Across the Aisle Plans for Reorganized Diocese

The story below is taken from the September 2008 issue of PEPtalk. You may read the entire issue here.

September 12, 2008. While diocesan leaders have been tirelessly promoting and planning for “realignment,” Episcopalians intent on preserving the Episcopal Church presence in Southwestern Pennsylvania have not been idle. A group calling itself Across the Aisle (AtA) stands ready to reorganize the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Pittsburgh should most of its leadership and many of its clergy and laypeople leave The Episcopal Church.Across the Aisle logo

Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh began making its own contacts with leaders from Province III of The Episcopal Church in 2006, after the diocese claimed to have withdrawn from the province. PEP members attended meetings of the provincial synod and invited provincial representatives to participate in PEP events. Eventually, a group of PEP members and an increasing number of others began meeting outside the diocese with Province III leaders and, later, representatives of the Presiding Bishop’s office. As the diocese moved closer toward breaking with The Episcopal Church, it became clear that everyone in the diocese intending to remain in the church needed to start working together to discourage schism, or, should it become necessary, to deal with its aftermath.

Last fall, informal conversations took place between PEP leaders and members of the group of 12 conservative and moderate clergy who were preparing to declare their intention to remain in The Episcopal Church. Once these priests had made their declaration public last January, Mary Roehrich and the Rev. Cynthia Bronson Sweigert met with representatives of the 12. Eventually, it was decided to continue meeting and to enlarge the group that became AtA.

The name “Across the Aisle” was chosen to represent the conversation across the liberal/conservative (“gospel side”/“epistle side”) divide. The initial discussions went well, and AtA gradually expanded its membership through the addition of clergy and laypeople from churches throughout the diocese. With this growth, task forces were established to address specific issues around remaining in The Episcopal Church.

The most pressing issue was what to do if the diocese votes to leave the church. This became the subject at additional meetings with representatives of the Presiding Bishop’s office and resulted in the establishment of a Steering Committee to communicate more effectively with that office.

As the October 4 convention approaches, AtA planning needs to be completed. The goal is to create a constitutionally and canonically correct path by which continuity is established between the present and reorganized Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Episcopalians need to know that their diocese will continue as part of The Episcopal Church, and it will have a functioning Standing Committee, Board of Trustees, Diocesan Council, office, bank account, and parishes. A special convention will be called as soon as possible to complete an initial reorganization and to provide for a bishop until the diocese is ready to elect a new bishop in the normal way.

Largely because of the work being done now by the AtA, rebuilding the diocese can be accomplished without intervention in diocesan affairs by The Episcopal Church. It is expected that both technical and financial assistance will be made available as needed, however.

The efforts of the AtA have brought a new spirit of co÷peration and a new sense of mission to our diocese. Much more needs to be accomplished in the coming weeks, but the schism sold to the diocese as “realignment” is increasingly being viewed more as an opportunity and less as an impending disaster. If convention indeed votes in favor of “realignment,” Across the Aisle will dissolve soon thereafter, and we will move forward, working together in love and fellowship as the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of The Episcopal Church.