Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh's 146th Annual Convention
Bishop’s Convention Address by The Rt. Rev. Kenneth L. Price Jr.
November 5, 2011
It was but two years ago that this Convention elected me as the Provisional Bishop of Pittsburgh, to serve until a new, permanent bishop is elected and consecrated. Next year, when this Convention convenes, that person will be sitting in that chair and a new chapter in the life of this diocese will begin. But that time is almost a year away, and there is much for us to do between now and then.
Our chancellor spoke of where we have come with the courts. The last thing Calvary Church, St. Stephens, and others, wanted to do was to sue its bishop in 2003 and the last thing most of the clergy and deputies gathered here this day wished to do was stand in opposition to their then Bishop. Yet, his actions led to his withdrawal from the Episcopal Church, taking a majority of clergy and about half of the laity with him, and so that became a reality. Much of the elected leadership of the diocese followed Bishop Duncan, and so a host of new leaders rose up and joined with those who remained loyal to the Episcopal Church. For much of 2009 their time and energy was spent in reorganizing the diocese and defending in court the fact that we are the true, continuing Diocese of Pittsburgh.
The Standing Committee, led by Jim Simons, who was then President of the Standing Committee, was the ecclesiastical authority. The newly elected leadership – not only the Standing Committee, but also Council and Trustees — labored long and hard, supported first by Bishop Jones and then for ten months by retired Bishop Robert Johnson. The Standing Committee, Diocesan Council and Trustees met both separately and together as a Leadership team monthly that year. There was a lot of work done. Led by consultant Dana Phillips, goals were set and a tremendous amount of work was accomplished. At the end of that year this convention elected me not just as an assisting bishop, but as your ecclesiastical authority to work hand and hand with the clergy and lay leadership to bring this diocese further down the road to fullness of life and spirit.
My first two years with you have been a whirlwind and this past year we have seen many fruits of our joint labor. As our Chancellor, Andy Roman, mentioned earlier, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has rejected hearing the last appeal of the Anglican Church in North America’s Pittsburgh Diocese and so hopefully we can cease expending our time and money on court matters regarding the legitimacy of ownership by our diocese of the diocesan property. But with the closure of that chapter, we now must rev up our work in sorting out the rightful ownership of the property of those remaining parishes in which the clergy and a majority of members chose to follow Bishop Duncan. And so the expenditure of time and money in this arena is not over.
We have a great chancellor and a crack legal team who work hard on the legalities of this issue, but of greater concern to me is ministry to the people involved. I am aware that there are many people who feel their parish life has been turned upside down. In this coming year, we must make a concerted effort to reach out to those people and re-establish for them a loving relationship with the Lord.
Last year we welcomed a brand new parish into our diocese and this year we are welcoming back a parish that closed several years ago. In addition, we are acknowledging the return to active membership two congregations that have been absent from this convention since 2008. We have every reason to believe that will be the case with more congregations during the coming year. When a congregation that followed Bishop Duncan chooses to leave the parish property and that property returns to our direct care and oversight, that change produces both opportunity and challenge.
Now it is a fact that when the diocese split, some 60% of the income it had derived from congregational support went with Bishop Duncan. Likewise the pool of ordained leadership diminished greatly. And so a major task facing us in 2012 is how we will minister to those returning and newly found members of our diocese given our limited resources.
Let me share with you how we are attempting to do so. I believe Pittsburgh has some of the best priests in the whole church. But the bottom line is that we do not have the resources to pay enough of them. The fact of the matter is that we have only 13 priests who are fully compensated according to our guidelines and some of those are part of a multiple team within our two largest parishes. Thanks to the good efforts of Canons Geisler and Quinn, many seminarians, both from Trinity and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, seminarians who wish to remain loyal to the Episcopal Church, have stepped forward and joined with those in the ordination process in our diocese to serve even as they are completing their studies. In addition this year we sent three students to a Diaconal Studies program we are sharing with Ohio and Southern Ohio and anticipate even more joining them next Fall. A component of that program is service in the local diocese and so we are making full use of them to swell our depleted ranks of faithful deacons.
In addition, the Commission on Ministry is paying greater attention to the formation of a lay ministry component of its training to raise up local lay ministry leaders at the parish level – raise them up and support them in their education.
Finally, many, many of our retired clergy and clergy who are secularly employed have stepped up the plate and offered part- time priestly support. And so, by combining all these elements, we are forming ministry teams to rejuvenate and rebuild both the new congregations and, those coming back to us and existing ones who wish to increase their level of ministry. What this means is that in some cases, seminarians or deacons are being named primary pastors of congregations, with back up support from retired priests and priest who are secularly employed. It is a new model for Pittsburgh, borne out of necessity, and yet full of potential.
This past year we have expanded our office space in Monroeville and our dioceses staff, but even so , the space is pretty meager and only three of us on staff, Dr.Gundersen, Judi Rogers, and finally for the first seven months of 2012 me, are full time. Everyone else from our Canons and communicators, to our administrator and youth ministers are part time. And yet, as I work with these people, I am aware all of them work well beyond their stated hours. In the case of the Canons, let me express publically my appreciation to Nativity, Crafton, and St. Peter’s, Brentwood, for sharing your priests with us so they can to be our canons. Without this time sharing we could not function.
This past year we had two ordinations, both of clergy canonically resident in other dioceses who then promptly transferred to us after their ordination. In 2012, God, the Commission on Ministry and the Standing Committee willing, we will ordain two priests and four deacons, all our own. Considering that we had only one person just beginning the process when I arrived, this is something to celebrate.
A concern all of us in leadership have is our budget for next year. We have in John Hose, the chair of our budget committee, in Carl Hockenberry, our diocesan treasurer, and in all those on the budget and finance committee, some of the best financial people a diocese can ask for. Their careful and articulate oversight has made the budgeting process transparent and clear. I commend them for their work. But the fact of the matter is that were it not for money preserved from the 2009 and 2010 when ownership of endowments was still being appealed, we would be in big trouble. Couple this with extraordinary expenses, carefully delineated in the budget, which are over and above normal operating expenses of a diocese, and this is going to be a tight year. But of even greater concern is the next year when, even though some of those extraordinary expenses will go away, not all of them will and most of the money preserved will not be there. Our Diocesan Council and Trustees have a lot of work to do this year to prepare the budget that our new bishop will have to administer in his or her first year here.
Two major items facing us are the costs necessary for starting or rebuilding congregations and our legal fees. In both of these areas, Pittsburgh has greater draws than most dioceses. Hopefully, with many properties, we can negotiate settlements without going to court, That is our desire, but it may not always be possible and even negotiation themselves can be time consuming and expensive. Building back up congregations is exciting and rewarding, but it drains resources. These congregations do not have a built up pool of talent and resources and so in the beginning almost all of their support must come from the diocese. To that end, I have just recently appointed a Strategic Planning Task Force on Congregations to draw up a well thought out plan on how we are to proceed. We want the Diocese of Pittsburgh to be as comprehensive as possible, much like it was before the split, but sadly we cannot be everywhere or do everything at once. We need a plan on how we will proceed, and so I am charging that Task Force to develop that plan.
While all of this is ongoing, we will also be about the very important work of choosing the next bishop. The work I have outlined will not be completed in a year as so the next bishop will need to hit the ground running. As you heard from Kris McInnes, our Nomination Committee has put in literally hundreds and hundreds of hours and is now sorting through potential nominees. As you heard from Nano, when their work is done, the transition committee will lead us through the process of interview to consecration. This, too, demands a lot of work. And so in a year in which we need to work hard to incorporate and support new and renewed congregations, many of our most talented leaders will also be leading the election process. For this double duty they will be putting in I am most grateful.
I have been through several Episcopal elections on both sides of process. I know firsthand that these are anxiety producing. They raise up a lot of emotions. And so above all else, we need to be vigilant and constant in our prayer life this year, praying that not only will God raise up for us the right person, but that God will also keep us calm, sane and Spirit-directed as we go about this work we have to do. And so, I call on Carol Gonzalez to say the work of the Pilgrimage of Prayer is not over; in fact, we need to crank it up this year.
Finally, since this is the last Bishop’s report I will be giving to you (I will still preside over the electing convention at Trinity Cathedral in April, but the next regular convention will not be until November after I am gone) let me say that the three years I will have spent as your bishop are by far the most challenging and rewarding of my Episcopal ministry. When I am finished here, I will retire and look back on 18 years as a bishop, thanking God that the best was saved for last. Mariann and I have been so warmly received and we have fallen in love with Pittsburgh. I am sure we will have many opportunities between now and next October to continue to work and to play together so we are looking forward to this year. It has been somewhat of hassle these first two years to bounce back and forth between here and Southern Ohio, and so given the work that lies before us this year, I am glad that after January, I will now be here with you full time until I pass the crozier on to my successor.
I am encouraged and excited about the future for this diocese. No diocese should have had to go through what Pittsburgh did, but you have risen to the challenges magnificently. It may take a while, but I predict that in my lifetime this diocese will once again be the strong leader in the Kingdom of God that you once were. The diocese may look very different and may operate very differently, but so is the world in which we all live. But by the grace of God all will be well.
Bless you, people of Pittsburgh. You are God’s chosen people indeed, and with you – and God — I believe all things are possible.