By Kirk Petersen

One of the largest Episcopal churches has signed a remarkable peace treaty with its diocese.

Based on pre-pandemic average Sunday attendance of 937, Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama, is the seventh-largest church in the denomination. As the name suggests, it’s also the cathedral for the Diocese of Alabama. “The relationship of the Advent and the Diocese has at times been uneasy,” in the words of a joint statement announcing a six-page covenant between the church and the Rt. Rev. Glenda Curry, Bishop of Alabama, acting on behalf of the diocese.

The conflict resulted from the fact that: “In recent decades, The Episcopal Church has moved toward a more progressive theological understanding, while the Advent has purposefully retained a Protestant, evangelical expression,” the statement continued. In response, members of the cathedral congregation have for years specified that all or part of their annual pledges cannot be passed along to the Episcopal Church.

Under the terms of the covenant, the Advent will remove “Advent only” as a category on its annual pledge cards. Parishioners will continue to have the right to specify where their pledges go, but the leadership of the cathedral will not in any way endorse or recommend restricted giving.

The cathedral and the bishop will use their “best efforts not to set the Advent apart in the Diocese… except to the extent that the Advent’s theological expression is different from that of others in the Diocese,” the covenant says. The cathedral also will transition from its current Eucharistic liturgy, an adapted form of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

The bishop, in turn, pledges “to ensure that Advent has a safe environment for its theological expression”, and will not compel any parish to move away from Rite I, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer’s traditional liturgy. The bishop will also consider sending ordinands to non-Episcopal seminaries and promised not to reject otherwise qualified candidates for ministry because they espouse Advent’s theological positions. She will also appoint a lay person of the cathedral’s choosing to an ex officio position on the Diocesan Council, with seat and voice but not vote. Advent parishioners can also run for election to the council.

In these and other ways, the covenant aims to create “a renewed relationship” between the cathedral and the diocese.” It’s an agreement that will depend heavily on the good faith of the parties. The diocese and cathedral are both under new leadership. Curry, who formerly served as rector of All Saints’, also in Birmingham, was consecrated bishop coadjutor in June 2020 and invested as bishop diocesan on January 9 of this year.

At Cathedral Church of the Advent, the Rev. Andrew Pearson recently left his job as dean and rector. The church website does not seem to have an announcement of the departure, but it does have a routine pastoral letter from Pearson, dated March 31, that makes no mention of a pending transition.

The Rev. Canon R. Craig Smalley, who has been at the Advent since 2006, currently serves as interim dean and rector, according to the website.

(An earlier version of this article made an incorrect statement about the Diocese of Alabama’s payment of the mandated 15 percent assessment to the Church Center. The diocese is in full compliance with the assessment for 2020 and 2021. The incorrect statement has been removed from the article.)