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         

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Week Ending 4/23/18

New Jersey Supreme Court Nixes Grants to Churches

In a case brought by an individual and the Freedom From Religion against Morris County, New Jersey for awarding historic preservation grants to churches, the New Jersey Supreme Court  has ruled that the grants violate the language of the state constitution guaranteeing that no tax payer will be forced to support a church whose beliefs they do not support.   Two Episcopal parishes were among those receiving the challenged grants which were designed to cover the extra costs incurred to do the work in an historically accurate way. The court did not make the ruling retroactive, and no one will have to pay back grant money, but they are barred from all future grants.  Morris County officials are reviewing the ruling because it seems that it may contradict the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a Missouri case involving a challenge to grant for a playground at a Lutheran church.  The court ruled in that case that barring churches from applying for grants with a secular purpose was contrary to the freedom of religion clause in the the First Amendment. The New Jersey Court drew a distinctions between the two cases because the Morris County grants would have helped parishes continue to worship in the buildings. 

British Police Drop Abuse Case Against Bell

Church of England Bishop George Bell has been dead for 60 years, was beloved by many for his work to rescue Jews from Nazi Germany, and most recently is the subject of mishandled charges of sex abuse brought three years ago.  A special task force has severely criticized the Church of England handling of the case.  In the latest development, Sussex police announced they had finished their investigation of the case, and given the length of time and death of the accused had closed the matter. The church launched a new investigation in January which continues. Update has covered the charges and the botched investigation in multiple posts.  See here for an introduction.

Marriage Liturgy Report Provoking Comment

The General Convention "Blue Book" report from the Task Force on the Study of Marriage has been provoking comment based on the responses received to a request for comment on a question about the 2015 Trial Use authorization of several rites to solemnize or bless a same sex union. Most have focused on a response by William Nye for the Church of England's Archbishop's Council of Advice.  Nye admits in the beginning that  the Council itself did not discuss the matter and he is responding on his own.  Thinking Anglicans has a good summary the discussion of Nye's letter hereThis article is typical of the the conservative British news stories.

GAFCON Continues Creating Alternative Anglican Communion

GAFCON was originally the acronym for the Global Anglican Futures Conference which was started by those unhappy with those provinces in the Anglican Communion which were welcoming to LGBTQ people.  Populated mainly African and Southeast Asian provinces with some participation from the Americas.  It sponsored an alternative to the 2008 Lambeth Conference and began acting more and more like an psuedo Anglican Communion, including the Anglican Church in North America as a member.  In the last two years it has sponsored consecrations of border-crossing bishops offering an alternative to Anglican provinces it deemed too liberal. ( See here, here, and here)  The latest GAFCON leadership meeting continued the trend, recognizing a province of Recife as an alternative to the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil. In a pattern familiar to Episcopalians, Recife claimed to have broken away from Brazil in 2005; Brazil deposed the bishop and successfully sued for return of property.  Like ACNA, the Recife group is now claiming membership in the "real" Anglican Communion. The also recognized a GAFCON group has been formed in Ireland as an alternative to the church there.  The GAFCON primates also declared a moratorium on consecration of women as bishops in response to the complaint by ACNA Bishop Iker from Fort Worth against South Sudan which recently announced a woman had been made a bishop in late 2016.  Even more notable, however, was the news that GAFCON was restructuring to create a council that would include one bishop, one priest, and one layperson, their answer to the Anglican Consultative Council.

Moravians Add Agreement with Methodists

The Southern Moravians, who already are in full communion with The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have now approved a full communion document with the Methodists. The Northern Convention is expected to approve the same agreement when it meets in June. The ELCA is also in full communion with the Methodists, and the Episcopal Church has conversations underway to a similar arrangement.  Update reported on the latest report from those conversations here.

Nashotah House Calls Reformed Church Pastor to Endowed Chair

A noted Reformed Church minister, Hans Boersma,  who has written extensively on Catholic thought and sacramental theology will be the next Order of St. Benedict Servants of Christ Endowed Professorship in Ascetical Theology at Nashotah House.  His appointment will begin in 2019. He has been teaching at seminaries in Canada.  Nashotah House has been undergoing a major transformation in faculty due to deaths and departures.  The nine full-time faculty are all male, and while seven are Episcopalians, only two studied at Episcopal seminaries and both of those were at Nashotah. 

Mainstay of Episcopal Cafe Dies

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, who was a major guiding force for Episcopal Cafe, and who spoke out in favor of liberal causes has died. A familiar face to General Convention goers, Fontaine had served parishes in Wyoming and Oregon.  She also served as a  list usher on the House of Bishop's and Deputies listserve.  The listserve was open to all to read, but only bishops, alternates and deputies to recent General Conventions could post.  She posted many a comment for PEP members in the years before the 2008 schism in Pittsburgh.   Having chosen hospice care for an increasingly debilitating respiratory illness, she used her Facebook page and blog to model dying with grace.  The last several entries were by her daughter when Ann no longer had strength to do so. The Episcopal Cafe has a fitting tribute.   

Monday, April 16, 2018

Week Ending 4/16/18

Episcopalians Join Interfaith Group in Opposing Missouri Law Allowing Guns in Church

 An interfaith group of Church leaders joined together to issue a press statement opposing Missouri legislation that would allow concealed guns in churches unless a church posted a sign forbidding guns. Both Religion News and the Anglican Communion News Service carried stories on the press conference.  Noting that a first amendment issue of religious freedom was involved, and asking the legislature to consider other forms of gun legislation (such as extending background checks, or  banning bump stocks and high capacity magazines), the interfaith group included Episcopal  Bishop George Wayne Smith, the catholic archbishop, leading rabbis, the spokesperson for African American churches, the United Methodist Bishop and others. Bishop Smith has been working to end gun violence for several years, even appointing a a staff member in 2016 to focus on ending gun violence.

Church Called on to Help Save Historically Black Episcopal Schools

This year, Presiding Bishop Curry called on churches and individuals to contribute to the two remaining historically black colleges affiliated with the Episcopal Church, St. Augustine's in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Vorhees College in South Carolina.  The reason for the plea is now clearer.  St. Augustine, which played a very important role in educating black clergy, educators, and nurses in the years after the Civil War is facing a critical accreditation review.  The accrediting team has already flagged the school for financial shortfalls.  The appeals have raised $3 million for the school, but the college needs another $3 million by June 30  to reach the goals set by the accreditation body.  For more, see this Living Church story. 

Presiding Bishop Speaks Out on Gaza Violence

Just back from a visit to Israel and the Gaza Peninsula, Presiding Bishop Curry has added the Episcopal Church to the signatories of a joint statement by 15 churches and church agencies protesting Israel's response to the protest along the Gaza border. Earlier in the week he signed another interfaith letter sent to President Trump asking for protection of the vulnerable Christian communities in the Holy Land.  The letter cited actions by the Israeli Knesset that would allow Israel to retroactively appropriate land sold by the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches, and by Israeli leaders in Jerusalem to  retroactively tax some Church properties. Update has covered these actions including here and here.

Irish Church Leaders Weigh In on Proposed Abortion Law Change

Irish voters are preparing to vote in a referendum to appeal the 8th Amendment to their constitution, which forbade abortion. The Anglican Church in Ireland generally opposed the 1983 amendment because they believed that it was too stringent, and provisions needed to be made for cases involving the life and health of the mothers, the certainty that the fetus had no chance of surviving, and certain other limited compassionate circumstances. In an effort to clarify what would happen if the amendment were repealed, the Irish parliament announced it would then pass a law that provided for a number of exceptions to the abortion ban, including allowing all abortions in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This proposed legislation caused the Irish Anglican archbishops to oppose repeal because of it liberality.  Now the former Anglican Communion General Secretary, the Rev. Kenneth Kearon, has published a statement arguing for repeal, but also stating that he thinks the follow-up legislation needs to be reworked.  Conservative Anglicans are trying to use the statement to paint Kearon as a complete supporter of abortion.

More Charges Filed Against Deposed Priest

North Carolina now has filed rape charges against Howard White, a deposed Episcopal priest who is already serving a sentence for sexual abuse in a Massachusetts prison. White pled guilty to charges that he had sexually abused a boy from St. George's School in Rhode Island on a school trip to Massachusetts in the 1970s. White had retired from the school decades ago. By 2016 when the charges surfaced,  he was serving as supply in a western North Carolina parish, although still canonically resident in Central Pennsylvania. Charges also surfaced from his years in Central Pennsylvania.  Bishop Scanlon of Central Pennsylvania initiated proceedings and deposed him in September 2016.  

Gallup Poll Sheds Light on Church Attendance

The Gallop Poll conducted a survey trying to find out what made people want to go to church, and why others did not go.  While community engagement and outreach, helped, what attracted most people already attending was good preaching, either helping to explain scripture or connecting the scripture to their lives.  Having good programs for youth and community outreach were next in importance.  The one split between Roman Catholic and Protestant church goers came in music.  Almost half of Protestants considered quality music important, while only a fifth of Catholics did.  Among those not attending, the answers suggested a disinclination to organized religion, either by choosing to worship alone or stating a dislike of organized churches.  Not religious came in third.   The Episcopal Cafe gives a good summary of the research.

Retiring Bishop Questions Community Support for Rebuilding New Zealand Cathedral

Christchurch Diocese in New Zealand has struggled to move forward with plans to either restore or build a new cathedral to replace the historic building destroyed in the 2011 earthquake.  The Update reported on the September 2017 decision of the diocese to restore their historic building, despite its high cost, after assurances from groups in the community at large that they would help pay for the work.  Bishop Victoria Matthews, who lost her own home in the quake, recently announced her resignation as bishop.  At an event to honor her, she made very pointed remarks accusing the community activists who had pushed the diocese to restore rather than build a new cathedral of backing off from their promises of funding.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Week Ending 4/9/18

St. James Celebrates Return

After 145 Sundays of worshiping in public spaces while locked out of their parish building, St. James in Newport Beach celebrated their return with Bishop John Taylor preaching.  The congregation has been in exile ever since Bishop Jon Bruno decided to sell the property to developers.  As part of the agreement for their return, the parish has dropped "the Great" from their name to be plain St. James Episcopal.  The update carried news that they would return here.  The Living Church has a good article with details here on the first service.  The parish has now launched a new web site to replace "Save St. James" and it is here.

Appellate Court Rules for Fort Worth Episcopalians

Ever since oral arguments in April 2016, loyal Episcopalians in the Diocese of Fort Worth have been waiting for the Texas Court of Appeals to issue a decision.  It came last week, and based on a decision of identity (who was the "real" diocesan corporation), the court awarded Diocesan property to those who stayed in the Episcopal Church. They also ruled that based on the deeds and documents, All Saints Church property belonged to those who stayed in TEC.  The trial court was instructed to review the deeds and documents for a number of other church properties. The Bishop for Episcopalians in Fort Worth have responded here.  Bishop Iker leader of the break-away group ( also claims to be the Episcopal Diocese, but participates in ACNA),  has announced that they will appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.  Anglican.ink published an opinion piece by Alex Haley (the lawyer for the break away group that lost in the San Joaquin property cases) which is, not surprisingly, critical of the decision.  The 178 page opinion is a mixed blessing for Episcopalians because it ruled against any Dennis Canon claims.

Canadian Anglicans Grapple with Assisted Euthanasia

Canada has a new law allowing assisted suicide for geriatric patients who have terminal illness.  It was used by a couple who had been married for 73 years and feared one surviving the other.  They arranged a farewell with a family gathering and the presence of the Anglican cathedral dean for their deaths.  This has led to a debate over the church's involvement and whether the law is too lenient.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Week Ending 4/2/18

New Filings in the South Carolina Property Case

The U.S. Supreme Court granted a request filed by the Episcopalians for an extension in filing their response to the break-away group's appeal of the property decision made by the South Carolina Supreme Court.  Lawyers for the diocese and the Episcopal Church have until April 30 to submit their response to the claim that the Supreme Court needs to step in and sort out how to apply neutral principles in church property cases.  Meanwhile, the breakaway group has gotten two additional amica filings claiming that the majority of the South Carolina Court wrongly applied neutral principles in their decision.  All the filings can be accessed from the U.S. Supreme Court Docket page here. The Update's most recent previous story on the case is here.

St. James Returning to Building

The congregation that has been worshiping in secular spaces since they were locked out of their building by Bishop Bruno of Los Angeles in 2015 has reached an agreement with the new bishop, John Taylor to return to the building on a trial basis beginning the Sunday after Easter.  The bishop will be there for the first service.  You can find the most recent Update story on this three year saga here.  The coverage by the Living Church, by Anglican.ink, and by the Episcopal Cafe each provides a slightly different perspective.

Date Set for Next Anglican Consultative Council Meeting

Hong Kong will be the site for the next Anglican Consultative Council meeting.  The meeting will run from April 28, 2019 to May 5 of that year. The last ACC meeting was in Lusaka in 2016.  The 2019 meeting was originally to be hosted by the Province of Brazil.  The Anglican Communion press release on Hong Kong's hosting cited unspecified problems for both the church and the country in Brazil that necessitated the change. The ACC meeting may be a good test for how GAFCON provinces and the rest of the Anglican Communion will get along at the 2020 Lambeth Conference.

ACNA Punts On Gun Control

A prominent British supporter of ACNA was puzzled why the denomination had been silent during the recent gun control demonstrations.  The response Christopher Sugden got from ACNA was hardly satisfying.  This is in contrast to many other American Churches, including the Episcopal Church who have spoken out on the issue.

Archbishop of York May Face Charges

Archbishop John Sentamu of York and three of his bishops are now facing a police investigation for failure to report to the police after hearing an accusation from a young man that he had been raped by a Church of England minister.  When the young man wrote to Sentamu, telling him of the rape, Sentamu told the local bishop and two others and wrote to the young man offering his sympathy.  None of the 3 bishops or the archbishop informed the police.  A police complaint eventually was filed by others and the cleric committed suicide before trial. This investigation comes on the heels of three weeks of public hearings on the Church of England's failure to deal appropriately with charges of sexual abuse by clergy.