Diocese Asks: What Next?


From the June 2007 PEPtalk. Leaders of the Diocese of Pittsburgh experienced an extraordinary retreat May 20–21 at Antiochian Village. Equally extraordinary was the frank news release, “Sober Leadership Retreat Considers Future of Diocese” posted the next day on the diocesan Web site.

The retreat left the future direction of the diocese uncertain. Options will next be discussed at district meetings to be held in June and to which all parishioners are invited. The diocese will begin implementing whatever plan is chosen at the November annual convention.

At the retreat, Bishop Robert Duncan expressed his disappointment at the failure to achieve alternative oversight for the diocese, and he described his shock at the outcome of the March House of Bishops meeting, which advised the Executive Council to reject the “pastoral scheme” urged on the church by the primates in February. (See “Church reaches turning point” on page 1 of PEPtalk.)

Participants discussed four alternatives that the diocese might pursue. These included: (1) Continuing on the present course, “remaining on the periphery of The Episcopal Church,” (2) “submitting” to the will of The Episcopal Church, (3) attempting  to leave The Episcopal Church as a diocese, and (4) “Dissolving” the diocese—negotiating the departure of parishes intent upon leaving the church, after which the diocesan leadership would resign.

Bishop Duncan indicated that he could not remain bishop under either of the first two options, and he would leave eventually under the  fourth. Option three would remove the diocese—and, presumably our current bishop—from The Episcopal Church.

Little support was expressed for options one or two; participants favored option three by a small margin over option four.

Each of the options was seen as having pluses and minuses, and none resembled the victory sought by the bishop. “We thought we would prevail,” Bishop Duncan admitted ruefully. Litigation and loss of property seemed likely prospects. Moreover, the possible destination of anyone leaving The Episcopal Church was unclear, although an attempt will be made in the fall to unite the Common Cause Partners—newer groups such as the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, as well as older “continuing Anglican” groups such as the Reformed Episcopal Church—into something more closely resembling an Anglican province.

PEP perspective

Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, The Episcopal Church, and the church’s constitution all agree that, although individuals can leave the church, neither parishes nor dioceses can. This makes the third and fourth options presented at the retreat problematic, although the church has not objected to departing parishes’ negotiating to buy their property at something like fair market value.

PEP intends to argue vigorously that the “big tent” of The Episcopal Church can comfortably accommodate most of the “orthodox,” as well as moderates, liberals, and less-easily-labeled Christians.