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, May 26, 2020

Week Ending 05/25/20

Virtual Service to Confirm New Archbishop of York

John Sentamu, Archbishop of York has officially retired.  His successor, Bishop Stephen Cottrell is being confirmed and installed in a first for the Church of England - a virtual service to be streamed to all who wish to see it.   The Archbishop of Canterbury will preside at the video conference service where Cottrell will officially sign documents and oaths making him the Archbishop of York.  At the conclusion of this service/ceremony, Cottrell's ministry then will be celebrated with a film released that same day.  Cottrell's enthronement will be held once the Church of England has resumed in-person services.

Comfort for Those Grieving on Memorial Day

Memorial Day provides a time for Americans to honor those in our armed forces who died in service.  This year, there was also an attempt to remember those who died in a new war, the struggle with covid-19.   The pain of the pandemic in New York are covered in a video released by the New York Times on May 22.  St. John's Hospital in Queens, an Episcopal hospital run by the Diocese of Long Island was its setting.   Holy Trinity Episcopal Church on the Eastern Shore of Virginia has planted a tree in memory of those who died and then has invited all those who are grieving to come and sit in peace and quiet near that tree.  On western coast of the U.S., St. Luke's Episcopal in Renton, WA has developed a live-streamed funeral service available to anyone trying to deal with the death of a loved one when holding in-person funerals means a risk of contagion or is limited to a handful of people being present. The service is customized to each occasion and includes a virtual time attendees to gather and remember the deceased.  Many Episcopalians participated in a 24 hour vigil honoring those who have died in the pandemic hosted on Facebook.  The Presiding Bishop participated in a memorial service broadcast on television for those who had died from covid-19.  This memorial service was sponsored by the National Council of Churches.  Sunday May 31, has been set aside for an interfaith day of prayer in memory of those who have died in the pandemic, as well. 

Continuing Stories

Major Disappointment for Forth Worth Episcopalians

Fort Worth Episcopalians have experienced a roller coaster as their property case moved  up the Texas court system, back down to the trial judge and up the appeals ladder again.  Judges overturned each other at every stage.  This last week the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the group that is now part of ACNA is  the continuation of the original Episcopal diocese.  The schismatics comments are here.  The Fort Worth Diocese i the Episcopal Church issued this statement.  Given that the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the Dennis Canon had no effect in Texas, an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is likely. 

Tennessee Cathedral Rallies Behind Death Row Inmate

The Cathedral in Nashville has had an active prison ministry, which has also led to Episcopalians in the Diocese of Tennessee working to end the death penalty in that state.  A year ago the diocese celebrated an agreement between prosecutors and defense lawyers of one death row occupant's sentence to life in prison after a judge ruled that his trial was unfair.  Now they are shocked to find that the state appeal of the agreement could put the inmate, Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman, back on death row.  Bishop Bauerschmidt confirmed Rahman as an Episcopalian in 2014.  A hearing on the appeal is scheduled for June.

Las Vegas Church Provides Covid-19 Testing to Hispanic Community

The latest in Update's  series about church outreach during the pandemic,  takes us to Nevada. All Saints Episcopal Church in Las Vegas is located in an area with a large Hispanic population.   The parish is working with the Southern Nevada Health District to provide both telehealth consulting and covid-19 testing to the medically under-served area around their church.  The health center at the church was featured on local news.

Church Building Re-Opening Saga Continues

President Trump's announcement that all churches should reopen touched off a wave of responses this last week.   His statement was aimed at putting pressure on governors who were proceeding at a more cautious pace.  While the pressure seems to have borne fruit in some locations, including Minnesota where a suit by Missouri Synod Lutherans and the Roman Catholic Church resulted in the governora  ruling that churches were not bound by the his emergency restrictions.  Meanwhile a federal appeals court upheld the California governor's restrictions on the size of public gatherings in a challenge brought by several churches.  In states that had already "reopened" experience was mixed, with some churches that had offered in-person worship backing off after members were diagnosed with covid-19.   In general Episcopal bishops were urging a much more cautious approach (see the statement by all five Episcopal diocesan bishops in California), although some Episcopal parishes in the Diocese of Ohio may be opening.   Some of the other countries that were hit hard by the pandemic are beginning to reopen churches. The Anglican Center in Rome is among those making cautious first steps.   The Update has been covering the re-opening discussion for several weeks.  The latest previous post is here.


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Week Ending 05/18/20

Underground Railroad Station Church Needs Major Repairs

Emmanuel Church in Cumberland, Maryland has a storied past that includes serving as a stop on the underground railroad for escaping slaves.  The church was built in 1850 over a series of tunnels  that were part of an abandoned U.S. fort.  Now the walls that support the grounds of the church are crumbling and must be replaced.  The cost is estimated at $200,000.   Local news carried the story.

Continuing Stories

More Church Outreach In Communities

Update's continuing coverage of Episcopal church outreach  to address society's needs continues with three articles posted by the Episcopal News Service.  Episcopal Migration Ministries and the Epicopal Church Office of Governmental Relations have teamed up to offer three webinars during June on the topics of immigration.  The webinars each focus on a different aspect of immigration: DACA, resettlement, and asylum.  The dates and links are found here.  Indigenous people within the United States have been hit hard by the pandemic, with the effect on the Navajo being especially severe.  The Navajo had a much higher per capita rate of infection than any of the states, and because 30% of those living in Navajoland do not have access to running water or electricity and are many miles from medical facilities,  it has been especially hard to control the spread of the virus.  The Episcopal Church in Navajoland has begun distributing food to 100 families affected by the virus. Help has poured in from around the U.S., with the Diocese of Northern Michigan raising $40,000 to help with supplies.   A third article focused on the efforts of parishes in West Virginia to help others affected by covid-19.  St. James Parish in Lewisburg had led a community coalition to create a mobile health facility. It had just been dedicated when the covid-19 pandemic reached their state.  It has been deployed as a free testing facility for the virus.  Other recent Update articles on outreach are here and here.

Episcopal Churches Cautious on Re-Opening

Episcopal dioceses and parishes continue to take a very cautious approach to reopening their buildings or holding in-person worship. Update has carried earlier notices of the on-going discussion about re-opening churches.   Even in states where stay-at-home restrictions have been lifted congregations are taking a slow approach to reopening.  They wish to avoid the experience of one Baptist congregation that reopened for two Sundays and then re-closed after several members were diagnosed with the virus.   Dorsey McConnell, Bishop of Pittsburgh has asked parishes to come in with plans for reopening, but is not expecting to implement any of them immediately. Western Pennsylvania has been moved from a "red" zone to a "yellow" alert allowing some reopening of businesses and churches.  In Massachusetts where restrictions have been loosened, the Episcopal bishop has decreed that no parishes will reopen before July 1.    In Oregon when a judge issued an order voiding the governor's emergency declaration restrictions, the Oregon supreme court  issued a stay of the order.  One of the main groups involved in the litigation were churches (not Episcopal) who were eager to return to in-person worship.  The Anglican reluctance to open too soon is international in scope.  In Liberia the episcopal bishop has announced that the churches of the Episcopal Church of Liberia will continue to worship virtually  at least to the end of May, and possibly longer as they cautiously plan for reopening, despite the President of that country raising all restrictions on worship.  When churches to return to in-person worship, things will not return to the old normal.  Congregational singing is not likely to return for quite a while due to risk of infection, and communion will be distributed differently.

Sunday Services Victims of Zoom Crash

As Updated noted last week,  a number of Episcopal Churches have turned to Zoom to hold virtual church services, coffee hours, and other meetings.  On May 17, Zoom could not handle the amount of traffic on its system and Churches, especially those on the east coast, found themselves unable to designate hosts, unable to hear or speak when they could log in the a meeting, and various other failures of services.  Some parishes (including the Update editor's parish) ended up with people using phone calls to join the service.  Episcopal News Service has more coverage.


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Week Ending 5/10/20

Racism In the Pandemic

Church news this last week offered multiple examples of the way the corona virus pandemic has been especially harsh for racial minorities in the United States.  The Episcopal News Service carried a story on  how Asian and Pacific Island Americans have experienced an increase in unprovoked attacks by people blaming them for the virus. An ELCA Parish was featured in the Christian Post because of the way its membership has been devastated by the virus in New York.  The parish members are mostly Latino and because of poverty, residential crowding and the kinds of work they do, its membership was more exposed to contagion. Episcopal News Service carried a story on Episcopal bishops in New Jersey issuing a pastoral letter urging public policy reform, especially of the criminal justice and prison systems,  because these systems disproportionately affect people of color, those populations have borne a heavier burden of risk and contagion during the pandemic.  

 Continuing Stories

Re-Opening Planning Grows

As Update has already noted, many dioceses have begun planning for a gradual re-gathering of people in church buildings.  A slow and cautious start is being made to allow Episcopalians in some areas to gather in-person for worship.  The Episcopal Church in Europe has had two parishes in Germany reopen, because Germany has been relatively successful in controlling the pandemic.  The bishops of Maryland, Washington D.C.,  and Virginia have together issued a statement on steps for possible resumption of some services in church buildings, but bishops in Indiana and Iowa are continuing stay-at-home practices despite the governors of those states relaxing of restrictions.  The Iowa leaders of a number of denominations issued clear statements opposing re-gathering in response to Vice President Pence's visit to celebrate the re-opening of churches in that state. One thing that is not likely to resume quickly is congregational singing because singing is an especially high-risk activity for spread of the virus.

Innovative Ministry in a Covid-19 World

Update has been noting innovative ways that parishes have adapted ministry during stay-at-home orders.  St. Alban's, St. Petersburg, FL is a congregation with many older members who are not electronically savvy, so on-line services were not going to reach their people.  The local priest instead is handing out bags to drive-up parishioners.  Inside the bag is the weekly sermon, consecrated elements, and other items to create church at home. A number of parishes are using Zoom or other meeting platforms to hold virtual coffee hours.  One such parish was featured in a Living Church story. 

Another Report on Wyoming Church Grants

Local news has published an article on the use of $10,000 grants given by the Diocese of Wyoming to each parish so they could relieve corona virus related hardships.  St. John's Episcopal Church is in Green River. The area has invested heavily in tourism, and thus its economy has been hit hard by the pandemic. The parish gave grants of $400 each to 20 restaurant workers who were unemployed because of the pandemic.   Another $1000 paid off student lunch debt at the local school system, and the final $1000 went to the local food bank.  Update has covered other parish grants.

Debate Continues Over Church of England Covid-19 Policies

Church of England bishops met to discuss and  a phased relaxation of directions given to clergy and churches that have stopped most ministry and prevented even priests from entering their chapels or church buildings.  These directions have been controversial, as Update has previously noted here and here, especially because the directions were far more stringent than required by the government and other denominations have had access to their buildings.  Criticism continues as Britain slowly begins removing some of the most stringent stay-at-home requirements.  Meanwhile, the Anglican Communion Office is going the other direction by shutting down its activities entirely except for publication of a weekly news summary.

Church Voices Support for DACA 

The Episcopal Church has been active in support of immigrants and has long supported actions to provide a permanent residence for those brought to the U.S. without documents by their parents, especially those covered by the Obama era DACA order.  The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on a challenge to the current administration's efforts to end the program in November 2019, and with the court's session drawing to a close in June and a decision should be forthcoming by then.  In this context, the Episcopal Church issued another statement strongly supporting keeping DACA - covered people in the U.S., and urging Congress to create a long-term solution. Episcopal News Service has a good article on current activity supporting DACA by the Church.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Week Ending 5/4/20

Poll Shows Weakening Trump Support Among Evangelicals

In March, approval ratings for the President rose as people rallied behind the government in a crisis, however the surge was short-lived.  A new poll by PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) showed substantial drops in approval of the President by the end of April.  Three key religious categories (white evangelicals, white Catholics, and mainline Protestants) all showed double digit drops in approval, and all three groups showed approval ratings below 50%.  The drops among white evangelicals and Catholics is significant since these groups have been sources of strong support for Trump.   For more on the poll results go here.

Continuing Stories

Planning for a Post Covid-19 Church

Last week Update reported on Episcopalian responses to the news that several governors were beginning to lift restrictions so that some businesses could begin to open.  Bishops responded largely by urging congregations to continue to shelter in place, but also began creating plans for reopening church buildings and allowing some face to face worship. Religions News has a good article describing a variety of responses by different denominations.  This week the Episcopal Church's Executive Council met in special session to discuss what the Church might look like after covid-19.   Meanwhile, priests in the Church of England are pressing for changes in that church's policy which has been more restrictive than those of other denominations, and in Nigeria, where the pandemic is beginning to take hold, one bishop has threatened  disciplinary action against priests who allow people to come to worship without a mask.

Churches Reaching Out in Economic Hard Times 

The Update has been carrying notices of Episcopal Churches providing aid to those in economic distress.  Several efforts were in the news this week.  In Blue Hill Maine, St. Francis-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church has made arrangements directly with a lobster fisherman to buy his catch. It is an investment in a hurting local economy. The parish then sells the lobsters to local subscribers.  In Prince George's County, Maryland and Dallas Texas, parishes have moved their food pantries outside and are doing drive-by food distributions.  In both locales rising unemployment rates have increased the need for food.   In New York, a Staten Island parish is providing shelter for the homeless, while a parish in New Jersey decided to offer support in the form of snacks and treats to the workers at one of the care homes hardest hit by the virus.  In Richmond, Virginia, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, long a leader in social outreach, has announced the creation of a fund to provide covid-19 relief to those in need.  The parish has contributed $150,00 to get the fund started and is soliciting other contributions.