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Episcopal leader says exodus 'tragic'

| Monday, Nov. 3, 2008

The head of the country's Episcopal Church visited Pittsburgh on Sunday, a show of support to the 20 local churches that are remaining faithful to the New York-based leadership, even as twice as many others align with a more conservative governing body based in Argentina.

About 700 parishioners and other Episcopalians jammed the pews of Shadyside's Calvary Episcopal Church to welcome Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States. A typical 11 a.m. service draws about 250 people, said Calvary Rector Harold Lewis.

"It's a great joy for us to welcome Bishop Katharine," Lewis said "We knew we had the support of the Episcopal (Church), but to have her here in the flesh is to have an outward and visible sign of that support."

Jefferts Schori's visit occurred one month after a majority of clergy and lay deputies in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh voted to break with the church she leads. Along with former Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, 50 of the region's 74 churches have aligned themselves with the more theologically conservative Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, based in Buenos Aires.

The schism is playing out nationally, as conservative Anglicans resist the U.S. leadership's support for keeping abortions legal and the 2003 consecration of openly gay pastor V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.

The remaining Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is being governed by a committee, Lewis said. An interim bishop will be chosen in coming months.

"It's exceedingly tragic to have people depart our church, but we bless them on their journey and wish them all the best," Jefferts Schori said. "We want to remind them if they want to return, the door is always open and we'll keep the porch light on for them."

In 2006, she became the first woman elected to lead a church in the global Anglican Communion. Lewis said he twice invited her to Pittsburgh, but Duncan vetoed those visits.

Jefferts Schori fielded questions from about 350 people who stayed after the service to discuss their church's future. While some have come to terms with the growing role of gay men and lesbians in the diocese, a few said their fellow parishioners wonder whether the presiding bishop sees Jesus Christ as the sole way to salvation.

Jefferts Schori replied that like most Christians, she believes Jesus died for "the whole world." But his life and resurrection did not sever the promise God made to Jews and to Muslims, she added, and those groups still have access to salvation.

"I see evidence of holiness in people who are not Christians. I have to assume in some way God is present and important in those people who may not consciously know Jesus. And it's really God's problem to figure out how to deal with that," she said, to surprised laughter and applause. "My problem is to be the best Christian I can be and to share what I know of the power of Jesus in my own life."

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