To be all things to all

Trinity Cathedral, Pittsburgh

In one of the most divided dioceses of The Episcopal Church one church is considering how it might become a neutral oasis.

This September, Trinity Cathedral members will be discussing a resolution of Cathedral Chapter that would make it possible for Trinity to continue to be the cathedral church for all who are currently part of the diocese, regardless of their future Anglican affiliation. Their work has the full support of Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan.

All here

Can it work? It is an ingenious idea to set at least one place aside from the fray and available to all Anglicans no matter what jurisdictions they find themselves under.

It didn't work in Pietermaritzburg when Dean Green and Bishop Colenso took services turn and turn about. But then these two men were directly opposed on sacramental theology (amongst other things), each wanted sole possession, and I doubt that the body of Cathedral members had been given the chance to create a peaceful and mutually acceptable compromise. (In 1883 the heretic, Colenso, was buried beneath its altar.)

At Trinity the 4-page resolution includes:
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the people and Chapter of Trinity Cathedral affirm their desire to remain a unified Cathedral for what today comprises the whole Diocese of Pittsburgh, even if this means being the Cathedral seat of two Bishops, one from a Diocese within The Episcopal Church and one from a realigned Diocese of Pittsburgh, serving their respective parishes.

In effect the cathedral Chapter would become a non-aligned autonomous entity forever dependent on the goodwill of two diverging bodies. The two bishops (if so it turns out) would be co-chairs with equal weight and thus forced to choose between working together or walking out.

The Chapter would retain its rights in the nomination, appointment and discipline future staff but each step would require the 'concurrence' of the bishops - in effect the Chapter gives the bishops a veto. When either bishop can block the other but neither can initiate a development the greatest danger is pernanent stalemate. It will take great skill by the cathedral staff to prevent death from inanition.

The resolution looks forward to the day of a reunited dioces but, if all else fails, Trinity will give up being a Cathedral and revert to being a parish church. Though, pound to a penny, they'll not give up the pretensions to cathedral status.

But, can it work? Lionel Demiol (part of the Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh) sees the scheme not as an act of Christian generosity and trust but as a fall-back position for Bob Duncan who is prepared to share this major property only because he knows he cannot take it with him when he leaves TEC. If this is the case then the scheme is doomed from the start - it will only make the cathedral a battleground just as Pietermaritzburg was.

On the other hand, if goodwill can transcend distrust, my guess is that it might just work. If passed, the people and clergy of the cathedral will deliberately make themselves vulnerable to the whims of two people who will be at best wary and more likely hostile to one another. The cathedral will have to work hard to avoid contentious areas, at least to start. If it works then Trinity might become the place where ways for convergent conversations can take place. None of us know what the future holds.

It doesn't seem to me that this resolution will prove a model for others. It would only be possible for an organization with the legal capacity to determine or, at least, predispose its own fate. Any church subject to the control of national, diocesan or other authorities (which must be the vast majority) will be subject to their decision making.


  1. Bp Colenso was confirmed as the lawful Bp of Natal in communion with Canterbury & retained S.Peter's Cathedral. The "Bp of Maritzburg" had a new cathedral (now dismantled and far away). The schism has long since ended. Halls at the large new adjoining Cathedral of the Nativity are named after both bishops-Colenso & Macrorie, and there are moves now in the Anglican Church of South Africa to place Colenso's name in its Calendar. Much of his "heresy" would be commonly accepted now. In his Bible translation work, his missionary endeavours, his defence of Zulus unjustly treated, &c he remains, I think, one of the great missionary Bishops of the C.of E. I attended the 150th anniversary of his consecration & the establishing of the Diocese of Natal a few years ago. As for what is done in the US, I have no opinion on that but I did think Bp Colenso should be defended.
    (The Revd Dr) John Bunyan, Campbelltown NSW, Australia

  2. John, thank you for your comment - I know little of the history of Natal following the schism.

    However, just to quibble with your first sentence:

    In 1865 the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London (to which Colenso had appealed on the question of Gray's jurisdiction rather than the substance of accusations of heresy) decided amongst other things that Colenso was ‘a lay-corporation for holding lands in trust for the English Church, and transmitting them to [his] successors….’ Subsequent court action in Natal confirmed Colenso's possession of church property.

    An Act of the Natal legislature in 1910 allowed its new unifying Anglican Bishop to become trustee of Colenso's legacy of churches.

    In 1866 the bishops of the Province of Canterbury declared they were in communion with Archbishop Gray and his comprovincial bishops but said nothing at all about Colenso.

    - sorry, that's over the top as a response to your comment, not least because I agree with your judgement.

    I find it intriguing that Colenso has been rehabilitated into the Anglican pantheon while his condemnation by the authorities of the time in England as in South Africa have been almost glossed away.

    Anyone might think there are lessons the some people do not want to be reminded of - about the over-hasty condemnation of developments as heresy, for example.