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         

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Week Ending 2/26/18

Showdown in Jerusalem

Last week the update carried a story on the back taxes that the mayor of Jerusalem was trying to collect from Christian organizations.  In addition a bill moving through the Israeli Knesset which would have retroactively expropriated land sold by the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches to private parties.  In response to what appears a multifaceted campaign against Christian Churches in Jerusalem, the three religious denominations who control the Church of the Holy Sepulchre publicly locked the building in protest.  It is not clear when one of the main pilgrimage sites in Jerusalem will reopen. Israeli officials have now announced  they will  cease trying to collect the tax bills, but the land issue remains. 

Latest on South Carolina Property Cases

The US Supreme Court has scheduled a session to review the more than 300 cases filed with them to determine which they will hear in their October session.  According to a February 25 posting byblogger Steve Skardon,  the South Carolina appeal by the break-away church faction led by Mark Lawrence is on  the list for review.  The court held one session already and has scheduled ones on March 2 and 15 to decide the fate of the remaining filings.  Meanwhile historian Ron Caldwell has acquired an anonymous template for break-away parishes to follow if or when they leave the buildings which according to the South Carolina Supreme Court belong to the Episcopal Church. Caldwell and Skardon both believe it shows that the break-away group is using the mediation and appeals to buy time to try to prepare their congregations to leave the buildings.   Skardon has another blog entry dated February 22 that deals with  the financial problems of the break-away group. 

Noted Lawyer for Christian Rights in China Dies Under Suspicious Circumstances

A Chinese lawyer honored for his work in representing Christian groups facing persecution and property loss in China has died in a Chinese hospital.  Li Baiguang  was checked into the hospital with minor stomach problems and was declared dead several hours later.  China has a track record of having activists die after being checked into a hospital.  Anglican.ink has two articles on this death here and here. There were stories in several Asian papers including the South China Morning Post.

Responding to Death of Billy Graham

Although Presiding Bishop Curry issued a statement praising the late evangelist Billy Graham for making a "big bent" that was racially inclusive and ecumenical, some are reminding us that Graham's "tent" was not big enough to include those from the LGBTQ community.  See for example the NBC story here and the LGBTQ publication, the Advocate.

Priest Takes Action Following Florida School Shooting

The Pittsburgh Update carried links to statements by a variety of Episcopal Church leaders on the mass shooting at a Florida high school.  One priest, however has done much more. The Rev. Mark Sims, rector of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to help the surviving high school students make their case for safe schools and gun control. He is also speaking out to encourage all to take action.  Sims was directly touched by the shootings because Carmen Schentrup, who was killed, was a member of his parish, sang in the choir, and sat on the parish vestry.  His statement is here. The page for contributions is here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Week Ending 2/19/18

Federal Judge Lifts Stay on South Carolina Church Suit

The federal judge assigned the trademarks case involving the church name and symbols in South Carolina has apparently decided that the mediation he ordered is simply being used as a delay tactic by the break-away diocese led by Mark Lawrence.  The judge has lifted the stay on the case and issued a schedule for depositions and filings with a court hearing in September.  The Episcopal Church in South Carolina web site had the main story.  As usual,  SC blogger Steve Skaradon provides additional background in his February 14 post

Church Leaders Speak Out on Gun Violence

The recent mass shooting at a Florida High School has led the group Bishops United Against Gun Violence to issue another call for better gun control laws.  They have been joined by other Episcopal leaders around the country.  It also led the Bishop of South East Florida to issue an open letter to Senator Marco Rubio calling for legislation as well as prayer.  The Canon to the Ordinary and the Chair of the Standing Committee from Southeast Florida (the diocese that includes the site of the shooting) also issued a statement. Bishop McConnell in Pittsburgh posted a meditation on the shooting that addressed actions other than legislation.  In a different case involving gun violence, the Bishop of New York responded with sorrow to the acquittal of a police officer who shot a woman having a mental health breakdown in 2016.  The African American woman had been active in Episcopal parishes.

Tax Bill Threatens Churches in Jerusalem

The mayor of Jerusalem has presented various Churches with a municipal tax bill that has the churches reeling.  The Churches and the charities (schools, hospitals, care centers, etc.) that they run have always been exempt from the tax.  The mayor is trying to use the bills to pressure the Israeli government to reimburse the city for the money they don't get from the churches.  The bill for the Anglican Episcopal Church of Jerusalem is over $ 1.95 million.  The Anglican Communion web site has more details and how it affects other denominations.

Church Forgives Stranded Youth for Fire

St. Thomas Episcopal Church on the Cheyenne River Reservation in North Dakota responded with prayers for the three youths who broke in to the church and set a fire using church hymnals and furniture to try to stay warm after being stranded nearby in zero degree weather.  The church issued a statement saying that they understood the youths efforts to survive deadly cold.  However, the parish will have a hard time replacing all of their Lakota language hymnals, repairing the floor, and replacing the furniture burned.

New Criticism of the Church of England Handling of Bishop Bell Case

The Church of England Commission handling the questions about due process in accusations of sexual abuse by the long-deceased Bishop Bell has stumbled again.  This time they appointed someone to serve as advocate for Bell and his family, but forgot to consult first with the family and ignored the family's choice of an advocate.  It appears the commission is trying to hurry the case along, but in this case "haste makes waste."  Thinking Anglicans has links to all the latest developments. Update has covered the Bell story in several posts.  The most recent is here.

Three Church of England Evangelical Groups to Merge

Three conservative evangelical Curch of England groups have announced a merger.  The Fellowship of Word & Spirit and  Reform, both formed in the second half of the twentieth century will merge with the Church Society which has been around since the 1830s.  The goal is to be a better voice for renewal with the Church of England.  Their decision to stay in the Church of England is a counter to the groups being organized by the ACNA-consecrated, GAFCON-sponsored Bishop Andrew Lines who is organizing groups outside the Church of England and Scottish Episcopal Church.

Uproar at Sewanee Over Honorary Degree

Charlie Rose received an honorary degree from the University of the South in Sewanee before he was linked to accusations of sexual harassment.  The Board of Trustees voted to allow the honor to stand despite pressure to rescind the award.  Now the faculty of the Theological School have waded into the controversy.  The Episcopal Cafe site is not working consistently, but Three Rivers Episcopal Blog has a post on the Theology School response.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Week Ending 2/12/18

South Carolina Break-Away Diocese Files Appeal to U.S. Supreme Court

Immediately after the South Carolina State Supreme Court denied a rehearing of the church property decision largely favorable to those who remained in the Episcopal Church, the break-away group announced their intent to file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Update reported that here.  On Friday, February 9, 2018 the break-away group filed their appeal.  The appeal itself basically argues that this is a federal issue because courts have applied the idea of neutral principles in contradictory ways.  The appeal argues that the majority of South Carolina judges chose the wrong interpretation and that the Dennis Canon alone was not enough to establish a trust claim on parish property under S.C. trust law.  Interestingly, the diocese participating in the Episcopal Church published information on the filing before anything appeared on the break-away groups web sites. As expected,  Allan Haley (who argued the ACNA position on this issue in the cases involving San Joaquin) has published a commentary that recaps his unsuccessful interpretation yet again.  Blogger Steve Skaradon  sees the filing as another desperate attempt to delay turning over property to the real Episcopalians in his February 9 post.  The Living Church also covers the events.  The filing included three documents.  The second was an appendix with the separate opinions of all five of the South Carolina judges. While it was necessary to include the opinion with the filing.  The clearly written opinions of the first 4 judges make a clear argument that rebuts the appeal's contentions. The third document states that the parishes whose property titles were sustained in the South Carolina court opinion are not participating in the appeal.

Working Together on Global Warming

The Rman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston hosted an ecumenical meeting of religious leaders and leading scientists in Massachusetts to look at how churches could stand together in addressing the impact of climate change.  Among the Episcopalians present was the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas who works full-time for TEC and the UCC on climate change issues. She reflects further on the conference on her blog.  While it is too early to see if this collaboration will be fruitful,  the Anglican Communion Environmental Network and the Global Catholic Climate Movement have collaborated on a Lenten discipline that is a "carbon-fast" and lets those who follow it focus each week on a different area where they can reduce their carbon footprint.  The materials are available in 5 languages.

Australian Church Drops Charges Against Bishops

Update reported that three bishops of the Anglican Church of Australia had been upset enough by the participation of two Australian Bishops  in the ACNA consecration of Bishop Andrew Lines who was going to set up a non-Church of England diocese for GAFCON in England, that they requested the Australian Church's disciplinary body look into charges against the men.  The disciplinary group has announced that that matter has been discontinued.  One further issue is still before the group: a complaint about the Diocese of Sydney's affiliated organization rules.

Church of England Synod Supports Closer Ties with Methodists

In lop-sided votes, the Church of England Synod "welcomed" a report moving towards recognizing each other's clergy.  The details are yet to be worked out, but the committees working on those have been urged to move rapidly.  Of 35 bishops in attendance only 2 opposed the resolution.  Of the 167 clergy voting on the issue, 131 favored the resolution.  The lay order favored the resolution with  124 of 169 votes cast.  Update reported on earlier discussions and sticking points here.

TEC Church Center Gains Adds a New Tenant

The Episcopal Church Center has been renting space to non-church groups as a means of getting a return on the investment in the New York City building, and making use of space the church is no longer using.  The latest tenant brings a strong liberal focus on social justice -- The Children's Defense Fund.   The Episcopal Church COO, Geoffrey Smith stressed that the CDF work was a good alignment with the Church's own values of social justice.  

Texas Parish School Claims Church Exemption in Lawsuit

An African-American family is suing Trinity School in Galveston for not responding appropriately to  bullying of a black child by white schoolmates.  The school, a parish day school owned and controlled by Trinity Parish, but with separate 501 (c)3 status, has defended itself by raising a religious freedom defense.  It is claiming that it cannot be held to secular standards, because that would impose outside values on a religious institution.  Under the diocesan canons all church schools must adhere to basic standards for health and safety set by secular authorities or they can lose the right to operate on church property. Most responses from the larger Episcopal world have been to point out that Church values would hold the school to even higher standards of behavior.  See the comments on the Episcopal Cafe and on the "General Convention" Facebook page.

Archbishop Welby Proposes Change in Selection Process for His Successor

Archbishop Justin Welby used his Synod address to call for a revision in the selection process for Archbishops of Canterbury and York.  Currently one primate from the Anglican Communion sits with  the Crown Nomination Committee which recommends a selection to the Queen.  The CNC has representatives chosen by Synod and by the diocese to be filled. The Archbishop of York sits with the CNC when selected someone for Canterbury and Canterbury sits with CNC when selected someone for York.  Welby wants one primate from five geographic area to sit with the CNC when selecteing a new Archbishop of Canterbury., and less representation from the diocese.  It is a recognition of the dual role of that office.  It also might be seen as moving closer to a model of a world wide Anglican Church rather than a Communion. It could either give conservatives more control in the Communion or undercut their efforts to create an alternative Communion through GAFCON.

Cape-Town Archbishop Responds to Water Shortage

Capetown South Africa is facing such a serious drought that all taps to individual buildings could be shut off April 16 unless the residents find a way to cut their usage.  Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Capetown is urging members of churches to substantially reduce their water use and should they succeed in getting the reduction needed to keep water flowing, to refrain from then claiming a false crisis.  He is urging that the 80% of Capetown that is "religious" lead the way with prayer and conservation.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Week Ending 2/4/18

Churches Continue to Support Immigrants

ReligionNews.com carried a piece this week on a Reformed Church congregation that has acted as a sanctuary site for Indonesian Christians afraid to return home because of religious persecution, and action by a judge to block deportation temporarily. Bishops from the Anglican Provinces in Central America and Mexico have issued a joint statement urging support for DACA and an end to deportation of undocumented Central Americans.  The recent diocesan convention in Washington D.C. also voted to become a sanctuary diocese for undocumented immigrants, but that resolution has not received the attention received by another resolution, covered later in this issue of Update.

Bible App for Progressives

Religion News also reports on Crystal Cheatham who found numerous on-line apps that connected conservative Christians on-line, but none for a more progressive view.  So she designed an App that would focus on those who by race, sex, orientation, or ability were marginalized in society.  The new app  includes things like an LGBTQ site on the Bible.  She is looking for contributors from liberal and feminist perspectives to add more content.  The app can be found at OurBibleApp.com

Welby Accused of Blocking Compensation for Church Abuse Victim

As Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, tries to recover from all the negative publicity surrounding his refusal to clear the late Bishop George Bell's name from charges of pedophilia, he has now been hit with a direct charge that he blocked appropriate compensation for another victim of a pedophile priest.  In this case the insurer for the church offered a relatively low sum of compensation and told the person to go directly to the Church of England for more.  The Church offered nothing in addition to the  insurance award.  Welby thus heads into the Church of England Synod meeting under fire on more than one front.

Diocese of Washington Asks for Gender-Neutral Terms for God

This is the season for diocesan resolutions intended to be presented at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church which will meet in July 2018 in Austin, TX.  The Diocese of Washington has voted nearly unanimously to ask the convention to ensure that future iterations or revisions of the Book of Common Prayer will include gender-neutral language for God.  They also voted to support full inclusion of Transgendered people in the life and liturgy of the Church. Conservative church and political sources have been making a big fuss about these votes.  See VirtueOnLine,  and the IRD blog for a selection of the negative reports. Christian News includes both the supporters of the resolution and statements by traditionalists who argue that God is male.  A more positive statement on the votes are found at Episcopal Cafe

Presiding Bishop Links Appeal for Black Colleges to Absalom Jones Day

The Presiding Bishop has chosen to call attention to the two surviving Historically Black Colleges affiliated with the Episcopal Church as part of the annual Absalom Jones Day celebration.  Bishop William White ordained Jones, a former slave, to the diaconate and priesthood, making Jones the first African-American ordained to either order.  St. Augustine's in Raleigh and Voorhees in South Carolina are the sole survivors of what was once a network of 10 Episcopal Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Anglican Leaders of Ireland Oppose Abortion Bill

The two top clergy in Ireland (North and Republic), the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin  have jointly issued a statement opposing provisions in an abortion law now under review by the parliament of the Republic of Ireland.  The bishops carefully distinguish between the provisions of the law they cannot support and the need to allow abortions for women either for medical or certain life-situational reasons and to pastorally support women, who, in difficult situations, must choose abortion. 

South Sudan Elects a Woman as Bishop

The Episcopal Church of South Sudan has consecrated its first woman as a bishop.  The Rt. Rev. Elizabeth Awut Ngor will serve as assistant bishop in the Diocese of Rumbek.  She becomes the third African woman to serve as a bishop.  The others are in Swaziland and False Bay in Southern Africa. Unlike the those in Southern Africa, the South Sudan participates in the conservative GAFCON bloc.  Her election creates a problem for the GAFCON members because they had asked Uganda and Kenya to hold off electing women as bishops until all of GAFCON would accept them. 

Church Continues Response to Natural Disasters

Presiding Bishop Curry continued his tour of locations struck by Hurricanes with a visit to the Houston area, where churches and families are still struggling to recover.  Parishes are continuing to provide basic support for those families flooded out. The Update covered his earlier visits to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands here and here.   Meanwhile in the far west, Episcopalians this week were celebrating the clearing of mudslide debris from the major road in Montecito so that they could finally worship in their own building again.  Neighboring parishes helped out during the exile.  Now all of the parishes are looking at helping neighbors whose homes were destroyed in the mudslides touched off by heavy rain in areas denuded of vegetation by recent fires. Update carried an earlier report here.

Lawyers in South Carolina Tell Court "No Progress" on Mediation

The scepiscopalians.com blog has postings from January 29 and February 2, 2018 dealing with the documents filed by the Episcopal Church in South Carolina and the schismatic diocese each saying that while talks continue, they are making no progress.  The court is delaying hearing arguments in the trademarks case as long as mediation is continuing.  The Episcopal Church lawyers noted that they were willing to proceed in court, thus signaling that they believe the talks are a delay tactic by the schismatic group which is trying to stave off as long as possible a court decision which may well go against them. Earlier coverage of the mediation by Update is here.