Tuesday, July 11, 2006

News from Central Florida, TEC and the Communion

Central Florida:

There's good news. Here in Central Florida, 32 clergy members signed a statement yesterday, rejecting schismatic actions in this diocese. More were expected to sign today, but I haven't seen a tally yet.

The first portion comes from purpose section of the Constitution of the Diocese of Central Florida, and the second portion rejects the recent actions:

"We, the Clergy of the Episcopal Church in Central Florida, acknowledge our allegiance due to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ and recognize the body known as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America otherwise known as the Episcopal Church to be a true branch of said Church, having rightful jurisdiction in all its dioceses, and hereby declare our adhesion to the same and accede to its Constitution and Canons. We do not accede to any action or effort on the part of Central Florida's diocesan leadership or convention which seeks to disassociate us from the Episcopal Church, the actions and authority of General Convention, or the Anglican Communion."

[Ed. Note: bolding within the text of this document is mine.]


Pittsburgh, PA, 11 July 2006.

Nine urban, suburban and rural congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh today challenged the recent actions of the Right Reverend Robert William Duncan and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. On 28 June 2006, the Bishop and Standing Committee announced their intention to withdraw from the duly recognized, geographically-determined Province III of The Episcopal Church, envisioning the emergence of a theologically-determined "Province X." The parishes believe that these steps, if left unchallenged, could effectively remove the Diocese from The Episcopal Church. The congregations further believe that by requesting "alternative primatial oversight," the Bishop and Standing Committee seek to remove the Diocese from the oversight of the presiding bishop elect of The Episcopal Church, the Right Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori. The parishes also believe that all of these actions constitute an effort to retain use of property which is properly within the jurisdiction of The Episcopal Church while withdrawing from The Episcopal Church.

History and Rationale

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is a founding member of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, and the Right Reverend Robert William Duncan, bishop of Pittsburgh, serves as its moderator. The Network was formed following the election of the Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. Subsequent to this development, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, at its conventions of 2003 and 2004, passed an amendment to the Constitution of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, declaring that the Diocese would not be bound by decisions of General Convention when such decisions ran counter to its own understanding of Faith and Order. In the Stipulation which ended the lawsuit filed in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas by Calvary Church, Pittsburgh, and St. Stephen's Church, Wilkinsburg against Bishop Duncan et al., all parties agreed that congregations in the Diocese desirous of disaffiliation from the Network could achieve that end by notifying the Bishop in writing. We believe that in their act of disaffiliation from the Network, those congregations expressed their loyalty to The Episcopal Church.

Representatives from eleven congregations that have opted out of the Network held a meeting on 29 June 2006. In subsequent meetings the following statement was drafted, and was subsequently accepted by representatives of the parishes indicated below. It is offered as a manifestation of our faithful understanding of Christ's love, and is predicated on a belief that the way to resolve differences is to seek reconciliation with those with whom we disagree, and not to withdraw from communion with them. It emerges, too, from our belief that The Episcopal Church is part of Christ's one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, and is a church grounded in the Biblical principle of justice.

I. We believe that the action by the Right Reverend Robert William Duncan, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, and the Standing Committee of the Diocese, announcing their decision to withdraw from Province III is tantamount to leaving The Episcopal Church. According to the Canons of The Episcopal Church, each diocese belongs to one of the nine recognized geographically constituted provinces. While there is a provision for leaving one (geographical) province and joining another, there is no provision for constituting a province based on ideological or theological grounds. We believe that the proposed formation of a Province X, therefore, is canonically and constitutionally irregular, and it is highly unlikely that the General Convention will approve such a province, either in advance of its purported formation, or ex post facto. We believe that since Province X does not exist and is unlikely to exist, leaving Province III constitutes leaving the organized structure of The Episcopal Church.

II. The creation of Province X, in our view, is a mechanism to isolate dioceses, parishes, and perhaps individuals from The Episcopal Church. The formation of the Province is seen by us as the most recent step in an attempt to create a church separate from The Episcopal Church. Since the Diocese is part of The Episcopal Church, and cannot exist apart from The Episcopal Church, we believe that the Bishop and Standing Committee cannot legally remove the Diocese from The Episcopal Church for the purpose of planting it in some other province, or for any other purpose.

III. We believe the request made by the Bishop and Standing Committee for "alternative primatial oversight" is further indication of an intention to depart from The Episcopal Church. Although the Archbishop of Canterbury (at the request of the Primates) did set up a Panel of Reference which could hear appeals from dioceses in dispute with their own national church authorities and "to assist in the resolution of these difficulties" [Panel of Reference Mandate, 6 May 2005] the specific remedy requested is unprecedented and contrary to the basic understanding of the Anglican Communion as a fellowship of autonomous provinces. We believe the request for alternative primatial oversight constitutes a rejection of the duly elected leadership and governing structures of The Episcopal Church.

IV. The Bishop and Standing Committee have cited, in justification for their actions, comments made by the Most Reverend Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his "Reflections" promulgated in the week following the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. But it must be pointed out that as the Archbishop himself has stated, the Archbishop's statement is not definitive, and nothing in that document is binding. Any final disposition on any restructuring of the Anglican Communion, after consultation with the Primates, the Anglican Consultative Council and other bodies, will, according to the Archbishop, be a lengthy process, a process that will begin in earnest at the Lambeth Conference of 2008. Moreover, even if the Anglican Communion is restructured, that action, in and of itself, would have no effect on the structure of The Episcopal Church, or on the relations between The Episcopal Church and its dioceses. We believe the actions of the Bishop and Standing Committee have interpreted the Archbishop's document to suit their own views. As Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold has said in response to the Archbishop's statement, "It is misleading that some, in responding to the Archbishop's lengthy theological reflection, have focused their attention on speculations about a yet-to-be determined outcome."

V. We oppose any efforts on the part of the Bishop and Standing Committee to take the Diocese outside of the recognized structure of The Episcopal Church. The Bishop and Standing Committee have stated that they believe it necessary for the Diocese of Pittsburgh to "dissociate itself from the actions of General Convention." Since the General Convention is the supreme governing authority of The Episcopal Church, and all dioceses are bound by its actions, such dissociation as described by the Bishop and Standing Committee constitutes, in our opinion, withdrawal from The Episcopal Church. We believe that any resolutions or constitutional amendments passed at conventions of the Diocese of Pittsburgh which would purport to release the Diocese from compliance with decisions of the General Convention are canonically improper and invalid.

VI. According to canon law, property owned by a diocese is held in trust for The Episcopal Church. We believe that the repeated claims of the Bishop and Standing Committee to be the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, while at the same time acting to separate the Diocese from the decisions of The Episcopal Church, therefore, constitute an attempt to retain legal possession of property held in trust for The Episcopal Church, while at the same time taking steps to remove the Diocese from The Episcopal Church. In light of these actions, we believe that the Bishop and Standing Committee do not represent the interests of the duly recognized Diocese of Pittsburgh.

VII. The authority in The Episcopal Church of any bishop and standing committee of a diocese derives from the authority of the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, which are set by the General Convention. We believe, therefore, that any claim of the Bishop and Standing Committee that their authority derives from being "in full and unimpaired communion with the See of Canterbury and those churches, dioceses and provinces that uphold and propagate the historic Anglican Faith and Order" is based on specious reasoning.

VIII. In light of the foregoing statements, we further believe that we represent those in this Diocese who are loyal to The Episcopal Church. Accordingly, we extend an invitation to others who wish to remain in The Episcopal Church to join us in our efforts. We remain committed to the building up of the Body of Christ in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

All Souls Church, North Versailles
Calvary Church, Shadyside
Church of the Holy Cross, Homewood
Church of the Redeemer, Squirrel Hill
St. Brendan's Church, Franklin Park
St. Matthew's Church, Homestead
St. Stephen's Church, Wilkinsburg
St. Thomas, Church, Canonsburg
St. Thomas & St. Luke's Church, Patton

Maybe the term "interesting" fits the latest news from Canterbury:

Stephen Bates at UK's The Guardian wrote the oddest story about the Archbishop of Canterbury in the most recent of his pieces about the Anglican Communion. It won't let me post a link to the article -- to see the full text, paste in http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/stephen_bates/2006/07/the_bongo_archbishop.html, or google "Stephen Bates" + Going Around in Circles.

The last two paragraphs read:

When I saw the Archbishop of Canterbury on Sunday, he asked me how I thought Saturday's debate had gone. He nodded in agreement when I said that it seemed all the arguments had been made before. I wish he would take a leaf out of the Archbishop of York's book and tell what he described as his "currently confused and struggling church" a little more bluntly how he feels.

I asked him how he felt and he replied sadly: "You don't want to know." Actually, I did. But deep gloom seems to be surrounding the senior staff that the covenant plan to save the Anglican communion is falling apart even before anyone's started discussing what might be in it. One senior figure admitted he did not think the communion could survive until the next scheduled meeting of all the world's Anglican bishops in 2008. Katharine Jefferts Schori has been invited for an early meeting at Lambeth Palace within the next few weeks. They hope to integrate her more closely into the network of Anglican church leaders but this seems a vain prospect given that so many parts of the church's world still don't accept the idea of women in leadership, any more than gays.

Mention the name of Nigeria's conservative (and outspoken) Archbishop Peter Akinola and a strange convulsive, wringing, motion comes over Rowan Williams's hands. If only he would...if only he dared.

If only he would actually take a stand...

A hat tip to the Episcopal Voices moderator for all three of these items of timely interest.

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