Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fulfilling the Vision, Part 5

My fourth post on Fulfilling the Vision is here. My sixth post is here.
I only just got around to reading the rector’s letter in the June issue of The Messenger the other day. That letter contains this astounding and slightly ungrammatical parenthetical:
Note: a capital campaign is usually conducted about once every ten years, parishioners are asked to make a gift that can be paid over a period of several years, and much of the giving comes from one’s capital; with annual giving, parishioners are asked to make a gift to be paid over one year, with most of the giving coming from one’s income.
Apparently, this rather fanciful explanation is designed to divert attention from the fact that more than 40% of the proposed so-called capital campaign is for current operational expenses rather than for what are generally called capital improvements. No one should feel diminished by an intention to contribute to Fulfilling the Vision out of current earnings; most of us won’t be selling our Apple stock to contribute to St. Paul’s.

Why am I making such a point of whether Fulfilling the Vision is really a capital campaign? For two reasons. First, people should realize that much of the proposed expenditures will leave no tangible legacy. We are planning to spend $425,000 on “ministry enhancements” over three years. This money will mostly go for salaries. We have been given hardly any description of what these “enhancements” will look like.

There is an exception in the case of the $75,000 for “music ministry.” We are talking about hiring a musician primarily support a Sunday evening service for which there is no demonstrable demand and for which the primary audience is said to consist of non-parishioners. When the money has been spent—and financing through a special campaign makes it less likely that we will be evaluating the project as we go along—what will we have to show for our efforts? Spending this money is a wild gamble. Perhaps we can afford a wild gamble every now and then, but we seem to have $425,000 worth of wild gambles in the proffered package that is Fulfilling the Vision, and we should ask ourselves if that is simply too much risk to assume.

The second problem with the way the “capital campaign” is structured is the effect it may have after it is over and done with. Seemingly, “ministry enhancements” will result in new hires or additional work hours for existing staff. When all the money is spent, are we going to have to add an additional $140,000 or so each year to maintain the same staffing level? Are we projecting that our income will have grown to allow us to do that? Or will we simply fire everyone that we’ve hired, in spite of the fact that we have created increased expectations respecting the services the church provides?

There is even reason to worry about the $200,000 proposed for the “facilities maintenance fund.” Admittedly, St. Paul’s has a deferred maintenance problem. Repairs that should have been made and paid for out of current funds have not been made, and I assume that the fund is intended to help us catch up on maintenance. It is not unreasonable to bring maintenance up-to-date through a special campaign. There is going to be a temptation to spend the fund and decrease the, building maintenance line in the annual budget, however. The result could be that, when the facilities maintenance fund is exhausted, we will resume our practice of deferring maintenance due to lack of sufficient funds in the operating budget.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fulfilling the Vision, Part 4

My third post on Fulfilling the Vision is here. My fifth post is here.
I am intrigued by the proposal to reconfigure the area in front of the church to provide handicapped access. Recall that the scheme would re-grade the pavement in front of the church, effectively providing a ramp from the Washington Road sidewalk to the floor level of the nave. Steps would need to be built to connect to the walkway between Mayfair Drive and the entrance to the narthex facing Mayfair. (The plan is probably better than the plan I put forward for handicapped accessibility in “Do We Really Want to Repair the Steps?”) The proposal is shown in the plan view presented at the Adult Forum last Sunday (click on the figure for a larger view):

Proposed rework of front grounds

I am reluctant to give my full support to this project without seeing an elevation illustrating how the front of St. Paul’s would look from Washington Road, but the idea seems very promising. Adding handicapped access to the front of a building often results in an architectural disaster—witness the Christian Science church down the street—and the proposal for St. Paul’s is clearly designed to avoid such a result.

I stopped by the church the other day to get a better sense of how the grounds would look and function if the proposed changes were made. I was struck by several observations. First, the concrete in front of the church is cracked and uneven. Replacing it would not be a bad idea under any circumstances. Second, the paved area in front of the church is smaller than I had imagined. I think of this area as a place where we bless palms, potentially gather for the Easter Vigil, and sometimes bless animals. In fact, however, for these activities, many people find themselves on the grass. Standing in front of the church, I was also struck by the fact that our sign, what I assume is the pinkish rectangle in the figure above, apparently does not figure in Fulfilling the Vision, in spite of its deficiencies. (See “Welcome (If You’re Going South),” which discusses our sign and has a good picture of the grounds in front of St. Paul’s.)

As long as we’re redesigning the area in front of the church, we might as well consider related improvements, so I would like to suggest these additions to the project:
  1. Add more paved area. There is ample room between the existing paving and the trees on either side of it. Some of the grass on the building side of the sign can also be paved over. These additions would provide a larger and more comfortable gathering area in front of the church.
  2. Consider adding one or more flat areas on each side of the paving immediately outside the door. (I might call these steplets, as they are like steps but have but a slight rise, given the slope of the pavement.) A classic view of American churchgoing has the preacher standing on the steps of the church greeting departing worshipers. My steplets would suggest the steps that had been replaced, while providing a safe horizontal surface for the preacher to stand on for an extended period.
  3. On the expanded plaza in front of the church, consider adding a piece of bronze sculpture. There are two reasons for suggesting this. First, it would provide a point of interest in an otherwise featureless expanse of paving. Second, it would add a spirit-affirming component to what otherwise is a completely utilitarian group of projects to be funded as Fulfilling the Vision.
I’d like to say a few more words about item (3), prefaced by the caveat that I am not a visual artist. Any piece of sculpture should relate either to St. Paul himself or to the church. Three possibilities come to mind. We could have a statue of St. Paul, though, without some elements that keep it from looking like an icon to be venerated, it might seem too Roman Catholic. Second, we could commission a sculpture that incorporates the St. Paul’s dove and arch. This seems more promising. First Lutheran Church sculptureMy favorite idea, however, is to have a sculpture made that reflects on the words of our patron, something not homophobic or misogynist. My nomination for a point of departure is Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. [NRSV]”

My idea for a piece of sculpture outside the door of St. Paul’s comes from a piece of art along the Grant Street sidewalk in front of First Lutheran Church. I don’t recall either the name or significance of the sculpture—see picture at right—but I do remember this bit of outdoor artwork as being arresting. Something of similar quality might be even more arresting at St. Paul’s, where it could be viewed from all sides.

Update, 6/30/2010: I ran into another passage from St. Paul that could be inspiration of a piece of sculpture, Romans 12:4–5: “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. [NRSV]”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Welcome, Clergy

As a choir member, I often enter St. Paul’s through the door nearest the chapel. Walking to the door after parking my car, I cannot miss the parking spots reserved for clergy. These are marked by signs announcing “RESERVED FOR CLERGY.” There are fewer of these signs than there used to be; the old signs said “RESERVED CLERGY.” Whether they were changed because someone asked where the wild and crazy clergy were supposed to park, I cannot say. (That question is from the Pickering era.)

Now, I have no problem with reserving special parking places for clergy. It is worth noting that the designated clergy parking places are not really in prime locations, so the signs don’t seem to suggest that clergy are more important than the rest of us.

I think we need additional reserved spaces in the parking lot, however. Why don’t we designate several parking slots nearest the lot entrance as being reserved for visitors, that is, for those who are neither clergy, nor staff, nor parishioners of St. Paul’s? Wouldn’t this be a welcoming gesture?

The visitor-only parking places could be a lot more visitor-friendly than is at first apparent. Parking spaces behind St. Paul’s are not laid out in the most obvious fashion, and saving visitors the trouble of navigating the lot’s odd geometry would be a gift. So would saving visitors the effort of walking uphill from parking spaces in the lot’s interior.

The first-time visitor to St. Paul’s faces another problem, namely, how to enter the building. Where is the handicapped entrance? Where is the church office? Where does one go to attend a Sunday worship service? None of these questions is easily answered when standing in the parking lot staring at the building. If we had several designated visitor parking places, we could erect one or more signs to welcome visitors and orient them.

Are we willing to give up a few parking spaces for visitors?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fulfilling the Vision, Part 3

My second post on Fulfilling the Vision is here. My fourth post is here.
I received a letter from St. Paul’s yesterday informing me that I will be called to be invited “to participate in a focus group of parishioners led by a representative of the Episcopal Church Foundation” to discuss Fulfilling the Vision. This sounded promising. The next sentence, however, declared that event “will last approximately one hour.” The group is to discuss, among other things,
  • Whether you favor or oppose the proposed plans, and why.
  • What you like and dislike about the proposed plans.
  • What the financial priorities of the campaign might be.
  • Parishioners who might be good candidates for campaign leadership.
  • What an appropriate parish financial goal for the campaign might be.
I am pleased that parishioner opinion is being solicited on the scope of Fulfilling the Vision. I am skeptical about its sincerity, however.

Let’s begin with the first sentence of the letter. It refers to a “proposed capital campaign.” As I noted in my first post about the campaign, a substantial portion of the money it has been proposed that we raise is devoted to what appear to be current, not capital expenses—to personnel and routine maintenance expenses, as well as feel-good outreach and beefing up the endowment. The last item is ironic, as we were told in Sunday’s presentation that the endowment cannot be used for capital improvements. In other words, the marketing of Fulfilling the Vision is less than forthright.

Then, there is the schedule. It was admitted at Sunday’s presentation that the schedule for getting this campaign off the ground is unusually compressed. It is not difficult to suspect that this is less about the urgency of the project as it is about selling the parish a bill of goods before parishioners have time to get their minds around what is being sold.

Is summer the best time to be soliciting parishioner opinion? Everyone knows that Episcopalians are so virtuous that God gives them the summer off! Lots of folks will be out of town or thinking more about the shore than about church fund-raising. Then, there is the length of those focus groups. The handout from Sunday’s presentation is 14 pages long and is—not to put too fine a point on it—short on details.

Lacking details and sufficient time to really understanding what is being proposed, focus group participants are likely to spend more time on clarifying what it is they are discussing than actually discussing it. Is this by design?

I find it difficult at this time to have a considered opinion about many of the components of the Fulfilling the Vision proposal. Why, for example, do we need to spend an additional $100,000 on in-reach and pastoral care? Are we currently doing a sub-par job in this vital area of ministry? If so, why is that? How have we determined this need? Are people leaving St. Paul’s because they have not been adequately supported in times of crisis? Or are we anticipating a future demand because we expect that our other expenditures are going to attract large numbers of new parishioners whose needs must be met?

A Proposal

If the focus groups are going to be effective, rather than window dressing, parishioners should know everything there is to know about the plans being put forward before they walk into the room to discuss those plans. I propose that St. Paul’s give parishioners the following information about each component of the Fulfilling the Vision proposal:
  • Project Description. Exactly what is being proposed.
  • Priority. How important is this project with respect to other projects. In what order will projects be funded.
  • Background. The problem we are solving with this project. Why is the project needed. What do we expect it to accomplish.
  • Cost. How much money needs to come from project fund-raising. Long-term, what are the budget implications of the project. Will the project save money (i.e., by increasing the building’s energy efficiency) or create ongoing liabilities (i.e., by hiring new staff whose salaries will be included in future operating budgets).
  • Alternatives Considered. What other means of addressing perceived needs have been considered. What are the consequences, if any, of not implementing the proposal.
This information should be made available before any focus groups are assembled. Only by having this sort of information going into the focus groups can those groups be effective. The information will give participants real data that can be the basis of fruitful discussion. Lacking such data, we should either reject Fulfilling the Vision out of hand or send it back to the drawing board.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fulfilling the Vision, Part 2

My first post on Fulfilling the Vision is here. My third post is here.
One disappointment I had with yesterday’s Fulfilling the Vision presentation was the apparent absence of any plan to change the seating in the chancel or balcony, to improve the lighting in the church, or to change the dark woodwork in the church and narthex that reflects the building’s original décor.

In April, when I learned that a committee was looking at building needs, I sent a memo to church leaders about issues in the church and narthex I was aware of as a result of my long tenure as Audio-Visual Coördinator. One Sunday after church, the Senior Warden and I walked through the church reviewing the issues I raised in my memo. None of my concerns that had not been raised earlier made it to yesterday’s presentation.

There is, of course, $200,000 in the proposed budget for a “Facilities Maintenance Fund.” This sounds like a special fund for current (often deferred) maintenance, however, rather than for capital improvements, so I suspect my pleas have fallen on deaf ears. “Facilities maintenance” should be part of our operating budget. The need for “facilities maintenance” will not have gone away after Fulfilling the Vision has been long forgotten.

I consider the seating, lighting, and cosmetic changes I proposed to be high priority items. Only yesterday, for example, did a fellow choir member turn to me and say, “I wish they would improve the lighting in the chancel, so we could read our music better.”

Please do read my memo here. You may find that it identifies issues you had not thought of or issues of which you were only subliminally aware. It may address issues about which you are passionate.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fulfilling the Vision, Part 1

My second post on Fulfilling the Vision is here.
Along with a fairly big crowd of parishioners, I attended the presentation at church today of the proposed capital campaign. The project is being called “Fulfilling the Vision.” Our last two capital campaigns were called “Building the Vision” and “Continuing the Vision.” “Fulfilling the Vision” sounds like the last of a trilogy of projFulfilling the Vision title slideects that will take our parish to some imagined end-point of church development. As such, it seems rather too optimistic in tone. Perhaps the next campaign will be “Revising the Vision” or “Fixing the Vision.”

I don’t mean to be petty, however. The presentation was well designed and interesting. I was impressed with some proposals and skeptical of others. What I want to do here is to give a quick overview for parishioners who did not attend and to offer a few first impressions.

About the presentation itself: Lisa Brown put together a PowerPoint presentation that set forth the basics of the project, along with feel-good pictures and music illustrating parish activities. Michelle Baum introduced the presentation. Junior Warden Carl Kylander, Ell Vines, and Senior Warden John Adams then discussed details of the proposal. A 14-page handout of the essential slides was offered to those present, with the promise that additional copies would be made available to anyone who wants one. Lisa Brown, who did a fine job on what turned out to be her first PowerPoint show, promises to have the presentation on the Web sometime this week. It is worth checking out.

The proposed project seeks to raise $1,826,000, broken down as follows:

Retire Current Debt
Physical Plant Maintenance & Improvement (“Bricks & Mortar Projects”)
Facilities Maintenance Fund
Jump Start the Endowment$150,000
Ministry Enhancements for Vision 15 $425,000
Capital Campaign Expenses

Episcopal Church Foundation is providing consulting services to St. Paul’s. It is to conduct a feasibility study between the middle of July and the middle of August. During that time, parishioners will be consulted in some way that was not completely clear. This is supposed to generate a report in late August. A kickoff is planned for September, and the campaign itself is supposed to be conducted in parallel with the annual stewardship campaign. All this sounds like a fait accompli, but we were assured that the scope of the project would be influenced by parishioner input. In any case, the $75,000 figure includes direct fund-raising costs and fees to Episcopal Church Foundation. This figure would be less if the campaign were scaled back.


I have neither the time nor perspective to offer a definitive opinion on Fulfilling the Vision, but I would like to make a few random observations. I will write more later.

Let me begin with a few positive reactions. The plan calls for us to invest in a number of improvements that are long overdue—air conditioning and a new sound system for the church; air conditioning and improved lighting for the choir room; new exterior doors, including electrically opened doors for handicapped access; restoring our stained glass; and power washing the building exterior.

A surprising item is a plan to rework the plaza in front of the church, sloping the paving from the street at an angle so as to reach the level of the church floor and eliminate the need for steps. Proposed rework of front plazeThis would allow handicapped access through the front door. The steps from the Mayfair drive side of the narthex to the street would be reconstructed more or less as they have been. (This is perhaps an even better plan than the one I suggested in an earlier post.)

It has also been proposed that we reconfigure the undercroft with additional movable dividers. This plan looks much like the one originally proposed in the Building the Vision project, a scheme that was scaled back due to lack of funds. I had always though that was a blessing in disguise, but the latest plan does deserve consideration. It has both plusses and minuses.

Fulfilling the Vision should not be described as a capital campaign or project. My understanding of a capital expenditure is consistent with this explanation from Wikipedia: “A capital expenditure is incurred when a business spends money either to buy fixed assets or to add to the value of an existing fixed asset with a useful life that extends beyond the taxable year.” By my (generous) reckoning, exclusive of fund-raising expenses, capital expenditures represent approximately 57% of the money being sought. Outreach, endowment, and “ministry enhancements” are not capital expenditures. “Ministry enhancements” seems to be a euphemism for new personnel, i.e., adding to our operating expenses, a continuing liability after the three-year Fulfilling the Vision project is over.

No doubt, the argument will be made that adding a musician and personnel for pastoral care and ministry to families will bring in additional members (i.e., money). Perhaps, but that case was not made at today’s presentation.

This is not to say that it is inappropriate to raise money in a special campaign for ministry and outreach, but let’s be honest and say we are asking for additional funds for current, albeit expanded, operating expenses. No one has to convince me that we need to air condition the church. I will need a lot of convincing that we need to increase our personnel costs by something like $140,000/year.

I will offer additional thoughts in future posts. For now, consider me a concerned but interested parishioner. I worry that by putting too many bells and whistles into Fulfilling the Vision, we may endanger our ability to address our most urgent needs.

If you attended today’s presentation, what was your reaction? This is as good a place as any to discussion how you feel about this proposed project that will affect our lives together for many years to come.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Cursillo musiciansThe picture at the left was taken at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Johnstown yesterday afternoon. The occasion was an Ultreya, the first public program sponsored by a diocesan group intent on reviving the Cursillo movement in our diocese. The Ultreya was announced on the diocesan Web site and in the diocesan e-mail newsletter, but only 25 or so people showed up.

When the diocese split in 2008, most Cursillo leaders left The Episcopal Church. In recent years, Bishop Robert Duncan had strongly supported Pittsburgh Episcopal Cursillo, which, in turn, strongly supported its sponsor. Over time, fewer Cursillistas of moderate to liberal persuasion took part in Cursillo activities or sponsored candidates for Cursillo weekends.

There are many Cursillistas at St. Paul’s, and I apologize for not making a special effort to tell them about yesterday’s event. It would have been nice to have had people with whom to carpool for the trip to Johnstown.

If you’re interested in helping to renew a less theologically narrow Cursillo in the diocese, let me know.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

New Sexton

I wrote last week that St. Paul’s had lost its Saturday sexton (see “Rough Start to Bible Study”). I was delighted to find a Sexton at church for this morning’s session. The new sexton is Kevin. (I didn’t ask his last name.) He will be working on Fridays and Saturdays.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Katharine 1, Rowan 2

Once more I need to call attention to developments outside the parish, as they have the potential to be critical to the future of The Episcopal Church. After the Pentecost letters of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop—see “Katharine 1, Rowan 0”—Anglican Communion News Service announced that the Secretary General of the Anglican Consultative Council, presumably at the behest of Rowan Williams, had carried out the threat made by Archbishop Williams, namely had removed or reduced in status Episcopalian members of Anglican bodies. Episcopal News Service (ENS) reported on this development and provided perspective in this report.

Meanwhile, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has been in Halifax addressing the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod (the analogue of our own church’s General Convention). In another ENS story, she described the move from the Anglican Communion as “unfortunate.”

What does all this mean for our church and for the Anglican Communion? I can’t say, but I think it is increasingly unlikely that The Episcopal Church will adopt the proposed Anglican covenant that Rowan Williams sees as essential to maintaining the unity of the Communion. Many are saying that the Anglican Communion will never be the same, but I don’t think anyone knows just how it will differ in the future.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Communing the Choir

Disclaimer: What follows is my own opinion. I have not polled the choir on how choir members take communion, and I have no idea how they might feel about what I am going to say.
With that out of the way, let me say simply that I think that having the choir take communion at the high-altar rail at the 10:30 service is a bad idea.

In times past, choir members and acolytes exited the chancel after the invitation following the fraction, filling the rail at the crossing and receiving communion before the congregation. Everyone then returned to the chancel through the side doors. The choir sat down and could begin singing communion music, usually hymns, while other worshipers were being served.

Now, the usual procedure is for the choir and acolytes to commune at the high-altar rail, after which choir members return to their seats and prepare to sing the appointed communion music. Presumably, this routine is justified by the argument that it saves time.

But it often doesn’t. No priest or chalice bearer heads to the back of the chancel before other priests and chalice bearers have moved to the lower altar rail to begin serving the congregation. Once the servers go into the sanctuary, a kneeler has to be moved and the gate to the sanctuary closed before elements can be distributed. Then begins the Chinese fire drill, as choir members move to the altar rail helter skelter, often holding back or cutting in line to stand or kneel next to a spouse. The chaos continues as the lines going to the rail and returning from it collide. Eventually, everyone returns to his or her seat. Only then can the communion hymn singing begin. Today, for example, there were two communion hymns listed in the bulletin. Only the first one was sung, and the singing began only after everyone in the congregation had returned to his or her seat. In other words, the one hymn we did sing delayed the postcommunion prayer.

Most of my objections to our current way of doing things are pragmatic. While the elements are being prepared for distribution, the choir now just sits around. Were they communing at the lower altar rail, they could be distributing themselves at the rail during this period. Moreover, any rearrangements in the queue motivated by a desire to be next to one’s spouse could happen in the hallway, largely out of sight of the congregation. This allows the choir to return to the chancel quickly and to begin singing during most of the time the congregation is receiving communion.

According to today’s bulletin, “Healing Prayers and Anointing are offered for you or a loved one at the high altar.” Removing the choir from the high-altar rail also frees up that space for anyone who wants to avail him- or herself of the invitation in the bulletin. As it is now, the crowd at the high-altar rail discourages those wanting a special blessing or else keeps them at the rail while everyone is reciting the postcommunion prayer.

I have a more personal and less pragmatic reason for wanting to take communion along with the congregation. It is all too easy for choir members to feel isolated from other worshipers, to feel more like performers than participants. Taking communion in our own chancel ghetto, rather than in space shared by other worshipers, increases that sense of alienation.

Anyway, I would like to think that the congregation enjoys the hymn-singing during communion. Communing choir and acolytes at the lower altar rail allows for more of that. I have fond memories of my earliest experiences at St. Paul’s before we put in a freestanding altar. Communicants had to pass the choir seated on either side of the chancel to reach the altar rail. Hearing that four-part singing to the right and left while walking to the rail was glorious!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Rough Start to Bible Study

I went to Bible Study today only to discover that I couldn’t get into the church. After checking every door and accessible window of the building, the group that had come to church for Saturday Bible Study called senior warden John Adams, who arrived in a few minutes to let us in.

Apparently there was no sexton to open the church this morning because the sexton that was supposed to be there had resigned and had not been replaced. No one alerted the Saturday morning regulars, however.

There didn’t seem to be much going on at church today. At about 10:30 AM, we locked the church and left.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Katharine 1, Rowan 0

I really do mean for this blog to be about St. Paul’s and not about the ongoing power struggles in the Anglican Communion. Parishioners are, however, Episcopalians, and they should know about really big developments in their church.

Such a development occurred yesterday, when Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori issued a pastoral letter that responds to the recent Pentecost letter from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Williams’ letter proposed removing members of certain Anglican bodies from those bodies if they represent churches that have violated the moratoria set forth in the Windsor Report and subsequently promoted so vigorously by Rowan Williams. (The report called for a halt to the blessing of same-sex unions, to the consecration of partnered gay bishops, and to the crossing of diocesan boundaries without permission of the local bishop.) The Episcopal Church, of course, would be the most prominent target were the archbishop’s plan to be implemented.

Katharine Jefferts Schori’s reply is pastoral, but firm. I urge everyone to read it. What is below is copied from the church’s Web site here. I have had to do some reformatting and apologize for any errors I may have introduced. The letter requires no further comment from me.

The audio version of the pastoral letter (see link below) is worth listening to, but it ends just before the last paragraph.

Presiding bishop issues pastoral letter to the church

Jefferts Schori cites Canterbury’s Pentecost letter, hopes for continued dialogue

June 02, 2010

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has issued a pastoral letter to the Episcopal Church, in which she refers to the Pentecost letter from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and urges continued dialogue with those who disagree with recent actions “for we believe that the Spirit is always calling us to greater understanding.”

In his May 28 letter, Williams acknowledged the tensions caused in some parts of the Anglican Communion by the consecration of Los Angeles Bishop Suffragan Mary Douglas Glasspool and the ongoing unauthorized incursions by Anglican leaders into other provinces. Glasspool is the Episcopal Church’s second openly gay, partnered bishop.

Jefferts Schori acknowledged in her letter that “the Spirit does seem to be saying to many within the Episcopal Church that gay and lesbian persons are God’s good creation, that an aspect of good creation is the possibility of lifelong, faithful partnership, and that such persons may indeed be good and healthy exemplars of gifted leadership within the Church, as baptized leaders and ordained ones. The Spirit also seems to be saying the same thing in other parts of the Anglican Communion, and among some of our Christian partners, including Lutheran churches in North America and Europe, the Old Catholic churches of Europe, and a number of others.

“That growing awareness does not deny the reality that many Anglicans and not a few Episcopalians still fervently hold traditional views about human sexuality. This Episcopal Church is a broad and inclusive enough tent to hold that variety.”

The full text of the letter follows. The letter is also available as audio on the homepage of the Episcopal Church website here.

A pastoral letter to The Episcopal Church

Pentecost continues!

Pentecost is most fundamentally a continuing gift of the Spirit, rather than a limitation or quenching of that Spirit.

The recent statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury about the struggles within the Anglican Communion seems to equate Pentecost with a single understanding of gospel realities. Those who received the gift of the Spirit on that day all heard good news. The crowd reported, “in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11).

The Spirit does seem to be saying to many within The Episcopal Church that gay and lesbian persons are God’s good creation, that an aspect of good creation is the possibility of lifelong, faithful partnership, and that such persons may indeed be good and healthy exemplars of gifted leadership within the Church, as baptized leaders and ordained ones. The Spirit also seems to be saying the same thing in other parts of the Anglican Communion, and among some of our Christian partners, including Lutheran churches in North America and Europe, the Old Catholic churches of Europe, and a number of others.

That growing awareness does not deny the reality that many Anglicans and not a few Episcopalians still fervently hold traditional views about human sexuality. This Episcopal Church is a broad and inclusive enough tent to hold that variety. The willingness to live in tension is a hallmark of Anglicanism, beginning from its roots in Celtic Christianity pushing up against Roman Christianity in the centuries of the first millennium. That diversity in community was solidified in the Elizabethan Settlement, which really marks the beginning of Anglican Christianity as a distinct movement. Above all, it recognizes that the Spirit may be speaking to all of us, in ways that do not at present seem to cohere or agree. It also recognizes what Jesus says about the Spirit to his followers, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:12-13).

The Episcopal Church has spent nearly 50 years listening to and for the Spirit in these matters. While it is clear that not all within this Church have heard the same message, the current developments do represent a widening understanding. Our canons reflected this shift as long ago as 1985, when sexual orientation was first protected from discrimination in access to the ordination process. At the request of other bodies in the Anglican Communion, this Church held an effective moratorium on the election and consecration of a partnered gay or lesbian priest as bishop from 2003 to 2010. When a diocese elected such a person in late 2009, the ensuing consent process indicated that a majority of the laity, clergy, and bishops responsible for validating that election agreed that there was no substantive bar to the consecration.

The Episcopal Church recognizes that these decisions are problematic to a number of other Anglicans. We have not made these decisions lightly. We recognize that the Spirit has not been widely heard in the same way in other parts of the Communion. In all humility, we recognize that we may be wrong, yet we have proceeded in the belief that the Spirit permeates our decisions.

We also recognize that the attempts to impose a singular understanding in such matters represent the same kind of cultural excesses practiced by many of our colonial forebears in their missionizing activity. Native Hawaiians were forced to abandon their traditional dress in favor of missionaries’ standards of modesty. Native Americans were forced to abandon many of their cultural practices, even though they were fully congruent with orthodox Christianity, because the missionaries did not understand or consider those practices exemplary of the Spirit. The uniformity imposed at the Synod of Whitby did similar violence to a developing, contextual Christianity in the British Isles. In their search for uniformity, our forebears in the faith have repeatedly done much spiritual violence in the name of Christianity.

We do not seek to impose our understanding on others. We do earnestly hope for continued dialogue with those who disagree, for we believe that the Spirit is always calling us to greater understanding.

We live in great concern that colonial attitudes continue, particularly in attempts to impose a single understanding across widely varying contexts and cultures. We note that the cultural contexts in which The Episcopal Church’s decisions have generated the greatest objection and reaction are also often the same contexts where women are barred from full ordained leadership, including the Church of England.

As Episcopalians, we note the troubling push toward centralized authority exemplified in many of the statements of the recent Pentecost letter. Anglicanism as a body began in the repudiation of the control of the Bishop of Rome within an otherwise sovereign nation. Similar concerns over self-determination in the face of colonial control led the Church of Scotland to consecrate Samuel Seabury for The Episcopal Church in the nascent United States – and so began the Anglican Communion.

We have been repeatedly assured that the Anglican Covenant is not an instrument of control, yet we note that the fourth section seems to be just that to Anglicans in many parts of the Communion. So much so, that there are voices calling for stronger sanctions in that fourth section, as well as voices repudiating it as un-Anglican in nature. Unitary control does not characterize Anglicanism; rather, diversity in fellowship and communion does.

We are distressed at the apparent imposition of sanctions on some parts of the Communion. We note that these seem to be limited to those which “have formally, through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion.” We are further distressed that such sanctions do not, apparently, apply to those parts of the Communion that continue to hold one view in public and exhibit other behaviors in private. Why is there no sanction on those who continue with a double standard? In our context bowing to anxiety by ignoring that sort of double-mindedness is usually termed a “failure of nerve.” Through many decades of wrestling with our own discomfort about recognizing the full humanity of persons who seem to differ from us, we continue to work at open and transparent communication as well as congruence between word and behavior. We openly admit our failure to achieve perfection!

The baptismal covenant prayed in this Church for more than 30 years calls us to respect the dignity of all other persons and charges us with ongoing labor toward a holy society of justice and peace. That fundamental understanding of Christian vocation underlies our hearing of the Spirit in this context and around these issues of human sexuality. That same understanding of Christian vocation encourages us to hold our convictions with sufficient humility that we can affirm the image of God in the person who disagrees with us. We believe that the Body of Christ is only found when such diversity is welcomed with abundant and radical hospitality.

As a Church of many nations, languages, and peoples, we will continue to seek every opportunity to increase our partnership in God’s mission for a healed creation and holy community. We look forward to the ongoing growth in partnership possible in the Listening Process, Continuing Indaba, Bible in the Life of the Church, Theological Education in the Anglican Communion, and the myriad of less formal and more local partnerships across the Communion—efforts in mission and ministry that inform and transform individuals and communities toward the vision of the Gospel—a healed world, loving God and neighbor, in the love and friendship shown us in God Incarnate.

May God’s peace dwell in your hearts,

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church