(Received via email)
5 November 2010
The Diocese of Pennsylvania
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
It is extraordinary for a neighboring Bishop to intervene in the deliberations of another Diocese. It is also extraordinary for a daughter diocese to intervene in the deliberations of its mother body. In 1789 we were one body in Pennsylvania, and remained so until the expansion of our country mandated a separation, most simply over questions of transportation. (Perhaps that time is over.) I somewhat grieve that our constitutional separation has meant a perhaps unwarranted cut-off in recent years in matters of ministry.
I may, then, well stand under God’s judgment for my writing at this time, but feel compelled to offer just a word to your deliberations.
First, I need to tell you that you all have been on the prayer list of the Diocese of Bethlehem since the onset of your present troubles regarding your bishop. In more recent years, the individual members of our Standing Committee have personally committed to uphold you in prayer, as they have upheld the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Second, our Standing Committee has communicated to yours a willingness to uphold you during a time of unprecedented crises, and my Assistant Bishop has been available to you for episcopal acts as your ecclesiastical authority has deemed helpful.
I write with very difficult words to say. I love and like Bishop Charles Bennison as a human being with whom I share many inclinations, as a wise fellow bishop, and as a stellar intellectual. We have disagreed on much, but I find his intellect captivating and his commitment to his calling indisputable.
At the same time, I cannot believe other than that this episcopal relationship has, simply, not worked out. I say that without assessing blame, which is far beyond my competence as someone who is a mere well-wisher. It is further beyond my competence to second-guess the appellate court’s decision or Bishop Bennison’s legal advisors’ comments. I will not offer comment on the action of the House of Bishops, or the unwarranted and acutely unwelcome intrusion by the perhaps officious President of the House of Deputies into the affairs of another house (imagine the explosion that would happen if the reverse occurred!). It is nonetheless beyond dispute that things have not worked in the Diocese of Pennsylvania to the advancement of God’s reign.
You need to realize, I humbly submit, that you are the premier diocese of the Episcopal Church in this Commonwealth, and arguably (along with Connecticut) the mother diocese of our church in this country. It matters to the rest of us, and to the world, how you get along. It is not a confession of sin to admit that things have not worked out well, but it is surely a matter of empirical evidence.
With the greatest of reluctance that I now call, fraternally, on a man I love to resign his office, and I ask you to encourage him to do the same. I did not join in the discussion or the vote of the House of Bishops against him (the outcome was clear from Day One, as it too often is in that body), still hoping against hope that a resolution could be reached. I do so now recognizing the fact that my own perceptions are severely limited and that someday I might be in a similar place and will not like it one bit.
Perhaps with more difficulty, I ask that those in positions of leadership examine with humility and contrition the extent to which they have mirrored attitudes and actions that they profess to reject. The concept of systemic change is harder to assess than that of mere personnel change, and yet I submit that this question is before you.
In the late 1990s I told my Standing Committee, in the light of affairs in another neighboring diocese, that I would pack and leave upon the vote of a simple majority of their members, for the sake of the mission of the church and based on a simple financial calculation rather than “damages.” I still believe that without chimerical canonical intervention, there simply comes a time to call it quits, and I hope that for the sake of our common mission, this will happen in the Diocese of Pennsylvania.
My own view, limited as it is, is that our business is to make it plain to our contemporaries that the message of Christ’s journey through cross to empty tomb is the one spectacular dividing point in human history. We have, as a denomination, sadly achieved notice for other messages. Sometimes we have been more or less clear about how those secondary messages are derivatives of the good message about Jesus. The present moment demands clarity on what we are really about. It is with pain that I observe that your diocese is getting noticed for secondary or even harmful messages.
As your neighbor, well-wisher, and friend, it is my prayer that all of you in any order in the Church will, heeding the overall message of the epistles of the New Testament, put aside wrangling, and find a time to decide what is best for the gospel of Christ in your most sophisticated and concomitantly most struggling part of our Commonwealth. It is with enormous reluctance that I state my belief that change in leadership, perhaps on more than one level, is necessary, despite any legalities that may be invoked.
I again apologize for this intrusion into your affairs, but ask your indulgence for my concern for your welfare and that of the Church of Jesus Christ in your midst. In his name I pray for your welfare and the advancement of the ministry to which we have all been called.
Bishop of Bethlehem