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.
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.