On Friday, an ecclesiastical court ruled that Bishop Charles Bennison, convicted of covering up the sexual abuse of his brother, would be deposed. Today the Diocese of Pittsburgh voted, 240-102, to leave the Episcopal church and join the Diocese of the Southern Cone. Just a week or two ago, the House of Bishops had voted to depose Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan for "abandoning the communion of the church." Two Pennsylvania bishops deposed in less than a month-must be a record.
It would have been nice if the only event was the long-planned workshops and service of repentance at St. Thomas Philadephia for the church's participation in the transatlantic slave trade. But such was not to be.
I was covering the service for a national news agency, so I went down to West Philadelphia this morning.
The Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, was the preacher. I found the litany touching. The sermon, on the other hand, was just strange: it was more an anthropology and sociology lesson than a theological approach to slavery and penance. In addition, there was some resentment that the event wasn't held at in D.C. at the National Cathedral.
As one retired bishop said to me, "we Episcopalians are never happy about anything!"
Nonetheless, no one seemed too upset about the sermon-and I didn't overhear much talk about the missing bishop.
A friend said that it was a good thing that the deposition happened a month before our diocesan convention, so that people would have time to deal with the reality.
Was anything solved? Don't think so. Charles Bennison will appeal. The Presiding Bishop will probably try to establish a new diocese in Pittsburgh. And an apology is not reconciliation.
But, as someone reminded me, the Church goes on. Sometimes its wrong, as it was on slavery for three centuries. Sometimes its late, as when it waits 30 years after abuse to convict a clergyman. And sometimes it is torn by scandal, a poor witness to Christ.
There's a great quote from the AP story about the Pittsburgh split.
“I cannot in good conscience vote for realignment,” the Rev. Kris Opat, a conservative who is curate of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Mount Lebanon, Pa., told the audience before the vote. “I believe it is the Lord, and not us, in control of this church. And I refuse to believe it is the Lord who is behind this fracture.”
Yet there are times when we do rise to the call to be disciples. As my friend said to me, it's not what happens on Sunday in that hour or two that matters. It's what we do on Monday- and all the days after.