Thursday, May 31, 2012

Shades of Samuel Seabury? Breaking Up is Hard to Do, SCMD Style

Crusty Old Dean finds himself concerned he is losing his edge (perhaps not readily apparent).  After reading the Standing Commission on Ministry Development Report, he finds himself handing out his second Axios! (worthy!)  ranking in a row (recall that COD gave the SCLM resolution on same sex blessings a coveted Axios! ranking, albeit raising some concerns about process).  COD grants the SCMD Axios! because it is doing precisely what the General Convention should be doing as it tries to address the thorny question of what to do when an bishop’s relationship with the diocese goes bad.  In an effort to solve a problem that dioceses have not been able to solve, the SCMD proposes “Resolution A065, Add Canons III.12.9.”

What to do about the breakdown in relationship between a bishop and the diocese is not new; there have been such conflicts from the very beginning of the Episcopal Church.  Here’s a series of examples, just from the 1800s:  a disputed episcopal election led to a schism in the diocese of Maryland; a disgruntled loser in an episcopal election contested the winner’s election and eventually a former retired bishop tried to step in and reclaim the see; one bishop was indefinitely suspended from the episcopal ministry; the House of Bishops changed its disciplinary procedures solely to deal with one particular bishop, tried him, convicted him, and then changed their procedures again; and they had to add in the right for the PB to inhibit/suspend a bishop when one went rogue and consecrated another bishop who in turn had already been deposed from the ministry by his own diocesan bishop.

We have had some conflicts in recent years as well, some very public, some on the down-low.  Bitter disputes in the diocese of New Jersey led to the bishop accepting a buyout.  More recently, we have the situation in the diocese of Pennsylvania, which warrants some elaboration here.  A long and acrimonious series of conflicts between Bishop Bennison and the diocese of Philadelphia resulted in charges being brought against him for conduct unbecoming of a member of the clergy – not for anything pertaining to his time as bishop, but for covering up his brother’s truly egregious sexual misconduct thirty years earlier when he was a rector and his brother served as youth minister.  Problem:  conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy had a statute of limitations, which had long since expired in Bishop Bennison’s case (not his brother; his charges do not have a statute of limitations).  Nonetheless, those bringing charges made the argument that since his brother’s sexual misconduct do not have a statute of limitations, and because the Bishop’s unbecoming conduct was directly related to something which did not have a statute of limitations, he could still be tried.  Bennison was convicted and deposed in an ecclesial trial and sentence was pronounced by the Presiding Bishop.  However, upon appeal, the verdict was thrown out,  with the appeals court rejecting the argument to extend the definition of statute of limitations to Bishop Bennison’s conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy from his brother’s offenses.  This bears elaboration because it shows how we are impacted by not having any way to mediate an intractable dispute between a bishop and a diocese; the diocese of Pennsylvania and initial trial court resorted to stretching the definitions of the canonical process in an effort to try to depose their bishop because they had no other options to resolve the impasse.

Disputes between a rector and a parish can also get acrimonious and ugly.  Rectors more or less have tenure:  a rector may not resign without the consent of the Vestry, and the Vestry cannot demand the Rector’s resignation.  We have a process for meditating disputes between a rector and a congregation (current Title III, Canon 9, Sections 12-13).  Either side can appeal to the bishop to mediate the dispute.  The bishop makes every effort to reconcile the parties involved and to find a resolution but, if unable to do so, may render a “godly judgment” which can be sweeping and which is not contestable or appealable.  COD was a member of a parish where the bishop, under this canon, ordered the rector and the vestry to resign, reduced the church to mission status, and appointed a priest-in-charge.  In his class on Constitution and Canons, COD refers to this as the “vampire bishop” canon.  While bishops do not have the kind of direct and sweeping authority in the Episcopal Church as they do in the Catholic Church or most Methodist churches, they can have enormous authority if you invite them in, like a vampire has to be invited into a household to gain entry.  Once asking a bishop to mediate, parishes and clergy are then bound by any godly judgment which may be issued.

There has been discussion on and off about dissolution of episcopal relationships, and a resolution was brought forward to the 2009 General Convention asking that this be studied.  Axios! Axios! to the SCMD for presenting a thorough and thought-out process to try to handle such situations thoughtfully, pastorally, and carefully.    It proposes the establishment of a Reconciliation Council involving the Presiding Bishop, President of the House of Deputies, Vice President of the House of Deputies, and Vice President of the House of Bishops.  The Reconciliation Council, if invited in by either the Bishop, Standing Committee, or diocesan Convention, can mediate the dispute, try to bring about a resolution, and, if unable to bring about a resolution of the conflict, take certain actions, including rendering binding judgment on all parties.

Despite his Axios! as usual, though, COD has a couple of thoughts.

In his usual bury-the-lede style (done solely to irritate COD’s journalist friends), you may wonder what the ghost of Samuel Seabury has to do with this proposed reconciliation process.  Well, in part it has to due with Seabury’s reluctance to join up with the group that was forming the Episcopal Church in 1780s, the William White and William Smith cool kids group.  Several General Conventions met in the 1780s, drawing up a Prayer Book and governing documents.  Seabury, bishop in Connecticut, objected to what these early Conventions were doing and no one from his state attended.  One of his concerns, among several, was that bishops should only be judged by other bishops.  A staunch loyalist who had served as a chaplain to the British Army during the Revolution and was receiving a pension from the Crown, he was concerned that the same republican spirit which had thrown off a divinely appointed monarch would likewise rise up and throw out any bishop they took a disliking to.  The notion that bishops would be subjected to the votes of clergy and lay people was anathema to him.  (This is an oversimplification of his objection, to be sure, and Seabury had other concerns as well – COD can recommend a number of fine books, the classics being “The Critical Years: The Reconstitution of the Anglican Church in the United States” by Clara Loveland and “Bishops By Ballot” by Fredrick Mills, along with Paul Marshall’s excellent recent work “One, Catholic, and Apostolic: Samuel Seabury and the Early Episcopal Church.”)

One thing which concerns COD in this resolution is that it places a disciplinary option in place outside of the Title IV canonical process, perhaps leading the ghost of Seabury, were he to be summoned Witch of Endor style, to say that he told us all so – are bishops be thrown out by grumpy diocesan conventions and having sentence placed on them outside a disciplinary process judged by bishops?  Bishop Bennison, after all, had his conviction overturned on appeal when judged by nine other bishops, whereas lower ecclesial courts have clergy, laity, and bishops serving. 

It comes down to the words “removal” and “restrict” and how those possible judgments are to be imposed.

In the process for the ending of a pastoral relationship between a Rector and a parish, dissolving the relationship is the strongest measure the bishop can take.  Restricting the Rector (in the language of that canon, “suspend”) is not an option, unless s/he fails to comply with the judgment.  Yet in the proposed canon for bishops, there are other options possible as part of the judgment of the Reconciliation Council:  “removal” and “restrict.”

--What is “removal”?  This needs to be clarified.  In the proposed resolution, the same word is used for the potential “removal” of members of the Standing Commission and “removal” of the bishop, leading one to think that maybe this means “resign”.  However, “removal” has technical definitions for clergy.  It can mean removing the name of a clergy person who has renounced the ordained ministry of this church.  Or, is this the sense of “removal” as outlined in the proposed canonical revisions to the renunciation of the ordained ministry (in which case it means, more or less, what we used to call renunciation of orders) which are proposed by a different Standing Commission not yet adopted (see Resolution A30)?  How are we to read this with regards to a bishop when the same word is used in regards to possibility of “removal” of members of the Standing Commission?  This needs clarification.   For instance, “removal” in the revised renunciation canons is initiated by someone seeking to be released from the ordained ministry of this church, which is profoundly different from a Reconciliation Council removing someone who has not initiated a renunciation process.  And if it is resignation, it needs to be consistent with the stipulation in the proposed canon that says any resignation negotiated as part of a settlement must be in compliance with Article II.6 of the Constitution and Canon III.12.8 (d), (e)

--What is “restrict” the ministry of the bishop?  In the revised Title IV, “restrict” is the new “inhibit”, where a bishop may place restrictions on the exercise of a clergy person or the PB may put restrictions on the exercise of ministry by a bishop. If this is possible as part of judgment of the Reconciliation Council, then is this being done outside of the Title IV disciplinary process?  If sufficient ground has been found to inhibit a bishop’s ministry, what is the rationale for not going through that process?

Coming back to the ghost of Samuel Seabury:  we regard to removal and restricting bishops, how is the sentence pronounced by the Reconciliation Council?  Is sentence being pronounced on a bishop by another bishop, as Samuel Seabury insisted as a condition for joining up with what would become the Episcopal Church and which has been part of our polity?  The judgment of the Council must be ratified by both a diocesan convention and the House of Bishops, but does this fulfill the canonical requirement that a bishop pronounce sentence on a bishop?

In addition to fearing Samuel Seabury’s ghost (COD did attend Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and has seen the relic of Bishop Seabury’s mitre, which looks more like an old time leather football helmet than a mitre), COD is perplexed by something which is left out of the proposed process:

--There is no compulsory compliance with the Reconciliation Committee.  For instance, in the disciplinary procedures, failure to comply with the disciplinary process is itself grounds for discipline.  There is no similar clause here; what would prevent a bishop or Standing Committee from simply refusing to participate in this process, refuse to meet with the Reconciliation Committee, refuse to complete any of the interviews or assessments?  One could argue that means you skip directly to the godly judgment, but part of me wonders if the consequences of lack of compliance might be more clearly laid out.

And last, but not least, COD has one other observation from the SCMD report:  the fact that the Commission had to set aside some resolutions of Convention simply because they did not have budget or staff adequately to address them.  General Convention must seriously look at the work it lays on Standing Commissions and staff.   After all, the SCLM felt the need to apply for outside grant funding in order to fulfill the mandate it had been given by the General Convention.  The SCMD simply did not act on some resolutions because it could not.  Convention must wake up to the reality of the unfunded mandates it routinely lays on Commissions and staff members.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Worse the WTF: Crusty Old Dean Ranks the SCLM Report

Just two posts into Crusty Old Dean's ranking of GC Resolution, and already a crisis on how to rank the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music's resolution A049, to authorize for trial use proposed liturgies for blessing same sex unions.  To remind you all, COD has devised the following ranking system:

Axios! (Greek for "Worthy!):  Resolutions receiving the coveted Axios ranking are GC doing what GC should probably be doing.
Meh:  A resolution which, in the words of the Book of Revelation, is neither hot nor cold, neither particularly visionary nor particularly harmful.
WTF?:  Resolutions which are ludicrous, useless, or will actually make the situation they are trying to solve worse.

COD finds himself in a crisis over the SCLM report for two reasons:

1)  COD finds himself with his first split ranking on a resolution; and
2)  because he was unaware, until now, that there was a ranking worse than WTF.

Digression:  COD supports blessing of committed, mutually supportive, monogamous partnerships, whether same gendered or opposite gendered.  He believes we should get out of the legal aspects of marrying completely, require all people to register their marriage/union according to the civil process, and then bless that in our liturgy.  COD has supported same sex blessings for years, from when he chaired his church's worship committee in the 1990s and drafted a blessing of same sex unions.

So why the reason for the decision?

1)  On the basis of the liturgies themselves, COD gives his first Axios!  They are thoughtful and well-written.

2)  It is the process which is the problem.  As the SCLM report points out, a grant from a foundation funded the work on these liturgies as well as a meeting of deputies during the triennium.  COD finds it completely unconscionable that an outside, partisan organization funded the work of a Standing Commission which drafts legislation.  What do we think the reaction would be, say, if the National Rifle Association (NRA) or American Israel Public Acton Committee (AIPAC), a lobbying group that supports policies of the Israeli government, provided a grant to support the work of our Office of Governmental Relations in Washington?    Yet no outcry when the Arcus Foundation, specifically devoted to advance LBGT equality, is funding the work of the SCLM, outside of the normal budgetary process, with the money essentially laundered by one of the church's seminaries to preserve the charade? COD is all the more upset by this because of his support for the liturgies themselves and the full inclusion of LBGT people in the life of the church.

The implications of this decision have the potential to be staggering.  As we look towards reduced resources for General Convention and denominational staff, should the church now tailor and modify what we do so as to make it more attractive to outside funding?  Should we absolve ourselves of the need adequately to prioritize our resources when we can decide to fund things outside of the budgetary process?  Will those issues which are pet projects of those in leadership be the ones which get fast-tracked for outside funding?  There are other implications and questions raised by this action, yet it was taken with little discussion or consultation.

When it comes to the process for producing these liturgies, this resolution ranks worse than WTF.  Where was the oversight from Executive Council, or the Presiding Bishop, or the President of the House of Deputies, who used money from this grant to fund the "historic" meeting of deputies in between Conventions?  It would be a shame if the PB and PHOD, who have done so much for this church, should have as part their legacies Standing Commissions for Sale.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Thoughts on PHOD's Retirement

Bonnie Anderson announced this week that she will not seek re-election as President of the House of Deputies.  This puts the House of Deputies in a very interesting position, something akin to the 2008 presidential election, which was one of the few elections wide-open in both parties, with no incumbents or quasi-incumbents (like a sitting VP running for a nomination).  Bonnie's announcement leaves us with vacancies in both the President and Vice President of the House of Deputies -- President, because the incumbent is not seeking re-election; Vice President, which is vacant since Brian Prior's resignation to after being elected Bishop of Minnesota.

Bonnie has been an energetic and dedicated President of the House of Deputies, and for once COD is snarkless: the Episcopal Church would be lost, rudderless, and ineffective without the gifts and talents of so many lay persons who serve the church out of love and dedication, and not because they are getting a sweet Church Pension Group payday at the end of their time.  Throughout the history of Christianity, oft the place of dedicated lay persons who make up the 99% can be lost in a sea of clergy who get the headlines and often write the histories.

However, COD hopes that something will not be lost in the coming weeks and months as the jockeying begins for election for VPHOD and PHOD: conversations about the proper role of the President of the House of Deputies in the life of the church, and what office, if any, could be a parallel to the Primate or a clear-cut #2 elected position in the Episcopal Church.  COD has been troubled by some sense that the PHOD could be seen as a kind of #2 in the Episcopal Church, or even a kind of Co-Primate.

To take a broader perspective, there really is no single elected or appointed leadership position in the Episcopal Church after or alongside the Presiding Bishop, who is designated as the Chief Pastor and Primate for this Province of the Anglican Communion.   There are, however, a number of other elected and appointed offices.  There is the Canon to the Presiding Bishop, who is appointed by the PB and deals with many pastoral and canonical matters.  There is the Chief Operating Officer, also an appointed position, who handles many personnel and management issues for the staff of the Church Center.  There is the Secretary of the General Convention, an elected office that has responsibility for many issues and areas of polity and governance.  And there is the PHOD, who presides over the House of Deputies.

This is not the case in other Anglican provinces, which often elect a General Secretary as a province-wide leadership position in addition to the Primate.  You can see the way the Episcopal Church is out of sync in this regard when there is the meeting of General Secretaries of member Provinces of the Anglican Communion; we are one of the few provinces that sends more than one person because no one person has the kind of job description other General Secretaries do.

Also, our ecumenical partners often have a designated leadership position in addition to the Head of Communion/Primate.  The ELCA has a Secretary elected by the Churchwide Assembly for a 6-year term, which combines some of the functions of the Canon to the PB, PHOD, and Secretary of the GC.  The Presbyterian Church USA has a Stated Clerk who is considered head of the communion, and also has a Moderator of the General Assembly, an elected position which involves governance and mission (imagine if all the denominational staff worked more directly for Standing Commissions -- not a perfect analogy, but a sense of how it works for the PCUSA whereby the denominational mission structure is a direct extension of the General Assembly).

The PHOD in recent years -- and here COD means more the office, not the person -- has acted in ways almost as a kind of Co-Primate.  In a particularly startling move, the PHOD wrote directly to the individuals involved in the ecclesial trial of Bishop of Pennsylvania Charles Bennison, a letter later released publicly, in which she called on the House of Bishops (which would be gathering in a couple of weeks) to "consider the matter" and "prevail on Bishop Bennison to resign."  Startling not because of the issues involved -- many, many people have wished Bishop Bennison would resign -- but by the PHOD issuing a public letter to someone in which she calls upon the HOB to take action.  Had the situation been reversed, and the HOB called upon the PHOD or HOD to take certain actions, there most likely would have been an outcry that the Bishops were meddling in the workings of other church governing bodies.  The PHOD also organized the first-ever meeting of deputies in between meetings of General Convention in Atlanta in March of 2011, which she termed "historic", and which one could not help but think was an effort to parallel meetings of bishops in between meetings of General Convention.

As COD has said before, this is troubling because the office of PHOD cannot be a Co-Primate, and cannot be by itself to be understood as a chief leadership position in addition or alongside the Presiding Bishop, for a couple of reasons.  For one, the PHOD is an office of governance.  The PHOD presides over the HOD and makes appointments to various bodies, and sits on various governance bodies by virtue of office -- it is an office defined by a particular role and function directly related to governance.  The Presiding Bishop used to be the same way:  the senior bishop in terms of consecration who consecrated and passed ecclesial sentence on other bishops, and presided over the HOB.

For another, the PHOD is not representative.  The PHOD is nominated and elected by the HOD based solely on members of the HOD.  The Presiding Bishop used to be the same way; simply the senior bishop in terms of consecration, with no selection or input from outside the HOB.  Nominees for PB, by contrast, are now selected by a committee representative of clergy and laity drawn from across the church; elected by the HOB; with consent of the HOD.   The Secretary of the ELCA, for instance, can be any lay or clergy person in the entire ELCA, not just a voting member of their Churchwide Assembly.

As we can see, the PB used to be like the PHOD:  a fairly limited office of governance.  What is important, though, is that the church has gone through a lengthy and extended discussion about the nature and role of the Presiding Bishop for most of the 20th century, and have made numerous and substantive changes and reforms to the office, debated in General Convention and defined by canon.

If the Episcopal Church is to have an additional churchwide leadership position drawn from the lay or clerical orders in addition to or alongside the Presiding Bishop, it must be a position that is created or adapted through a similar process of conversation.   Crusty Old Dean would strongly endorse the creation of such an office, perhaps similar to the way other provinces have a General Secretary.  Otherwise, trying to imagine a PHOD as representative leadership position would be like saying the Speaker of the House of Representatives should be Co-President or Vice President.

PS:  And FWIW, COD is putting his money on Gay Jennings as next PHOD, if COD could put his money on someone.  You know, in Britain you can almost bet on anything (check out most recent odds on the next Archbishop of Canterbury here from multiple betting sites).  COD has long argued for a GC in Reno or Las Vegas, so that local casinos could post betting action on things like this.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Introducing the Crusty Old Dean Resolution Ranking System: The Ridiculous Bishops' Vote Compromise

Ah, it's like Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and a wedding reception gift table all in one:  Crusty Old Dean finally received his hard copy of the Reports to General Convention, otherwise known as the [sometime] Blue Book.

As COD's child put it when COD was leafing through a report:  "What's that book you're reading?"  COD:  "It's called the Blue Book."  Him:  "It's not Blue.  And it's a pretty thick book."  COD:  "Well said, sir, well said."

COD is slowly going through the reports and resolutions, savoring each like a truffle wrapped in bacon.  Over the next several weeks COD plans on noting some of the more interesting and/or relevant ones, and will do so with the


All resolutions will be ranked according to the following scale, based on a scientific survey of one person, me.

Axios!:  Meaning "worthy!" this is the cry of the assembly at ordinations in the Orthodox Churches when asked for their consent, thereby signifying their approval.  Resolutions receiving the coveted Axios ranking will be resolutions which are what the General Convention should be doing, exercising its fiduciary and missional oversight of the church.

Meh:  Coming from The Simpsons (though its origin is in dispute), "meh" is an term signifying general indifference.  Resolutions designated "meh" are ones which are relatively anodyne.

WTF?:  Truly astounding resolutions which are either a complete waste of time at best, or, worse, will make whatever situation they are trying to solve worse.

Let's start off with a good WTF resolution:  A028, from the Standing Committee on Constitution and Canons

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That Article I, Section 2 of the
Constitution be amended as follows:
Sec. 2. Each Bishop of this Church having jurisdiction, every Bishop Coadjutor,
every Suffragan Bishop, every Assistant Bishop, and every Bishop who by reason
of advanced age or bodily infirmity, or who, under an election to an office created
by General Convention, or for reasons of mission strategy determined by action of
General Convention or the House of Bishops, has resigned jurisdiction, shall have
a seat and a vote in the House of Bishops. Only Bishops having jurisdiction shall
have a vote on matters which, if adopted, would require a specific
appropriation of funds. A majority of all Bishops entitled to vote, exclusive of
Bishops who have resigned their jurisdiction or positions, shall be necessary to
constitute a quorum for the transaction of business.

To review: the question of voting for retired/resigned bishops has been one which the General Convention has labored away at tediously.  The first discussions on the question of voting for retired bishops came up in 1946.  Since then, a variety of attempts have been made to permit only active bishops to have a vote in the House of Bishops (HOB).  All of these resolutions, with minor variation in wording, would allow for all bishops actively serving as diocesan, coadjutor, suffragan, assisting, or in some other capacity or office (denominational staff, seminary dean, etc.)  to have voice and vote.  Bishops who had resigned their jurisdictions and were retired, not actively serving in any of the categories outlined, would have voice but not vote.  The wording in these various efforts changes slightly, but in essence here is the saga of the past 66 years to take away the vote from retired bishops (with a reminder that since this would be a change to the Constitution, it takes votes by both Houses at consecutive General Conventions, in essence a 1st reading and 2nd reading):

1946 -- failed in HOB in part because it was poorly worded

1949 -- passed both HOB and HOD

1952 -- on second reading, failed in HOD.

1958 -- rejected in HOB.

1988--  Resolution came from Standing Commission on Structure of the Church.  First reading, passed  59-46 in the HOB and overwhelmingly by orders in the House of Deputies (HOD).

1991 -- needed a second reading; failed in HOB on a voice vote.

1997 -- Introduced as a  "B" resolution, meaning it was proposed by the bishops. First reading, passed 108-72 in HOB.  Defeated on vote by orders in HOD, failed by 9 votes in lay order and 4 in clerical order.

2003 -- Another B resolution, another proposal from the bishops' themselves.  First reading, passed overwhelmingly in the HOB, 127-30 with 7 abstentions.  Passed in HOD.

2006 -- Up for a second reading -- not so fast!  The 2003 resolution was amended in the legislative committee...thus it was not a second reading, but a first reading of a slightly amended version of the one that passed both Houses in 2003.  So that makes it:

2006 -- first reading:  proposal passed in both Houses.

2009 --  second reading of revised proposal of 2003 effort.  Passed overwhelmingly in the HOD.  HOB didn't even vote on it, referred it to the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons.

So there you have it, at least the church has made a mess of this in every possible way:  it has failed in HOB, it has failed in HOD, it has failed narrowly, it has passed overwhelmingly, it has been referred to Committee.  There was some real energy behind it in the 2000s, when it passed both Houses in 2003, then in 2006 when, despite being amended slightly, it was again passed by both Houses, then made it to the HOD in 2009, which passed it overwhelmingly, only in a stunning move to have the bishops themselves -- who kept the whole issue alive with B resolutions in 1997 and 2003 and passed it in 2003 and 2006 -- not even vote on the matter but refer it.

That's the legislative history.  The main argument against allowing resigned bishops having votes is that they are voting on matters for which they are not answerable -- they are not representative of any diocese or constituency, they are not responsible for implementation of matters they vote on, nor will they have to deal with any consequences of what they vote on.  NEARLY EVERY OTHER CHRISTIAN COMMUNION WITH BISHOPS, including the Orthodox and Roman Catholics and other provinces of the Anglican Communion, do not permit resigned/retired bishops to vote.  Heck, United Methodists do not let ACTIVE bishops vote at their General Conference.

The main arguments for allowing resigned bishops to vote -- well, that seems to change from Convention to Convention.  At one Convention, is was the whole "once a bishop, always a bishop" kind of argument -- though frankly that argument seems to miss the distinction between ontological character and function of office.  Retired bishops may confirm and ordain; COD doesn't recall "voting in the HOB" in the Prayer Book examination of a bishop as essential to the office.  After all, we don't let rectors emeritus stroll in and vote in the parish annual meeting, do we?   In 2009 it seemed to presented almost as a protest against age-ism, that somehow the wisdom of older bishops was being scorned.

Which brings us to the current resolution:  which, to COD, seems a truly bizarre affront to the office of bishop.  This resolution, as written, would still allow ALL bishops to have voice and vote on matters EXCEPT for when funds are specifically appropriated, when only bishops with jurisdiction would be permitted to vote.

This resolution gets COD's first WTF?? ranking. After twenty-four years, and numerous votes and endless discussion on this matter, this is the Solomonic compromise proposed?

Unlike the varying and changing reasons trotted out nearly every three years to keep retired bishops their vote, the problem with this resolution is clear:  it is unjust and contrary to our democratic polity.

Because we are unable to decide what to do about retired bishops, we are proposing, instead, to take the vote away from ACTIVE bishops?  Read the resolution:  only bishops with jurisdiction may vote on matters where specific funds are to be allocated.  Bishops with jurisdiction are coadjutors and diocesans.  Thus suffragan bishops, elected by diocesan Convention, are excluded.  Assisting Bishops -- whose appointment a bishop must get approval from the Standing Committee and the diocesan convention -- are excluded.  Bishops serving in other areas, such as ones who may serve on the DFMS staff (like our current Chief Operating Officer) and currently have a voice and vote, are excluded.

So bishops elected by or appointed or endorsed by representative bodies in our church (suffragan and assisting) are excluded, as are bishops serving in active ministry and given a vote according to Canon and the rules of the HOB.  These currently serving, active bishops who would be directly impacted by these votes with fiduciary implications are having their votes taken away.  For example:  as written, a bishop who resigned, was elected a seminary dean, and granted seat and vote in the House of Bishops according to the rules, would be unable to vote on a resolution which, say, changed the General Ordination Exams, or any other matter pertaining to theological education, if there was a monetary request involved -- even though her ministry would be directly affected.  Whereas retired bishops, unaccountable and representative to no entity, could still vote on everything other than fiduciary matters.  A similar argument finally swayed the General Convention of 1943 finally to give vote to suffragan bishops.  Established at the 1910 Convention, for 33 years suffragan bishops did not have vote in the HOB (in part because some of them were African Americans and thus there was an extension of the de jure segregation of the church to the HOB) until the 1943 Convention.  One argument cited in the Convention Journal was that it was unjust to permit retired bishops to vote but not active bishops.  Are we repeating a similar process, so that in order to safeguard the vote of unaccountable bishops we are restricting voting rights for active bishops?

Congratulations, first WTF resolution:  you earn this ranking as a resolution which actually makes a problem worse, not better.  Reject this utterly preposterous resolution.  Address the issue properly or don't address it at all.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Guns, Germs, and The Episcopal Church: Manifesto for Radical Change

Two of the most informative books on institutional and organization structure Crusty Old Dean ever read was a pair by Jared Diamond:  Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies (1999) and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005).   In these works, Diamond points out a number of different cultures, societies, and organizations that self-destructed, sometimes due to factors beyond their control, sometimes due to disasters of their own creation. 

COD strongly recommends both books for reasons having nothing to do with inside baseball ecclesial blathering; they are outstanding books by a top notch scholar, the first having won the Pulitzer.  Anyway, COD has several takeaways from Diamond which are churning in his head.

For Diamond, there are a number of reasons why societies collapse.  Some are outside, unexpected, and catastrophic:  how would Native American cultures, some large and elaborate like the Aztecs, know that in a few years some outlandish looking people from out of nowhere would suddenly arrive and decimate 90% of their population with germs they had no immunity to?  Many, many societies, however, collapse due in large part to decisions of their own making.  A couple which are relevant here:

Societies collapse because they can presume the out-of-ordinary to be normal, and be unwilling or unable to adapt when things change.  As an example of this he cites Native American civilizations in what is now the American southwest.  Scientists have been able to demonstrate that, at times, the American southwest suffers through catastrophic droughts, lasting years and years, almost like the seasons on Westeros (read Diamond to see the science, read George R.R. Martin to learn more about seasons on Westeros).  Native American cultures overbuilt during good years, and, when the drought set in, were unwilling to believe what was happening or unwilling or unable to adapt -- and thus the civilization died out.  Let the reader understand:  have we Americans, hundreds of years later, overbuilt in places like New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada?  These are areas which are barely sustainable under current conditions; what if a 100-year-long drought sets in?  This will have a ripple effect, since southern California, in turn, is watered by resources diverted from the potential drought stricken area.  Are we even remotely ready or prepared to deal with what happens if a catastrophic, decades-long drought hits, as we now know they have in the past?

So one problem is taking the blips, the anomalies, to be normative.  COD is convinced that the Episcopal Church has, in a way, done something similar.  We have taken the period from 1950-1990 (give or take a few years) as somehow a normative and determinative time period -- what it means to be the Episcopal Church is what occurred during this period -- when, in fact, it was a blip, an anomaly.

Any perusal into the history of the Episcopal Church prior to this period will reveal a litany of concerns.  Just to name a few:  For one, it wasn't until the period around WW I that the Episcopal Church had more ordained clergy than lay readers.  The church had a chronic and persistent clergy shortage for most of its existence, which, in turn, impeded its ability to engage in domestic and foreign missions, which, in turn, impeded effort at growth.  For another, there were chronic struggles adequately to establish institutions.  Colleges, schools, and seminaries opened and closed.  William Augustus Muehlenberg, considered one of the foremost presbyters of this church in the 1800s, founded a series of institutions that flopped for every St Luke's Hospital that eventually thrived.  Dioceses were established that were unsustainable and had to be re-merged with other dioceses (Duluth; Western Nebraska; we could name some more).  Seems, at times, we have forgotten all of this.  The thought of a diocese merging with another is seen as some unimaginable failure rather than something which happened not unfrequently.  We fret about finding enough resources to meet missional needs, without remembering that the first incarnation of the DFMS was so woefully underfunded that the whole thing was scrapped.

The experience of Anglicanism in the United States has been one of chronic struggle for most of its existence.  The same William Augustus Muehlenberg presented a memorial (in essence a resolution) to the 1853 General Convention lamenting that the Episcopal Church was simply missing the boat on what was happening in the USA and was going to lose out on the opportunities for mission and evangelism, thus jeopardizing its future (any of this sound familiar?).  The General Convention referred it to a committee, and, three years later, rejected any of the suggestions for more dramatic, structural changes and only approved the option of allowing Morning Prayer and the Communion service to be used as separate and distinct forms of worship (at a time when MP, Litany, Ante-Communion/Liturgy of the Word, and Communion were often the order of the day on communion Sundays).  Hmmm...General Convention reluctant to act on a proposal for significant change in the face of struggles of the church to accommodate to massive changes in society?  Thank goodness that'll never happen again.

Anyway, back to Diamond:  So one major problem we have is that we embrace the blip -- 1950-1990, when the church grew, in part because of positive steps and actions taken, but in part due to factors utterly beyond our control, like a population surge in our core demographic -- as normative.  This includes taking things like establishing a large centralized church organization headed by a CEO in New York City as the normative way to organize for mission, because this was also a time of consolidation and coordination by centralized institutions, in both church and society.  We had the first full-time Presiding Bishop beginning in the 1940s, accelerating developments begun in 1919 with the establishment of the Executive Council (originally National Council) and making the PB and elective office.  We look back on this period from 1950-1990 as normative, when one could argue, if anything, it was out of the ordinary for our experience.  For almost all of its existence prior to 1950, the Episcopal Church was a collection of networks (dioceses, missionary organizations, etc.) loosely connected and coordinated.

Reading Diamond, it's important to note there's nothing inherently wrong with assuming the anomaly is normative, it happens to almost all organizations and cultures at some time.  It's how you react when the real normal comes back, or when a new normal emerges, which is important. 

One reaction is refusal to acknowledge this.  One of the more comical demonstrations of this to COD is the endless angst and spinning of numbers from the "golden age" of the blip.  Instead of even knowing how much the Episcopal Church scraped and struggled, or admitting much of the growth from 1950-1990 was us riding a wave which lifted a lot of mainline Protestant boats, we instead ascribe it to our own abilities and as part of an inexorable process of growth and expansion.  And thus follows, in some places, the spinning of numbers in the "decline", perhaps the most disingenuous being that this decline is due to decisions made which have driven out conservatives.  With membership peaking in 1966 at roughly 3.6 million and now just under 2 million, there is the outlandish argument that this 40% decline is due to ordination of women, prayer book revision, and consecrating an openly gay bishop.  (Make no mistake:  the decline is real, but a decline due to a number of different factors).  These persons making such arguments are either delusional or deliberately deceptive -- the single largest number quantifiable in that "decline" is a result of the "loss" of thousands of members of the Episcopal Church from dioceses which became independent of the Episcopal Church in the 1980s and 1990s: the Philippines, Panama, etc.  The majority of the rest has to do with demographics (were are old, old, old compared to broader society -- folks are moving from the pew to the columbarium) and colossal failures in evangelism and discipleship (nobody coming into the pew to replace those heading out).  Those colossal failures are legion: an inability or unwillingness to embrace cultural diversity (we are overwhelmingly white, white, white in an increasingly multicultural society; the Roman Catholic Church is losing Anglo members but maintains slow growth, under 1%, because of ministry to Hispanic/Latino, Asian, and African communities), just to name one.  To be sure, some of these losses do come from those who left the church in reaction to certain decisions taken, but this probably only makes up 5-10% of that decline, if that much.  You can read more of my reflections on "decline" here.

In fact, if you want to draw the circle even wider, one could argue that we are witnessing the end of another blip:  the whole period from 500-1900 or so when Christianity held a privileged place in North American and Western societies.  First beginning in Europe in the 1800s and 1900s, waves of secularization are coming ashore in the USA.  This is going to wash away many notions in the West of what the church should be: a building belonging to an organization people join and hire a clergy person to minister to them which in turn is part of cluster of churches holding vaguely similar beliefs that pretends the culture as a whole thinks it has something to say.  That blip is over as well.  And guess what?  Much of Christianity prior to, say, 400 can be described as diverse, loosely connected set of networks...maybe the new normal is just the old normal?  (If you want to learn more, read Crusty Old Dean's 2005 page-turner, "The Past is Prologue: the Revolution of Nicene Historiography, available here, for only $167.)

COD finds himself thinking that restructuring is so 2011.  The past few months have convinced him that one the one hand the scope of change we are looking at in the next 50 years is so profound, and, on the other hand, how utterly incapable governing structures currently are at shaping a discussion about what is needed (a quick run-through of the Blue Book Report shows that nothing of substance will likely emerge from this General Convention this summer, brought to us by the same people who can't use Excel properly).

Collapse, my friends.  That's what's coming.

So COD offers the following:

1)  Realize the blip is not normative, and that the much of the structures we have cannot be tweaked because the structures are part of the blip.

2)  Dismantle national church structures to be solely canonical governance.  Looks like we will spend 2012, just like we did in 2009, letting the General Convention and the Politburo that makes decisions slowly decide what we cannot do (in 2009, things like Liturgy & Music, Theological Education, and others; in 2012, Youth & Young Adult; in 2015, what next?) so they can struggle to do what they think they can still do or prefer to do.  A slow, slow death march to irrelevance.  Begin to end it now; shut it down but do so in order to

3)  Begin a process to fully empower dioceses, provinces, networks to do the mission of the church.  We have some assets:  $250 million in endowment funds held by the DFMS; property in New York; a series of networks which, at times some more successfully than others, coordinated by denominational staff; a network of over 7,000 parishes and 100 dioceses and many, many affiliation based groups and networks.  Empower the networks fully instead of having them have stuff periodically dumped on them every three years.  We will still do many of the things we used to do, but in different ways, with broader buy-in and support -- maybe Forma (formerly NAECED) or provinces would hire Young Adult & Youth Ministry network coordinators to work with congregations and dioceses instead of what 815 used to do.

Or, maybe like those germs which devastated the Aztecs, maybe a whole new and unexpected way of doing church is going to emerge.  Or maybe it's already here and we can't fully empower it blowing millions on a building in New York and on holding a once-every-three-years meeting.
4)  End parishes as clubs for members with a chaplain to minister to them, set up as Ponzi schemes for committees, which sees recruitment as getting people to serve on committees.  Would many of the towns where our Episcopal churches are located even notice, or care, if they were to close?  How many of our parishes function solely as clubs for the gathered?  How many dioceses have 10%, 15%, 20%, of their parishes on diocesan support?  How many dioceses are struggling to function?  We have to change not only the diocesan structure, but fundamentally reshape what it means to be a parish and a diocese.  Some of many options which are available, should we be willing to pursue them:

--We could recruit and train non-stipendiary priests to gracefully end parishes which are unwilling or unable to engage in any actual mission, evangelism, or discipleship; even develop a system of training and education for non-stipendiary priests which wouldn't make them have to drop everything to go to seminary.

--In turn, for what full time clergy we have, train them not to be chaplains to a gathered community but missionaries and community organizers.  This will also require a fundamental rethinking of seminary education in how we train such folks.  You know, COD is a Dean, and is ready to partner with whomever is willing to work on the two points above.

A good portion of the Episcopal Church, and most of Christianity in Europe and North America, is going to collapse in the next 50 years.  How much?  50%?  75%?  Decisions we make will help determine exactly the scale and scope of that collapse.

A cursory study of the history of the Episcopal Church shows that at many times people lamented whether it would survive, and at other times showed a constant litany of concerns about growth, organization, governance, and finance.  Yet we can also learn from the past that, despite all of this, many believed Episcopal Church and Anglicanism have a charism to tap into something greater.  By being a church catholic and reformed; by not being tied to a particular ethnic group; but not defining itself solely by theological confessionalism; by combining historic catholic order and representative governance.   People like William Augustus Muhlenberg, William Reed Hungington, and others argued this in the 1800s.  In our own time people like Brian McLaren and Diana Butler Bass and Peter Rollins are pondering whether Anglicanism is missing out on exploring how it can tap into a new Great Awakening in the religious trends sweeping our way, instead wrapped up in internal squabbles.

We can do so again.   However, the only way to be resurrected is to die.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Shareholder Activism on the Budget!

In one of those interesting twists of Episcopal Church polity, the corporate name of the church is actually the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. Founded in 1821 as a member-based organization, funded by dues and subscriptions, the DFMS worked to promote missionary work. It did not go well, to put it mildly, so in 1835 the DFMS was kind of re-founded. It got a new charter, stating, in part, that all members of the Episcopal Church were considered members of the missionary society. Later, other mission organizations of church were folded into the DFMS (like the Board of Missions) and the constitution of the DFMS was embedded into the Canons of the Episcopal Church: as a noted sage once wrote, the DFMS became the legal entity the Episcopal Church scuttled into like an ecclesial hermit crab. When COD worked out of 815, the name on his paychecks was DFMS. In the old days of the internet, redirected you to the Episcopal Church website. The legal incorporation of the DFMS, and thus of The Episcopal Church, is in the state of New York.

Thus we are all members of the DFMS -- shareholders, in a sense. Perhaps that is fitting.

It has been noted that the proposed 2013-2015 budget includes a proposal for almost a $3.8 million draw from endowment principal - not interest, from the principal -- to fund a development office. You can see the details from Episcopal Cafe here.

Crusty Old Dean raised an eyebrow at this as he himself looked over the 2013-2015 budget, for one major reason: Bexley Hall Seminary, where COD is D, is legally incorporated in the state of New York as well as Ohio due to its 40-year sojourn from 1968-2008 as part of the Colgate-Rochester-Crozier Divinity School consortium. In 2010, New York state passed its version of the Universal Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Acts (NY-UPMIFA) which lays down guidelines for how nonprofits should manage and spend from endowed funds. As dean of an institution incorporated in New York, COD has been spending hours working to be in compliance with this act, in partnership with our Investment Committee. We have been updating our investment policies, examining what funds may have restrictions based on the intent of the donor, what funds are unrestricted, and so on.

There are many provisions to UPMIFA which keeps COD busy, but one which is sticking in COD's head is the question of "prudence." The Act presumes "prudent" management and spending of endowed funds and requires non-profit organizations to demonstrate prudence.  One is apparently not required to play "Dear Prudence" by the Beatles while demonstrating compliance.   However, there is an 8-step process organizations are *formally* supposed to go through when appropriating funds from endowments. Here is a checklist organizations need to show that they have gone through and discussed; we at Bexley have made sure that the Executive Committee of this seminary and the Board of Trustees have documented our efforts to be in compliance with all eight of these steps when making draws from endowments to fulfill the standard of financial "prudence" mentioned in the Act. The governing body of the organization must consider the following:

1) the duration and preservation of the endowment fund,
2) the purposes of the organization and the endowment fund,
3) general economic conditions,
4) the possible effect of inflation or deflation,
5) the expected total return from income and the appreciation of investments,
6) other resources of the organization,
7) the investment policy of the organization, and
8) alternatives to expenditure of the endowment fund, giving due consideration to the effect that such alternatives may have on the organization.

One could ask whether drawing from principal funds of an endowment to fund a staff position outside of the normal budgetary process meets this standard of "prudence," especially number 8 on the list.  This begs the larger question: has the Episcopal Church shown it is in compliance with UPMIFA standards? Can it document the process it has gone through in appropriating endowment funds? Has it, in fact, explored alternatives to this expenditure, and examined other resources of the organization? How to deal with the fact that a subcommittee of its Executive Council recommended against establishing a development office (though apparently this report was never adopted by the Executive Council)? Is this principal draw from restricted assets or unrestricted assets? Are there any donor intents which need to be taken into account?  What, exactly, is the train of decision making processes that go into requesting endowment draws?  Given the recent implosions at Executive Council, pardon COD if "trust us" isn't really a good enough answer.

Crusty Old Dean has been demanding more accountability, transparency, and consultation as part of our budgetary process. The recent debacle and apology issued by the co-chairs of PB&F, acknowledging gross errors in the budget adopted by Executive Council, is even more evidence of a budget system which simply is not working.

As part of a process of transparency and accountability, maybe it's time for some corporate shareholder activism in our DFMS.

Bishops and Deputies, who can propose resolutions: draft one that demands demonstrated compliance with NY UPMIFA, especially before drawing principal from an endowment, with a description of the process and procedures documented to show how we are in compliance.  If the DFMS is in compliance, COD will be thrilled, pleased, grateful, and relieved. Otherwise, there is some explaining to do.

Let's remember WE are the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, every Episcopalian, by virtue of our membership in this Church. This is OUR budget funded by OUR money and OUR endowment given by OUR forebears. Let's begin demanding accountability and transparency, and UPMIFA compliance is a good first step.