More Bridges for Pittsburgh

By Douglas LeBlanc

Although the Rt. Rev. Dorsey W.M. McConnell trained as an actor long ago and used drama regularly as a parish priest, he felt some anxiety Oct. 20 when donning a costume for a skit. Oh, and yes, the skit occurred during his ordination and consecration as a bishop. McConnell depicted Morgan, a builder of bridges in 20th-century Pittsburgh.

“When I put the raincoat on over my alb, and shoved a hat over my head, and walked out in front of 1,000 people, I did feel like I was walking off a cliff,” he said.

Most of those who gathered for the service, including Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, smiled during the sketch. For McConnell, it was not simply a way to stretch his acting wings again or to inject humor into the pomp and high ceremony of a bishop’s ordination.

“I knew I wanted to engage the youth of the diocese and I quickly knew that would be the way to do it,” he said. Young Episcopalians ranging from ages 5 to 17 were supporting players in the sketch.

The skit also emphasized what McConnell wants to be known for: working toward reconciliation in one of the dioceses torn by division since the early 2000s.

That includes staying in conversation with the seventh Bishop of Pittsburgh, the Most Rev. Robert M. Duncan, now the archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America.

“I’ve seen Bob twice since I’ve been here,” McConnell said by phone in early December. “Both times he was very cordial and very warm. We’ve prayed together, and I think our conversation will continue along those lines.”

McConnell is among the bishops of the Episcopal Church who are discerning, with their dioceses, how they will respond to the church’s provisional blessing rite for same-sex couples.

Formal discernment will continue until Pentecost, he said, but “if we need more time we’ll take it.”

McConnell has served as a priest in the dioceses of New York, Olympia, and Massachusetts, and knows that his theology once prompted rolling eyes from his colleagues. (McConnell and other priests were discussing Christ’s resurrection, and “I was going pretty heavily for the empty tomb.”)

“There is a certain grace of innocence that goes with the position,” he said of his previous cures. “I didn’t go around thinking of myself often as being in the theological minority. The guiding principle for me has always been to speak the truth in love.”

That approach, he said, has meant “generally easy and affectionate” collaboration with other priests.

He hopes such affection will mark his time as Bishop of Pittsburgh.

“Part of the sadness of this conflict is that a lot of people of different stripes felt themselves abused and weakened,” McConnell said, adding that he will “strive less for grand theological consensus than for basic pastoral care.”

“I want people to know I love them and I pray for them and I don’t want anyone ostracized from any conversation.”

The new bishop is enthusiastic about the city that has called him as its first non-provisional bishop since Bishop Duncan helped found the ACNA.

“Pittsburgh has become a very young and cool place. There’s a wide open mission field,” he said. “Everybody out there is looking for two things: they’re looking for mercy and they’re looking for hope. I’m definitely a missionary bishop and this is a missionary diocese.”

Photo by Andrew S. Muhl/Diocese of Pittsburgh


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