Episcopal Diocese settles on Uptown property in Pittsburgh

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The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh has reached a settlement with Shepherd's Heart Fellowship in Uptown, giving that ministry to the homeless clear title to all of its property and assets despite its affiliation with the rival Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

A joint statement from the Episcopal Diocese and Shepherd's Heart stressed that its ministry to the poor was unique and "this agreement should not be interpreted as a model for resolving other property disputes."

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh split in 2008, with the majority of its parishes leaving the Episcopal Church for the theologically conservative Anglican Church in North America. The Episcopal Diocese won a court battle awarding it all centrally held diocesan assets, but parish property is to be settled on a case-by-case basis.

Few settlements have yet been reached, and this is the lone case in which a parish kept all of its assets and its affiliation with the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Shepherd's Heart was founded in 1993 as a parish for homeless people. Its pastor, the Rev. Mike Wurschmidt, had been homeless after his business failed and before he became a priest. Shepherd's Heart is best known for an outreach to homeless veterans that has won accolades from veterans' advocacy groups. It has a 75 percent success rate of veterans achieving personal goals and moving to permanent housing.

"More than 140 community partners, including 100 churches of all denominations, work alongside us in this ministry to homeless veterans and other homeless men and women of our region. We ... are grateful for this agreement and for the service of all our partners," Rev. Wurschmidt said in the joint statement.

The agreement was a final accomplishment of Bishop Kenneth Price Jr., who is stepping down next week as provisional bishop of the Episcopal Diocese.

"Our Lord commands all of us to love and serve the poor, so we are grateful to the Shepherd's Heart clergy and lay leaders, who built up this ministry, and we are happy to become a permanent part of their mission," he said.

The Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh wasn't a party to the settlement. Its spokesman, David Trautman, said they were "delighted that a settlement has been reached."

Half the Shepherd's Heart property is titled in its own name, half in the name of the Episcopal Diocese. Under the settlement, Shepherd's Heart will take full title to all the property, so it can refinance its mortgage at a better rate. The Episcopal Diocese is allowing Shepherd's Heart to keep all the equity as a sign of the diocese's "lasting investment and involvement in that ministry."

Despite the schism, many Episcopal parishes support Shepherd's Heart.

"This has continued in spite of differences over whether Shepherd's Heart Fellowship validly withdrew from the Episcopal Church ... and is now part of the Anglican Church in North America. The agreement sets this issue aside in favor of mutually serving the homeless, the poor, and the addicted," the statement said.

Under a prior stipulation in a court case, the settlement must be approved by Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

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Ann Rodgers: arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.


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