The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh voted yesterday at its annual diocesan convention to withdraw from a national church province and seek alternative oversight.
The clergy voted 97 to 14 in favor, with three abstentions, while the lay vote was 117 to 40, with 17 abstentions. The overwhelming vote, which was expected, does not change the diocese's standing in the Episcopal Church. Nor will it have any immediate impact on the Pittsburgh diocese's 20,000 members.
The resolution underscores the Pittsburgh diocese's distancing from the national church's new presiding bishop, the Right Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori.
Pittsburgh Bishop Robert W. Duncan Jr. stressed yesterday that the resolution's passage cements the diocese's commitment to being part of the Episcopal Church and a constituent member within the 70-million-member worldwide Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church, with 2.3 million members, is the American arm of the communion.
The resolution, he said, marks the diocese's "continuing commitment to function under the constitution of the Episcopal Church ..."
He said he would work with Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori "to come to some mediated disengagement that will allow all of us to get on with the mission [of the church] as we understand it."
The diocese hopes to pull out of Province III, one of nine geographical groupings that serve little theological function. Bishop Duncan has said he hopes to create a 10th province filled with theologically conservative dioceses.
Any new province must be approved at the church's 2009 General Convention.
Yesterday's vote, which followed this summer's approval of the resolution by the diocese's standing committee, does, as Bishop Duncan said yesterday, give the Pittsburgh diocese a new temporary home: the Anglican Communion Network.
In fact, a line item in the budget approved yesterday will send the estimated $2,000 in dues formerly earmarked for Province III to the network, an organization of about 200,000 Episcopalians unhappy with what they consider "innovations" in the denomination, particularly the ordination of openly gay clergy and same-sex blessings.
Bishop Duncan is moderator of the network.
Joan Gundersen, president of the Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, a group of parishioners who disagree with the bishop's direction for the diocese, called yesterday's vote "contrary to our canons and the constitution of the church."
"We are part of the Episcopal Church and we will work with any Christians who want to further God's kingdom," she said.
"It makes it difficult when part of the church is literally pushing us away."
Steve Levin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1919.