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, April 28, 2020

Week Ending 04/27/20

Churches Ponder When and How to Reopen

The announcement by several Governors of that they were easing restrictions to allow state parks, beaches and businesses to function has led to discussions throughout the Episcopal Church about how and when Church buildings might open.  The bishops of dioceses in the states affected by the eased restrictions are taking a conservative approach and working on protocols for a gradual reopening in the future of on-site worship and activities.  There are no plans for immediate reopening. (See the Dioceses of Fort Worth, Georgia and South Carolina statements, for example.) The Diocese of Atlanta which had barred all live-streaming from church buildings, will now allow up to 9 people to assist a priest in live-streaming from church buildings.  The plans all require careful measures to ensure that churches will not be sources of re-infection.  What is clear from the discussions is that Church will not return to the old "normal" in the near future.  Bishops in various states are using different diocesan bodies to help plan for the future.  In Pittsburgh, the Bishop has turned to the diocesan Emergency Preparedness Committee for advice. 

Episcopal Navy Chaplain Coordinates Navy Hospital in New York

When the Navy sent its hospital ship, the Comfort to New York City to help with the covid-19 emergency, the ship also became responsible for a field hospital set up in the Jacob Javits Convention Center.  The ship captain appointed the senior chaplain on-board, Captain James Thames, in charge of all logistics for both on-land and on-board activities.  Thames is an Episcopal priest.  He entered the priesthood after serving in the army.  After 9 years of parish ministry, he became a Navy chaplain and in that role helped organize relief efforts in 2017 hurricane seasons that destroyed parts of Texas, Louisiana, and Florida.  The Episcopal News Service has a good profile of Thames and his work here.

African-American Student Scholarship Endowed at Ambridge Seminary

William and Betsy Roemer, members of St. Stephen's Anglican Church in Sewickley have endowed a scholarship at Trinity School for Ministry for African-American students.  TSM is still listed as a seminary preparing students for Episcopal ministry as well as the Anglican Church in North America.  The Roemers were very involved in the creation of ACNA and the schism that occurred in the Pittsburgh Diocese.

Updates on Continuing Stories

Ministry During the Pandemic

Ministry goes on in many forms throughout the pandemic, and Update has been tracking some of these.   Update has reported on the decisions of the Episcopal foundation in Wyoming to set aside $1 million for covid-19 relief to Wyoming communities. It started implementing this by giving each parish an initial sum of $10,000 to distribute in their area.  In the Sweetwater area,  Holy Communion Episcopal Church has made grants to several local agencies providing relief.  In Norfolk, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, the down-town parish founded in the colonial period has set up a free mini food pantry to help those who are hungry, and in Michigan, the Diocese has partnered with two parishes to raise funds for a $100,000 matching grant for donations to the local food bank.

South Carolina Puts Bishop Search on Hold

The rebuilding Diocese of South Carolina which had begun a search for bishop that was very much on the same timetable as the search in Pittsburgh, has announced that the search has been placed on hold because of the covid-19 pandemic.  The Update reported last week that the Pittsburgh search had been extended (and Bishop McConnell's retirement delayed) until fall 2021.  The search committees of both Pittsburgh and South Carolina are continuing work, but nominations and interviews will occur later than originally announced.  South Carolina has not set a date for a convention, nominations, or announcement of candidates.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Week Ending 04/20/20

Remembering Past Epidemics

A number of news sources have printed background stories on the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-1919, but fewer have looked back further.  The Episcopal News Service has published a reminder of the self-sacrifice of a group of Episcopal Church nuns and priests during the 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Memphis.  The Church commemorates the 4 nuns and 2 Episcopal priests who gave their lives caring for the sick in its Lesser Feasts and Fasts on September 9. 

Menlo Park Rector Under Investigation

The Rev. Matthew Dutton-Gillet  has been placed on leave after an investigation by Church leaders  of Trinity Episcopal Church in Menlo Park, CA uncovered evidence that he may have used $125,000 of church funds for personal use.  He has been rector of the parish in the Diocese of California for a decade, and the financial irregularities are spread over the last 5 years. The  parish is considering filing a  police report.

Bishop John Buchanan Dies

Bishop John Buchanan, who guided the faithful remnant of the Quincy Diocese through the painful years immediately after its diocesan leadership and most of its parishes left the Episcopal Church, has died.  Buchanan was consecrated as bishop of West Missouri and served that diocese for 11 years.  After his retirement he served as assistant in the Diocese of Texas, interim bishop in Southern Virginia and as the Provisional Bishop of Quincy.  He then moved to a church retirement home in South Carolina, where he  provided guidance to Episcopalians beginning the process of reorganization following schism. The Living Church carried the story.

Updates on Continuing Stories

Ministry During the Covid-19 Pandemic - Latest News

Easter brought unique stresses to the church lock down and two good illustrations of how even Bishops are feeling their way through ministry during an epidemic. In England, the Archbishop of Canterbury made an announcement that closed all Church of England churches even to the priests of the parish.  However after some strong push back, Archbishop Justin Welby retreated noting that his statement was meant to be advisory. One parish priest, Jacob Owensby,  immediately took advantage of the revised interpretation of Welby's statement and conducted his live-streamed service inside the church.  Meanwhile in Western Louisiana, Episcopal Bishop first granted permission for "virtual" consecration of elements and then had to reverse himself after hearing from the Presiding Bishop.
The Episcopal News Service  published a summary of efforts by parishes all over the U.S. to feed the hungry.  You can find more on these ministries here.  Update has been carrying notices on the impact of the covid-19 virus on ministry. See here and here for the most recent previous notices.

New Rounds of Church Persecution in China 

Chinese authorities conducted a raid on the homes of an independent church with a membership of around 4000.  The police found the leaders participating in a virtual Easter service on zoom. The leaders were then arrested for participating in a  The minister of the parish has refused to make changes demanded by the government.  Update has previously carried stories on government action against Christian churches in China.

Kansas Ban on Church Meetings Takes Another Turn

Kansans may be forgiven if they feel a bit whiplashed by the status of ather Governor's order closing all churches as part of the lock-down.  The state legislature tried to override the Governor's order, but the state supreme court ruled against the legislature.  However, a federal judge has ruled that the governor's order is void because of first amendment  guarantees for freedom of religion. 

Pittsburgh Bishop Delays Retirement

Bishop Dorsey McConnell  announced this week that he has delayed his retirement from April to September 2021 due to the disruptions caused by the corona virus. His full letter is available here.  The election for a new bishop will now take place in April at the time originally scheduled for the consecration.  McConnell intends to retire the day his successor is consecrated.

Bishop Love's Disciplinary Hearing Delayed

In a letter to the Diocese of Albany parishes, Bishop William Love announced that his Title IV hearing scheduled for April 21 has been delayed.  The hearing had already moved from an in-person meeting to a virtual meeting and the hearing has been postponed because the church is still working on the technical details of how to conduct the hearing in a virtual environment. Charges were brought against Bishop Love for refusing to implement a General Convention resolution requiring dioceses to provide a means for same sex couples to be married within their diocese. 

Monday, April 13, 2020

Week Ending 04/13/20

England's Churches Closed Even to Clergy

The strict social distancing regulations in England have led to strong pressure for churches to be entirely closed.  The Archbishop of Canterbury issued a statement in support of closed churches.  A number of bishops have issued orders that their clergy are not to enter the buildings even to do silent prayer.  The London bishops were especially clear saying that any live streaming of services should be done from clergy homes, not the church. In the part the decision was justified by saying that the clergy needed to face the same restrictions as their congregation, and not be seen as some special class with access to churches when no one else had it. Similarly although there is a need for more hospital chaplains to be with those gravely ill or dying, orders have been issued that volunteer parish clergy should not be admitted to hospital wards because they could be sources of the spread of the virus.  They are allowed to do phone and tablet contact with the ill.   Because churches are closed and no one is entering, the most valuable pieces of religious art, silver and other rare items have been carefully packed and gathered for safe keeping at the Tower of London and other secure sites.

Easter Celebrations in a Social Distancing World

With most churches closed for public worship, and services being done virtually, Easter had a different feel this year. The CBS affiliate station in Madison, Wisconsin has a nice summary of the approaches taken by several different Christian churches, including the Episcopal Church. Although almost every Episcopal parish (from tiny ones to the largest offered some form of an Easter service on-line), the national Cathedral service has received the most attention, given that its preacher was Presiding Bishop Curry who did his part on-line from his North Carolina home.  The biggest splash at that service, however was an anthem performed by a virtual orchestra and choir of more than 600.  Cheer-up your spirit by listening to their rendition of "The Strife is O'er".  The Living Church provides a little background and a link to the actual recording. [ Note of disclosure, the current editor of this blog was among the singers.]

Churches Testing Legal Limits of Lock-Downs

Local government officials and courts in different parts of the country are coming to very different conclusions about what to do with those congregations continuing church meetings despite official orders to end all public gatherings as part of the efforts to slow spread of covid-19.  In some cases the meetings are drive-in church gatherings (a trend Update has covered), and in other they are outdoor meetings of hundreds of people.  The question of freedom of religion is being pitted against public health directives since those who attend can spread the illness to others. In some places church leaders have been arrested, or meetings broken up by clergy.  In Kansas, the governor ordered all public gatherings cease.  The state legislature then passed a law exempting churches from the order, and then the state supreme court ruled that the legislation violated the state constitution and restored the governor's order.  In other areas, courts have ruled against rules that require churches to stop meeting.  It is a situation ripe for a case to move up through the courts to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Continuing Story Updates

Wyoming Parishes Use Holy Week to Discern Use of Grants

The foundation of the Diocese of Wyoming sent each parish in the diocese $10,000 as the first installment in their commitment to provide $1 million in grants to ease economic and social suffering caused by the covid-19 pandemic.  The parishes were to use Holy Week to discern how they would use the grant money in their area.  Parishes are exploring everything from Wi-Fi hot spots to help school children with distance learning, to support of food banks and direct grants to unemployed for utility bills.  You can read more here.

Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina Issues Statement on Latest Ruling

Last week Update reported that the South Carolina Supreme Court had denied the writs requested by Episcopalians which would have pushed Judge Dickson to stop dragging out the process of implementing the state supreme court's decision that the Episcopalians were the owners of most of the church property now in the hands of those who have left the Episcopal Church.  However, there was no comment or statement available from the Episcopal Diocese.  That was issued after Update was posted.  You can now find the statement here

Latest on Covid-19 Ministries

Continuing Update's ongoing summary of the ways the Church is reaching out during the pandemic, this week we call attention to a story found in the Canadian Church's magazine, the Anglican Journal,  on The work of the Episcopal Church on the Rosebud Lakota Reservation in South Dakota.  The minister there has been organizing distribution of meals, fuel, groceries, hand sanitizer, and other supplies.  The article also covers ways she has handled drive-up communion, and funerals to ensure they meet all social distancing regulations set by the tribal government. 

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City has also been in the news this last week, first as it prepared its sanctuary to host a hospital extension for Mt. Sinai Hospital, secondly as it was announced that Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse would run the hospital , and finally that the hospital extension would not happen at all because the hospital had determined that they were not going to need the extra beds.  Questions arose over whether the Cathedral had withdrawn its offer of space becuase Samaritan's Purse has an anti-gay hiring policy, but church and hospital officials say the decision was purely based on a changed assessment of need by the hospital.

Australia Elects New Primate

A month ago Australia was unable to get agreement among all three orders (lay, clergy, bishops) in the special synod that elects the Anglican Church's primate there.  The synod consists of all diocesan bishops and a select group of lay and clergy electors chosen by the Church's General Synod.  There were two candidates, a conservative who was head of Australia's GAFCON and a conservative centerist, the current Archbishop of Adelaide, Geoffrey Smith.  Smith had a majority of votes of the lay order and of the bishops, but a majority of the clergy held out for Bishop Condie of Tasmania.   An interim primate was appointed until the impasse could be ended.  This last week the special synod voted electronically because of the Covid-19 virus, and this time Smith received a majority in all three orders.  He has immediately assumed the duties of Primate.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Week Ending 04/06/20

Florida Church Vandalized

Vandals did enough damage to the chapel and main sanctuary at All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL that the church was unable to live stream their Palm Sunday Service.  The rector, Leslie Hague notified the parish in a letter that stressed that the building was not the church,
but she reassured the congregation that all the upcoming Holy Week and Easter services would be live-streamed.

Church Groups Being "Zoombombed"

Malicious hackers have been breaking into church meetings and study groups being held on Zoom.  they then disrupt the meeting, sometimes with sexually explicit material.  Churches have been widely publicizing their gatherings places such as Facebook because all are welcome at services.  Episcopal parish meetings are among the targets for this form of hacking called zoombombing.  Parishes are being advised to limit access, even to services with the use of a password and providing login information only to those from the congregation.

Palm Sunday Innovations 

Some of the traditions of Palm Sunday are difficult to maintain in a period when worship is being done virtually or with extreme social distancing.  St. Martin's in Lebanon,  Oregon decided to use a drive in service so that it could distribute palms and the service bulletin while maintaining social distance.  The ushers used grabber tools to reach out to the cars.  Trinity Church in Waterloo, IA tried something similar. Other churches left palms at the church door for people to pick up at their own time. 

Updates on Continuing Stories

South Carolina Supreme Court Won't Light a Fire Under Judge

The South Carolina Supreme Court denied the request by Episcopalians to order Judge Dickson to move forward in the California Property Case.   Episcopalians filed the request in early March trying to convince the Supreme Court that the judges slow pace is creating irreparable harm to the property awarded to the diocese, and that he keeps trying to relitigate the case.  A year ago they filed a similar plea and then the court's response was that they were sure that Dickson would move forward and declined to order his to do so.  The schismatic group took this as a hopeful sign that they will be allowed to reopen parts of the decision.  Blogger Steve Skardon has a different take.  He notes in and April 3 posting that Dickson seems intent on stringing out the case until his retirement next year.  He also notes that the judge has a potential conflict of interest given that the law firm he previously worked for is under retainer by the schismatic group.

Standing Rock Finally Wins Full Pipeline Review

Three years ago the Standing Rock Reservation was unable to stop the building of an oil pipeline that put their wetlands and water supply at risk.  The pipeline also went through lands sacred to the Lakota.  The Army Corps of Engineers fast-tracked the application and did a cursory environmental review to clear the area for construction.  There were major protests and attempts to block the construction.  The tribe has continued to pursue legal action, and won a partial decision that the reveiw was inadequate in 2017, but the judge held the case over for more argument. Now, thanks to a decision in 2019 involving land near Jamestown, Virginia, the judge in the Standing Rock case felt he had precedent to order a full and complete review that considered the possible impact on the tribe, including cultural concerns. He has issued a new order that will require the company to stop using the pipeline while the study is conducted.  

Wyoming Implements Promised Covit-19 Relief Grants

The Foundation of the Diocese of Wyoming wasted no time in implementing their decision in the previous week to set aside $1 million for relief of people and companies hurt by pandemic.  The foundation has already sent the first installment of money to parishes so they can make grants to those hurting in their communities.

Christians Gain Some Legal Ground in Egypt

The Egyptian government has put a tight rein on religious activity in that country.  Churches have to receive licenses  for new buildings. Four years ago the government declared  the Episcopal/Anglican churches in Egypt were  a subset of the Presbyterians.   Recently the government approved 74 applications, the biggest group so far.  However they have around 4000 applications still pending.

Latest on Covid-19 Ministries

Episcopalians continue to expand the ways they are ministering during the covid-19 pandemic.  The Iglesia  Episcopal San  Pedro in Pasadena, TX normally participates in its regional food bank, but the covid-19 shutdown has increased by 250% those who need help.  Twenty younger volunteers have stepped forward to replace older workers sheltering in place.  The parish is now feeding thousands each, week, including 200 families who regularly need food. The parish partners with the local Food Bank.  

With people facing the prospect of dying in isolation with all visitors forbidden, Virginia Theological Seminary and General Theological Seminary have used their TryTank joint initiative to  recruit and organize 87 Episcopal clergy who are on call to provide last rites by phone to dying patients.  The DialAPriest.com web site has a link that directly connects to a phone bank, where clergy have signed on to provide this service.  They have also given hospitial workers notice of the service.  Update  earlier noted an individual parish priest who did last rites by phone for 2 parishioners, but this is organized on a larger scale and the clergy may be asked to pray for someone in another state.  

The Rev. Janet Broderick has opened a different kind of ministry by telling her own close encounter with death  from covid-19.  Her turn around surprised the doctors, but she credits her own prayers and those of others in helping her heal.  Broderick was one of the clergy infected by the virus while attending a national church meeting in Kentucky. 

And lastly clergy in Massachusetts have decided to bring some joy back into their parishioners world by videoing themselves dancing in clerical garb  and challenging members of their parishes to do the same.  They are dancing to a workout tune and posting the videos on the social media platform TikTok.