The Very Rev. George Werner, former Dean at Trinity Cathedral Pittsburgh and former President of the House of Deputies, sent the following. (Courtesy Three Rivers Episcopal)

Stewards of the Church

I reluctantly, and with sadness, find I must reply to an argument being offered concerning the Property of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The claim has been made that the property belongs to those who are currently tending it. One of the clearest of principles in the Episcopal Church (and many others) is that we are stewards, not owners. It is a scriptural concept, that we are the temporary managers whose job description is to maintain and enhance (see Parable of the Talents Mt. 25:14-30) that to which we have been entrusted and then pass it on to our successor.

It has worked brilliantly for centuries. Clergy are entrusted with Church buildings, land, chalices, vestments, linens and other appointments of worship and community. Our generous forebears have left behind dedicated funds for music, for scholarships, for endowments, for personnel positions and maintenance of all the above.

Unfortunately, from time to time, some group makes the judgment that “this time is special and that we are more able, more effective, more holy, more scriptural, more just or more righteous than others. Therefore, we must take ownership of that we once accepted in trust as stewards.” But I would think that such a self praising judgment needs to be left to the One true Judge, who will separate the sheep from the goats and the wheat from the chaff.

I question neither the sincerity or the commitment of such folk. I understand that I am a dinosaur who actually believes that vows should be taken seriously. At my Ordinations to Diaconate and Priesthood, not only did I respond orally and positively to accept the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church but signed the documents of that vow before the ceremony could be continued.

I believe in the Communion of Saints. For me that includes the hundreds and the thousands of wonderful lay people who gave so much of their time, talent and treasure, to build these communities and then passed them on to another generation. In both our sacred and secular worlds, there are too few voices of gratitude for those who given us so much and too many shouts of “mine” in this difficult moment of God’s history.

This is my thirtieth year as part of this Diocesan family. When I arrived, we were just completing the last significant Diocesan fund raising for mission. Though other campaigns were proposed, none came to fruition. So the property and funds in question were the product of decades and centuries. (I was a steward for Trinity Cathedral for more than twenty years of Trinity’s twenty-five decades of history.)

Serving as a steward was a great honor and privilege for me and I never felt the need or desire to be an owner of such a treasured place and gloried history. But then, I am a dinosaur who believes in vows and commitments, and Dinosaurs are best known for being extinct.


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