The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church made her first visit to Pittsburgh on November 2, preaching, baptizing, and presiding at Calvary Episcopal Church’s 11 a.m. All Saint’s Day Eucharist.
Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori also took questions during an afternoon “conversation” with parishioners from around the diocese.
Both events drew large crowds. Over 640 people attending the 11 a.m. Eucharist, well above the 250 or so that usually attend the service. Calvary’s Associate Rector, the Rev. Leslie Reimer, likened the attendance to "a Christmas or Easter service."
About 350 people jammed the front pews of Calvary for the afternoon session, in which a very relaxed Presiding Bishop walked among the congregation while answering a wide range of questions. Applause, and occasionally laughter, punctuated many of her replies.
The tone of the questions ranged from the weighty matters of theology and ecclesiology, to the personal, to the whimsical, or so it was perceived when one person asked “Who has what power to do what in the Episcopal Church?”
Much of the discussion was devoted to conflicts within in the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church, and the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Bishop Jefferts Schori answered every question presented to her, starting with nearly two dozen questions submitted in advance by those attending and read by a moderator – the questions were read as written with no editing – and then opening the floor for another half-dozen impromptu queries.
Click the play button for audio of the Presiding Bishop’s Q&A session. Courtesy of Calvary Church
Speaking with reporters immediately before the session, the Presiding Bishop called the recent attempt by many to “realign” the Pittsburgh diocese as “tragic.” She said there is no avenue for ecumenical relations with them because they are regarded as “former members of the Episcopal Church.” She said “we don’t recognize that there is any diocese of the Southern Cone in the United States.”
Neither does Jefferts Schori see a prolonged battle over the use of the same name claimed by both sides. “I don’t think in a couple of years there will be two Episcopal Dioceses of Pittsburgh. I don’t think there are two now” she said to applause during the public forum.
Those that have attempted to leave will always be welcomed back, she said, and that current tensions will settle or resolve themselves “within a few years.”
At several points Jefferts Schori expressed public confidence in the Standing Committee’s work at reorganizing the diocese as a local effort.
“I’m here to help, or to stand back, as you see fit,” she told Standing Committee President James Simons in a private meeting.
The Presiding Bishop lavished praise on her host, Calvary Church, saying it already has played "a significant role in offering an alternative view” to what the former leaders of the diocese had to offer.
Asked about her intentions to file lawsuits to reclaim property, the Presiding Bishop explained the church’s position that all property is held in trust for the larger church.
“The Episcopal Church as a whole has assisted dioceses when some have attempted to remove property and assets from the diocese. We will continue to do that,” she said, calling it a “fiduciary and moral responsibility."
Standing Committee President Simons has called litigation at this time a “distraction and not in the best interest of this diocese,” saying that reorganizing the diocese and the pastoral care of its members are a priority.
At three times during her visit – first during her sermon, then twice during the afternoon discussion – Bishop Jefferts Schori addressed an issue that has brought scorn from without and concern from within: the role of Jesus as Savior.
As one questioner put it, “If Christ is not the only means of salvation, as I have read you’ve said, then what are the means of salvation that are more perfect and complete than Jesus Christ?”
“That’s not what I’ve said!” the Bishop replied without hesitating.
“Most Christians understand that Jesus died for the whole world. That’s certainly what I understand,” she continued, but that our Scriptures reveal that God also made promises to the Jewish people. "Those promises were not broken by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection."
“I also see that God made promises to Hagar and Ishmael, who Muslims claim as their ancestor. I don’t think God broke those promises when Jesus came among us." Similarly, the Presiding Bishop pointed to evidence of holiness in other religions and among non-believers. “It’s really God’s problem to figure out how to deal with that," she said to a mix of laughter and applause. "My problem is to be the best Christian I can be and to share what I know of the power of Jesus in my own life."
When asked how to counteract vicious attacks personally or against the Episcopal Church, Jefferts Schori in turn asked, “Do you know who you are?” She said the defense comes in being able to stand up and say with certainty what you believe.
On a personal note, the Presiding Bishop says she maintains her own spiritual life by adhering to rules she has set for herself, by regularly seeing her spiritual director, and by running, "a time of quiet and solitude." Jefferts Schori says she prays in many ways, and preaching "is a central part of my prayer discipline. I’ll have to find something else when I’m not preaching so often."
For additional information, see Episcopal Life Online’s "All involved in Pittsburgh split are saints, Presiding Bishop tells Pittsburgh Episcopalians"