Bishop Robert Duncan on Saturday announced he will retire next year as head of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, seven years after leading conservative churches locally and throughout North America in a historic and stormy break with the liberal Episcopal Church and its Canadian counterpart.
Bishop Duncan last year already ended his denomination-wide leadership of the wider Anglican Church in North America, which formed in the wake of the split. He told local Anglicans that at age 67, he is now also ready to let go of his duties in Pittsburgh. His retirement will be effective June 30.
“As I have said my prayers and sought counsel, it has seemed to me like the work I was called to do is as complete as it can be,” Bishop Duncan told hundreds gathered for the diocese’s annual convention at St. Stephen Church in Sewickley.
“The years of conflict — and of course-correction — within the body of Christ are past now,” he said. “The challenge ahead is one of strengthening the church for discipleship and evangelization in a hostile and needy nation and world.”
Bishop Duncan, who was elected bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in 1995, emerged as the foremost spokesman for conservatives long disenchanted with liberal trends in the Episcopal Church. The simmering conflicts exploded with the 2003 ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay person to achieve that office.
Bishop Duncan and a majority of Western Pennsylvania congregations split with the Episcopal Church in 2008.
He served five years as archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, a position he turned over to current Archbishop Foley Beach in 2014.
Bishop Duncan said he and his wife, Nara, will retire to the Laurel Ridge area of Westmoreland County. “I will be supportive of our next bishop in whatever ways he asks,” he said.
Bishop Duncan said the local Anglican diocese has launched several new congregations in college towns and other sites and that his successor will face the challenge of continuing such efforts.
“We came to understand that church planting was the best way to reach new people for Christ,” he told delegates. “We stood together for Jesus in the difficult days of realignment, and led a whole movement that became the Anglican Church in North America. Aided by ecumenical partners, we accepted the loss of property and assets, unwilling to compromise the ‘faith once for all delivered to the saints,’ and we turned storefronts and bars into places of worship.”
The delegates gave him a standing ovation as he finished with the injunction: “Thank you, God bless you, and don’t waver!”
His assistant, the Rev. Mary Maggard Hays, also announced her retirement after a long tenure as canon to the ordinary. She said the diocese’s new leaders should help congregations “love their neighbors with Jesus’ love.”
Dee Scott, a deacon at Church of the Advent in Brookline, said Bishop Duncan has earned his retirement. “He worked very hard,” she said. “I’m going to miss him.”
Todd Wahrenberger, a member of the diocese’s standing committee, said Bishop Duncan “took the diocese as far as he can. I really respect leadership when it knows when to let go, that humility to be able to say, ‘My time is done.’ ”
The Anglican diocese’s standing committee will oversee the transition period and search for a new bishop, with a vote on nominees planned for April.
Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania, an ecumenical group, issued a statement commending Bishop Duncan’s continued support.
“Throughout the strains of diocesan conflict and realignment, Archbishop Duncan’s commitment to the work of Christian Associates ... remained steadfast,” said the Rev. Liddy Barlow, executive minister of the organization, which includes 27 Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant bodies.
Bishop Dorsey McConnell of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh said in a statement: “In the past three years since I arrived in Pittsburgh, Bob and I have had a cordial relationship as colleagues on the council of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania. I wish him all the best. He and Nara will be in my prayers.”
The Anglican diocese says it has at least 50 congregations and missions across much of Pennsylvania as well as some affiliated congregations in other states, and with an average weekly attendance of just under 5,000.
The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh has about 37 parishes in Southwestern Pennsylvania with just under 3,000 in weekly attendance.
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