By David W. Virtue in Pittsburgh
Robert W. Duncan, the former bishop, advocated secession. In a move that will further strain relationships within The Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Pittsburgh voted overwhelmingly to leave the Episcopal Church and align itself with the Province of the Southern Cone under the ecclesiastical authority of Archbishop Gregory Venables.
A simple resolution reading "The Diocese of Pittsburgh shall be a member of that Province of the Anglican Communion known as the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone" was read out loud by an English-born priest. Two small groups who wished to speak both for and against the resolution generated little emotion. Both sides made their cases. The Rev. Harold Lewis of Calvary Episcopal Church and the diocese's most notorious liberal did not rise to the occasion. The assembled 350 plus clergy and laity voted down extended time to address the issue. The vote was then taken.
While it was clear that the diocese would vote to leave, Bishop Duncan would later describe the final vote tally as "overwhelming". More than 240 of the delegates voted to leave. 102 voted to stay. Among the 160 clergy ballots cast, 121 said they wanted out, 33 wanted to stay. Of the laity, 119 said they wanted to go and 69 said they wanted to stay. There were single digit abstentions. Only 96 votes, a simple majority were needed to leave.
Ironically, many who spoke to stay were orthodox clergy who believe The Episcopal Church is morally and theologically flawed, but believe that to stay and fight is better than acquiescing to the church's leadership by leaving. The vote for realignment was complete.
At that moment, the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan became the Episcopal commissary of the Province of the Southern Cone. "We have had an historic day in Monreoville," he declared. "People voted by significant margins to get out of The Episcopal Church and into the wider Anglican Communion. The clergy voted nearly three quarters to leave, the laity by two thirds, a remarkable margin for realignment. We did it gracefully, charitably with no rudeness," said a clearly happy bishop.
"It was an overwhelming endorsement of our bishop's leadership...to be part of a faithful Anglican Church," said The Rev. Jonathan Millard, rector at Church of the Ascension and a member of the diocese's steering committee for realignment.
Canon Mary Hayes, Diocesan Canon Missioner said the diocese would recommit itself to planting new congregations. (Four new congregations were admitted into the diocese by vote.)
She also said "women in realignment who have a call to ordination will be ordained here."
The Rev. David Wilson, president of the Standing Committee and priest-in-charge of St. David's, said it was an historic day, a day that had been coming for some time. "The diocese is committed to the historic faith, and today's vote is a confirmation of what a majority believe. I believe the majority of people in this diocese wished this realignment would take place with charity and forbearance. The love was evident in the room today. The realignment was without litigation and further deposition."
Duncan said it was with great joy that he admitted four new parishes into the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and into a church that has suffered the greatest (numerical) decline in this country. "We held our own and actually grew."
"When Bishop Duncan was deposed, he could not perform. Now he can perform sacramental ministry. He can confirm, ordain and preside at Holy Communion," said an exuberant Wilson.
Asked how many of the 74 congregations would now leave, Duncan said 54, but of the remaining 20, many will split. "There is only a minority of parishes, with the exception of Calvary Church under the Rev. Harold Lewis, that will not split," said Duncan. The business of the diocese remains with Standing Committee. Bishop Duncan will be re-elected again. "The real scandal is The Episcopal Church, what it teaches and adheres too," said Duncan.
In his sermon, the Rev. David Wilson, President of the Standing Committee called on his listeners to have courage and to take heart, citing Jesus' own words in Mt. 14:27,"Take courage. it is I. Be not afraid." Wilson called on his audience to be risk takers for Christ.
"It will take courage to act to back the truth that our differences cannot be reconciled without capitulation. We have diametrically different beliefs about the nature of sin and salvation and the authority of Scripture. We should bless each other in separating rather than continue this internecine warfare of winner take all. Will we forgo parliamentary shenanigans, which blesses nobody? Can we get on with it decently and in order? Jesus said don't be afraid. A house divided against itself cannot stand."
Dr. Edith Humphrey, a member of Church of the Ascension in Oakland, Pennsylvania, and a seminary professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, damned the theological innovations in the Episcopal Church. "Will you rest in a dying body that preaches inclusion without transformation?" she cried. She urged deputies to choose instead to live in Christ's body.
"We must be concerned for our ecumenical friends. We honor the Word (a reference to Scripture) Realignment is not something that is uncertain. I want to remain catholic. American individualism down plays the infection in our church. We must stop when our churches reject the uniqueness of Jesus. Holy living mattered to the Uganda martyrs., we must take entire Anglican Communion seriously.
"The whole world is watching to see if the orthodox will be removed from the church. This diocese is on the front line. The Episcopal Church must stand accountable," said Humphrey.
The Rev. Kristian Opat, a transitional deacon at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Mt. Lebanon, said that he could not vote for realignment. "I refuse to believe that the Spirit who guides the Church is behind this fracture." The Rev. Philip Wainwright of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Brentwood, told the convention that "many of the leaders in the Episcopal Church are among "the lost" whom Jesus calls his followers to rescue.
He suggested that those with doubts about how to vote should consider that perhaps Jesus was calling them to stay within the Episcopal Church to rescue the lost. Following the announcement of the vote, the Rev. Harold Lewis, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh, rose to say that he was leading his deputies out of the convention after telling the chair that it "can no longer participate in this convention."
The Very Rev. George L. Werner, former President of the House of Deputies and cathedral dean for 20 years told VOL that he voted "no" to realignment. "What I read in my Bible is about community, we see through a glass darkly. I am also a schmoozer. I know a lot of people. Peoples' lives are being torn apart. This stuff is very personal."
He described the action taken today in the diocese as "heartbreaking." When asked by VOL if liberalism was now dead in TEC and that the issue was revisionism verses orthodoxy, Werner said he opposed both extremes in TEC. "I will help in the rebuilding of the diocese. I am already covering a vacant parish. I will be available to people. I will be working with parishes to see what we can rebuild." He said he had not talked with Mrs. Jefferts Schori. "We should forget the litigation and move on." He said he opposed the lawsuits brought by Harold Lewis.
After the vote to realign was passed, Duncan greeted the convention with the cry of "hola" (Spanish for 'hello' or 'hi') and said Southern Cone Archbishop Gregory Venables had made him "episcopal commissary" to the Diocese of Pittsburgh. That announcement was met first with scattered laughter, and then the crowd rose and with loud applause gave the bishop a standing ovation.
Following the conclusion of the convention, clergy were told they could pick up their new ordination certificates stating that they were now clergy in the Episcopal Province of the Southern Cone.
Wilson said the clergy were now both Episcopalians and Anglicans, not exclusively one or the other at this time. Only Duncan's pension has been frozen, though the bishop said he expects that loophole to be covered by Mrs. Jefferts Schori.
Among the more interesting anomalies of this realignment was the presence of the Rev. Dr. Stephen Noll, a priest ordained in the Diocese of Pittsburgh now working at Uganda Christian University under the ecclesiastical authority of Ugandan Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi. He will now have as his uber-boss an English-born Archbishop residing in Argentina whose second language is Spanish. The former president of Trinity School for Ministry, the Rev. Dr. Peter Moore, a priest of the diocese, was also present. He now resides in the Diocese of South Carolina.
The move to bring the orthodox diocese under the Argentinean-based province signals that the increasing realignment of the Episcopal Church is in full swing with no apparent end in sight. The Diocese of San Joaquin has already left The Episcopal Church. In the next few months two other dioceses, Ft. Worth and Quincy are also expected to leave the Episcopal Church and realign with the Province of the Southern Cone, bringing about a critical mass exodus from the church.
Bishop Duncan said he expects the announcement concerning the formation of a new North American Anglican province for "faithful Episcopalians and Anglicans" to be made shortly. The combined numbers of Episcopalians who have left or are leaving the Episcopal Church from these fours dioceses totals approximately 51,000 Episcopalians and 200 parishes.