Monday, September 26, 2011

Relationships, in the “City of Bridges”

by Bruce Robison
St. Andrew’s, Highland Park, Pittsburgh

Bridges over the Allegheny River
Things have been slow to get started here on the “Our Pittsburgh Diocese” site, so I thought I might offer a little something more of reflection on the present state of our life in this neighborhood. Just to stir the pot, as it were. Hope a few more will decide to jump in and join Lionel and me in the deeper end of the pool. See the note on the sidebar about how to submit contributions.

I would begin this long entry with what is I think a quite likely scenario.

The ordination and consecration of the Eighth Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh has been penciled-in on the calendar of the diocese and of the Presiding Bishop: October 20, 2012.

I imagine our Bishop-elect will already, by the fall of next year, have been working for some weeks with Bishop Price and with other lay and clergy leaders to prepare for a good “new start” to his or her ministry.

An important part of that preparation will involve our new bishop and the regional ecumenical community. One of the most likely places for that to begin will be around the table of Christian Associates of Southwestern Pennsylvania, one of the most prominent and widely-shared ecumenical organizations in the region, including leadership from all our major Christian faith traditions—Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox. Our Profile references this organization on page 21.

When our newly-elected bishop arrives next fall, he or she will take a place on the Board of Christian Associates, along with Bishop David Zubik of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh; Bishop Kurt Kusserow of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; the Rev. Dr. Jermaine McKinley, Moderator of the Pittsburgh Presbytery; the Rev. Thomas Bickerton, Bishop of the Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church; and many other senior leaders of regional churches and judicatories. Our bishop-elect will, I imagine, be welcomed to the fellowship of Christian leaders by the President of the Christian Associates Board of Directors, recently elected by the members of the board, in reflection of ecumenical relationships of friendship and respect that have grown over more than two decades of collegial life.

The President of the Board of Christian Associates? The Most Rev. Robert William Duncan, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh and Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America.

The Profile of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh notes the ongoing relationship between the Episcopal Diocese and the Anglican Diocese in a number of places, of course. There are, for example, on pages 6 and 7, references to the division of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh that occurred in our diocesan convention in October 2008, and to the subsequent process of “rebuilding” the Episcopal Diocese.

There are as well, on page 7 and elsewhere, references to some of the ongoing issues related to the legal consequences of that division, including disputes about diocesan and parish assets. (On page 8, interestingly, this is called an “ongoing distraction.”) And there is a telling note, on page 9, expressing the “hope and dream” of a future in which we would see “reconciliation with one another and with those who have left.”

So: one of the themes I think could probably be expanded on at greater length, in terms of an understanding of our Pittsburgh Diocese, would be the many sometimes confusing ways—beyond the obvious maze of legal questions and discussions about the status of property and other assets—in which the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh continue to be engaged.

The ecumenical situation, as in the imagined moment when the new Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh is welcomed to the Board of Christian Associates by the Anglican Bishop of Pittsburgh, is indeed complex.

The clergy and congregations of the Anglican Diocese, whether or not they continue in their historic places of worship and ministry, are well established and valued as colleagues and friends by our ecumenical partners and friends throughout our region—as of course are the clergy and congregations of our Episcopal Diocese.

Clergy and lay members of Episcopalian and Anglican congregations serve together on boards and “in the field” in community service and outreach ministries all across the region.

I know, for example, that at the last meeting of the clergy of the East End Cooperative Ministry, here in our corner of the City of Pittsburgh, I happened to sit just a couple of chairs away from a friend who is a member of the clergy staff of the Church of the Ascension, the Anglican congregation in the Oakland neighborhood, and she and I spent some time talking together about how our respective congregations might be able to participate in the upcoming EECM capital campaign.

CROP Walks and Food Pantries and Meals on Wheels, holiday gift drives, community Ministerium gatherings, jail ministry, ecumenical Bible Study and prayer and mission groups—the fact is that right now and as we move on into the future, "Episcopalians” and “Anglicans” are continuing to work side-by-side, along with Methodists and Presbyterians and Lutherans and Roman Catholics and all the rest, just as we did in our congregations and communities in the season before 2008.

It is interesting to note as well that in those few places where, following 2008 and then again in some more recent situations, the issues related to the division of the diocese led to the unhappy division of local congregations—with “Anglicans” departing from Episcopalian parishes in communities like Johnstown and Oakmont and Indiana and Ligonier and, more recently, with Anglican Diocese congregations leaving familiar Church buildings in the Penn Hills and Verona—a number of these new or displaced Anglican Diocese congregations have been offered at least a temporary refuge by the local clergy and congregations of churches that are at the same time strong ecumenical partners and associates of the Episcopal Diocese and its congregations.

The same has been true in Greensburg, where it the Episcopalian remnant departing from an Anglican congregation has enjoyed the occasional hospitality of the local Lutheran Church.

Western Pennsylvania is a region where communities are stable and memories are long—and where relationships grow deeper and deeper generationally. Our clergy remain in the same cure for longer periods than is typical in the Episcopal Church, and many of our congregations and neighborhoods are multi-generational, with the younger generation sitting two pews back from their grandparents and buying the “house next door” in which to raise their own families.

The clergy and congregations now of the Anglican Diocese, like those of the Episcopal Diocese, are “of” their communities, and, over many years, have developed much friendship and respect. And that is clearly reflected in the ways in which the wider ecumenical community has worked to maintain strong and positive relationships with clergy, congregations, and leadership on both sides of our division.

Someone recently described the situation of our ecumenical and interfaith partners and the wider community as not unlike the situation of the friends and extended family of a couple who separate—having a strong desire and need to find a way to continue to maintain relationship with both.

But of course we don’t have to focus only on the ecumenical and neighborhood scenes to find places where Anglican Diocese folk and Episcopal Diocese folk mix.

A great number of our Episcopalian congregations inevitably include many members who have near or extended family members, close friends, business and professional associates, neighbors, and prayer partners who are now members of Anglican Diocese congregations. This means, of course, that this is a reality for congregations in both dioceses.

A long-time member of my parish, for example, is the mother-in-law of the Senior Warden of St. David’s Anglican Church, in Peters Township. Her daughter now serves on the Altar Guild there, and her granddaughters are acolytes. A member of my Vestry has been for many years in a business partnership with a man who is a member of the Vestry of Ascension Church in Oakland. I imagine there are few congregations on either side of the divide that couldn’t find numerous parallels.

Congregations in both dioceses continue to share together the support of Shepherd’s Heart, Five Talents, missionaries like John and Susan Park, the Uganda Christian University, and on and on.

“Episcopalians” and “Anglicans” may worship in different places on Sunday mornings, but at Grandma’s dinner table for Sunday dinner and at work and school and the gym and tennis court and supermarket, picking up the kids at daycare or dropping off the daughter at Girl Scouts—in the community, day in and day out—we are side by side, with affection and friendship, familial commitments, common values, shared faith, long and generational histories together.

Sometimes, of course, the complexity of these relationships is confusing.

At the time of the death of a member of an Episcopal Diocese parish who has been living in the Canterbury Senior Residence for many years, how will the Chaplain at Canterbury, a priest of the Anglican Diocese, having ministered to the person departed and his or her family for years, be included in services?

When a couple is to be married in an Anglican Diocese Church, but with family and pastoral history in an Episcopalian congregation, how will the two clergy interact?

When a much loved and long-time clergy colleague, having been in either of the two dioceses, enters greater life, is it appropriate for clergy of the “other” diocese to vest and sit together with clergy of the “other diocese” at the funeral? To stand at the casket and share the blessing?

There’s no customary out there—and probably shouldn’t and couldn’t be, at this early moment. We’re all feeling our way through this, one step at a time, and any hard-and-fast rule now would certainly be premature and wrong. But still: we wonder what to do.

The reality is that clergy and lay folk, wives and husbands and kids, who were friends “before 2008” continue pretty much to be friends in 2011. Folks still have dinner together, meet for lunch, play golf, pray. If our kids were in “Happening” before, they still are. If our kids went to Calvary Camp before, they still do. Except when this doesn’t happen. And then: many tears.

Indeed, we even have one priest canonically resident in the Episcopal Diocese who is married to a priest canonically resident in the Anglican Diocese. Hard to imagine just how we’d want to begin dealing with that in a customary.

And all this doesn’t even begin to get into the nuances of the situation at Trinity Cathedral, in downtown Pittsburgh, which, for the past three years (see Profile, p. 11), has continued to serve as best it could as the Cathedral for both dioceses. Where both dioceses hold conventions; where both dioceses schedule their Holy Week Chrism Mass; where both bishops sit (not at the same time, of course!) in the same episcopal chair. (And where two dear friends, the wife of the Rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Highland Park, and the wife of the Rector of St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, Sewickley, will be this coming October co-leading the annual prayer retreat sponsored by the Trinity Cathedral Women.)

And all this doesn’t even begin to get into the nuances of the situation at Trinity School for Ministry, in Ambridge: one of the eleven accredited seminaries of the Episcopal Church, alma mater of many clergy in both the Anglican and Episcopal dioceses, delightfully represented at recent Episcopal Diocese conventions as host of a dessert reception, and with presentations by the Episcopal priest who is the director of the seminary’s Office of Church Relations. A tremendous resource for scholarship and mission.

Trinity School for Ministry: where students preparing for ministry in the Episcopal Church are taking classes this term from tenured and adjunct faculty who are clergy of the Anglican Church in North America, and where students preparing for ministry in the Anglican Church in North America are taking classes this term from tenured and adjunct faculty who are clergy of the Episcopal Church. Where the seminary Board of Trustees includes clergy and laity from both the Episcopal Church and the ACNA. Where the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is listed as an ex officio member of the board—and where the person holding that “ex officio” seat continues in 2011 to be the person who held it in 2007, the Most Rev. Robert William Duncan.

A friend recently asked, “Where is the seminary in the disconnect between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in North America?” Well: it’s complicated.

Complexities. Nuances. Gray areas. Ambiguities and contradictions. Faithful Christian people, with a great heritage and a vibrant presence of life and ministry in their communities, sorting out experimentally, by trial and error, how to make of this present, broken situation of our lives something that can somehow witness the love of our Lord Jesus to a sinful and broken world.

And in all this too, the shadows. A division born out of a season of conflict, stress, distress. An environment of formal and legal negotiation over questions that affect core identity and value. A history of things said that would have been better left unsaid. Inappropriate words and inappropriate actions by folks in both dioceses. Distrust, anger, resentment, real hurt. An inextricably entangled community in which Screwtape still seems to be arm-wrestling with our Better Angels. In which some members would just as soon never see or hear from other members again, and in which others still find it almost impossible to believe that we are actually separated.

Our Episcopal Diocese is itself, of course, uneasily divided along some of the same fault lines which led to the formal division in 2008. And that further complicates the complications. Loyal Episcopalians all, we would say, but with sharply differentiated theological and ecclesiological perspectives which in many cases may influence the sympathy or antipathy felt toward those of the “other” diocese—and toward others of our own diocese and wider church.

That, not so much apparent in our official Profile, will need to be the subject of another blog post, but it is at least relevant to mention here on this topic as well.

Someone said to me the other day something like this: “I don’t know how all this is going to work out between the Anglicans and Episcopalians. But however it does, in the end, what’s most important is that somehow the newspaper will tell a story that will cause our neighbors to pause, and take a breath, to say, ‘these Christians, how they love one another.’”

We don’t know, of course, how to get there from where we are, and there are likely many turns along the road to come.

But this is the complicated place where we all of us live today—clergy, laity, congregations, dioceses. And it is the place our new, Eighth Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will soon find him- or herself living as well—if he or she isn’t here already.


  1. Bruce, this is a really beautiful post.

    I find, the odd thing with friends, is that true friends, the kind of friends whose limits you know and whose good intentions you trust, are borne out of deep disagreement, the freedom to argue, even raise voices, and still remain friends.

  2. Well, Bruce, as you say, it’s complicated. Splits are more easily effected than mergers, and so, for all practical purposes, the schism in the Pittsburgh Diocese should be considered permanent. In some contexts (weddings and funerals, perhaps), we should treat the “Anglicans”—it should be remembered that we are more Anglican than they are—as we would Methodists, with whom we are less comfortable than we are with Lutherans.

    I do not believe relations between the two dioceses can be “normal” until all the legal issues are settled. I don’t have a celebration marked on my calendar.

    In general, personal relationships are likely to be more difficult than your essay suggests. In the case of families, blood will most often prove thicker than communion wine. Non-relatives are different, and friendships will have to have been strong to begin with to overcome the hurt the “Anglicans” inflicted on the Episcopalians.

    Long term, those in ACNA are simply in another Christian denomination. As Democrats and Republicans can be friends, so can Episcopalians and whatever you want to call the other guys. Just as Democrats find it harder to talk to Tea Party types, however, mainstream Episcopalians will have a hard time being friends with the more aggressive members of the other diocese for years to come.

    Institutionally, making nice with the “Anglican” is a low priority. Our top priority regarding the other diocese is being handled by lawyers. Individuals can build bridges as they see fit.

  3. Thank you, Lionel. I do of course understand that when "we" talk about how "we" are connected in relationship with folks of the Anglican Diocese, "we're" always walking on thin ice.

    Some of us have long-standing relationships of friendship and shared life and ministry, while for others of us this isn't the case. Our emotional and affectional experiences will be very different.

    Likewise, some of us are and will be very involved in community ecumenical ministries in which Anglican Diocese and Episcopal Diocese folk will be side by side, others--well, perhaps not so much. Generalizations on all sides will inevitably be inaccurate.

    My whole approach to Churchmanship has tended to minimize the vocabulary of "denominationalism," though of course there is simply a pragmatic reality in the bustle of the Christian scene.

    Perhaps we can talk about our sense of ourselves as a local expression of "Christ's one holy catholic and apostolic Church," but that doesn't begin to paint in the lines that tell us that while we have much in common with our brothers and sisters of the Neighborhood Holiness Bible Church, and all the other gatherings along the broad highway from Rome to Geneva, etc., there are also some important-to-note differences.

    Our ACNA friends are more like us than just about any other "denomination," of course. Our ordained ministers derive the succession of their orders equally from historic roots in the Church of England. Indeed, many of our own clergy were ordained by Bishop Duncan, and many of the Anglican Diocese clergy were ordained by bishops who are of the Episcopal Church. Our services are rooted in the same Prayer Book tradition, and we all turn to the great Anglican theologians of the 16th-20th centuries to articulate our faith.

    There may be indeed some important differences between our two "bunches," but I think there's still too much dust in the air to know much about that. We were all one big fractious family until about 15 minutes ago, after all, and it's hard to say just how all this is going to develop over coming decades, say, or generations.

    My point, just to restate it again, is simply that however far away "the other diocese" may seem for some, for others of us it may be incarnate very much at the office, or across the family table. Not all that far away at all, but very near.

    I actually disagree with your penultimate sentence. I think there are some matters between our two dioceses that are of necessity being "handled by lawyers," and I know the lawyers are doing the best they can, and with integrity.

    But I believe those matters are actually, from just about every moral, relational, spiritual, missional, matters that are ultimately of low priority.

    Buildings come and buildings go, and we'll get that more right or less right, one way or the other.

    But--well, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control: all that is beyond the sphere of concerns that our lawyers will be able to help us with.

    Bruce Robison

  4. Thanks Bruce for your well written and heartfelt piece. Much to contrast between your article and Lionel's response.

    Let me help you: If you all just first hold your breath and count to ten, you can actually call us guys Anglicans and not use the quotation marks either.

  5. Dear David+,
    The thing is, TEC is also Anglican and has organizations related to it with "Anglican" in the name, such as the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer, of which I am a member. I think you came to our homecoming in Pittsburgh in 1989 as a representative of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, and it was very good to have you with us. "Anglican" has been part of our name since 1958, when Bishop Pardue suggested it, and we have a rapport with AFP Canada. Some people have suggested that we should take the "Anglican" out of our name and replace it with something else, so that people will won't think we are part of ACNA and therefore opposed to TEC. I don't think we should do that--it's a part of who we are. I know this is a difficult issue and don't mean to quarrel, but you may not be aware of some reasons for sensitivity on the issue. --Sincerely, Celinda Scott


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