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         

Monday, July 26, 2021

Week Ending 07/26/21

Both posts this week are updates

GAFCON Continues Creation of Alternative Communion

The recent move by several dioceses in the Australian Anglican Church's Sydney Province to bless same sex unions has let the conservative network GAFCON  to announce that they will set up an alternative diocese for parishes that feel they can no longer be part of the Anglican Church of Australia.  GAFCON is a network that blends some of the national churches that belong to the Anglican Communion with a series of new break-away organizations that operate without Anglican Communion recognition competing with the official Anglican Communion churches.  GAFCON has previously set up competing jurisdictions in the U.S. and Canada, Brazil, New Zealand, and England, among other places.  

More Than Two Dozen Parishes Have Participated in Retiring Medical Debts

Update has carried notices of several parishes that partnered with a non-profit to buy up and retire medical debts of families in their communities. (The most recent is here.) Relief is limited to those making less than $53,000 a year or 200% of the federal poverty line. The most recent Update notice was of a parish in New Mexico that retired the medical debts of their entire state and part of Arizona.  The Episcopal News Service has now done a story that makes clear there were many more Episcopal parishes that have been doing this outreach -- at least 29 Episcopal parishes since January 1 2019.  For more on this program and some of the parishes that have been involved, go here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Week Ending 7/19/21

 Episcopal Church speaks Out on Caribbean Crises

The international nature of The Episcopal Church was clear this last week as church leaders responded to the  ongoing demonstrations in Cuba and the assassination of the President of Haiti. Cuba was readmitted as a diocese in The Episcopal Church at the last General Convention, and the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti is has the largest number of members of any Episcopal Diocese.  The Episcopal News Service had stories on both places.  In Cuba, Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio released a statement supporting demonstrations for peace and life, stressing the hardships that the people had been facing and their right to peacefully protest their grievances.  Presiding Bishop Michael Curry offered his support in a July 13 statement, noting in part “I stand in solidarity with you during this time of sickness, food insecurity, economic suffering and civil unrest. I am praying for you, and I stand for the human rights of all peaceful protesters.” The ENS story on Haiti stressed the way the church was a center of relief for the hardships Haitians faced and the way that the churches have been hindered by the endemic violence and the pandemic, losing three key church leaders in June.  The assassination of the president has placed church members in an even more difficult position. 

Continuing Stories

News Services Highlight Church Prayer Responses to Mass Shootings

Update has regularly covered activities of the Episcopal Bishops Against Gun Violence and has had stories on the litany for victims of mass shootings first written in 2018 and updated multiple times since then.  The Washington Post just had a feature article covering the latest version of the litany and similar kinds of prayer actions taken by other religious groups including Roman Catholic Jewish traditions.  It cites some of the prayers and notes that the Episcopal litany keeps getting longer as new shootings occur.    For previous update stories on the litany go here, here, and here.

Episcopal Church Statement on Involvement in Indigenous Boarding Schools

Following the announcements of large numbers of graves at Canadian boarding schools for Indigenous tribe children, and the anger in Canada that sparked several church arsons, The Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies have issued a statement acknowledging The Episcopal Church's own involvement in similar boarding schools in the United States.  The statements stressed the Church's desire to work with indigenous communities,  called on Executive Council to have proposals fro further action ready to present at General Convention 2022, and the need for the church to honestly face its own past failings in treatment of native peoples. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Week Ending 7/12/21

 Surveys Reveal Changes in American Religious Bodies

Two recent surveys revealed very interesting trends affecting the Episcopal Church.  The Verdant Labs conducted a survey on the political identity of those in a a wide range of occupations, including the clergy.   Librarians, Pediatricians, and Flight Attendants were mostly Democrats.  Motel Owners, Urologists, and Pilots were usually Republicans.  In the religion category,  there were 91 Democrats for every 9 Republican Episcopal Priests, the highest  percentage Democratic of any of the religious groups.  Catholic priests were the most Republican 73 Republicans for every 27 Democrats.  The full results for that survey are here.   
The other survey was done by the Public Religion Research Institute and was their 2020 general survey of American religious denominations.  With an annual survey they are able to track changes over time.  The data now shows an interesting change in church membership demographics.  The percentage of unaffiliated Americans peaked in 2018 and has fallen slightly.  It seems to be stabilizing at a little under one-quarter of Americans.  The real surprise was that for the first time in many years the traditional mainline liberal churches had not only improved their share of those claiming a religious affiliation but they now had a larger share than white evangelicals Protestants or Roman Catholics.  The Catholic decline, while noticeable, was not as dramatic as the loss of members for white Evangelical Protestants since 2007.  A look at demographic data shows that the evangelical group has lost younger members and now is older on average than the mainline protestants. You can explore their data here.

Church of England Declines to Implement Major Anti-Racism Proposal

A major task force on exploring racism in the Church of England and proposing corrective measures was shocked to learn that a key part of their plan for combating racism in the Church had been rejected as too expensive.  The task force had recommended that every diocese appoint a full-time racial justice coordinator.  The Guardian carried the general reaction to the announcement and the Church Times focused their story on the reaction of the task force members

Continuing Stories

Parishes Erases All New Mexico Medical Debt

Update has carried notices of the efforts of Episcopal Parishes in the Dioceses of Illinois, Alabama, and Upper South Carolina to relieve families in their communities of worrisome medical debts.  All of the parishes teamed up with a company that buys up medical debt at greatly discounted rates and then matches those debts with a church or other non-profit which raises the money to retire the discounted debt.  The latest parish to sign on, St. Bede's Episcopal Church in Santa Fe, was able to raise enough to retire the medical debts of everyone in the entire state and six counties in Arizona.  The Arizona counties are ones with large Native American populations. The effort cleared $1,380,119.87 of debt.  The 782 families each will receive a letter notifying them that the debt has been paid by the Church.  

More on the Fate of Dispossessed Texas Congregations

Update has been carrying stories on what has happened to the  Episcopal Parishes who lost their buildings when the U.S. Supreme Court failed to grant an appeal hearing to the Episcopal Church in North Texas (formerly the Diocese of Fort Worth). The latest mention was here.  The local media in Wichita Falls, TX (about half way between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City) has carried a story on the fate of the one remaining Episcopal Congregation in that city.  There used to be three, but  the other two were claimed by ACNA earlier and only one of those has survived.  St. Stephen's has lost its building and all of its liturgical appointments, but has found a temporary home at Park Place Christian Church which lets them hold services on Saturday night.  St. Stephen's tried to negotiate a lease or sale that would let them stay in their building, but the ACNA diocese would not consider it. The congregation has not yet begun to plan beyond the first steps, but its priest is hopeful that the parish will make a comeback. 

LGBTQ Face New Resistance 

One of the newest congregations for the Episcopal Church in Europe ( a part of The Episcopal Church) is in Tbilisi, Georgia (the country, not the U.S. state).  Its growth has been tied to being a welcoming and safe place for Georgian LGBTQ people in a country where there anti-gays are openly hostile and their violent counter protests to Gay Pride supporters have resulted in street riots.  The riots have created great anxiety among St. Nino's Episcopal Mission LGBTQ members.  The congregation, however continues to offer a haven of welcome for all.  
Meanwhile in Australia where the Anglican Church is organized into provinces with several dioceses attached to each, the ultra conservative Province of Sydney continues to make waves.   The Diocese of Sydney Bishop is also the Archbishop of the Province of New South Wales.  Sydney is an active participant in GAFCON and used Church money to oppose passage of the bill that legalized same-sex unions in Australia.  Some of the dioceses in the province are more sympathetic to LGBTQ people and two made moves to permit blessings of same-sex unions. Those moves resulted in a High Church Tribunal ruling that what they did was legal under church canons.  However, Sydney continues to try to impose its views on the other dioceses in the province.  Most recently an organist resigned at a parish in the Diocese of Armidale after being told that he and his same-sex spouse would have to live separately and celibately if the couple were  to keep their posts at the church.  The congregation was shocked because they were quite happy to welcome the couple.  The couple has gone public about the matter to raise the issue.  Diocesan officials deny that they forced the couple out and that the two resigned their roles voluntarily. 

Virginia Seminary Begins Reparation Payments

Virginia Theological Seminary had announced in late 2019 that it intended to set aside a part of its endowment to provide reparations for the descendants of those enslaved African Americans either owned or hired by the seminary before emancipation, and for those who later were employees of the seminary during the era of segregation.   Now VTS has announced that the payments have begun.  They have  spent over a year doing intensive family tracing to identify descendants and to consult with each family on how they wished the reparation funds be used.  The payments will continue for a number of years.

More on the Oxford Dean Battle 

The Dean of Christ Church, Oxford has been the object of institutional bullying of the worst kind, according to a recent church commentator, and the situation as resulted in questions being asked at the most recent Church of England Synod as to why the restrictions on his work and ministry have not been lifted given that he has been cleared of misconduct.  The columnist criticizes the Bishop of Oxford for not providing appropriate support to the Dean, does not mince words.  You can read the column here.  Update has followed the saga of this dean for several years, the most recent previous posts is here.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Week Ending 7/5/21

St. Augustine College Forgives Money Students Owe It

The Episcopal affiliated, historically black St. Augustine College in Raleigh, North Carolina gave its students a major lift this spring when it cleared student tuition and fees amounts owed to the college by its students.  The College has long punched above its weight, turning out almost a third of all African-American Episcopal clergy, and serving as the main location in the South for nursing education for African Americans.  Several years ago the college nearly lost its accreditation because of financial difficulties, but an effort led by Presiding Bishop Curry stabilized the college.  The college is using much of the $11.4 million it received from the Cares Act to wipe out existing student balances. It will help many students and their families who were struggling due to work disruptions caused by covid-19.

Continuing Stories

English Methodists OK Same-Sex Marriages While Some U.S. Presbyterians Go the Other Direction

Update reported several years ago that the Methodists in England, Wales, and Scotland had begun the process of permitting their clergy and congregations to celebrate same-sex marriages in church.  That process is now complete.  The decision puts additional pressure on the Church of England to do the same, especially since the Methodists and Anglicans been exploring closer ties. Meanwhile leaders of the Presbyterian Church in America, a more conservative group and much smaller than the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), have declared that only celibate LGBT people can be ordained. The conservative group also does not ordain women. The announcement will have a limited impact on Pittsburgh Episcopalians because the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary is affiliated with the larger, more liberal Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).

Fort Worth Parish Worships in a New Home

Several weeks ago Update covered a story on St. Mary's Hillsboro, one of the parishes of faithful Episcopalians who had to vacate their buildings in Fort Worth.  The congregation was meeting in temporary quarters while it worked to refurbish and furnish a former bank building as a more long-term home.  The Diocese of West Texas provided many of the items they needed. On June 27,  the congregation celebrated Eucharist in their new space.

Birmingham Cathedral and Diocese Reach Accord

The Cathedral Church of the Advent  in Birmingham, Alabama, has long had a very uncomfortable relationship with the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama.  It was using a liturgy written by its dean rather that of the Book of Common Prayer, and had pledge card that explicitly allowed members to direct all funds to the cathedral and none to the diocese and national church.  This latter is a position that will sound familiar to Pittsburgh Episcopalians who lived through the troubled period leading to the 2008 schism in Pittsburgh. Glenda Curry, who became Bishop of the Diocese a year ago has been working to improve relations with the cathedral. At the beginning of May, the departure of the cathedral dean cleared the way for the Diocese of Alabama and the cathedral to finalize an accord that offers an improved relationship with the diocese.  Under the accord, the cathedral will resume using the Rite I service in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and will remove the "Advent" only option from the pledge cards.  Provision was made for those individual donors who wished to support the diocese but not the Episcopal Church.  The full agreement is here.

Anger Over Graves of Children Leads to Church Arson

Indigenous people in Canada have been uncovering large numbers of graves of children who were forced to attend schools run by church organizations, mostly Roman Catholic orders.  Long held pain at the forced separation of children from families, deculturalization, harsh treatment and abuse, and failure to notify families of the death has turned to anger, especially as the Catholic Church has refused to offer any apology.  The Anglican Church of Canada and other churches that ran schools have apologized, several years ago.  The Anglican Church has gone further, moving to create a special Church within a Church designed and run by native peoples. (See Update articles here and here.) Nonetheless the anger has resulted in a series of fires at Roman Catholic Churches in areas within indigenous communities.  One Anglican parish was also damaged.