On Cathedra and Bishops: A bit of Musical Chairs

Three Rivers Episcopal reports on a meeting at Trinity Cathedral of the two ecclesial organizations that the Cathedral proposes will continue to use its facilities. They quote Jeremy Bonner's blog,

"Today, members of the chapter of Trinity Cathedral, Pittsburgh, met for their annual retreat, seeking to discern the new fields of mission to which their Lord was calling them. No great novelty, except for the fact that attendees included elected representatives of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Southern Cone) and the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America and – seated next to one another – Bishop Robert Duncan of the Province of the Southern Cone and Assisting Bishop Robert Johnson of the Episcopal Church." The whole article is worth the read.

On one level it seems a commendable peaceable gathering. But there is a bit of musical chairs activity here. Given what a Cathedral is, I wonder how long sitting next to one another will work.

The Cathedral is a cathedral because it is the place where the bishop of a diocese has his cathedra, his chair. The chair is just a chair. It can take many forms. Indeed, when there is no cathedral, the chair and be even an overstuffed easy chair. The Missionary Bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (part of the Church of Nigeria) was precisely that, a red easy chair. As part of the Diocesan's coming into a diocese, he or she is usually installed, making the chair a stall.

These chairs or stalls can get quite elaborate, as one can see in the cathedral chair at the Washington Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, which has inscribed behind it a version of the Lambeth Quadrilateral.
The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (the one part of The Episcopal Church) has its' bishop's cathedra in Trinity Cathedral. When then Bishop Duncan was deposed the one and only diocesan website (at the time) posted a picture of the cathedra without him sitting in that chair, but a miter and staff at the ready. See the photo to the left. The picture, quite rightly, was to indicate that the episcopal office was vacant.

When the Convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh met this last summer many of the clergy and lay representatives voted to leave and become part of the Province of the Southern Cone. Meeting under canons that had been changed and no longer were in conformity with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church they determined that leaving meant that the diocese itself was separating from TEC. So shortly thereafter they met again for the expressed purpose of re-electing the now deposed bishop as their bishop. As far as the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Southern Cone) EDP/SC was concerned, it seems the seat is now occupied by a bishop of the Province of the Southern Cone, Robert Duncan.

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (the one continuing as part of The Episcopal Church) (EDP/TEC) met again and repopulated the various committees of the Diocese, and in particular the Standing Committee, and agreed to ask Bishop Johnson to serve as assisting bishop during the period prior to their election of a new bishop. As far as EDP/TEC is concerned Bishop Johnson is assisting and I believe that means that as far as EDP/TEC is concerned he has not been "enthroned" or "seated" in the cathedra. That waits for the newly elected diocesan.

So here is the thing: The Cathedral leadership, which has determined to allow both church entities to use their facilities, has this chair. It's just a chair, but it is the bishop's chair. Nothing rests on whether Duncan or Johnson sits there except this:

The point to having such a chair is that at least formally it is reserved for the bishop of the Diocese of which the Cathedral is named as Cathedral. That right is not determined by the Cathedral leadership, it is not determined by two bishops of church communities so opposed to one another that one church has separated itself from the other, it is not determined by "sharing" use. The use of the chair indicates the diocese of which the Cathedral is part.

Remember that EDP/SC has signed on to the Jerusalem Declaration that rejects the leadership and churches that have gone astray from the Gospel, meaning by that TEC. Remember that Moderator Duncan is a deposed bishop of TEC and the Archbishop in the making of a new entity, The Anglican Church in North America, not in communion with TEC.
Since the two church entities, EDP/TEC and EDP/SC, are part of churches not in communion it would seem odd that they both use the same cathedra, or alternately that they have separate cathedra in the same Cathedral. If Trinity Cathedral was a separate corporation able to do what it wished, then it could declare itself a local church and invite whoever it wished to have a special chair. But if it maintains that it is a Cathedral, then it is the Cathedral pertaining to a bishop of jurisdiction in some ordered church - in this case either The Episcopal Church or the Province of the Southern Cone. Furthermore, the matter of ownership is not settled by the decision of the Cathedral leadership to determine who uses the space and why, but it clouds the issue.

Who gives a damn? Well no one it appears, at least for the moment. But come this summer when the Anglican Church in North America forms itself up, the deposed bishop, now a bishop of EDP/SC will become the Archbishop of ACNA. Then, I would bet, the Trinity Cathedral leadership might have to make some choices: is it a local church extending hospitality to two factions of what it sees to be a larger whole, or is it a Cathedral pertaining to one or the other - the Archbishop of ACNA or the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (TEC).

Cathedrals and chairs are sometimes symbolic "flags." If you have one, it means you have a bishop. Flying flags of two states, one of which contends that spiritual warfare against the other is the order of the day, will eventually lead to an intolerable situation.

Perhaps Trinity Cathedral would do better to stop considering itself a cathedral and try the experiment of being a host church to two quite different groups. Perhaps then the bishops of EDP/TEC and EDP/SC or ACNA could sit anywhere they could find a seat, or perhaps bring out an overstuffed red easy chair for special occasions.


  1. Fr. Mark,
    I have always known that the bishop's chair in a parish is the bishop's chair. When I began to "do stuff" for services I once upon a time sat in the chair. Being a pragmatist, I thought, well, the bishop isn't here so somebody ought to use that chair. Boy, was I wrong about that! Got the one scolding I have ever received in the episcopal church. It is symbolic but wow - what a powerful symbol it is.

    I find the fact that the two bodies attended a service together amazing! It appears that Bobby doesn't like to play nice with anyone, let alone schismatics. This seems to be wrong on many different levels. But who knows, maybe those who stayed in TEC really would prefer to be conealoneialists but fear the retribution or the loss of insurance or the loss of retirement or who knows? I do know this much, I am not prepared to sit down with anyone from SJ/SC. Not in the same room, same cathedral or anywhere unless it is to have them give the property back, apologize for the hurt and emotional damage they have caused and ask for forgiveness/reconciliation. And if Mr. Schofield sat in the chair I would personally ask him to vacate the chair for Bishop Lamb.

  2. Greetings Mark,

    As you can see from the text of our original resolution, the option of reverting to parish status has been reserved if either side wants to make an issue of the facts on the ground.

    Of course, the Episcopal Diocese remains free to designate Calvary as its cathedra (it looks the part, after all) and the ACNA Diocese to do the same with Ascension or St. Stephen's. We have no control over that.

    What I find sad about your comments is that the focus is more upon the letter of the law than on the fact that we had a group of people from two - as you noted - very divided groups working together to get beyond the present-day barricades (to which your side and mine have both contributed) and find a way to affirm the personal relationships that still exist without sacrificing theological integrity.

    No one has ever shared a cathedra under such circumstances: does that mean that it can't be done? If a new Episcopal bishop WAS willing to share - even if it seemed to go against tradition - would you still say that he should be prevented from doing so? After all, there are few precedents for what has happened over the past eighteen months.

  3. I suspect when it will really matter is when DP/TEC elects a Bishop Diocesan. Can you say "Get out of my chair!"?

  4. I appreciate the questions. For the moment, let's appreciate any events in which people are talking to each other instead of throwing things at each other, words or otherwise.

    However, it may well be that the existing consent order will be enforced. Challenges notwithstanding, the judgement of the Special Master may be respected and diocesan accountabilities clarified. If thsoe things happen, a lot of things may change.

  5. I'm losing my bearings amongst the groups and the acronyms. I know that I'm in the Episcopal Church, or I was, last I heard.

  6. I hope that the ornate bishop's throne that Duncan had installed in the center as if it were worthy of being worshiped will be moved to one side when the cathedral returns to being a TEC building. Has anyone else seen a bishop's chair in the center behind the movable altar?

  7. Pardon the racialist aspects of the following (it was written in 1938):

    Ogden Nash

    "The Japanese"

    How courteous is the Japanese;
    He always says, “Excuse it, please.”
    He climbs into his neighbor’s garden,
    And smiles, and says, “I beg your pardon”;
    He bows and grins a friendly grin,
    And calls his hungry family in;
    He grins, and bows a friendly bow;
    “So sorry, this my garden now.”

    Sorry, Jeremy: no amount of "courtesy" on xDuncan&Co's part, can disguise what is really going on here. It's not your garden.

  8. PseudoPiskie--

    Yes, in fact the original standard place for a Bishop's throne (once Christians started building legal churches) was behind and a bit higher than the altar, at (iirc) the place in the apse which in secular buildings would have been the judge's seat, or would have held a statue of the Emperor. Gothic churches tended to nudge it off to one side and bang the altar up against a wall, but at least one English cathedral (Norwich, I think) kept the old arrangement: and, of course, the pattern has been restored at Canterbury.

    Mark+, I think the Bishop's _stall_ is the seat he has in choir, the cathedra the one he has in the sanctuary, the former often being a good deal more elaborate than the latter.

  9. 4 May 1535...thanks for clarification of stall vs chair. As to the placement of the bishop's throne / chair, the placement at Trinity clearly posits Trinity Cathedral as a Cathedral.

    and Jeremy Bonner...

    Yes, I think the effort at Trinity Cathedral carries possibilities of two very divided groups working together. And yes this is uncharted territory. My concern was to raise the question that in order for the invitation to be made to both, the Cathedral leadership was asserting its role independent of the connection between the congregation and either one of the dioceses.

    Has the Cathedral congregation determined to be part of the EDP/SC or not. Are the dean and clergy part of that diocese or the EDP/TEC? The invitation for both groups to use the space comes from some leadership group, and should that invitation be accepted it would be part of an acknowledgement that that group has the right to invite or not.

    I am glad there is conversation and work together between members of the two groups. I am concerned what the decisions by Trinity Cathedral leadership has to say about the rights to invite or not, and the implications about ownership of property.

    It is indeed new work and I wish those in conversation clarity and charity both.

  10. Mark,

    The resolution is a clear expression of our desire to remain part of BOTH bodies (it was drafted by two members of chapter with very different views of the propriety of realignment). It is up to to either or both of the new entities to tell us that we cannot do that. In other words, they must take the decision that we are not wanted except on their terms.

    I leave it to others to decide if we are asserting more than we have a right to do. I don't think the leadership on either side is entirely happy with this state of affairs because it muddies the water.

    The sad truth, I think, is that no one feels much of a stake in Trinity these days except its members. Either side can force the issue, prompt an exodus of conservatives or liberals (depending on who wins) and then preside over the shuttering and barring of the premises (the residual congregation won't be able to sustain operations).

    After the recent cleaning that seems wasteful, even if we had not resolved to try and act as a place of reconciliation, not to reverse realignment - that's a fact we must live with - but to start to learn to live side by side, without bitterness. That might involve your side conceding property in exchange for diocesan assets or my side inviting representatives of the Episcopal Diocese to serve on the boards of institutions like the Common Life Center BEFORE a court has ruled who actually owns the property. I'm not saying that these things specifically will happen or ought to happen, but they're paradigms for getting beyond the present. I don't expect most readers here to agree with me, but I hope people would not simply dismiss such suggestions because "we've never done it that way before." It may have precedent in Anglican tradition, but sadly not always in a good way.

  11. If I recall the history, the Cathedral chapter has taken this approach because the property on which the church is built is a land grant, one of a few in Pittsburgh, for a Christian church.

    I think that in future it may become an unwieldy approach. But they are to be given a thumbs up for trying.

    However, lukewarm also comes to mind. Not many folks in the mind for a good swig of lukewarm coffee.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.