The Rev. Dr. Canon Harold T. Lewis, who recently retired as rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, PA, was awarded the House of Deputies medal on Sunday Nov. 5th.
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies, presented the medal to Lewis during a service of thanksgiving for his ministry at Calvary.
In presenting the award, Jennings told Lewis that he had earned “the everlasting respect and gratitude of the House of Deputies and, indeed, the entire Episcopal Church, for your steadfast loyalty to the Constitution and Canons and the traditions and polity of the Episcopal Church, along with your work to preserve the Diocese of Pittsburgh for loyal and faithful Episcopalians. Through your leadership here in Pittsburgh and your service as a deputy to General Convention, we have seen anew how our church’s witness can proclaim the Good News to all of God’s people.”
Jennings, who was elected President at General Convention in July, established the medal in October to honor clergy and laypeople who have given distinguished service to the House of Deputies and the Episcopal Church.
Ann Rodgers did a feature story on Lewis in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that focused on his tenure during the difficult times in the Diocese of Pittsburgh:
When the Rev. Harold T. Lewis became rector of the mostly white and wealthy Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside in 1996, the city was reeling from racial turmoil, and Father Lewis, who is African-American, was expected to be a leader in addressing social injustice.
But circumstances have led him to retire as a renowned advocate for Episcopal canon law.
Five years before the 2008 schism in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, he filed a lawsuit to stop anyone from taking property out of the Episcopal Church.
“If you had asked me when I was ordained … if I would ever sue my bishop, I would have said you were crazy,” said Father Lewis, 65, who retired Sunday.
“It was painful for me to take that step, but it had to be taken for the sake of the church. There were people who said I was crazy, vindictive or jealous, out to lunch. But it turned out to be prophetic.”
Lewis’ action prevented maneuverings by then Diocese of Pittsburgh bishop Robert Duncan to keep assets away from the Episcopal Church:
After the Episcopal Church confirmed a partnered gay bishop in New Hampshire in 2003, the diocese of Pittsburgh declared that parish buildings and assets belonged to the congregation, not to the denomination. Father Lewis saw that as groundwork for schism and sued for an injunction based on civil property law.
Two years later — three years before the split — both sides signed an agreement. It would later be litigated but ultimately established that centrally held diocesan assets would remain with the Episcopal Church, while parish property would be negotiated.
“I am convinced that our actions served as a deterrent to other dioceses that would have gone a similar route,” Father Lewis said.