The Rector's Ruminations

The Rector's Ruminations

by The Dr. Rev. Harold Lewis
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Conventional Wisdom

John Godfrey Saxe, an American poet (1816-1887) wrote a poem entitled The Blind Men and the Elephant. It goes like this:

It was six men of Indostan To learning, much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant (Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant, And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side, At once began to bawl:
'God bless me but the Elephant is very like a wall!'
The Second, feeling of the tusk, Cried,'Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp? To me'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant is very like a spear!'
The Third approached the animal, and happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands, Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see", quoth he, "the Elephant is very like a snake'

The Fourth reached out an eager hand, And felt about the knee.
"what most this wondrous beast is like is mighty plain," quoth he;
"Tis clear enough the Elephant Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear said,"E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most: Deny the fact Who can
This marvel of an Elephant is very like a fan!
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tale That fell within his scope,
"I see" quoth he,"the Elephant is very like a rope"!

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long, Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong.

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

Next month, the 135th Convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh will consider, inter alia, two important resolutions. The first will ask the clergy and lay delegates of the Diocese to approve the building of a "common life center" in Donegal. The second will ask Convention to authorize Bishop Duncan to appoint an assistant bishop. Since neither entity yet exists, they have not, like the elephant in the fable, been seen by anyone. And yet many people in the Diocese have voiced a plethora of opinions about each, based on their limited perspectives. And like the blind men, each of us is partly in the right, in that our conclusions are true based on our perspectives; yet all of us are wrong, insofar as no particular group is cognizant of the entire picture.

However incomplete our knowledge, we shall, nevertheless, be called upon to vote the matters up or down, and so must in the end rely on our admittedly limited perspectives, being ever open, of course, to being influenced by the perspectives of others. That said, I have decided that barring any unforeseen "new evidence,' I shall vote against both resolutions, and shall ask the delegates from Calvary to do the same. Let me explain my perspectives which have led me to that conclusion. Among the stated purposes of the conference center is to "develop leadership potential in the worldwide Anglican Communion. Such a statement can only be interpreted in light of the role which Bishop Duncan has been playing in the Communion, and the theology which informs that role. Bishop Duncan has indicated that he concurs with Archbishop Goodhew of Australia that the Episcopal Church, in recognizing the existence of committed, monogamous relationships other than heterosexual marriage, "has crossed the line in the defining of acceptable sexual relationships," and that "it has openly abandoned the Scriptural and Church-held tradition that relates to marriage." Bishop Duncan has also voiced opposition to the decision of General Convention to enforce the mandatory canon ordination of women, on the grounds that such a canon is a "repudiation of the consensus of Anglicanism." In a recent letter to the clergy and lay leaders of the Diocese Bishop Duncan reported that he "is doing his part to work for the reform of the Episcopal Church (chiefly throug American Anglican Council) and giving assistance to our overseas friends who are working assiduously to bring the Episcopal Church in our country back to its senses."

Some months ago, I expressed concern about our Diocese's cornpanion relationships with the Province of Rwanda and with the Diocese of Shyira within that Province. While it is true that we have entered into the relationships partly to provide assistance to the victims of the horrendous genocide that took place in that country, the relationship was also created to forge alliances with a province whose leaders share the opinion of our own bishop that the Episcopal Church has virtually broken ranks with traditional and orthodox Anglicanism. For this reason, when John Rodgers and Charles Murphy were irregularly consecrated in Singapore (by the Rwandan bishops and others) Bishop Duncan distanced himself from the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops, who refused to recognize their orders. Indeed, at a recent meeting held in Sewickley to discuss the Anglican Mission in America, a breakaway group with which Rodgers and Murphy are associated, Rodgers stated that as regard his consecration and subsequent ministry, Bishop Duncan "has backed me, encouraged me, and supported me at every step." Bishop Duncan, who was present at the meeting, did not challenge that statement in any way.

Many of us in the Diocese believe, therefore, that the stated purpose of the center "to develop leadership potential in the worldwide Anglican Communion" can reasonably be interpreted to mean that that Center will become nothing less than a headquarters for the movement within Anglicanism in which the Bishop of Pittsburgh has been so vocal and visible a part. Those of us who do not believe that the Episcopal Church needs to be brought back to its senses; those of us who believe that the ordination of women is a matter that has long been settled; those of us who, like our General Convention, recognize the existence of committed same-sex relationships, cannot in good conscience support the conference center with our votes or our pocketbooks. Speaking of which, many feel that the $20 million price tag is reason enough for the project not to go forward, citing the fact that half of the congregations in this Diocese have budgets of under $100,000 and would be hard put to encourage their people to subscribe to the support of the common life center.

The proposal to create the position of assistant bishop in the Diocese (an assistant bishop, unlike a bishop suffragan, is appointed by the diocesan bishop, and not elected, and is already a bishop at the time of his appointment) is not unrelated to the first issue. Bishop Duncan has indicated that it would be helpful to have someone mind the store" while he is exercising his ministry in the worldwide Anglican Communion. The appointment of an additional bishop (whose source of funding has yet to be identified) would make it possible for our father-in-God to be absent from the Diocese even more than he is now, resulting in impairing even further his pastoral relationship with the clergy and people in the 70 or so parishes committed to his charge.

So like blind men of Indostan
Who grope and feel and muse,
I rely upon my senses
To formulate my views.
I fear the beast of Donegal
Is very like a ruse.

lambically, your rector and friend,



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