My first reaction to TREC’s latest letter was: Lazarus? Really? Does that mean the Episcopal Church stinketh? My second reaction was, We’re not dead yet! We’re feeling much better!
My third reaction was a sigh of frustration. Way back in the halcyon days of 2012, when we passed that resolution on restructuring, and sang a hymn, and left Convention feeling uplifted and hopeful about the future of the church, in a few places you could hear a quiet little cautionary voice: Everyone’s happy now. But just wait till somebody starts making some actual proposals to change things. Then watch all the forces of keeping-things-the-same in the Episcopal Church rise up and sabotage any actual change that might occur. (Religio-leadership wonks have a fancy word for this – homeostasis: the tendency of any system to sabotage change that might threaten an unhealthy system with health.)
It’s not too surprising that the forces of sabotage have risen up this early in the restructuring process to prevent any change. What’s surprising is that resistance to any real change seems to be coming from within TREC itself.
Wait, what are you talking about, Susan? TREC did propose some changes. Yes, it did – but on the most important issue it has addressed so far – the role of the Presiding Bishop and the balance of power within our system – TREC has decided that we should remain the same as we are now, only more so. Way more so.
What’s funny about this is that earlier in its thinking process, TREC really did come up with some creative ideas to change the system for better health and functioning: it proposed alternatives to the almost unlimited power of the Presiding Bishop. These alternatives would create a General Secretary or CEO position responsible for administrative leadership, would appropriately allow both the PB and the CEO to exercise separate sets of spiritual gifts, and would clarify a better balance with the governance role of Executive Council. These were good and creative ideas.
But reading between the lines and with no inside information, it looks like the forces of homeostasis within TREC itself rose up, fearful of change, to sabotage these creative alternatives, and the solution they are proposing is: to keep things just the way they are. Only more so.
Gosh, maybe we really do stinketh.
I’ll talk more about the balance of power in our system in a minute. But first, let me give credit where credit is due and say what I think TREC got right.
- Times are changing and we need a church-wide structure that is a spur and support for local innovation, not a regulatory agency. Yep.
- The roles of staff, Executive Council, Presiding Bishop, and General Convention are sometimes overlapping and unclear. Yep.
- We need to move toward a networked model for supporting each other in ministry. Yep.
- We need better leadership that sets visionary priorities, develops goals and objectives related to those priorities, and creates accountability to make sure those goals and objectives are met. Yep.
- The highest visionary priorities for our church to address, which TREC identifies toward the bottom of its letter, include evangelism, community leadership, non-traditional parish formation, and so on. Yep.
So – TREC has correctly identified many of the issues before the church.
Having given praise where praise is due, let us now return to TREC’s incomprehensible support for keeping the most important church structures Just The Way They Are (only more so).
Did we set up TREC to re-structure the church, by the way? Or did we just want them to hammer harder at the current structure to keep it standing a bit longer, however rickety it might be?
The Role of the Presiding Bishop
Here is what TREC has proposed: have the Presiding Bishop also act as Chief Executive Officer, in charge of nominating a Chief Operating Officer, Treasurer/CFO, and Chief Legal Officer. The PB could fire any of these people at will.
Guess what: this is almost exactly the structure we have now, except that it increases the power of the PB in some small but significant ways. For instance, now the PB and PHoD together nominate the COO and CFO. TREC proposes to take the PHoD mostly out of it, centralizing this power in the hands of the episcopate. And in reducing the role of Executive Council, as TREC seems to suggest, they would also be strengthening the office of PB – the same as now, only more so.
It’s an unhealthy structure. Here’s why.
First, for the most part in the church, we love our bishops, and our Presiding Bishop, and we are glad to have them as partners in ministry. But we can’t by any stretch regard the election of the PB as a process that represents the whole church. She/he is elected by the House of Bishops, which is one hundred percent clergy and is not even close to representing the diversity of the church (it is overwhelmingly male, white, straight, and middle-aged or elderly, counting the retired bishops who vote, for instance).
Most important of all: barring a disciplinary offense, the PB has very little accountability to anyone.
That means that once the PB is elected by the most exclusive club in the church (the House of Bishops), the rest of the church has very little input or say in how she or he runs the office, manages the staff, follows the priorities set by General Convention, leads the governing structures of the church, or anything else. The Presiding Bishop has all the power.
That is not a healthy balance for any church. Not even Rome. And I do not believe it was the intention of the original founders of the Episcopal constitution, who set up a careful balance of lay, clergy, and episcopal power. Since that time, as a corporate bureaucracy has developed, more and more power has accrued to the office of an unaccountable Presiding Bishop.
To be clear: I’m fine with the Primate and Presiding Officer of the House of Bishops being mostly unaccountable to the rest of the church. That’s appropriate, given our view of the episcopate. What I’m not fine with is having that Primate also be the person who sets all the priorities and rules the staff, with no accountability to anyone for those decisions. We have carefully set up a governance system that involves all orders of ministry. Now TREC is proposing to undercut that system.
This restructuring process is our chance to change that unhealthy balance. And TREC has retreated in fear from any change; in fact it has capitulated to the forces that say: choose one heroic leader to save us! Give us a king! With no explanation as to why it abandoned its earlier, more creative proposals.
Look, maybe we’ll keep things the same and the next PB elected will be perfect. She or he will guide the governing structures of the church in setting visionary priorities, creating goals and objectives, and holding staff and others accountable. That’s what TREC says a PB should do. And by the way, there is nothing preventing the PB from doing exactly that now. They don’t do it, but they could.
But do we really want to legislate the PB’s leadership style? And do we believe that an unaccountable PB would pay any attention, after a couple of years, to the leadership style we legislate?
We have no idea whom the House of Bishops is going to elect next summer. He/she could be a panacea – a great leader who will take all the right actions and solve all our problems – or he/she could be a disaster. But since the probabilities are that over the next 100 years, the PBs elected will average out somewhere in the middle, I think we should create a structure that improves our odds of good leadership, empowering people to use the spiritual gifts God gives them.
And here is what I see: we should have the House of Bishops elect a PB who will be a great spokesperson for our church to the world, and a great connector to the Anglican Communion and other faith groups. That’s enough of a job for any one person to take on, and it’s the job of a spiritual leader and a bishop. I don’t think anyone could argue with the House of Bishops electing this person, who would preside over that House and serve as Primate of our church.
We should have a second person, a CEO or General Secretary, accountable to both houses of Convention and to all the orders of ministry. (Specifics of who selects the person and how they would be accountable to be determined – suffice it to say that all orders of ministry should be involved.) This person’s job would be to manage the staff and help set vision, priorities, agenda, etc., according to priorities set by Convention and refined by a vision-setting process shared among PB, CEO (or whatever we call it), and the rest of Council. It is entirely appropriate for the person who oversees staff and sets their priorities to be accountable to the governance structures of the church, which means accountable to all orders of ministry. Which the Presiding Bishop is not.
These are two different sets of gifts, and I think it is rather unusual to find both sets in one person. That’s why we should have two different people exercising them. And by the way, that’s why many other provinces of the Anglican Communion, including the Church of England, operate in exactly this way.
I’m a member of Executive Council – I was elected at the 2012 General Convention, probably as a result of my blogging about the financial issues facing the church. I now serve on the Finances for Mission committee of Council and am the leader of the budget process that will recommend a budget to the 2015 Convention. Pray for me, and for us, for a healthy budget process!
OK, that said: I honestly can’t get too worked up about reducing the size of Council from 40 to 21. (Although did anyone on TREC actually count the number of people they were proposing? It actually adds up to 22, or 25 if you count the non-voting members. You just have to laugh when TREC can’t even competently count the heads in its own “reimagined” structure.) Having 21, 22, 25, or 40 people exercising power as a body is helpful or not, depending on what powers are given to it. It’s true that a board of 40 people acts more like a legislative body than, say, a vestry. If we want whole-group discussion, a smaller group might be helpful.
(I do think TREC needs to think a bit harder about how to make that body representative. I’m not crazy about the provincial structure, but I think, for instance, their proposal would prevent anyone from ever getting elected from Province IX again.)
The fact is, however, that the real work on Council happens in committee. My own Finances for Mission committee is pretty busy, and is stretched pretty thin, with the seven members we have. Want to reduce the numbers on Council? Okay – let’s make sure we elect good ones, because they are going to be swamped.
What I am puzzled about, and what I actually can’t respond to because TREC is so maddeningly unclear (see Crusty Old Dean on this unclarity), is its statement that Council’s role should be clarified as a “governance” role, similar to a non-profit Board of Trustees. TREC’s last communiqué at least displayed a more complete understanding of what Council does:
Executive Council has two distinct functions: (a) the board of directors of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, the Church’s operating nonprofit corporation, and (b) an interim legislative body when General Convention is not in session.
Is TREC proposing that we do away with (b)? Then who would do interim legislative work – the PB, by fiat? I guess that would be in keeping with TREC’s exalted view of what the PB should be.
Or, as I’m guessing is the actual case, is TREC trying to clarify that Council has no direct supervisory authority over staff? That staff should be supervised through the CEO or COO’s office? If this is what they are trying to clarify, then they should come out and say it. None of the members of Council that I currently serve with would argue with that perspective. We know we don’t and shouldn’t supervise staff. We do find that staff members are generally helpful and responsive, supplying us with information we need to do our jobs, and we appreciate it.
Here’s the point: Executive Council serves a very important function. Yes, we are the Board of Trustees, AND we include all orders of ministry. Previous Councils have been involved in conflict with staff, or with presiding officers, I hear. That’s not the case this triennium – we have low levels of conflict among Council members, between Council and staff, and between Council and the Presiding Bishop. If clarifying that we don’t supervise staff makes someone happy and prevents future conflict, go for it.
If TREC is trying to propose more reduction in Council’s governance role than that, then they’re going to have to explain what the heck they’re talking about. And also explain why they think the role of lay and clergy people should be reduced while the powers of the PB are correspondingly increased. They haven’t, yet. And I seriously doubt that such a sharp turn in the direction of arch-episcopal power would make it through the House of Deputies, and quite possibly not the House of Bishops, either.
TREC has proposed that church-wide program staff be eliminated, and replaced by contractors hired for specific time-limited projects. Administrative and support staff would remain as employees.
They have proposed this without giving any reason why it would be a good idea. Would it save money? Would it increase efficiency? Would it guarantee a better mission focus? Would it help us move toward a networked model? Should we set up a list-serv? Inquiring minds want to know. TREC doesn’t bother to explain.
Let’s just start by mentioning the justice issues of moving people from employee to contractor status. I won’t re-hash them. You can read the Crusty Old Dean on that – he says it better than I could.
Let’s also mention that the majority of staff at 815 are actually administrative and support staff. According to COO Sauls, we have approximately 22 “program staff” out of approximately 130 FTE total staff. Firing the program staff won’t save us that much money, even if we don’t immediately hire them back as contractors. Has TREC looked at the actual data for what we spend our money on? I have previously pointed out that no, apparently they haven’t. If they were, they wouldn’t be majoring in the minors.
I actually think that we DO need to take a very careful look at what we spend money on, staff-wise – because we spend a LOT of money on staff. Tens of millions of dollars every triennium, a very large percentage of our budget, and way more than what we spend on our governance structures, which TREC has fixated on. But TREC has not explained what it is trying to achieve with the contractor concept. The problems it has identified are not solved by the solutions it proposes – they have not laid out any logical train of thought.
What I don’t understand is how this out-of-left-field proposal meshes with the church-wide priorities TREC has correctly identified: church planting, evangelism, Christian formation, community leadership, and so on. If those are our priorities, then how will church-wide contractors hired for short-term projects in these areas help us achieve them? Wouldn’t we want rather to support long-term, sustained work that we could supervise?
This is not an argument – it’s a real question. What are your reasons for proposing this, TREC?
I really want to understand what TREC is thinking, but they throw out a bombshell, plunging church-wide staff into anxiety, I’m sure, and then don’t explain why it would be a good idea or how it would help us achieve our goals. Color me frustrated.
I will just point out that TREC’s seems fairly clueless in its proposal to reduce the number of legislative committees. Let’s make sure we are clear that legislative committees are not the same as standing commissions. I’m all in favor of getting rid of most standing commissions, as TREC has proposed. (Yay, TREC! You got that one right! We can quibble with the ones you chose, but in general this is on target.) Task forces seem like a better approach.
Legislative committees are different though, because they are in existence only during Convention. They do not decrease efficiency – they increase it. They do not create work – they respond to work that others create. Reducing the number of legislative committees would just increase the work assigned to each, taking longer for resolutions to come to the floor, reducing the efficiency of Convention overall, and severely under-utilizing the talents of all the deputies who don’t get assigned to a committee.
Actually, TREC doesn’t need to be worrying about the number of legislative committees at all. The presiding officers have already revamped the committee structure to increase its efficiency. Mischief managed! That’s what presiding officers are there for. Let them do their jobs.
A couple of members of TREC have indicated to me that what they actually want is to increase the power of legislative committees to dismiss resolutions and whatnot. Great – let them say so, instead of proposing a senseless solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
Reducing the length of Convention? Okay, let’s try it and see if it works. We tried it already and changed our minds about it, but hey, let’s try it again. It would certainly help working lay people who want to attend. And working clergy, for that matter – it’s hard to get away for that long when you’re trying to lead a church.
Make Convention a Missionary Convocation? I can’t respond because I don’t know what they mean by this. Again, they haven’t bothered to explain.
Reducing the amount of minor and unnecessary legislation that we have to sift through at Convention? That would be a good step, if we can find an equitable way to do it. But TREC hasn’t explained how they plan to go about this, so I can’t respond.
Where the Rubber Hits the Road
From what I’ve seen from TREC so far, I think a few of their smaller suggestions will be implemented. Their bigger suggestions will go down in flames. Deputies and bishops who don’t agree with TREC’s proposals will come up with their own, and a whole different set of restructuring resolutions will pass. But it won’t make much difference to the true issues before the church anyway.
Recall that the true issues before us involve our declining financial resources, and the declining membership and attendance that have caused them, and our need to do evangelism with new generations and new populations. TREC’s suggestions don’t address these problems at all. And it was probably always a pipe dream to sing a hymn and think that “restructuring” could actually “reawaken” the church. (Don’t get me started on “resuscitation” – Lazarus notwithstanding.) Restructuring the church is not going to get us out on the streets, serving our communities and telling the good news of Jesus. At best, restructuring might save us some money that will allow us to do more of those things in our local communities.
And there’s where the rubber will hit the road at the church-wide level. Given that our church-wide structure is not ever actually going to be out there doing evangelism, the true restructuring will happen in how we decide to spend our money, and where we locate our church-wide headquarters (for lack of a better term), and what we ask the staff we place in it to do. We effectively restructure the church every time we create a budget, in far more immediate ways than TREC’s structural tinkering will do. Sure, let’s fiddle with the church-wide structure and try to get it right. But let’s work harder at putting our resources to work revitalizing this church and helping our local churches tell the good news of Jesus to a world that is starving for good news. Now that’s a mission worth supporting.