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PITTSBURGH: Convention backs Duncan's desire to leave Province III, achieve alternative primatial oversight

By Elizabeth Brady and Mary Frances Schjonberg

Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh.  

[Episcopal News Service]  The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (, meeting in its 141st annual Convention November 3-4 at Trinity Cathedral in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, supported a previous request of Bishop Robert Duncan and the diocesan Standing Committee for alternative primatial oversight (APO) and withdrawing its consent to membership in the Episcopal Church's Province III.

Duncan admitted in his convention address that just how APO would be achieved remains unclear. The constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Anglican Communion's main policy-making body, makes no provisions for alternative primatial oversight. Neither do the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.

"It's out of our hands, and into God's," Duncan said.

"The appeal for another primate to fulfill the duties of our Presiding Bishop, under our Constitution, until such time as the status of the majority of the Episcopal Church and the status of our new Presiding Bishop shall finally be determined by the Communion, is admittedly a novel way forward," he said.

He claimed that what he called the Archbishop of Canterbury's intervention in the APO request and what he said was the fact that "half of the Primates of the Communion have already agreed to provide [APO], should give us some guidance that the novelty we have asked for seems, at least at the outset, reasonable to the leadership of the wider Anglican Communion."

Duncan appeared to be referring to the Kigali Statement made after the September meeting of the self-named Global South primates group. After that statement was issued, however, some primates whose provinces were listed on the document said they did not support the statement.

Duncan said the Convention's approval would be an act of "confirming the propriety of an appeal, not specific details, since those details are necessarily in the Communion's decision to offer or not."

It is also unclear how the diocese will actually withdraw from Province III. Article VII of the Episcopal Church's Constitution says dioceses may be united into provinces "provided, however, that no diocese shall be included in a Province without its own consent."

Canon I.9.1 of the Church's Canons says that, subject to the proviso of Article VII, the dioceses "shall be ... united into Provinces." The section lists the membership of each province, and Canon I.9.2 provides only for the transfer of a diocese from one province to another adjoining one (with the agreement of each provincial synod and the General Convention). It makes not provision for withdrawal from the provincial system.

The convention passed a 2007 budget that continues the diocese's refusal to monetarily support the Episcopal Church and newly directs its Province III dues to the Network of Anglican Communion Diocese and Parishes. The budget is not posted on the diocese's website.

Duncan, speaking two days after Katharine Jefferts Schori became the Church's 26th Presiding Bishop and the day before her investiture, said the diocese's prayers were with her.

"I will do my part as your bishop and as Moderator of the Network [of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes] to work with Bishop Jefferts Schori to come to some mediated disengagement that will allow all of us to get on with the mission as we understand it," he said.

In the annual fall round of diocesan conventions, Pittsburgh was the only diocese to schedule its meeting the weekend of the Presiding Bishop's investiture. 

The full text of Duncan's address is available here.

After Duncan's address, the convention debated the APO-Province III resolution. The first to speak against the resolution was the Very Rev. George Werner, former president of the House of Deputies, who said that he did not "approve" of this action and was disappointed that he was only allotted two and a half minutes to speak on such an important issue.

He told the convention that the strategy pursued by the diocese had made him an "outsider."

The convention later unanimously approved a resolution from the floor expressing its thanks for the service of Werner as president of the House of Deputies from 2000-2006, saying he served with "integrity, wisdom and abundant grace."

The Rev. David Wilson, who supported the APO-Province III resolution, offered a substitute resolution, which passed 97 yes and 14 no with three abstentions in the clergy order and 117 yes and 40 no in the lay order with seven abstentions.

The substitute removed the original's connection of the diocese's withdrawal of consent to membership in Province III with a stated desire to seek the "emergence of a new Tenth Province of the Episcopal Church which is fully Windsor compliant, positioned with that part of the Episcopal Church determined to maintain constituent status in the Anglican Communion."

The substitute also removed a provision in the original that committed Duncan and the Standing Committee to "work with and care for all the congregations of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to prosper their local mission regardless of whether they remain in ‘constituent' status or might elect otherwise."

A resolution Wilson offered from the floor the next day called on Duncan and the Diocesan Council to accommodate the congregations who do not agree with the diocese's stance. It passed unanimously on a standing vote.

During the November 3 debate, it was noted that the diocese had originally asked in June for APO, then asked for the appointment of a "commissary" in the July 20 appeal made to the Archbishop of Canterbury by the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Central Florida, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Joaquin, South Carolina, and Springfield, and was now asking again for APO. Duncan reportedly did not respond to those changes during the convention debate.

(A commissary is a kind of overseer used by the Bishop of London for the colonies which later became the United States and then left the Church of England. The Diocese of Quincy has since joined the APO request. In September, Dallas Bishop Jim Stanton confirmed that his diocese had withdrawn from the July 20 request.)

The text of the approved Pittsburgh resolution is available here. The text of the original resolution is available here.

"For those who don't agree with the direction of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Duncan has approved visitations by alternative bishops to perform confirmations and other services in those congregations," said Peter Frank, director of communications for the diocese.

"The bishop recognizes there is work to do to heal our divisions," Frank continued. "A priority is to heal divisions and to not repeat mistakes as we move forward. Things have happened that didn't need to happen."

"Today's actions are clearly illegal under the canon law of our church," said Joan R. Gundersen, president of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP), a group opposed to the APO-Province III resolution.

"The constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church allow for only one Presiding Bishop, one House of Bishops, and require the General Convention to approve any change in provincial assignments. This diocese is asking individuals outside the Episcopal Church to intervene where they have no authority," Gundersen said.

PEP also criticized the convention's refusal to allow congregations who do not support the diocese's stance to form their own district in the diocese and to allow those congregations to avoid supporting the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes through their diocesan assessment.

More information about the Pittsburgh convention is available here.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh comprises about 20,300 Episcopalians worshipping in 68 congregations.