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, November 24, 2020

Week Ending 11/23/20

One-Fifth of Members Are Skipping Church 

A Survey done by the Barna group has found that about one-fifth of those who had been attending church before the pandemic have stopped going  entirely.  The decision to skip church was most evident among those who attended about once a month before the pandemic.  Christianity Today has more on the survey here.

Archbishop of Canterbury Taking Sabbatical

Archbishop Welby has announced that beginning immediately he will be on sabbatical for several months.  He will use the time to refresh himself spiritually and to study, most likely at Cambridge and in the U.S.  The Christian Post has a story on his sabbatical here.

Continuing Stories

Fort Worth Episcopalians Appeal to U.S. Supreme Court

The Episcopal Church and the Diocese in Fort Worth quietly filed an appeal of the Texas Supreme Court opinion which gave all diocesan and parish property to the group that left the Episcopal Church.  The Texas Court had used  so-called neutral principles to rule that the Dennis Canon of the Episcopal Church which put a trust claim on all property could not be enforced in Texas, and to rule that the schismatic group was the successor to the Episcopal Diocese.  The Filing asks the court to overturn the use of neutral principles and recognize that freedom of religion requires that courts recognize the governing documents of churches.  The schismatic diocese has filed for and received an extension until December 23 to file a reply.  Anglican.ink, which has sided with the schismatics in the legal cases has a story that includes the full filing by the Episcopal Church. 

Churches Struggle With Response to Surge in Covid-19 Cases

The surge in cases of covid-19 has led Episcopal Churches to urge caution.  Bishop McConnell of Pittsburgh has urged churches to err on the side of caution in holding services.  Bishop Scanlon of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania has issued a directive that parishes in her diocese are to suspend all in-person services inside until 2021.  Carefully distanced outdoor services may continue.  The Episcopal Church has decided to delay General Convention until 2022 in order to err on the side of safety.  Normally this would be a time of increased activity and meetings in preparation for the triennial convention. This will require the extension of terms of office for a number of  elected positions on commissions, committees, and church officers.  The National Cathedral used its annual Ignatius Forum to focus on the pandemic with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Directior of the  National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins and Dr. Luciana Borio, a member of Biden’s new coronavirus task force serving as a panel offering advice and perspectives.  More than 7000 people attended the forum virtually.  The Update has been regularly including notices of how the Episcopal Church is responding to the pandemic.  The most recent previous post is here.

Another Story of Feeding the Hungry

Trinity Church in Iredell County, North Carolina supported the local cooperative ministry food shelf by collecting more that 1500 pounds of foodstuffs. Iredell Christian Ministries food shelf serves around 800 families every month.  The local newspaper thought the food drive by the church was extraordinary during the economic hard times of the pandemic.  Update has regularly published stories of parishes continuing or starting outreach ministries to help their communities. 

New Charges Filed Against Oxford Dean

The Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Rev. Martyn Percy has voluntarily stepped aside from duties while a complaint filed under the Clergy Discipline Measure is investigated.  The complaint is a rehash of his handling of sexual misconduct issues brought to his attention as Dean.  Percy has been under fire for several years by a group of Christ Church faculty who have done everything in their power to have him removed.  Update has followed the twists and turns of this ongoing battle between Dean and faculty.  The most recent previous post is here.

Responses to the Australian Tribunal Decision on Same-Sex Marriage

Last week Update carried notice of the decision of the Australian Church's tribunal concerning the efforts of two dioceses to move forward with blessing same sex civil marriages.  The tribunal found nothing forbidding the actions in canon law, and left any theological discussions to the church's synod.
Since then the Primate for the Anglican Church of Australia and the House of Bishops have both issued statements.  Basically they both stressed that the theological position of the church remained that marriage was to be between one man and one woman, but they also realized that the two dioceses might go ahead with plans for blessings, and that other parishes or diocese might follow.  The Steering Committee of GAFCON which has been adamantly opposed to changes in marriage offered support to those clergy and parishes that might feel isolated by a movement towards allowing blessings of same sex couples.  GAFCON, which claims to be part of the Anglican Communion, but continues to recognize and create units functioning as alternatives to the actual dioceses of  Churches in the Anglican Communion. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Week Ending 11/16/20

British Study Shows Social Action Can Grow Churches

Christian Today a media service based in London, but with secondary offices in New York, has published an article on a three year study in England that did over 350 interviews in 60 Church of England Parishes.   The study found an increase in social action, even as membership numbers declined in the church as a whole.  The findings indicated that churches that were visible in their community and whose social action was connected to and recognized in the community did show growth. 

Black Clergy Conference Gives Boost to Virtual Attendees

The Episcopal Church's Office of Black Ministries organized an international virtual meeting for black clergy that was attended by bishops and clergy from all over the Anglican Communion.  Some of the presentations and greetings were recorded ahead of the meeting.   The Office of Black Ministries has bee engaged in a re-imagining of its approach to be more inclusive of the full African diaspora, including immigrant communities with The Episcopal Church.   The conference was an extension of that approach.  Major speakers included Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the first black woman bishop in the Church of England, and  the head of the Union of Black Episcopalians.  All of the presentations will soon be available for viewing on the web site of the Office of Black Ministries.

Primates Meeting Finds Large Areas of Common Interest

Given the current pandemic, the meeting of the heads of each of the independent churches that are part of the Anglican Communion met virtually.  The meeting attracted 27 of the 41 leaders, with much of the meeting focused on problems they all shared: the pandemic and addressing and preventing sexual abuse within the churches of the communion.  They also received several reports, including one on the major study documents prepared for use in the Church of England on human sexuality.  The primates also welcomed the leader of the 41st province  in the Communion, Egypt and the Middle East.  Their actions were summarized in a Communique made available by the Anglican Communion News Service. 

Continuing Stories

South Carolinians Take Case Back to State Supreme Court

This last week the Episcopal Diocese of  South Carolina filed an appeal with the state supreme court asking the court to affirm its findings and decision by overturning the decision of District Judge Dickson to award all property to the schismatic group.  Dickson had been handed the task of administering the decision the state court had reached granting all diocesan property and most parish property to those who stayed in the Episcopal Church.  Instead he turned the property over to the schismatic group.   As usual, the blog, scepiscopalians.com has in its November 12 posting, good background and context on the 8 year struggle of Episcopalians to recover property taken by the schismatics.  The full initial brief is here.

Controversial Dean at General Theological Seminary Resigns

Dean Kurt Dunkle whose heavy-handed reform of General Theological Seminary  (GTS) led to a major controversy in which seven of eight full-time faculty were either fired or resigned, has now announced his own resignation after seven years as its head.  Dunkle himself, briefly faced disciplinary charges during the controversy.   General Convention 2015  in response, formed  a committee to explore the relationship of GTS to the Episcopal Church.  GTS, the oldest Episcopal Seminary,  is the only one created by General Convention, with Trustees elected by the Convention.  Dunkle led a complete revision of the curriculum, managed to weather a major drop in enrollment following the controversy, and a financial crisis that led the seminary to sell some of its property.  His resignation may help dissipate any residual tension and ill feelings by alumni and friends of the seminary.

Australian Church Court Rules Diocesan Blessing of Same Sex Marriages Legal 

Australia made civil marriage for same sex couples legal several years ago, but the Anglican Church of Australia has been greatly divided by how it should respond to couples.  The Diocese of Sydney, which participates in GAFCON  has been the source of much opposition to church blessing of unions, or conducting same sex marriages.  However, The dioceses that make up the Province of New South Wales (which includes Sydney) withing the Australian Church are not all agreed, and there are dioceses that would like to offer Church blessings to same sex couple. Newcastle went ahead and authorized a blessing ceremony.  They were soon joined by another, Wangaratta, in Victoria Province.  Both dioceses put their measures on hold until reviewed by the Church's highest legal court.  That court has now issued its opinion.  The opinion carefully deals only with canon law, not theology, but came to the conclusion that there was nothing in the church canons forbidding the actions.  Inevitably, this will now be a topic for the next synod of the Australian church.  

Archbishop of Canterbury Responds to Criticism 

The Church of England has been engaged in a several year investigation, law suits and policy reform in the area of safeguarding members of the church, especially young people, from sexual abuse.  The  Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby,  has come in for his share of criticism for being too soft on one of the clergy involved in numerous cases.  Welby has issued a statement defending his actions, but mostly pledging he will continue to work to change the culture in the Church of England so that it will be a safe place for all.  The full statement is here.  

Martyn Minns Appointed as Interim Bishop in Pittsburgh ACNA Diocese

Martyn Minns, the former rector of Truro Parish in Virginia and consecrated bishop by the Nigerian sponsored CANA group is coming to Pittsburgh as the pastoral interim bishop in Pittsburgh following the resignation of Bishop James Hobby.  Minns is familiar to many in Pittsburgh because as a young priest before the schism he served at several Pittsburgh Episcopal Parishes.  The Standing Committee is retaining ecclesiastical authority, but Minns will handle those pastoral duties that only a bishop can do. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Week Ending 11/09/20

Exit Polls Show Little Change in Religion as a Factor in Voting

Religion News had a story on exit polling done on voters in the recent election.  The polls showed that of those voting on election day, Roman Catholics had split right down the middle with half voting for Trump and half for Biden.  White evangelical support remained in the 75-80% range for white evangelicals.  Those declaring no religion voted about 65% of the time for Biden.  The article gave no results from the poll on mainline Christians.  The editor of Update would note, however, that exit polling this year had a  biased sample. Those voting in person were much more likely to vote for Republicans and somewhere over 70% of those voting early (and thus excluded from the exit polls) voted for Democrats. 

Continuing Stories

Border Summit Moves On-line

Updated has noted each year the  annual Border Summits called by the dioceses in the South West who are responding to immigration issues along the Mexican-U.S. Border.  The third annual summit is scheduled for this month with a theme of Christian peacemaking.  It will be held virtually November 20-21, and registration is still open.  There are panels on a variety of topics including legal impacts of recent border policies, changing needs along the border and more.  Ironically responding to the pandemic by meeting virtually may actually increase attendance because cost is no longer a factor for those interested.  A longer article with links to registration is available at the Episcopal News Service website.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Week Ending 11/02/20

ACNA Pittsburgh Bishop Resigns

After an investigation concluded that Bishop James Hobby had improperly handled a case involving clergy misconduct, by showing more concern for the priest than for the adults he abused, the bishop was asked to resign.  He did so on October 30.  The resignation caught most of the diocese and the larger community by surprise. The Standing Committee will assume diocesan leadership until another bishop is chosen. The committee is now scrambling to make last minute changes to the agenda for the diocesan convention set to convene this coming weekend.  Hobby was chosen in 2016 as Bishop Robert Duncan's successor for the ACNA diocese formed in 2008 when Duncan and his supporters left the Episcopal Church.  The Post Gazette has a full story.  Anglican.ink includes the official letters and announcements as part of their story.

Episcopalians and the Election 

A number of Episcopal Church leaders have been pointing people towards prayer for our country and the election process.  The Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry preached at a special interfaith service on November 1 at the National Cathedral; Bishop McConnell of Pittsburgh issued a special pastoral letter with prayer resources;  and the Episcopal Church has trained a number of people to be polling place chaplains.  The chaplains are trained both to support people whose right to vote is being challenged and to encourage peace and calm and defuse situations of voter intimidation.  The Episcopal News Service has an article on the chaplain initiative. On another note, An Episcopal priest, the Rev. Kim Jackson, who runs an innovative ministry to the homeless in Atlanta is favored to win election to the Georgia state senate.  She will be the state senate's first out lesbian member if elected.  She intends to continue her ministry while serving in the senate.

Continuing Stories

Federal Judge Responds to South Carolina Filing

In September the Diocese of South Carolina filed a second complaint with  federal court judge,  Richard Gergel listing 27 ways the schismatic group which joined ACNA had continued to make claims that they were  Episcopalians, or the continuation of the Episcopal Diocese.  The diocese wanted him to issue a second  order forbidding them from continuing  those practices.  The ACNA groups managed to clean up and remove 25 of the places before Judge Gergel ruled.  The judge's order came out October 27 and ruled that the 25 corrected places were moot, that the ACNA group had wrongfully claimed to be Episcopal when filing for a federal Small Business loan, but allowed the group to claim that Lawrence had been elected and consecrated as an Anglican bishop in 2008 and 2009.  The Diocese of South Carolina posted a notice of the ruling with links to the opinion here.  Steve Skardon, had comments in his October 27 blog entry that provide more background and what the issues were.  

Pandemic Resurgence Bring Challenges to Churches

This fall as covid-19 cases began rising rapidly around the world, bringing the feared 2nd or 3rd wave,  bishops in the Northeast U.S. issued a statement about the emotional and physical fatigue that was also on the rise thanks to the pandemic.  The bishops were especially concerned about clergy fatigue and first responder fatigue.  In England the resurgence has led the British government to order another 4 week shut down.  The Archbishop of Canterbury and London bishops, however, have noted that churches are not being shuttered entirely as they were during the last lock down.  The buildings will be available for individual prayer and can be used as the site for services being broadcast to members. Finally, here in the U.S., the St. Thomas Boys Choir school which draws a residential student body from a number of states, found a way to jump start their school year together.  The school moved teachers and boys from their base in New York City to a three season retreat center in Connecticut for six weeks of study and singing together.  They went through an isolation period, and then having built a bubble community, took off the masks.  That period is over and now the boys will head home to finish the semester remotely.  Update has been following the twists and turns of worship and study at church schools during the pandemic.  The most recent previous post is here

Western Louisiana Starts Homeless Shelter

The Pittsburgh Update has also been noting many of the programs of outreach begun or continued throughout the pandemic.  This week there were stories about the Diocese of Western Louisiana has partnered with a community to open a homeless shelter where there was no other option.  Currently a day shelter with plans for adding overnight capabilities, the shelter serves Bastrop, an area hard hit by factory closures.  The majority of the population is African American, with an average family income of just over $20,000 and an unemployment rate of 9.6%.  The shelter is officially a mission of the diocese with one paid staff person, the Rev. Christie Fleming.  The Living Church has more on this effort.