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, February 21, 2023

Week Ending 2/20/23

ACC Elects Lay Woman to Top Post

While the Anglican Consultative Council dealt with some tension arising from the recent vote of the Church of England Synod to allow blessings of same-sex couples, and while the Archbishop of Canterbury related that the decision to use church money for reparations in recognition of the Church of England's long involvement in slavery had resulted in some push back, the meeting generally focused on things that brought the different independent provinces together.  One of those actions was the election of  Canon Maggie Swinson of Liverpool as the Chair of the Anglican Consultative Council.  She was unopposed. Swinson was well-know to members of the ACC and had served as vice-chair of the ACC since 2016.  As chair of the ACC, Swinson will also chair the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. The Standing Committee is made up of the Archbishop of Canterbury (president), the ACC Vice Chair, 5 primates, and 7 members elected by the ACC.  The Standing Committee is a diverse body with members from the independent provinces of Jerusalem, the Congo, Brasil, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, Bangladesh, New Zealand, 
Tanzania, Canada, Pakistan, Ireland, and Kenya, as well as England.  

Continuing Threads

Some GAFCON Primates Reject Canterbury

As might be expected following the announcement by ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach as chair of the Global South group, the GAFCON leadership also has now issued a statement saying that they can no longer recognize the Archbishop of Canterbury as one of the "Instruments of Unity" for the Anglican Communion.  The Global South and GAFCON have overlapping leadership and membership. Although the Church of England synod passed a very moderate resolution allowing  individual clergy the right to bless individuals or couples, it is widely understood to allow blessing of same-sex couples. The  English Synod votes, however were too much for the die-hard leaders in provinces, most of which still define as a crime same sex relationships and identity.  Some of the African Primates demanded a statement of repentance from the Church of England. The GAFCON sponsored group of parishes in Europe that have left the Church of England and Wales and the Episcopal Church of Scotland issued a statement telling individual parishes that they were ready to provide "alternative oversight," (i.e. inviting parishes to leave the Church of England). The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Office of the Anglican Communion have issued statements, the latter suggests that the statements are an over-reaction. 

Afghani Refugees Still Making Home in Newburyport Parish

In December of 2021, Update carried a post that the  St. Paul's Episcopal Parish in Newburyport, Massachusetts was converting their church hall basement into temporary living quarters for refugee families from Afghanistan.  Update did a follow-up post in February 2022, but a year later, the refugees are still living in the church undercroft. In other ways the family has settled in with the adult members having found work and the children attending school.  But the longer-term housing options are still more a wish than a reality.  The 2 families living at St. Paul's have a total of 16 children (the youngest born in the U.S. 3 months ago).  There is a long waiting list for subsidized housing in Massachusetts, and few units are large enough to house a family with 8 children.  The minister of St. Paul's has now taken on the role of housing advocate, working with non-profits and the city to find a stable, long-term housing solution for the families. 

Methodist Congregations Leaving Are a Small Percentage 

Update has been reporting on the withdrawal of conservative congregations from the United Methodist Church. In some areas it has included the largest congregations in a conference.  Reporting piecemeal, however, does not give insight into how big the split actually is.  Since 2019, only 1831 congregations have voted to disaffiliate with the United Methodists.  The denomination has over 30,000 congregations in the U.S.  and the parishes that have disaffiliated are just under 7% of the total.  The impact, however, is very different depending on the region.  Texas has been the hardest hit, with the North Texas Conference losing 72% of its congregations. The 5 regions with the highest percentages of disaffiliations were (in order from greatest to least) were North Texas, Texas, North Carolina, Alabama, and Indiana.  These 5 conferences account for over half of all disaffiliated parishes.  For more, see the article in Christianity Today

Probe of Second Election in Florida Notes Discrimination

A second election for Bishop coadjutor in the Diocese of Florida had the same outcomes as the first, with the Rev. Charles Holt being declared the winner, and also having the result challenged by a group that filed a formal complaint.  The Committee of Review that investigated the second election has had part of its report released.  While the Committee found the technical issues of possible voting mistakes to have no substance, they did find that there had been discrimination against LGBTQA members in ways that excluded some of them from voting.  The biggest problems were the refusal of the current bishop to grant canonical residency to LGBTQA clergy,  to exclude candidates for ordination from the process unless they would pledge to remain celibate, and the exclusion of some LGBTQA lay members whose parishes had chosen them as delegates to the electing convention.  This report may affect the way the approval process plays out as the elected candidate mus receive consents from a majority of diocesan bishops and Standing Committees from all the dioceses of the Church. Update has reported on the various twists and turns of Florida's attempts to elect a bishop. The most recent post is here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Week Ending 2/13/23

George Werner Dies

The Very Reverend George Werner, who served two terms as President of the Episcopal Church's House of Deputies and was the Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Pittsburgh for twenty years has died.  In retirement, he had moved to North Carolina.Werner was denied a third term when the group heading towards schism in Pittsburgh was able to prevent him in 2004 from being re-elected as a Deputy to General Convention.  He worked diligently to bridge the growing gap in the diocese, and remained a faithful member  of the Episcopal Church.  As dean he was very active in the Pittsburgh Community helping to start numerous groups that worked to better the lives of workers, battered women, improve health care, revitalize the downtown, and  interfaith relations.  He also mentored many in the Church, including the women who followed him as President of the House of Deputies.  None of the posted obituaries does complete justice to his life and ministry.  The Episcopal News Service has the most on mentoring. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette covers his local leadership the best, and The Living Church gives more detail on the schism

Continuing Threads

More Fallout From the English Synod Vote

After heated debate, all three orders of the Church of England Synod agreed to allow the blessing of same-sex civil marriages and approved trial liturgies for that.  The result was that the current head of GAFCON, Foley Beach, who is also the Archbishop of ACNA, issued a statement suggesting that it was time to change how the Anglican Communion chose its symbolic head by having the Primates choose their own chair.  This is an interesting comment since ACNA is not recognized as part of the Anglican Communion by any of the four instruments of union of that body, but continues to claim it is part of the "real" Anglican Communion.  The Pittsburgh ACNA bishop issued his own statement criticizing the decision in England and referring people to the statement by Beach.  Meanwhile, one of the actual four instruments of union, the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC)  began meeting on February 13 in Ghana.  The ACC has a charter and is comprised of delegates (both clergy and lay) from the independent provincial churches it recognizes as part of the Anglican Communion.  At the meeting, Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby continued to try to soften opposition to the English synod's action, pointing out that each province is independent and its decisions do not apply anywhere beyond that province. He also claimed that the Church of England had been threatened with consequences if they did not pass the blessings measure.  Update has been following the furor around the Church of England proposal.  The latest previous post is here

Episcopal Relief and Development Helping in Turkey and Syria

As is its usual practice, Episcopal Relief and Development has partnered with Church groups on the scene to provide aid to the earthquake devastated areas of Turkey and Syria.  They have concentrated on providing food, medical supplies and shelter to the survivors.  Because they are partners in a larger effort, the  major news agencies have not noted ERD participation.  the Episcopal Journal has a good summary of the ERD role here, and how to contribute.  Update has noted many previous relief efforts by ERD.  A recent one is here.  The agency often stays long after the initial weeks and aids in long-term rebuilding of the area. 

Hindu Radicals Continue Persecution of Christians in India

Persecution by a radical group of Hindus in India continues.  Several months ago Hindus filed charges of forced conversion against a Christian congregation and its pastor.  When the church members called for police help when a mob surrounded their small church on Maundy Thursday 2020, the police arrested the whole congregation rather than members of the mob.  When the church's pastor finally was granted bail after months in jail, new charges were soon filed so that he was rearrested and when granted bail after 3 months in jail, another set of charges was filed so he could not leave jail.  The radicals are claiming that normal charity such as offering work or feeding the poor is forcing those helped to convert.   Update has carried other stories about attacks on Christians in India. 

Update on Shelter for LGBTQA Youth

Update carried a story in May 2021 when Trinity Church in Indianapolis opened the only shelter designed specifically for LGBTQA youth who needed a home.  The project has matured, bought a larger house away from Church grounds and incorporated as a non-profit.  Trinity Parish members continue to be deeply involved.  The Episcopal News Service has a follow-up story on the work that the shelter has done and the difference it has made for those it has served. 

Anglican Church of Wales Launches Net Zero Project

The Anglican Church of Wales has launched a program designed to help its parishes reach a Net Zero environmental impact.  The province has developed a set of tools to help parishes assess standing and design next steps to meet this important environmental goal.  What is of special interest is that the tools are available on line for parishes or dioceses anywhere in the world to use.  The Anglican Communion has made reducing environmental impacts a major concern and taken the lead in a variety of ways.  Update has reported on other actions, including Anglican Communion leadership at the recent UN conference.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

 Week Ending 02/06/23

All stories pick up on issues or events we have previously covered.

Continuing Threads

Parish Deals with Bias Incident and Vandalism

Update has carried notices of previous times when vandals have struck Episcopal parishes for their inclusive stands, especially concerning immigrants , the homeless, or LGBTQA support.  See the previous posts here, here, and here.  The latest incident involves Trinity Episcopal Church, Asbury Park, New Jersey.  On the night that Trinity hosted a concert to benefit an anti-racism group in New Jersey, the parish's rainbow coalition flag was torn down and ripped, and an individual tried to pepper spray a group of people outside the church's community building after the concert.  Police are investigating the incidents as possible hate crimes.

Group Criticizes Diocese of Rhode Island for Use of Cathedral Complex

A group posted criticism of the Rhode Island diocese after Archdeacon Grace Swinski raised concerns about growing numbers of unhoused people in a talk in the Rotunda of the State House.  The group claimed that the diocese was sitting on millions of dollars of unused property, namely the St. John's Cathedral complex in Providence and several nearby houses.  The group claimed the building has been vacant since 2010, and that the diocese could sell the historic property for redevelopment, move the graves from the historic graveyard and use the funds to care for those without housing. Update has carried notices of several different diocese and parishes making creative use of church property to address the homeless (See here, here, and here.) However, the Rhode Island diocesan web site documents that the site is not vacant and unused.  In fact the diocese is making creative use of the historic space. The Cathedral site is home to four different groups offering various kinds of outreach and hosting a variety of events.  In addition, the building is on historic registers as is its cemetery and there is a committee working on how best to stabilize and restore the property.  

Another Possible Diocesan Reunion

Over the last decade, several dioceses have explored possible mergers or reunions as program needs, staffing, and finances made the actions attractive, Two of the five diocese that suffered major schisms had reunited with larger dioceses within their states. (Quincy became a deanery of the Diocese of Chicago, and most recently The faithful remnant of the Diocese of Fort Worth (i.e. the Diocese of North Texas) reunited with the Diocese of Texas, once again becoming a deanery of the much larger diocese. The three diocese of Wisconsin (Milwaukee, Eau Claire, and Fond du Lac) are in the midst of exploration of a variety of partnerships and sharing of resources, but have not formally sought permission from General Convention to merge.  Now the bishops of the two dioceses in Indiana (Northern Indiana and Indianapolis) have announced that they will be appointing members to work with a consultant on what are the best questions to use in discernment of reunification.  The bishops have already had conversations with their staffs and diocesan governing bodies, so the formation of the study group is not a surprise to those in the diocese.

Problems in Israel

The Christian community in Jerusalem has been increasingly concerned about attacks on their institutions and the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.  Christian religious leaders issued a statement on January 30 decrying the unwarranted violence and deaths of 32 Palestinians and 7 Israelis since the start of 2023, and tied it to the need to respect the religious traditions and sites of all religions if a lasting peace is ever to occur in the Holy Land. Among those signing the statement was the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, Hosum Nasoum.  Part of the context for that statement was a series of recent attacks by ultra right members of Jewish sects on Christian sites and gathering places, including a restaurant.  One of the sites mentioned in the essay in Religion News exploring the attacks was the Protestant (Anglican) cemetery.  Update had carried an earlier post on the vandalism at the cemetery. 

The Church of England and Same Sex Blessing Debate

This week the Church of England Synod took up the report that has recommendations in it allowing the creation of liturgies to bless same sex unions.  The debate has been very heated because the proposal is a compromise, not going far enough for many supporters of full inclusion of LGBTQA people in the Church, and those who see same sex unions as sinful and contrary to scripture. Meanwhile Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby spent time traveling with the leader of the Scottish Presbyterian Church and Pope Francis on a tour where the pope made additional statements about LGBTQA rights.  He was urging countries to end laws criminalizing LGBTQA people, their supporters, and activities.    He drew a line between civil rights and church doctrines precluding same-sex marriage. Welby had already used the tour to make a statement that while he was happy to see the church offer liturgies for blessing same-sex marriages, he would not authorize or perform them in order to respect the beliefs of some Anglican Communion leaders.  Update reported that statement last week.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Week Ending 1/30/23

Once again I was traveling with limited internet service and so this posting covers several weeks.  My apologies.

New York Diocese Creates Credit Union

The Diocese of New York has received a charter for a credit union designed to serve church employees, church members, and others with a connection to the Episcopal Church.  It hopes to reach those low and moderate income people who have been unable to get a bank account because of fees or other barriers.  The union intends to provide basic banking, check cashing, and loan services to its members.  The diocese believes that some of its low income parishes may have a number of members that qualify, and church employees in low paying jobs may also benefit from the services.  For more see the Episcopal Journal article here

Continuing Threads

Another Diocese Joins Interfaith Effort to Challenge Anit-Abortion Laws

An interfaith group of church leaders have filed a lawsuit challenging Missouri's law banning almost all abortions.  Episcopalians in other dioceses, such as Florida, have been part of interfaith coalitions challenging abortion restrictions, but the Missouri suit is unique in that it is claiming the law violates several clauses of the Missouri constitution guaranteeing religious freedom and forbidding the establishment of religion.  The suit claims that the current restrictive law was passed to implement particular religious views thus establishing a religion, an act forbidden by the state's constitution.  Bishop Deon Johnson not only signed, but offered Christ Church Cathedral as the site for the announcement.  The group of 13 plaintiffs includes besides Bishop Johnson,  a number of Jewish leaders, several United Church of Christ Clergy, and some Methodists and Unitarian Universalist clergy.  You can read the filing here.  The Episcopal Church has had a "choice" position on abortion for more than 40 years, and reinforced that position at the most recent General Convention.   

English Bishops Move to Allow Blessing of Same Sex Unions

Update has been following the reactions to the latest study in the Church of England on same-sex marriage.  The matter is before the Church of England's House of Bishops, and the step being taken is to allow blessing of same-sex civil unions.  While this is a step forward, it falls short of what LGBTQA advocates and supporters sought, and is a step too far for conservatives who still see same-sex unions as sinful.  Archbishop Welby has come out with his one way of splitting the difference by announcing that while blessings may occur in the church, he will not perform and authorize them.  He is doing this in deference to his role as one of the instruments of union for the Anglican Communion and the fact that many of the independent provinces of the communion are opposed to any recognition of same sex couples.  The Living Church carried a story on his announcement here

Episcopal Leaders Concerned by Attempts to Limit Black History Teaching

The recent actions and laws limiting what can be taught about blacks and other marginalized groups has run afoul of the Episcopal Church's efforts to come to terms with its own racist past and institute a process of racial reconciliation and healing.  Leaders voiced their voiced their frustration with actions taken against libraries, teachers, and courses in Florida, especially the governor's forbidding of any school to offer the new Advanced Placement Course in Black history.  The Episcopal Church’s missioner for African descent ministries, the Rev. Ronald Byrd Sr.,called the efforts to restrict teaching of black history "educational malpractice. Update has carried numerous stories on the efforts of the church to uncover and come to terms with its own racist acts, including encouraging every diocese and parish to carefully explore its own history. 

Presiding Bishop Speaks on the Death of Tyre Nichols

The release of body camera tapes showing five Memphis police officers beating Tyre Nichols to death after a traffic stop, has led to the latest round of protests and demands for police reform.  The Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry issued a statement that passionately and compassionately spoke for the whole church in condemning the actions. Memphis has acted swiftly to fire and discipline police and emergency responders, and the five officers directly involved in the beating now face criminal charges.  The church has tried to keep the issue of police reform and needless deaths of blacks at the hands of police before its members in a number of ways, such as memorial services for earlier such deaths, especially that of George Floyd in Minnesota. 

Michigan Bishops Step Up Pressure for Gun Control

Following the Democratic victories in state elections in Michigan, the three Episcopal Bishops  have joined lobbying at the state capitol to pass and implement stricter gun laws in the state.  The Episcopal Church has been advocating for stronger gun laws for quite a while, and update has carried numerous stories on these efforts, most recently here and here.