Cathedral plans to serve parallel Anglican jurisdictions


Saying that they don’t want to choose between “competing Anglican bodies,” the Chapter of Trinity Cathedral in Pittsburgh will vote on a plan that would allow the Cathedral to serve both the remaining Episcopalians in the Diocese of Pittsburgh and those who would separate from the Episcopal Church at this fall’s diocesan convention on October 4, 2008.

A news release from the Cathedral says the plan is to provide a process by which the Cathedral could serve both groups. That system envisions giving seats on the Cathedral’s governing bodies to representatives of both contingents, inviting the bishops of both to serve as co-presidents of the Cathedral Chapter, and working with both on issues such as clergy appointments.”

The release says that Bishop Robert Duncan is in full support of the plan.

According to Cathedral Provost Canon Catherine Brall, the draft resolution was prepared over the last several months by the Cathedral Chapter and sent to all active members of the Trinity on August 22. Cathedral parish members will have a number of opportunities to discuss the resolution over the next three weeks, and then will come together for a final all-parish meeting on September 14.

Canon Brall praised the work of the Chapter, saying that the ideas encapsulated in the resolution “grew out of a very thorough and wonderful season of Chapter members seeking to envision how Trinity Cathedral might best position itself to fulfill its unique identity and destiny as a historic Penn Land Grant Church deeded to foster and preserve Anglican and Episcopal worship.”

It is clear that the Cathedral assumes a split will definitely occur this fall and that there will be two Anglican bodies vying for space not only in the Cathedral but in the Diocese. The plan recognizes that not everyone in the diocese, among them both conservative and progressives, will vote to re-align, and that the remaining Episcopal Churches will move immediately to fill vacancies in Episcopal and Diocesan leadership should a split occur.

The language of the plan recognizes that the realigning group, headed by Bishop Duncan, will no longer be apart of the Episcopal Church while at the same time this new group will claim that they still part of the Anglican Communion. The framers of this plan hope that they can avoid being fought over by the competing groups by planning before the convention to serve both the canonical diocese and the new entity.

It appears from the language of the motion that the Cathedral assumes that they will remain an Episcopal congregation who would welcomes the realigned members of the new entity and include representatives of the realigned diocese in the decision-making of the Cathedral.

But there may be more to this than meets the eye.

Lionel Deimel, for one, is skeptical. On his blog, he writes that the thinks that this proposal is part of Bishop Duncan’s plan to hang on to separately incorporated entities within the Diocese of Pittsburgh should realignment occur. He also believes that if this is an attempt by the Cathedral leadership to try and avoid being caught in the inevitable legal crossfire, it will not work. He writes:

I had heard rumblings that such a resolution was in the works. Although it is being represented as a Cathedral Chapter initiative, I have a suspicion that it is an integral part of the bishop’s realignment strategy. At last year’s diocesan convention, the bishop’s address contained a section called “Behaviors for the Time Ahead.” I reproduce a subsection titled “Forgive” below, from pages 112 and 113 of the 2007 Convention Journal:

Do not dwell on the hurts. Let go of the things that wound. Make your confession often. It is our Lord’s direction to us in the prayer He Himself taught us.

It is in this spirit that I share with you one of my convictions about what our God is calling us to in our stewardship of assets in the years ahead of us. It is my growing conviction that all the things we presently hold in common need to continue to be administered for the good of all, even if we find ourselves in two different Anglican Provinces at the end of the day.

Consider Trinity Cathedral. It is, more than any other church building, the city’s and the region’s parish church, a true cathedral. It belongs to the whole community, not just the Episcopal Diocese, and certainly not just to those who may “win” the right to administer it. I intend to challenge the Cathedral Chapter at their annual January retreat to make plans for how our Cathedral can continue to serve all of us and all of the community – in the separated future that lies ahead. Magnanimity and grace can characterize our future, if we choose it.

How will those who hold Calvary Camp or the Common Life Center Property or the Growth Fund or Pool One administer these assets? For all, or just for some? These matters are a choice, after all.

I do not need to remind the Convention of how Diocesan Council dealt with St. Stephen’s Church in Wilkinsburg during the period when they were joined as plaintiffs in the lawsuit: we fully supported their Youth Program despite the conflict between us. The present diocesan leadership has a track record, as does the national Episcopal Church. Locally, we also have a vision: “One Church of Miraculous Expectation and Missionary Grace,” impelling us to support each other wherever we can support each other, in areas and in concerns where we do agree. Forgiveness is Jesus’ witness from His undeserved cross. May it be our witness too.

Readers not thoroughly familiar with recent Diocese of Pittsburgh history should be reminded that any evaluation of the diocese’s generosity toward St. Stephen’s—likely the diocese did not wish to suffer the public relations fallout from killing a youth program for disadvantaged African-Americans—should also take into account the fact that the bishop, at an earlier convention, threatened to throw plaintiffs Calvary Church and St. Stephen’s Church out of the diocese if they did not drop the lawsuit against the bishop and other diocesan leaders.

As I remarked at the 2007 convention, Bishop Duncan was essentially saying that he is willing to share any diocesan property he is unable to steal outright. His fallback position is, at least from my perspective, less that a model of Christian charity.

Here is a link to the full text of the resolution.


Here is the PDF showing the participation and giving trends of Trinity, Cathedral in Pittsburgh. The church has experienced a drop in Average Sunday Attendance since 2002 and a marked decreased in baptized membership since 2005. One wonders, should the diocese split into two distinct camps, if the Cathedral can maintain itself. Perhaps the hope is that, should this plan pass, that both camps would stay and support the cathedral despite their divergent denominational loyalties.

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  1. tgflux

    The release says that Bishop Robert Duncan is in full support of the plan.

    OF COURSE he is: it was probably his idea!

    This is such a transparently cynical move by (x)Duncan. In essence, he’s conducting a home invasion on TEC property, and then (we can anticipate) whining “What are you complaining about? I’m letting you stay here too, aren’t I?”

    There’s no such thing as “a little bit theft”, Bob. You can be an Episcopalian in an Episcopal cathedral (and diocese), or you can exit the red doors. Them’s the choices.

    JC Fisher

  2. Roger Mortimer

    Your analysis sounds right. Appears that Duncan & Co no more have a firm course of action they expect to work (they must, after all, in a big town like Pittsburgh, have some lawyers warning them of the high wire they’re swaying on) than Iker’s folks have in Ft Worth.

    Fun idea, tho’. Why stick at just the two groups? Let’s take the divisions and use of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as a blueprint. Southern Cone in the south aisle after sundown, alternate Wednesdays; CANA in the Lady Chapel three Fridays a month; Ugandan and Rwandan spinoffs on the left and right sides of the roof – no kerosene stoves. Ongoing Jerusalem-style fist-fights and slanging-matches at Chapter meetings. No end of fun.

    Bet I can guess who has dibs on 11:00 a.m., Christmas and Easter.

  3. Roger Mortimer

    Jeremy Bonner, a lay member of the cathedral chapter, posted at T19 earlier today that “the only alternative [to the plan discussed above] would be that the Cathedral would cease to be an active congregation. That may still happen. If we were not the diocesan cathedral, I would imagine that we would have been reduced to mission status several years ago. The realigned diocese will not have the resources to invest in a Downtown location and the residual diocese will have other priorities”.

    So this sounds as though it is a genuine attempt, perhaps originating with the chapter, to keep the cathedral afloat.

  4. tgflux

    I’m sorry, but TEC should absolutely NOT share its property with those committed to TEC’s destruction. EVEN if it means (temporarily!) scaling back or closing a facility.

    “Wise as serpents, gentle as doves”: while we should continue to seek dove-like reconciliation with the Duncanistas, we shouldn’t throw that dove into the jaws of the Serpent Duncan!

    JC Fisher

  5. Mr Fisher,

    I’m a little late in responding to you. However, as I also noted to Lionel Deimel, it won’t be the “Duncanistas” whom you hurt by setting out to destroy this agreement, but the supporters of the national church within our congregation.

    Without the conservatives, Trinity will cease to be viable and the new Episcopal bishop will have the unhappy task of shutting down the property. Our new ministry to the arts community as well as the support many of our members provide to hunger and homeless ministries will evaporate.

    Perhaps this sort of loss is acceptable to make a point about who “owns” what (a very silly argument being put forward by both your side and mine since we know that if “none of us lives to himself and none of us dies to himself” then no property – personal or ecclesiastical – is our “own”) but I would prefer that we spend a little more energy worrying about those caught in the middle.

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