All involved in Pittsburgh split are saints, Presiding Bishop tells Pittsburgh Episcopalians
Preaching to a much-larger-than-usual congregation at Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh on All Saints Sunday, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said that people on all sides of the tension in the Episcopal Church are saints.
“There are saints among the folk who voted to leave The Episcopal Church,” she said November 2. “There are saints among those who have clearly stayed. There are saints who haven’t yet made up their minds. They are saints because they’ve been baptized into this fractious Body of Christ, and there are saints among them whose holiness of life is abundantly evident. We dishonor them and God when we refuse to see their blessedness.”
Jefferts Schori’s sermon was the first of a three-part visit to Calvary, a parish that has been a leader among those Episcopalians who opposed efforts to lead the Diocese of Pittsburgh out of the Episcopal Church. The Presiding Bishop also spent about an hour answering questions from an estimated 350 people who returned to Calvary’s nave for the session after a reception that followed the Eucharist. About 645 people attended the Eucharist compared with the average 250 who attend a typical 11 a.m. Sunday service at the parish in the Shadyside section of Pittsburgh.
Jefferts Schori’s visit to the diocese came just less than a month after the former leadership of the Diocese of Pittsburgh voted October 4 to leave the Episcopal Church and align with the South America-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. Less than a week later, remaining Episcopalians filled vacancies on the diocese’s Standing Committee and Jefferts Schori recognized the continuing group as the ecclesiastical authority in the diocese.
The effort of reorganizing the diocese continues, Jefferts Schori noted. Diocese of Virginia Bishop Suffragan David Colin Jones, recently named as “consulting bishop” to the Diocese of Pittsburgh, will make his first parish visit November 9 to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Highland Park. In addition to presiding and preaching at Eucharist and preaching at a sung Morning Prayer service, Jones will meet with members of the diocese to discuss his role in the diocese’s transition, according to a news release on the diocese’s website.
Meanwhile, a special convention is set for December 13 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Mt. Lebanon. A pre-convention prayer service and reception is planned for the evening of December 12. The December 13 business session will include filling vacancies in all elected diocesan offices and approving a budget. Deacon Kristian Opat is expected to be ordained a priest during the convention Eucharist. He will be ordained by one of the bishops invited to attend the convention, according to an announcement on the diocese’s website.
In her All Saints sermon, the Presiding Bishop said that “sainthood is not defined by holding particular theological positions or ecclesiastical positions.”
“It is given in baptism, and it is evident in works of mercy, justice, and humility,” she continued. “It is not ours to grant, but it is ours to acknowledge. It is already given, and yet must be sought the rest of our lives.”
During the question-and-answer session, a moderator posed about 24 questions from those that the audience had submitted in advance. After spending about 35 minutes answering those questions, the Presiding Bishop opened the floor to other questions and answered a few more. Much of the conversation was punctuated by laughter and applause.
Many of the questions concerned the tensions in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion that led to the October 4 vote. More than once, Jefferts Schori suggested that those tensions would ease in the next few years. She said that more bishops across the communion have a better understanding of the complexity of the issues. Those bishops have said “’we don’t agree, but we recognize you are called to follow where you believe the Spirit is taking you, and we are called to try to understand that,’” according to the Presiding Bishop.
Others questions addressed theological matters, including the issue of whether Jefferts Schori had suggested there are ways to salvation other than following Jesus.
“That’s not what I said,” Jefferts Schori said, explaining that she has noted in the past that “most Christians believe Christ died for all, as savior for the whole world.”
She said she has also cited the Bible’s record of God’s promises to the Jewish people and other promises that “were not broken by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.”
“Therefore, Jews have access to salvation without consciously saying ’Jesus is my Lord and savior.’ I didn’t do that; God did it. I also see that God made promises to Hagar and Ishmael, whom Muslims claim as their ancestor,” she said. “I don’t think God broke those promises when Jesus came among us.”
Jefferts Schori had touched on the question during her sermon, noting that “Episcopalians and other Christians wrestle with how broadly to understand the family of God, and whether non-Christians are included, for we can certainly point to holy examples who show us what God at work in the world looks like -- people like the Dalai Lama and Mahatma Gandhi.”
She suggested that “it seems more fruitful to remember that Jesus’ saving work was and is for the whole world, and that our baptismal promises are about living holy lives, together, in community.”
The complete text of Jefferts Schori’s sermon is available here.
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