Days after returning to Bethlehem after observing the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s Special Convention on December 12 and 13, Paul Marshall, the senior Episcopal Bishop in Pennsylvania, was still struck by his experience.

“For an evening and a day, we got to demonstrate our love by presence,” Bishop Marshall wrote in his blog, noting how simply being there was more important than anything one thing said or done.

Days after presiding over that convention, the Rev. Dr. James Simons was also struck by how those at Convention were present to each other.

“It was not just business. It was like a family being back together,” he told Episcopal News Service.

When one item that was heavily debated prior to the convention – the best and proper way to undo detrimental actions of previous conventions — came to the floor and was approved by voice vote without dissent, Simons commented at the time, “If this is the closest we come to a fist fight, we’re going to be OK.”

The family – diocesan and larger church – was back together.

Convention deputies reaffirmed the Diocese’s solid standing in the Episcopal Church of the United States, heard of the appointment of an Assisting Bishop, filled over 60 leadership posts, agreed on a budget and several administrative resolutions, and celebrated their future by witnessing an ordination.

It was a rebuilding made necessary after many diocesan leaders and clergy left The Episcopal Church two months earlier, an exodus that was years in the making.

“As we seek to rebuild the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh … we carry the burden and scars of our recent past history,” the Rev. Dr. James Simons, the Standing Committee President, said during his convention address. “We have not thought the best of each other,” he continued, describing a pervasive “culture of fear and control” in which many, including Simons by his own admission, indulged.

“I stand before you now to say ‘Today, that culture ends,’” Simons pledged as a capacity crowd of deputies and onlookers applauded with enthusiasm.

His address included news that the Rt. Rev. Robert Hodges Johnson, retired Bishop of Western North Carolina, will serve the Pittsburgh Diocese through July. He will provide pastoral and sacramental ministries, such as Confirmation, and some administrative oversight while the Standing Committee remains the ecclesiastical authority in charge of the Diocese. Bishop Johnson did similar work in the troubled Diocese of Southern Virginia in 2006, and was invited to Pennsylvania based on that experience, according to Simons. “We need someone primarily to be a pastor, not to set an agenda,” Simons told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

New Leadership Groups

Deputies elected a full Standing Committee, adding the Very Rev. George Werner (former Dean of Trinity Cathedral and now of Christ Church, North Hills), the Rev. Nancy Chalfant-Walker (St. Stephen’s, Wilkinsburg), Vera Quinn (Church of the Nativity), Lee Hicks (Calvary Church) and Celinda Scott (Christ Church, Indiana) to the panel. They join incumbents the Rev. Jeffrey Murph and Mary Roehrich, who had been appointed by Simons in October.

Elected as deputies to the General Convention were the Rev. Scott Quinn (Nativity), the Rev. Dr. Harold Lewis (Calvary), Joan Gundersen (Church of the Redeemer), and Mary Roehirch, as well as four clergy and lay alternates each. Deputies to the General Convention are empowered to represent the diocese on matters of national church policy as party of the governing body of the denomination.

Elected to the diocesan board of trustees were Russell Ayres III (Calvary), Sean Murphy (St. Michael’s of the Valley, Ligonier), and David Quinn (Nativity) Members of the board of trustees are responsible for overseeing diocesan property.

Elected to the Array were the Rev. Norman Koehler III (St. Paul’s, Kittanning), the Rev. Kristian Opat (St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon), the Rev. Canon James Shoucair (Christ Church, North Hills), Robert Pratt (St. Stephen’s, McKeesport) and Jon Delano and Kenneth Gray, both of St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon. Members of the Array act as an ecclesiastical trial court.

Elected to the Committee on Canons, which recommends changes to the diocesan constitution and rules, were the Rev. Shoucair, the Rev. Philip Wainwright (St. Peter’s), and Lionel Deimel (St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon).

Robert Pratt (St. Stephen’s, McKeesport) was also elected to the Chapter of Trinity Cathedral, the governing body of the cathedral in downtown Pittsburgh. Geoffrey Hurd (St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon) was elected to serve as a member of the Growth Fund, which oversees diocesan investments.

An additional 30 people were to regional positions from six geographic districts with the Diocese. A complete election report is available here.

Other Convention Business

Deputies to the convention approved resolutions waiving advance notice timelines for convention business, allowing for the consolidation of geographical districts to accommodate the smaller size of the reorganized diocese and affirming executive decisions made by the diocesan standing committee since Oct. 4. A resolution affirming the diocesan accession to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church in the United States – as undone by previous conventions — passed with a single voice raised to abstain after a chorus of “Aye.” There was no opposition.

Also presented was a projected budget of $789,000 for fiscal year 2009. One of the largest expenditures, at a total of $100,000, is targeted for support of new congregations and parishes in financial need. The budget includes positions for several staff members, most on a part-time basis. The budget contains $250,000 as a contingency for legal expenses, but several Diocesan leaders say there are no immediate plans to sue to over property rights.

One of the first items of business was the election of the Rev. James Simons to chair the convention, the Rev. Canon James Shoucair as convention secretary, and Joan Gundersen as parliamentarian.

A Festive Ordination

Nearly 250 people attended the closing Eucharist, with included the priestly ordination of the Rev. Kristian Opat, the Curate at the host parish of St. Paul’s in Mt. Lebanon. The service featured the participation of three Episcopal bishops, over 40 priests and deacons, choirs from seven parishes and a procession of banners representing the Diocese’s 27 congregations – making it not only a joyous celebration for St. Paul’s, but for the entire Diocese of Pittsburgh and its restored relationship to the larger Episcopal Church.

As a new priest, Kris Opat was vested with a stole by his mother, Lou Ann Kinol. His sister, Elizabeth White, read from Isaiah. Bishop David Colin Jones of the Diocese of Virginia presided. As the bishop laid his hands on Kris’s head, the other priests crowded in closely around the two, hands extended as well. Bishop Jones prayed: “Father, through Jesus Christ your Son, give your Holy Spirit to Kristian; fill him with grace and power, and make him a priest in your Church.”

“I am willing and ready to do so,” Kris had declared earlier in the Eucharist. “And I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.”  See Kris+’s note to the Diocese by clicking here.

Participating Parishes

Forty-two clergy and 71 lay deputies representing 27 congregations throughout southwestern Pennsylvania participated in the December 13th convention.

The represented parishes were All Saints, Brighton Heights; All Souls, North Versailles; St. Andrew’s, Highland Park; St Barnabas, Brackenridge; St. Bartholomew’s, Scottdale; St. Brendan’s, Franklin Park; Calvary Episcopal Church, East Liberty; Christ Church, Indiana; Christ Church, North Hills; Church of the Advent, Jeannette; Church of the Holy Cross, Homewood; Church of the Nativity, Crafton; Church of the Redeemer, Squirrel Hill; St. Francis in the Fields, Somerset; St. Mark’s, Johnstown; St. Matthew’s, Homestead; St. Michael’s of the Valley, Ligonier; St. Paul’s, Kittanning; St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon; St. Peter’s, Blairsville; St. Peter’s, Brentwood; St. Stephen’s, McKeesport; St. Stephen’s, Wilkinsburg; St. Thomas, Canonsburg; St. Thomas, Oakmont; and Trinity Cathedral, downtown Pittsburgh. Additionally, deputies represented a faithful remnant of Christ Church, Greensburg.

St. Thomas, Oakmont, sent a full delegation to the Special Convention, after having earlier sent a partial delegation to a meeting organized by those who left The Episcopal Church in October. The Rector of St. Thomas, the Rev. Jeff Murph, presided over the opening minutes of the convention.

“We are surrounded by realigning parishes,” said the Rev. Gib Watt, a priest for 59 years who is retired and a member of St. Thomas. “I’m encouraged by what I see here, and think we can expect to gain membership as time goes on.”

Steve Stagnitta of Fox Chapel Episcopal Church, vice president of the former diocesan council and a representative from District 3, said he was encouraged by the progress made at the special convention. “I’ve grown up in the Episcopal Church, and the divisions in the Church have been difficult,” said Stagnitta. “At this time in my life, I feel that this is where I belong. I wanted to be here for the reformation of the Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh.”

Among the hundreds of non-voting observers were many allies, including the Rt. Rev. Nathan Baxter of Harrisburg, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. “I really wanted to be here as a presence of support and care,” said Baxter. “I want to encourage your spirit, and see you keep that gracious spirit going.”

-reported by Michele Baum, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Mt. Lebanon, Pa.


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