not reforming that which is deficient. It is abandoning it. For me to support or advocate this course of action would be to break my solemn oaths made when I was ordained deacon and priest,” Jambor says in his statement.

San Joaquin congregation returns to Episcopal Church

The mission congregation of St. Andrew’s Parish has decided to reject the actions of its vestry and priest by requesting recognition as a congregation in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. The vestry and vicar of the Taft, California, mission had originally aligned the parish with Bishop John-David Schofield’s breakaway Anglican diocese now identifying itself as part of the province of the Southern Cone. In April, Bishop Lamb of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin received a petition signed by 25 pledging members of the mission—average Sunday attendance is 18—asking for recognition as part of the Episcopal diocese. Lamb appointed a new bishop’s committee and is providing supply clergy to serve the mission. The congregation has changed the locks to its building to ensure that its rejected leaders cannot seize the property. Conservative blogs have accused Bishop Lamb of theft of both the congregation and its property. When Bishop Schofield broke with The Episcopal Church, he allowed congregations not in debt to choose whether to realign or stay in The Episcopal Church. Mission congregations such as St. Andrew's were given no choice, however; Schofield claimed them all.

Quite different interpretations of what has happened in Taft may be found on the Web sites of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin, and conservative blogger David Virtue.

Pennsylvania bishop cleared of financial charges but awaits court verdict

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Title IV Review Committee found no basis on which to try Bishop of Pennsylvania Charles E. Bennison, Jr., for misuse of diocesan funds. Charges had been brought forward by the Diocese of Pennsylvania’s Standing Committee, which has been feuding with its bishop for some time. Bennison is still awaiting a verdict in his trial for conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy. (See the story from Religious Intelligence Web site here, as well as the earlier Pittsburgh Update story.)

Pittsburgh convention to be held October 4 in Monroeville

Whereas Pittsburgh’s annual diocesan convention is usually held over two days on the first weekend of November, there has been much talk of moving up the date to minimize the time before the convention during which the Diocese of Pittsburgh might be without a bishop should the House of Bishops depose Bishop Robert Duncan in September. (See Pittsburgh Update story here.) The diocese has now posted a letter from the bishop setting the date for the convention as October 4. The venue will be St. Martin’s, Monroeville. As explained in the letter, pre-convention hearings will be held in late September. The diocesan constitution requires that the annual convention be held in either October or November.

Monday, June 16, 2008

News for Week Ending 6/16/2008

GAFCON opens next weekend

The Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) opens next weekend in Jerusalem with registration beginning on Saturday, June 21. The conference will run through Sunday, June 29. According to its Web site, the conference aims to “prepare for an Anglican future in which the Gospel is uncompromised and Christ-centred mission is a top priority,” in addition to providing opportunity for fellowship and to “develop a renewed understanding of our identity as Anglican Christians.” The conference was planned largely by primates of the Global South and their Northern evangelical allies. Some GAFCON attendees have announced that they will boycott the Lambeth Conference, hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury July 10–Aug. 3, although a widespread boycott seems unlikely. Some bishops, including both Pittsburgh bishops, have said will attend both conferences.

Male priests “married” in London ceremony

Two male priests who had already registered in England as civil partners were “married” June 14 in a London service that used the traditional marriage rite and included a Eucharist. The Telegraph reported on the service performed in defiance of the Bishop of London. The couple, the Rev. Peter Cowell and the Rev. Dr. David Lord, participated in a ceremony at St. Bartholomew the Great Church. The Rev. Martin Dudley officiated. Conservative reaction was strong and quick. Ugandan primate Henry Orombi, for example, called upon the service “blasphemous” and urged the Archbishop of Canterbury to take decisive action to prevent such ceremonies.

Executive Council expresses hope that Bishop Robinson can have Lambeth impact

The Executive Council of The Episcopal Church wound up a three-day meeting Sunday, June 15, 2008, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, by adopting a resolution on this year’s Lambeth Conference. The resolution contains language expressing hope that Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, although not a formal participant, can nevertheless have some influence. Robinson, the only active openly gay Anglican bishop, plans to be at the conference site as an observer to “see and be seen.” The resolution says that, although the conference’s “structured discussions will not include the voice and face of the Bishop of New Hampshire, who has not been invited to participate, we pray that his voice will be heard through those who are there speaking the truth about The Episcopal Church and hearing the truths of others, to the benefit of the wider Communion." In earlier remarks, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori reminded Council members that the conference “is not going to be a legislative Lambeth; it’s going to be a conversational Lambeth, as was the first Lambeth.”

In other Council business, Linda Watt, chief operating officer for the church’s central offices, reported that a new regional office in Los Angeles is “up and running” and that another in Omaha is nearing the same status. In Seattle, she said, the church is close to settling on space on a school campus adjoining St. Mark’s Cathedral. But in Atlanta, Ms. Watt said, “hope is kind of faint” that rent-free space owned by the diocese can be found. She said the church remains committed to having a regional office in Province IX, made up of seven Latin American and Caribbean dioceses.

The Council was also briefed on proposed changes to Title IV, the church’s disciplinary canons. An attempt to revise the Title IV canons at the 2006 General Convention was unsuccessful.

Episcopal News Service has provided extensive coverage of the Executive Council meeting, most of which cannot be dealt with in this brief overview. The final ENS story on the meeting can be found here. It contains links to earlier stories.

President of House of Deputies has new Web site

For the first time, the president of the House of Deputies has her own Web site. President Bonnie Anderson welcomes visitors to the site, explaining that “the work and ministries of the deputies continue throughout the triennium.” She pledges to use the site to report on her ministies and those of other deputies to the General Convention. Initial features include remarks Anderson delivered at the Episcopal Relief and Development network meeting in April and at the Diocese of Missouri Flower Festival in May. It also includes news stories and a “Featured Voice” essay by the Rev. Brian N. Prior, of the Diocese of Spokane, the House of Deputies vice president.

Two California bishops urge couples to wed in civil ceremony first

According to an Episcopal News Service story, Bishop Marc Anrus of the Diocese of California said June 11 that all couples planning marriage, regardless of sexual orientation, should be wed in a civil ceremony before seeking a church blessing. He said such actions would be a way to support same-gender couples and “our continued witness to God’s inclusive love.” Bishop Mary Gray Reeves announced similar guidelines to her clergy according to The Living Church. Three other bishops in California—Jon Bruno of Los Angeles, James Mathes of San Diego, and Barry Beisner of Northern California—said their dioceses have not yet decided how they will deal with same-sex couples seeking blessing of their unions. The California Supreme Court ruled that, beginning June 16, gay couples can marry in that state. Interim Bishop Jerry Lamb of San Joaquin said his priority now is continued work to reconcile and restore the diocese because its previous leadership attempted to align it with South American Province of the Southern Cone.

Church court weighs fate of Pennsylvania bishop

A nine-member Court for the Trial of a Bishop is deliberating the case of Bishop Charles Bennison of the Diocese of Pennsylvania. His trial on a charge of conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy ended Friday, June 13, after three days of testimony taken at a downtown Philadelphia hotel. The court has 30 days to reach a verdict. A two-thirds majority is required for conviction on each charge. Bennison faces a sentence that could range from a reprimand to deposition.

Bennison is accused of failing to respond properly 35 years ago when, as a novice rector in Upland, California, he learned that his married younger brother John, a deacon and newly hired youth minister, had a ongoing sexual relationship with a girl that had begun when she was 14 years old. The bishop is further charged with covering up that information when his brother, who had once renounced his orders, was reinstated as a priest. John Bennison was forced from the priesthood a second time in 2006 after the abuse was publicly revealed.

Bennison’s attorney contended that his client had no church training, guidelines, or protocol to govern how he should respond at the time. He said that the 31-year-old rector handled the situation as best he knew how, a position Bennison himself took later in the proceedings when he testified on his own behalf.

The trial has been covered in detail by the Diocese of Pennsylvania. (Detailed accounts of the trial can be found here. Note that they appear in reverse chronological order.) The same reporter, Jerry Hames, who is providing stories for the Diocese of Pennsylvania, is also filing stories with Episcopal News Service. His ENS story on the final day of the trial can be found here. It contains links to earlier ENS stories on the trial.

Bishop moves to claim “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh”

Rector Harold Lewis, in his latest column in Calvary Church’s newsletter, has revealed details of a recent move by Pittsburgh’s bishop, Robert Duncan, to strengthen his claim that he is the rightful leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Bishop Duncan has registered a new nonprofit Pennsylvania corporation named “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” (The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, that diocese that is a part of The Episcopal Church, has always been an unincorporated entity.) Lewis speculates that the new corporation is a piece of a plan to claim Episcopal Church property as part of “realignment.” The bishop apparently intends to claim that he is the leader of the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” even in the event of his deposition and a vote by diocesan convention to leave The Episcopal Church. Lewis’s essay, “What's in a name?” and a copy of the articles of incorporation, in the bishop’s handwriting, can be found here. The listing for the new corporation on the site of the Pennsylvania Department of State can be found here.

Monday, June 9, 2008

News for Week Ending 6/9/2008

New Archbishop of Tanzania enthroned

On May 25, the Most Rev. Valentino L. Mokiwa was enthroned for a five-year term as the primate of Tanzania. Archbishop Mokiwa, a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary, has been bishop of the Diocese of Dar es Salaam since 2002. Among those attending the ceremony were the Rev. Emmanuel Sserwadda, The Episcopal Church’s program officer for Africa, and the Rev. Sandra McCann. McCann is an Episcopal missionary serving in Tanzania and a VTS graduate serving as official representative of VTS at the event. Archbishops Kolini of Rwanda and Akrofi of West Africa attended. Nigeria, Uganda, Burundi, and Kenya sent bishops as representatives. Episcopal News Service reported the story.

The new archbishop has joined Archbishop Drexel Gomez of West Indies and Bernard Ntahoturi of Burundi as primates willing to support the thirteen Episcopal Church bishops who are working on a proposal for a slightly expanded “episcopal visitors” group that could work with parishes or diocese anxious about remaining in good standing within the Anglican Communion. The group has committed to working only where the local bishop gives permission. (See “Communion Partners initiative expands to provide ‘relational fellowship’.”)

Bishop Robinson and partner exchange vows; diocese protests Lambeth snub

Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire and his partner of 20 years, Mark Andrew, were joined Saturday, June 7, 2008, in a private civil union held at St. Paul’s Church in Concord, N.H. The brief ceremony in the narthex of the church was followed by a service of thanksgiving for the couple that included a celebration of the Eucharist attended by approximately 120 friends and family members. The story was reported by the Concord Monitor.

In the same issue, the Concord Monitor also reported that the Standing Committee and Diocesan Council of the Diocese of New Hampshire wrote to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on May 28 protesting their bishop’s being excluded from the Lambeth Conference and his being prevented from preaching or celebrating the Eucharist while in England. The letter, which has not yet received a reply, described the actions of the Archbishop as “an insult to the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire.”

Church broadens lawsuit in San Joaquin property dispute

The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, in central California, filed an amendment in a state court on June 2 to the lawsuit to recover property held by former Episcopal bishop John-David Schofield.

The amendment added two new defendants, Merrill Lynch and a new holding company called the Anglican Diocese Holding Corporation. After the latest brief was filed by the plaintiffs, Merrill Lynch, which manages diocesan funds, immediately froze the disputed accounts pending resolution of the court case. Schofield had begun transferring assets to the new holding company from a corporation he formerly headed as the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin.

The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal diocese filed suit in April to assert ownership of diocesan property. A December vote of the diocesan convention to join the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone and the subsequent deposition of Schofield by the House of Bishops on March 12 led to the original filing.

The Web site for the Southern Cone-affiliated diocese contains a statement saying that the diocese remains confident the courts will rule for its ownership of the disputed property.

The Associated Press, Fresno Bee, Episcopal New Service and San Jose Mercury News all carried stories on the filing. ENS filed a separate story on the Merrill Lynch action.

San Joaquin reconciliation efforts continue

The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, headed by Interim Bishop Jerry Lamb, is moving ahead with its reconciliation program. It will hold a one-day retreat June 14 at Holy Family Church in Fresno, focusing on reconciliation among individuals and congregations.

After the retreat, Bishop Lamb will visit four diocesan locations in an activity being called “Reconciliation Conversations with the Bishop.” The purpose of the “conversations” is “to seek reconciliation with those who remain in discernment about participating in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin.”

The reconciliation programs are described in “Reconciliation in the Diocese of San Joaquin” in the diocese’s June newsletter.

Bishop Carol Gallagher to offer pastoral services in North Dakota

According to Episcopal News Service, Bishop Michael Smith has requested that Bishop Carol Gallagher assist in his diocese to “reach out especially to congregations and clergy who feel alienated and hurt by me due to different understandings of human sexuality.” Bishop Smith has declined to ordain partnered gays and lesbians, license partnered gay clergy who move to North Dakota, or allow same-sex blessings. The arrangement is pioneering a new kind of relationship between bishops and is intended to aid the listening process and discernment in the diocese around issues of sexuality.

Pittsburgh diocese makes Southern Cone destination official

Diocesan Council made public three resolutions to be voted on by the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s 143rd annual convention, which is expected to be held this year in early October, rather than early November. The convention will be held shortly after the scheduled September House of Bishops meeting at which Bishop Robert Duncan is expected to be deposed for abandoning the communion of The Episcopal Church.

The three resolutions announced by the Diocesan Council are available on the diocesan Web site here. They are predicated on the convention’s passing, on second reading, the constitutional amendments that intend to end the diocese’s accession to the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church. (The constitutional changes approved at the 2007 convention can be read here.)

Resolution One would establish a canon declaring the diocese to be part of the province of the Southern Cone. Resolution Two gives parishes 24 months to adjust their bylaws or similar documents to be in conformity with the new alignment. Resolution Three adopts as a temporary expedient “until a more comprehensive set of Constitution and Canons can be developed and approved by the Diocese” the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church, while at the same time explaining that this is not to be taken as indicative of the church’s having any authority over the diocese.

The resolutions follow closely the logic outlined in the diocese’s “Frequently Asked Questions About Realignment.” A different analysis of realignment has been offered by Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh in “Relignment Reconsidered.”

Monday, June 2, 2008

News for Week Ending 6/2/2008

Government seizes churches in Zimbabwe

Government forces have completed the takeover of Anglican church buildings in the province of Harare. Only the handful of supporters of the excommunicated rogue Anglican bishop Nolbert Kunoga, who is a crony of President Mugabe, are being allowed into church buildings. The vast majority of Anglicans support Dr. Sebastian Bakare, who was named Bishop of Harare after Kunonga’s removal. Church Times also reported that Bishop Bakare was being accused of plotting a coup against the government, and that Roman Catholics were also being attacked by government forces. An earlier Pittsburgh Update story can be read here.

Diocese of Huron votes to support same-sex blessings

Anglican Journal reported May 27 that the Diocese of Huron in Ontario, Canada, has become the fifth Anglican Church of Canada diocese officially to vote support for same-sex blessings. Since June 2007, the dioceses of Huron, Niagara, Ottawa, and Montreal have voted to support same-sex blessings. The Diocese of New Westminster did so in 2002. Clergy voted 97–36 for the measure in Huron. The lay vote was 277–87. The synod also voted to devise a ritual for such blessings.

Virginia court hears arguments on constitutionality of division statute

On May 28, The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia presented oral arguments challenging the constitutionality of a 19th-century church “division” statute on the grounds that it infringes on religious liberty under both state and U.S. constitutions. The statute is key to the property claims of 11 Virginia congregations that have affiliated with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. The Virginia Attorney General joined CANA attorneys in defending the law. The court also heard arguments from attorneys representing some of the 16 units of other denominations that filed written briefs challenging the law. No opinion is expected before late summer.

When Judge Randy Bellows ruled, on April 3, that the Virginia statute on church divisions applied to the case of the 11 congregations, he agreed to hear constitutional challenges to the law and refrained from making any decision about disposition of property. Arguments on the actual ownership of property are not scheduled until fall.

You can read Pittsburgh Update reports of the Virginia dispute here, here, and here. News stories on the May 28 proceeding are available from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Washington Times, and Episcopal News Service.

Dissenters abandon legal fight over Connecticut parish property

The former rector and about 120 ex-parishioners have ended their legal battle to keep the property of Trinity Church in Bristol, Connecticut. The Associated Press quoted the Rev. Donald Helmandollar as saying that he and laypeople who have left The Episcopal Church have decided to worship at an elementary school auditorium. Their first service there was set for June 1. The parish now calls itself Holy Trinity Anglican Church and is affiliated with the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). The Diocese of Connecticut sued the dissenting group last August to regain possession of the church property. The story was reported in the Hartford Courant.

Lambeth invitation issued to San Joaquin bishop

The provisional bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, Jerry Lamb, announced in his Friday blog that he received an invitation to the Lambeth Conference on May 26. The invitation was issued to him as diocesan bishop of San Joaquin. Bishop Lamb, who attended the 1998 Lambeth Conference, is making plans to attend the conference with his wife.

Central Florida, Northern Indiana, Springfield dioceses join protests of Schofield, Cox depositions

Leaders of the dioceses of Central Florida, Northern Indiana, and Springfield have added their voices to protests over the recent depositions of Bishops William Cox and John-David Schofield for abandoning the communion of the church. News of the Central Florida and Springfield actions were reported May 27 in The Living Church. The Northern Indiana action was posted the same day on the diocesan Web site.

All join protests already voiced by the dioceses of South Carolina and Western Louisiana, which have asserted that an insufficient majority of the House of Bishops voted to take the actions. Both the Presiding Bishop and her chancellor, David Booth Beers, have defended the actions as canonically valid. (See Pittsburgh Update story here.)

In its statement, the Northern Indiana Standing Committee said it noted “with alarm that the Presiding Bishop has publicly stated her intent to begin, at the September meeting of the House of Bishops, deposition proceedings against Bishop Robert Duncan of the Diocese of Pittsburgh for abandoning the communion before the diocese votes to do so in November. We plead for calm and prayer in the face of temptations to escalate abuses of power in this way.”

Pittsburgh Standing Committee “saddened” by move to depose Duncan

As reported on the diocesan Web site, the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, nearly all of whose members are supporting the withdrawal of the diocese from The Episcopal Church, passed a resolution May 27 expressing dismay at the move to depose Pittsburgh bishop Robert Duncan at a September meeting of the House of Bishops. The statement described the canons under which Bishop Duncan has been found to have abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church “misapplied” and “misinterpreted.” “Should our Diocesan Bishop be validly deposed pursuant to the requirements set forth in the canons,” the statement says, the Standing Committee is ready to assume the role of Ecclesiastical Authority in the diocese, apparently leaving open the possibility that the Standing Committee might not recognize Duncan’s deposition should the House of Bishops approve it.

St. Andrew’s forum offers little hope for diocesan unity

About 100 people attended a nearly 2½-hour forum and panel discussion on realignment sponsored by St. Andrew’s, Highland Park, on June 1. The lines of division in the diocese seem clearly drawn, as only three members of the audience admitted, in response to a question by Bishop Henry Scriven at the beginning of the forum, to being undecided about realignment.

Bishop Scriven and the Rev. John Bailey spoke in favor of realignment. The Rev. Daniel Hall, agreed with much of the justification for realignment, but considered realignment premature since the Anglican Communion has not officially declared that The Episcopal Church has chosen to “walk apart.” The Rev. Cynthia Bronson Sweigert disputed the need for realignment or its desirability. None of the panelists discussed the legality of realignment or its potential impact on The Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion. The Rev. Canon Mary Maggard Hays joined the four speakers in answering questions from the audience. St. Andrew’s rector, Bruce Robison, acted as moderator and offered occasional remarks.

All the presenters acknowledged that a division of the diocese appears inevitable, and there seemed to be a general feeling that a division would provide a sense of relief to those on both sides. Proponents of realignment urged a generous parting of the ways, and Bishop Scriven suggested that the resulting two dioceses could share resources and cooperate on projects.