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, March 30, 2009

News for Week Ending 3/30/2009

GC 2009 Blue Book Available

The so-called Blue Book, the collection of reports and information prepared for deputies to the 76th General Convention, is now available on-line on the Web site of The Episcopal Church. The General Convention, the governing body of the church that meets once every three years, will be held this year in Anaheim, California, from July 8 to July 17.

Diocese of Colorado and Episcopal Church prevail in property dispute

A Colorado judge ruled March 24 that the former Episcopalians occupying Grace and St. Stephen’s Church must vacate the property and return it to the diocese and to the parishioners who remained in The Episcopal Church rather than join the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA). The Colorado Springs church is said to be worth $17 million. The decision came after a five-week trial and can be read here.

The defection of Grace and St. Stephen’s Church from the Diocese of Colorado has received much attention both because of the size and prominence of the church and because its rector, the Rev. Don Armstrong, an outspoken critic of The Episcopal Church who encouraged his congregation to leave The Episcopal Church in 2007, was deposed by the diocese for mishandling of parish funds. Armstrong may eventually face criminal changes as well. Episcopal News Service ran a major story about developments in Colorado on March 24, 2009. The trial judge ordered the dissident congregation to return the church property to the diocese and to the members of Grace and St. Stephen’s who stayed in The Episcopal Church. According to The Denver Post, the CANA congregation will move into a new facility on April 3, 2009.

An editorial note

This has been something of a slow news week, which makes this a good time to comment on our choice of stories for Pittsburgh Update. Every week, the editors of Pittsburgh Update have to decide which stories to cover and which stories to ignore. These choices are often quite difficult; we sometimes cover seemingly minor stories while ignoring others that are clearly important. Readers should keep in mind that we are not trying to keep Episcopalians updated on all the important news of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Instead, we are trying to serve Pittsburgh Episcopalians with news likely to be relevant to current and future circumstances in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. The connection is sometimes speculative, and, if it’s too speculative, we may pass on a story.

This week, for example, the Bishop of Rochester in the Church of England, the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, announced that he would step down to devote himself to the Christian church in areas of the world where Christians are a minority. (The bishop, who is from Pakistan, was the first non-white diocesan bishop in the Church of England.) Because Nazir-Ali has been a strong supporter of the GAFCON movement, some have speculated that his departure suggests that liberals are gaining the upper hand in the struggles within the Anglican Communion. It seems as likely, however, that Nazir-Ali will simply play a different role, still supporting the GAFCON movement. Or not. Maybe this is a story of great significance to the future of the Pittsburgh diocese. We were not convinced, however, and we decided to skip it.

Of the stories we did cover this week, the Blue Book story might seem like a close call, but the Colorado story, one about a property dispute, is clearly of interest to Pittsburghers, who are already in a property dispute that threatens to get ever more complicated and acrimonious. The General Convention is clearly important to all Episcopalians, but we covered it this week because the Anglican world will again be looking at how our church is responding to the Windsor Report and its rather long aftermath. Moreover, revision of Title IV, the canons on clergy discipline, are again up for revision by the General Convention. Title IV has been important to Pittsburgh—the deposition of Bishop Duncan was governed by Title IV canons—and how the diocese deals with clergy who have left the diocese (or who have left and may come back) will be greatly influenced by the disciplinary canons of Title IV.

Pittsburgh Update will maintain its somewhat narrow focus on Pittsburgh. If you want to know more about The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, however, you will have to get news from other sources as well. There are plenty such sources on the Web, and, if you are interested, we urge you to read them regularly.

Monday, March 23, 2009

News for Week Ending 3/23/2009

ACNA plans move forward

According to The Living Church, the Anglican Church in North America expects to have between five and eight requests for recognition as dioceses by groups of churches when it holds its first provincial meeting in June. Formation of the ACNA was announced in December by the Common Cause Partnership. (See Pittsburgh Update story here.) The “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” led by Bishop Robert Duncan, has already submitted its application for diocesan status. Duncan is the archbishop-designate of the ACNA, which is intended to be an Anglican alternative to The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. David Virtue reports on two dioceses-in-formation expected to become part of the ACNA, the Anglican Diocese in the Southeast, in Florida, and the Diocese of Cascadia, in Washington state. Episcopal News Service has a story on the Cascadia developments here.

Although the ACNA has received no official recognition by the Anglican Communion, the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) has declared itself to be in full communion with the ACNA. This occurred at the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Nigerian Church. As reported by Pittsburgh Update last week, Duncan was present for the Nigerian gathering. The Common Cause Partnership issued a press release on the recognition by the Church of Nigeria. In it, Duncan is quoted as saying, “In this one action, leaders representing every diocese in the Church of Nigeria, which in turn count as members more than a quarter of the world’s Anglicans, have declared themselves to be full partners of the Anglican Church in North America.”

The Common Cause Partnership issued another press release March 20, 2009, announcing that a member of the vestry of Fox Chapel Episcopal Church, Brad B. Root, will serve as the first Chief Operating Officer of the ACNA. According the the press release, “Root has secured flexible headquarter facilities on ‘Gospel Alley’ at Ambridge, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh International Airport, as well as alongside the headquarters of many of the new Church’s mission organizations and the campus of Trinity Seminary.”

Fallbrook appeal rejected by California court

On March 11, 2009, the California Supreme Court rejected an appeal from members of St. John’s Church, Fallbrook, California, in the case New v. Kroeger. St. John’s, a parish in the Diocese of San Diego, announced its decision to leave The Episcopal Church over doctrinal issues in July 2006. The vestry changed the name of the church to St. John’s Anglican Church and amended its governing documents. The Diocese of San Diego held that such moves were beyond the power of the vestry. In the resulting lawsuit, the Fallbrook group prevailed in the trial court, but the decision was reversed on appeal last October. (See Pittsburgh Update story here.) St. John’s Anglican appealed to the Supreme Court, which rejected the plea and let stand the decision of the Fourth District Court of Appeal. That court is expected to order the Superior Court to issue a judgment in favor of the diocese. Parish property will likely be returned to the control of a vestry loyal to the diocese, and St. John’s Anglican will be forced to worship elsewhere. This story was reported by Episcopal News Service and Religious Intelligence on March 17, 2009.

The blog The Three Legged Stool summarizes the Fallbrook dispute and suggests that the Supreme Court action is particularly good news for the Diocese of San Joaquin.

Reorganized San Joaquin diocese celebrates first ordinations

On February 28, 2009, the Rt. Rev. Jerry Lamb performed the first two ordinations in the reorganized Diocese of San Joaquin. The Rev. Stanley Graham Coppel, Jr., and the Rev. David Pena were ordained Episcopal priests in Stockton, California. The ordinations were reported on the diocesan Web site.

Different sort of property dispute in progress in Central N.Y.

Most disputes resulting from congregations leaving The Episcopal Church have involved real estate and church contents. A different sort of contest is playing out in the Diocese of Central New York, however. The church involved is Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, New York. The congregation withdrew from the diocese in November 2007, and the New York Supreme Court ordered the former Episcopalians out of their building in December 2009. (See Pittsburgh Update story here.) The latest dispute to reach the courts involves the bequest to the church of a parishioner who died in 1986. Good Shepherd, which now meets in a Roman Catholic church, argues that it should control the trust fund resulting from the generosity of Robert Brannan. The Diocese of Central New York argues that the Good Shepherd parish no longer exists and that the money should go to the alternate beneficiary, Christ Episcopal Church, Binghamton. The story was reported here by a local TV station.

Monday, March 16, 2009

News for Week Ending 3/16/2009

Nigerian primate supports anti-gay marriage legislation

The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) has issued a statement supporting Nigerian legislation criminalizing same-sex marriages. According to the BBC, homosexual acts are already illegal in Nigeria. Gay activists in Nigeria have spoken out against the bill, but various religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, have supported it. (See Pittsburgh Update story on the legislation here.) Archbishop Peter Akinola signed the Church of Nigeria position paper favoring the legislation. Thinking Anglicans has provided links both to the Akinola document and to the proposed legislation here. The church’s statement has not appeared on the Church of Nigeria Web site.

Akinola’s statment has been much criticized on the Web, but little has been heard from conservatives who have supported and received support from the Nigerian primate. Thinking Anglicans has links to many of the commentaries here. It also has a link to Akinola’s opening remarks at a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Church of Nigeria, which took place March 11–14, 2009. In those remarks, the Nigerian primate notes the attendance of American Bishops Bob Duncan and Martyn Minns at the meeting.

Bennison appeals conviction

The Rt. Rev. Charles E. Bennison, Bishop of Pennsylvania, has appealed his conviction by an ecclesiastical trial court for conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy. The charges involved sexual misconduct by his brother, John Bennison. The appeal, reported by Episcopal News Service, comes after a request by the bishop that the sentence of deposition be reduced. The appeal was unsuccessful. (See Pittsburgh Update story here.) The case will now go before the Court of Review for the Trial of a Bishop. No date has been set for a hearing. Bennison has been inhibited since October 2007, when the charges were first brought against him.

Consent process controversial for Northern Michigan bishop-elect

The consent process following the election of the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester to become bishop of the Diocese of Northern Michigan has attracted controversy. After a diocese elects a bishop, that person must receive consents for his or her consecration from a majority of diocesan bishops and diocesan standing committees. Episcopal News Service reports that obtaining such consents for Forrester, who was elected February 21, 2009, will be more difficult than usual. Both the nature of the election—Forrester’s name was the only one submitted to the special convention convened for the episcopal election, though other candidates were considered—and Forrester’s practice of Zen Buddist meditation have proved controversial. According to the London Times, opposition to the Forrester consecration has largely come from conservatives. The Living Church has published a number of stories on Forrester, his election, and his practices (see here, here, here, here, and here).

Former Southern Virginia bishop joins ACNA in Pittsburgh

The Living Church reported March 12, 2009, that the Rt. Rev. David C. Bane, has been accepted into the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone by its Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Gregory Venables. Bane stepped down from his position as Bishop of Southern Virginia in 2006 after a troubled episcopate that began in 1998. According to The Living Church, he has been frustrated by his inability to find another position in which to serve The Episcopal Church. He will now serve the Anglican Church in North America as an assisting bishop in Pittsburgh. (See Pittsburgh Update story here on the ACNA.) A story about Bane’s appointment was posted on the Pittsburgh Web site March 16, 2009. According to that story, Bane will continue living in North Carolina, but he “will be available when needed for parish visitations, confirmations and other ministry in the diocese.”

Sunday, March 8, 2009

News for Week Ending 3/9/2009

Ottawa to study same-sex blessings

Episcopal News Service reported March 6, 2009, that the Diocese of Ottawa of the Anglican Church of Canada has formed a committee to decide whether the diocese should bless civil marriages of same-sex partners in that diocese on a trial basis. Bishop John Chapman has argued that the church needs experience with such blessings to discern whether the practice should be generally adopted. (See Pittsburgh Update story here.) Chapman will allow at most one church to experiment with same-sex blessings.

Other developments in the Canadian church are described in the ENS story. In particular, Bishop Michael Bird of the Diocese of Niagara is reported to have discussed developments related to same-sex blessings in his diocese with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams during a visit to Canterbury in January. Bird has asked his diocese for a rite for same-sex blessings and appropriate guidelines related to blessing civilly married same-sex couples. ENS also reports that Canadan primate Archbishop Fred Hiltz “has adopted a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude” regarding the idea of professional mediation of church disputes that was raised at the recent meeting of the Anglican Primates.

Bishop Ackerman to be available to ‘realigned’ group

The February 2009 issue of Harvest Plain, formerly the newsletter of the Diocese of Quincy (and now of of the “realigned diocese”) reports that the Rt. Rev. Keith Ackerman, the Quincy bishop who retired just before the diocese’s vote to leave The Episcopal Church, “will continue to be available” in Quincy for a variety of purposes. Moreover, the bishop, who became an assisting bishop in the Diocese of Springfield after his retirement (see Pittsburgh Update story here), “will be functioning in the diocese at the direction of the Standing Committee as liaison with various national and international bodies, including the emerging North American Province,” according to Harvest Plain.

Ackerman will be working under interim bishop selected by the breakaway group, the Rt. Rev. Edward H. MacBurney. MacBurney, a former Bishop of Qunicy, was inhibited last year for performing unauthorized confirmations for the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone in the Diocese of San Diego. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori lifted the inhibition when MacBurney apologized to the Bishop of San Diego for his actions. (See Pittsburgh Update story here.)

Fort Worth diocese chancellor requests ‘orderly transfer’ of property

The chancellor of the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Fort Worth, Kathleen Wells, wrote to Bishop Jack Iker’s chancellor on March 3, 2009. In the letter posted on the diocesan Web site here, Wells appealed to the “realigned” group to preserve assets, to “cooperate with us to effect an orderly transfer of the possession and control of that church property to the proper officials in the continuing Diocese and its congregations,” and to stop using the names, logos, and seals of the Episcopal diocese and its congregations. Additional information is provided in an Episcopal News Service story here.

Clergy group elects leadership

When much of the Diocese of Pittsburgh chose to leave The Episcopal Church in October, the local Clergy Association decided that it would be impractical to try to maintain a single organization for clergy both within and outside of The Episcopal Church. As reported on the Diocese of Pittsburgh Web site March 7, 2009, the Pittsburgh Episcopal Clergy Association held a meeting February 26, 2009, and elected a slate of officers. The Rev. Cynthia Bronson Sweigert, rector of Church of the Redeemer, Squirrel Hill, was elected president of the group. Additional information can be read here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

News for Week Ending 3/2/2009

Archbishop of Canterbury appoints pastoral visitors

Following a recommendation by the Windsor Continuation Group endorsed by the primates at their Alexandria meeting, Archbishop of Canterbury has appointed six people to be pastoral visitors. According to an Episcopal News Service story, their job will be “to assist in healing and reconciliation” in Anglican disputes. The group includes three bishops, two laypeople, and no women. The visitors will have little authority other than what may be given them by parties to any dispute, and they will report to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Five of the visitors attended briefings at Virginia Theological Seminary February 25–28. The Living Church has provided biographical information about the visitors here.

Canadian primate thanks Burundi archbishop for opposition to border crossings

The primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, thanked Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, primate of the Anglican Church of Burundi, for that church’s stand against border crossings by Anglican bishops. According to Anglican Journal, an official publication of the Anglican Church of Canada, Hiltz expressed gratitude to his Burundi counterpart during a visit to Burundi last month. According to Anglican Journal, the Burundi church does not support the more liberal views on homosexuality held by some in the Canadian church. Hiltz noted that the Anglican Church of Canada has not yet taken a position favoring the blessing of same-sex unions, however.

A number of Anglican bishops have intervened without permission of the local bishop in dioceses of The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Episcopal Church of Brazil on behalf of disaffected conservative congregations.

Episcopal Church launches ‘I am Episcopalian’ Web site

On Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2009, The Episcopal Church launched a Web “microsite” called “I am Episcopalian.” The new site, available at http://IamEpiscopalian.org, contains short videos of Episcopalians describing what they like about their church. The site is described in an Episcopal News Service story here. A notable feature of I am Episcopalian allows visitors to upload their own videos for inclusion on the site.

Duncan releases pastoral letter on property issues

The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pittsburgh of The Episcopal Church wrote to church leaders recently to describe an exchange of correspondence with the Pittsburgh group lead by deposed bishop Robert Duncan. (See Pittsburgh Update story here.) Duncan has now written a letter to his flock that is posted on the Web site now identified as “The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican)” here. In his letter, Duncan criticizes the Standing Committee for its cool reply to the overture by his group. (Neither side has released the actual correspondence.) Duncan argues that the stipulation signed by all parties to the Calvary lawsuit in October 2005 does not imply that the diocese in The Episcopal Church should be given diocesan property. He argues for new negotiations to reach “an equitable distribution of Diocesan property.”