More questions than answers! That’s what I have after TREC’s (the Taskforce to Re-imagine the Church’s) webcast last week. Maybe that’s appropriate, because it is clear that restructuring work will continue long after this triennium is over. Some initial observations:
- The setting, in a place of worship, and Bishop Michael Curry’s opening sermon, reminded us that church is really about following Jesus. The structures we create to do this just help us organize ourselves to follow him more closely. Let’s hope we all keep our focus on Jesus, no matter how much we disagree on structure.
- The presentations were engaging, inspiring, and passionate –Michael Curry, Dwight Zscheile, and Miguelina Howell were all terrific. It was a delight to hear them speak. They show great insight into the large issues facing the Church, and I am very pleased to see evangelism prominently recognized in our church as a top priority. The webcast was much better when the conversation turned to evangelism than on any other topic.
- The TREC members did far more speaking than listening – thanks to Scott Gunn and Crusty Old Dean for timing it at TREC 2:00:37, everyone else 17:31. I found myself frustrated because the format allowed me only to ask questions, and not express opinions. Do they really want to hear the thoughts of others, or do they simply want to share their own wisdom? Of course, we are assured that they are reading all our blogs, so maybe they are hearing some opinions.
- Direct questions were not answered. Especially in the first part of the program, TREC showed a distressing tendency to answer specific questions with platitudes.
- Some questions were treated dismissively. My question was: Is TREC planning to address the way we spend money and what our staff should be doing? The second half of my question (about staff) was ignored entirely. The first half, money, was labeled a “detail.” One member opined that it was important to have the data in front of you when you talk about how we spend money, because if you do, you will know that lots of our money is spent on mission. Actually, I chair Executive Council’s budget committee, have the data at my fingertips, and am deeply familiar with how we spend our money. Please don’t assume your listeners are ignorant.
Another TREC member said that the DFMS’ spending habits are insignificant in the scheme of re-imagining, because they are only 2% of the church’s total resources. Let me just say that (a) I have no idea where this statistic comes from, (b) whether it is true or not is really not important. The fact is that DFMS’ budget is over $112 million this triennium. Of that amount, $77 million comes directly from the dioceses.
Seventy-seven million dollars is not a “detail.”
Another TREC member said that our church-wide structures are not impeding local mission. I have to disagree: this is not necessarily true (nor is it necessarily false). If our church-wide structures are absorbing $77 million of our local resources, and that money is not being well spent, then indeed they are impeding local mission by redirecting local resources to other uses. Figuring out how to spend money effectively is a huge mission issue.
- After much lofty discussion of the big issues facing the church, correctly diagnosed and inspiringly described, TREC zeroed in on a few very focused questions, such as the staff reporting structure, ignoring many others of greater importance, including the money-and-staff question I asked. Evan Garner tweeted: “I’m genuinely discouraged if members of TREC think their work is to define an organizational chart for 815 staff.” I’m with you, Evan.
- And by the way, as a member of Executive Council, I find myself exceedingly puzzled that TREC apparently interviewed the PB, President of the House of Deputies, and 815 staff in detail, but as far as I know, did not extend the same courtesy to any members of Executive Council. Perhaps their suggestion that Council’s significance should be reduced while the PB’s is increased is traceable to this up-front decision to limit the perspectives they heard. Did they start this work already believing that Council’s experience is unimportant?
I will talk more about the balance of power later, but let me first address what I think TREC should have been doing, and what it has actually begun to make strides toward achieving.
The Mission of DFMS
I have paid a whole lot of careful attention over the last three years to how the church-wide structure of The Episcopal Church (let’s call it DFMS, short for the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society) spends its money. (Yep, the data are at my fingertips!) Just so we are clear, the decision about what our staff should be doing is intimately related to the money question: over one-half of our budget is spent on staff salaries and benefits, and we spend additional money on staff office, travel, and operating expenses.
I think for any organization, decisions on how to spend money should be based on much larger, prior decisions about mission. In DFMS’ case, what can we do church-wide that local dioceses and parishes cannot do?
As chair of the budget committee, I was hoping that Executive Council would begin its term by having discussions about the mission of DFMS, and beginning to identify church-wide priorities. This did not happen. One of my frustrations with my church-wide work, in fact, has been a lack of high-level discussions of mission. We are groping in the dark. Yes, we have Five Marks of Mission, but they are rather vague and not necessarily good guides for church-wide mission. For instance: care for creation is one of the Five Marks, but is this a mission that is appropriately undertaken at the church-wide level?
Since Council has not been able to have discussions on mission, let me try to address the question personally. What is the mission of DFMS?
Dwight Zscheile’s presentation about the mission of the church was terrific. Derek Olsen has a great summary of what he said (as well as the rest of the webcast). Dwight’s statements about church mission are all true for every local congregation.
But I think the more relevant question for TREC is: what is the mission, not of the local church, but of the church-wide structure? TREC has been attempting to answer this question by describing the Four Cs: Convener, Connector, Capability Builder, Catalyst. But as Crusty Old Dean points out, these terms are rather vague and undefined. Let’s try to answer them more specifically.
What is the mission of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society?
I think it is:
To support Episcopalians in doing Christ’s work in the world, including:
- Fostering collaboration, building networks, and bringing people together for shared support and learning opportunities, to support the mission of local congregations and dioceses. (Connector, Convener, Capability Builder)
- Carrying out strategic initiatives for the benefit of the church that can be done best at the church-wide level, as decided by our representative governing structures. (Catalyst)
- Making decisions about matters that affect the whole church, including liturgy, ordination requirements, disciplinary proceedings for clergy, etc. (Catalyst, Convener)
- Serving as the church’s bridge to the outside world, including collaborating with partners in mission (the Anglican Communion and ecumenical partners), communications and marketing, and speaking in a prophetic voice on matters of public policy. (Catalyst, Connector)
- Administering responsibly assets entrusted to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. (TREC’s four Cs did not address this function.)
You may disagree, or think I’ve left something out. If so, let me know!
I believe that:
- All of our activities at a church-wide level, including staffing and budget, need to be carefully re-designed to meet these mission priorities and to exclude activities that don’t fit them.
- The second item, carrying out strategic initiatives, needs to be carefully limited to a few major activities each triennium that will support the development of the church, based on a high-level strategic visioning process.
- We need a ground-up redesign of our staff structure and our staff’s job descriptions to make sure they are designed to meet these mission priorities.
- We need to begin taking very intentional steps to reduce the amount of money DFMS absorbs from local mission, moving from a bureaucratic, hierarchical model toward a much more networked and supportive model. (TREC agrees with this language, but ironically moves in the opposite direction in their recommendations for authority structures.)
I wish that TREC had addressed these issues. I hope that General Convention, a new Presiding Bishop and the next Executive Council will take a hard look at them.
Authority and Governance
TREC members were vague in the webcast about which direction they were moving on authority, though their September 2014 letter to the church proclaimed that almost all power should be vested in the Presiding Bishop. In the webcast, some members insisted that the issue was not yet decided, while some appeared very defensive and tried to support this model against significant opposition. These differences probably reflect real differences among members of TREC.
I have previously critiqued this idea of vesting all power in the PB. First, because it’s pretty much the same as what we have now, and our system is currently not particularly effective. (Hence: TREC.) Second, because it ignores our long history of balancing the powers of all orders of ministry. Third, because the Presiding Bishop has very little accountability to the rest of the church once elected. It is easy for the PB and staff (on one hand) and Council (on the other) to get isolated into silos that don’t work well together.
TREC previously considered a “General Secretary” model, where a separately appointed or elected official would manage staff. One TREC member told me that the concern with this model is that it sets up two separate power structures and visions. Another friend mentioned that some people misunderstood this model as indicating that the staff would begin reporting to the Secretary of Convention. Neither of these is what I am looking for.
I think the solution is actually rather simple. DFMS is a very large non-profit organization with a very large budget and staff. Treat it like one. Appoint an Executive Director, someone experienced in finance and personnel management, to lead that staff and manage that budget. Have the Executive Director report to the board, with the Presiding Bishop as chair of the board. This structure gets everyone on the same team, pointing in the same direction with the same vision and priorities. This is the way normal non-profits operate. It is a widely understood and effective model.
TREC seems very concerned that staff members feel like they have multiple bosses. I find this puzzling, because no Council members I know believe that they supervise staff: it’s quite clear that staff report only to the Chief Operating Officer, who reports only to the PB. If there is some misunderstanding or problem here, it could already have been handled by the PB and COO. They could simply explain the staff reporting structure to both Council and staff, and create a process by which requests for staff time are channeled through the COO’s (or Executive Director’s) office. Mischief managed (as Fred and George Weasley would say). We didn’t need TREC working for three years to fix this problem.
Where the Real Reform Will Come
I give TREC members a lot of credit for hard work and great insights about the direction the church needs to be moving in mission and ministry. Their list of issues the church needs to be addressing in coming years (church planting, seminarian debt, leadership development, etc.) is right on target. If nothing else, TREC’s “bully pulpit” will highlight these important challenges we need to face.
I don’t think that TREC’s legislative proposals will fare as well. I think the big decisions ahead of us, which we will address via our regular governance structures, will really determine the future of the church:
- Who will be our next Presiding Bishop, and what will her/his vision be?
- Will that PB be able to lead Council and staff in a way that gets us all working on the same team and focusing on the vital challenges before the church?
- What are we going to do with our money? Will we lower the diocesan asking to 15%, or to some other number? Will we restructure our staff to meet new mission challenges? All “restructuring” since I’ve been paying attention to church-wide affairs has happened through unhealthy budget processes responding too late to financial crises. Will we manage to do it this time in a better, more mission-focused way?
- What are we going to do about the building at 815 2nd Avenue, New York, a symbol of bureaucratic hierarchy? Will we hold onto this real estate, or adopt a new model of church-wide support center?
These issues are not in TREC’s hands – they are in the hands of the House of Bishops, Executive Council, and General Convention. I’m eager to see how they have worked out a year from now. Whether TREC is the agent of change or not, change is coming to the church. And that’s a good (and joyful) thing.