Duncan claims to be the new Bishop of Pittsburgh. He may be a Bishop in Pittsburgh but he is not the Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Bishop reinstated as the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh embarks on uncertain future
By Larissa Theodore, Times Staff
Published: Tuesday, November 11, 2008 9:47 PM EST
Bishop Robert W. Duncan found lighthearted humor in being the first person in the history of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican) to be elected the seventh and eighth bishop.“That does make me eighth, being that I was the seventh,” Duncan told a roomful of about 300 during a special convention Friday at the Marriott Center in Pittsburgh.Fifty days after his removal, an overwhelming majority — all 100 lay members and 78 of 79 clergy members (with one invalid ballot) — cast votes in favor of re-electing Duncan as the diocese’s bishop. He was the sole nominee.The official announcement was met with thunderous applause that filled the energized room as the newly re-elected Duncan, dressed in purple vestments, took the podium with his wife, Dara, by his side.“I’m restored as bishop of Pittsburgh. … In all of this, we give God the glory,” Duncan said.But after seceding from the national church, the Pittsburgh diocese is facing an uncertain future when it comes to property ownership. National church leaders have acknowledged that a lawsuit may be filed over church property.And on that subject, Duncan told church leaders: “People here know they might lose the place they’ve worshipped in for a long time, but they’re willing to pay that price.”A HOUSE DIVIDEDDuncan was involuntarily deposed by Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the national Episcopal Church, because of his push for secession. The local diocese, which remained in the national church, originally submitted to the decision.But on Oct. 4, a large majority of clergy and lay members voted to secede from the national Episcopal Church and realign with the more conservative Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, based in Argentina, making the Pittsburgh diocese the second nationwide to realign. The San Joaquin Diocese in Fresno, Calif., was the first.Now, as part of the Anglican Province, the diocese was free to invite Duncan back into leadership. It was another historic moment for the diocese.At the close of the convention Friday night, word quickly spread that another diocese, Quincy, Ill., had also voted in favor of leaving the national church. A fourth, the diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, is expected to take a vote within the week.Upon his return, Duncan, who was first elected in December 1995, told members it wasn’t time for resting, but rather a time for treading deeper waters and “Moving Forward in Mission,” the convention’s theme.“Now there’s no excuse to stay close to shore,” Duncan said. “We’re not divided anymore. We’re not fighting a church battle anymore. We’re free, and there’s no excuse.”THE TIPPING POINTA rift began over disagreements relating to biblical interpretation and human sexuality. Conservative leaders believe that the church has turned away from traditional Bible teachings on issues such as whether Jesus is the son of God, whether he died and rose from the dead, and whether he is the only path to salvation.The tipping point for many conservatives occurred five years ago when a homosexual became a bishop.The Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire was elected and consecrated in 2003, to the disapproval of the global Anglican body, which asked the U.S. church not to name any more gay bishops. Just last year, the Chicago Episcopal diocese nominated an openly lesbian woman for bishop.Schori, the presiding bishop of the national Episcopal Church, is perceived as having theologically liberal views. In a Time magazine interview, she said faith in Jesus wasn’t the only path to heaven and that to think so puts God “in an awfully small box.” She has cited the Bible’s record of God’s promises to the Jewish people and the promises God made to Hagar and Ishmael, whom Muslims claim as their ancestors. Schori also has authorized rites of blessing same-sex union ceremonies.Schori, elected in 2006, has supported Robinson, and so the Pittsburgh diocese did not recognize her. She made her first official visit to Pittsburgh earlier this month, welcomed by Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, a church that has not seceded and still belongs to what the national church considers the genuine Pittsburgh diocese.The Rev. Scott Homer of Trinity Episcopal Church in Beaver, who attended Duncan’s re-election, said the situation isn’t about “a bunch of conservative guys who want to beat up gays.”“It’s not,” Homer said. “We love people. We want to see them do well. We want them to prosper.”However, Homer said the difference is that conservatives believe the Bible remains true and reliable, while the national church believes in the moral teachings of Jesus, but not necessarily that Jesus lived or was crucified.“That means the Bible is not true and we get to pick and choose what the Bible says and how we get to apply it to our lives, but that is not what we say,” Homer said. “We rely on Scriptures as the truth, and we say one of us is right and one of us is wrong. We can’t both be right.”TAKING A STANDTrinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, an Episcopal seminary where more than 100 students are enrolled this semester, has not taken a stance on the matter. The Very Rev. Justyn Terry, Trinity’s dean and president, said the seminary is independent and committed to equipping all Christian leaders for mission.“We have not taken a position on what is the right thing to do. Our position is that we are an evangelical seminary in the Anglican tradition, and we want to train and support leaders to do gospel ministry wherever they are called to be,” Terry said.The Rev. Peter Frank, a spokesman for the 74-church, 20,000-member Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican), said all six Episcopal churches in Beaver County seceded.Schori regards realigned parishes as former members of the national Episcopal Church, which doesn’t recognize the U.S. diocese of the Southern Cone.“She has her assessment, and we have ours,” said Duncan, who said he isn’t worried about the future. “The future is in God’s hands,” Duncan said.SUPPORTING THE BISHOPAfter Duncan was asked to step down, some wore “he’s still my Bishop” buttons to show support. Duncan joked about making new buttons that read: “He’s Back.”“You’ve never not been my bishop,” the Rev. John Paul Cheney, pastor of Seeds of Hope in Bloomfield, told Duncan.The Pittsburgh diocese voted last month to allow parishes outside southwestern Pennsylvania to join, an ecumenical relationship that is spelled out in a draft constitution. Three parishes — Tonawanda, N.Y.; Darien, Conn.; and Raleigh, N.C. — accepted the invitation and attended the convention. While they did not have a vote, they were given a voice.Duncan also revealed that a new Anglican province in North America is near. Aligning with the Southern Cone gives temporary oversight until the Anglican Communion approves a second province in North America. Duncan said the province could receive recognition as early as December.“God works all things together for the good with those who love him. Again, we don’t have to be afraid,” Duncan told his flock.Larissa Theodore can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org.