Reimagining, or How to Take Real Action

In my last Episco-geek post, I gave my thoughts about the governance and structure recommendations of the Taskforce to Reimagine the Church (TREC). In this one, I want to address the proposals TREC made to try to reinvigorate and renew the church. These are TREC’s laudable ways of trying to inspire the church to a new mission focus. I appreciate that TREC understood that the problems facing the church are much bigger than the structure of General Convention. In fact, as seriously as General Convention takes itself (for good reasons), you can’t legislate church revitalization. Our church will learn to “follow Jesus into the neighborhood, traveling lightly” through a movement that I hope sweeps the church at all levels, beginning with the grassroots.

Realizing this, TREC tried to move beyond “restructuring” to “reimagining.” I appreciate the breadth of what they tried to do here. They thought about some of the non-structural issues facing the church, and tried to figure out what to do about them.

But immediately we run into a problem, and that is this: TREC made a bunch of recommendations for actions that General Convention does not have the authority to require. In the same way the US government can’t mandate that states, say, expand Medicaid to cover more people, but can only offer funding to encourage those that do, our church-wide structure (with limited exceptions) can’t tell dioceses, seminaries, bishops, standing committees, diocesan councils, and so on what to do. We can offer funding to encourage it, but if we just tell them what they should be doing, most of them will ignore it and do whatever they feel like doing. (Don’t believe me? Take a look at Executive Council’s report on resolutions referred to dioceses for action or consideration on p. 25 of Council’s Blue Book Report. Of 109 dioceses, an average of 11.5 of them actually took some action as requested on each resolution.)

Which brings to mind the so-called Gunn Rule, named after its proposer, my friend Scott Gunn. We can paraphrase the Gunn Rule as follows: Let’s not tell other people what to do. Let’s tell other people what WE are going to do.

In the case of laudable attempts to revitalize the church by telling other bodies within the church what they should be doing, though we have no authority to do so, I think we fall into a Gunn Rule Gray Area. We may not have authority, but we may have some influence (not much, given the low response rate noted above, but some). So I think we should be careful to be clear about which we are attempting to exercise. If we want to “urge” and “encourage,” let’s make that clear in our resolutions. (But let’s get ready to be ignored.) If, however, we want some action to happen, let’s create some structure that will give folks incentives to make it happen.

So how about let’s adopt a Corollary to the Gunn Rule, as follows:

If we have authority to make a good change, let’s make it. If we don’t have authority, let’s find a concrete way to encourage it to happen.

So – a bishop could use the first part of this Corollary to insist that his/her clergy follow the canons of the church, because a bishop has the authority to do so. (I mean, this shouldn’t be a “change,” but anyway.) Convention could use the second part of this Corollary to analyze all its actions and make sure that we’re not just throwing empty words into the ether, where they will dissipate like so much hot air.

With that in mind, let’s look at TREC’s laudable and worthy thoughts on reimagining.

Again, I am grateful to Nurya Love Parish, who provided a TREC summary on her blog. The boldface summaries below are directly quoted from her summary.

  • Episcopal seminaries are to collaborate in new ways to offer new programs to foster new leadership.

My position: Gunn Rule Corollary. Good for TREC, thinking beyond the bounds of structure to the deeper problems facing the church. Seminaries, of course. are in trouble:

  • seminarians graduate with too much debt
  • many people can’t afford to move away from home for three years
  • many seminaries are in deep financial trouble
  • seminarians learn good academic skills, but don’t always learn good leadership skills.

Is mandating seminary collaboration the answer? It’s a nice idea, but General Convention doesn’t have the power to legislate it; we have indirect control over only one of our seminaries (General, in the sense that Convention elects its trustees), and no control over the others. And many seminaries are already creating innovative programs (distance learning, etc.) to address these problems. We could, however, decide to fund a series of gatherings for seminaries to collaborate with bishops, COM members, and others to determine what kind of leadership training is needed for a new era, and how to address the financial crisis in seminary education. Or we could create a School for Congregational Development to provide the leadership training that seminaries aren’t equipped to provide, since they are busy transmitting important academic information. Let’s not tell seminaries what to do, since we have no authority over them; let’s find ways to encourage the results we want.

  • Diocesan Councils, Commissions on Ministry, and Bishops are to consider ways to support bi-vocational clergy.

My position: Gunn Rule Corollary. Again, this is an important suggestion that we don’t have the power to command. It is true that fewer parishes can afford full-time clergy these days, and more clergy will need other ways to support themselves. But since we can’t tell dioceses what to do, I think this resolution will go into the drawer full of well-intentioned General Convention resolutions that dioceses blithely ignore. Perhaps we should fund a task force to address this question and bring some actual proposals to the next General Convention, to the extent that they identify ways that this question can even be addressed at the church-wide level.

  • The Church Pension Fund and the Executive Council are to study our current system of clergy compensation, and the Church Pension Fund is to report to the next General Convention regarding the pension plan and how it meets the needs of today’s church.

My position: partly supportive. TREC didn’t say what it wanted Council to study regarding clergy compensation, so without more guidance, I don’t have much to say about this part of the resolution. Are they concerned that clergy are receiving too little compensation? Too much? Uneven amounts? Do they think we should have a standard pay scale across the church, like the Church of England? I hope that TREC members will explain what questions they want to see addressed, and refine this resolution.

Regarding the pension plan, I think it does need studying, especially the pricing and the question of how to make a pension plan available to non-stipendiary or bi-vocational clergy. In addition, I think we need to study the denominational health plan, especially in light of the Affordable Care Act (which didn’t exist when the DHP was passed). But CPG should not be in charge of evaluating and reporting on itself. Council probably doesn’t have the right set of gifts, either. Let’s set up a task force with human resources, pension, and health plan experts to do this work, and give it some funding – they’ll need it, to hire professional consultants to do the job right.

  • Churchwide staff are to create a network for churches and their leaders to foster excellence in liturgy and stewardship of resources, and to report progress annually in these areas.

My position: puzzled. I’m somewhat unclear what this is about. I hope that TREC will explain this proposal a lot better, and also explain what staffing and funding resources will be necessary to support it, and what it is supposed to achieve, and how church-wide staff are qualified to lead this project. Right now we don’t have staff coordinating ministries in either liturgy or stewardship or “resources,” whatever TREC means by that. If we need to hire new staff, this resolution needs to include funding implications – and I am very hesitant to increase our staff size right now.

  • Bishops are to cultivate collaborations and discuss the number and size of our dioceses and whether change is needed, reporting to succeeding General Conventions.

My position: partly supportive. Though Convention can’t exactly tell bishops what to do, I suppose that if the House of Bishops passes this resolution, that vote constitutes agreement to do what the resolution requires. So it doesn’t technically fall under the Gunn Rule Corollary.

On the merits of the resolution itself, I agree that it would be helpful for some dioceses to explore the possibility of mergers or other kinds of cooperation. But why should the bishops alone be in charge of this? TREC has identified an issue that needs to be addressed, but I’m not sure their proposed solution is the right one. I think it might be more helpful to remove some of the canonical bars to diocesan cooperation (requirement that bishops serving two dioceses must have a home in each; requirement that dioceses have separate Commissions on Ministry; requirement that two dioceses who want to merge both have active diocesan bishops, etc.), and encourage dioceses to grow together operationally as a prelude to possible future mergers.

  • Dioceses are to reflect theologically on the use of their assets, particularly their buildings and grounds, “to develop a theology of sacredly inclusive use-of-space that is adaptive and generative financially and spiritually.”

My position: Gunn Rule Corollary. It’s true that especially in the east, there are large church buildings that are not used to their potential, which could be opened for better use by the community. Envisioning new uses could bring in income for the church and also help the congregation reach out to new populations in its area. So TREC has identified a real problem and opportunity in the church. But again, General Convention doesn’t have the power to command dioceses to do this worthy project. Dioceses unfortunately often ignore such mandates. I’m sure it’s nice to use the bully pulpit of General Convention to call attention to this issue – I’d just like to find a practical way to encourage actual action. Unless we can find such a concrete way to do something, this resolution is no more than a way of urging dioceses to do what they should already be doing, in a way they can easily ignore.

  • Presiding Bishop & Deputy are to convene professionals to advise congregations who wish to re-envision their space and its possible uses.

My position: undecided. This sounds expensive – hugely expensive, if there are going to be different professional groups in every region. I’m not sure that for the funding we can provide, that such a group could make a difference. But maybe it could, in the sense that every starfish you throw back into the sea helps at least that starfish. I need to hear more.

  • Bishops, Deans, Chapters, Rectors and Vestries are to think strategically about how best to use their space in their local context to serve God’s mission.

My position: Gunn Rule Corollary. I agree that every diocese and congregation should be doing this kind of strategic visioning on an ongoing basis – especially if they have large amounts of unused space. But if bishops, priests, vestries, and congregations aren’t already doing this as a critical component of discerning God’s mission, do we really think that a General Convention resolution will spur them into action? If we really want this to happen, how about funding a training program and regional conferences teaching congregations how to do this? How about figuring out the funding and staffing implications, and telling us how much it will cost? We need more concrete action to make this resolution effective.

  • Standing Committees of each diocese are to set a standard for intervening in endowment spend-downs in order to provide for ministry to future generations.

My position: Gunn Rule Corollary. All dioceses should be doing this. Convention doesn’t have the power to command it. How can we encourage concrete action? How about creating a group that investigates dioceses that have such policies, and creates a model policy for others to adopt?

  • Planners are to shift the General Convention to a shorter church-wide mission convocation convening local mission practitioners to share best practices and develop networks.

My position: probably opposed. I like the idea of providing learning and networking opportunities during Convention. Some groups do this already, and it’s good to provide some time for it. But we need to remember that deputies were elected to legislate, and that work does have importance, and General Convention is the only opportunity they have to do it. It’s already hard for lay people (and some clergy) to take time to come to Convention and legislate. If we can shorten the legislative time, good. There is lots of stuff that comes before Convention that 1,000 people really don’t need to be spending time on.  But shortening Convention in order to use the additional time for learning opportunities, when lots of folks can’t spare the time anyway, seems counterproductive. I need to hear more about this proposal and what it would entail.

That’s it for the non-structural recommendations of TREC. In general: good thinking and good analysis about some of the issues facing a declining church. But the proposals need refinement to encourage actual action on the part of entities Convention doesn’t control, in order to spur the kind of reimagining TREC is hoping for.

Next post: what was missing from the TREC report?

Lost in the Weeds: The TREC Structural Recommendations

If you’ve been at all conscious of church-wide Episcopal Church geekery in the last three years, you’ve heard of the Taskforce to Reimagine the Episcopal Church (TREC), and their suggestions for how to change the church. You can find their report here, and you can see my overall reactions to it here. You can also see my post describing what I think the mission of our church-wide structure is here.

Here’s the quick version: I think TREC’s prologue was inspired and inspiring. Their prescription that we need to follow Jesus into the neighborhood, traveling lightly, was just right. But when they got down to their specific structural recommendations, their vision seemed to get lost in the weeds.

Although I don’t have the church-geekery awesomeness of Scott Gunn, who promises to blog about every resolution coming before Convention this year, I did promise to blog about the TREC recommendations. In this post and the next, I will address the specific proposals they made, and give my reaction to each, along with my probable vote. In my (presumably) last TREC-related post, I’ll say what I think was missing from the report, and what I wish they had done.

The first set of recommendations below is about governance and structure. Full disclosure: I am a member of Executive Council (elected at Convention 2012) and have had the benefit (or detriment) of an up-close look at how our governance functions. I am also serving on the Governance & Structure legislative committee at Convention this year.

Overall, these recommendations are interesting – but they appear to have been written by a completely different group of people than the ones who wrote the inspiring preface and recommended that we “follow Jesus into the neighborhood, traveling lightly.” Caution: thick weeds and much insider church-geekery ahead.

In the list below, I am very grateful and indebted to Nurya Love Parish, who provided a summary of the TREC proposals on her blog. The boldface type below is directly quoted from her summary, and I am using these quotes with her permission. So, here are the TREC structural recommendations and my thoughts on them:

  • Move to a unicameral model of governance. (Instead of the General Convention meeting separately as Bishops and Deputies, meet as one body including bishops, clergy, and laity.)

My position: undecided, leaning against. I recognize the salutary effect on efficiency that this proposal would have. But I have concern about the loss of checks and balances – two houses that debate and vote separately are inherently slower and more deliberative about big moves than one house, and I think that’s a good thing. The fact that a unicameral house would vote by orders on important issues (giving any of the three orders a veto, the same as now) doesn’t negate the fact that all three orders would debate together on a single resolution and amend it together, shaping it into its final form together before taking a vote. I believe that this eliminates an important balance inherent in having two houses debate and vote separately.

There is concern as well about bishops sitting with deputies and influencing the deputies’ votes, or even telling them how to vote – the clergy deputies in particular may be beholden to their bishops in ways the lay deputies are not. I don’t know whether this would happen often, but it is a possibility and could be a concern. Most bishops will respect differences in opinion; a few may not. And even assuming the bishops are respectful (as most will be), would the mere mystique of the episcopacy give them undue influence? I don’t know, but this concern is enough to make me wonder whether the increased efficiency of a unicameral house is worth the possible cost of suppressing lay and clergy voices.

Note that this change would be a constitutional change and would require the approval of two successive General Conventions to enact.

  • Make General Convention smaller by sending only three clergy and three lay delegates (instead of four as at present).

My position: undecided. I don’t have strong feelings about this one. I doubt it will decrease costs significantly at the church-wide level, because we will still need a pretty big room for 660 deputies to meet in. The cost savings will come at the diocesan level; dioceses will see their Convention costs decrease by 20% (assuming they each send their deputies and first alternates). That’s money that adds up. There is a concern about decreased participation and influence among lay and clergy who would like to be involved, and a concern about possibly reducing diversity in the House of Deputies, if the minority deputies tend to finish lower in the voting. I’m not sure whether that’s true or not. And I’m not sure what we’re achieving (other than saving money) by decreasing numerical participation in our church-wide structures. Overall, I need to hear a bit more about the pros and cons before I decide.

This, again, is a constitutional change, which would require approval of two successive General Conventions to enact.

  • Create a task force on the episcopacy to study the current process and recommend a new process for discernment, formation, search and election of bishops. Ensure that episcopal transitions include discernment with bishops of adjoining dioceses (presumably to determine whether merger or collaboration is indicated).

My position: completely agree. This task force is crucial for all kinds of reasons – not least of which is the disastrous election of Heather Cook in the face of incomplete information being made available to the electing convention (and, apparently, even to the majority of the search committee). We need new best practices, updated and publicly available search information, and transparent search consultant selection processes. This task force needs to be formed and empowered to act right away – for instance, in providing updated, digitized, publicly available search resources – not just to report to the next Convention, three years from now. And this task force needs to be given significant funding to get the job done.

  • Provide only active bishops, not retired bishops, vote in the affairs of the church.

My position: agree. Retired bishops shouldn’t be voting on the affairs of the church. We can get the benefit of their wisdom by giving them seat and voice in the House of Bishops – but not a vote.

  • Lower the percentage of funds expected for the churchwide budget from participating dioceses. Make payment mandatory unless specific exception is granted.

My position: agree, but need more specifics. I have worked on Executive Council to lower the assessment percentage, and if Council’s budget proposal is followed, the assessment will be lowered from the current 19% to 15% by the end of the next triennium. I think it should be lowered still further in later years, perhaps as low as 12% if we exercise discipline on our spending, but only if it becomes mandatory for every diocese to pay the full assessment (unless they receive a waiver of some sort, probably from Council). TREC made this suggestion, but didn’t propose the canonical changes to make it actually happen; someone needs to finish the work.

  • Compensate the Presiding Deputy position (currently titled President of the House of Deputies) to make the role accessible to more candidates.

My position: agree. The position of Presiding Deputy (or President of the House of Deputies) should be open to people who are not retired or independently wealthy. It’s a full-time job – let’s treat it like one.

  • Clarify staff roles and responsibilities: Consider the Presiding Bishop the CEO of the Church, Chair of the Executive Council, and President of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, “with clear managerial responsibility for all DFMS staff.” Provide for a Church General Manager (COO), Church Treasurer (CFO), Church Secretary (General Clerk), and Church General Chancellor (Chief Legal Officer) to serve under the supervision of the Presiding Bishop. Establish mutual ministry reviews among the Presiding Bishop, Presiding Deputy, and Executive Council. PB to be elected by whole Convention, not just House of Bishops.

My position: disagree. This proposal is actually very little different from what we have now: a Presiding Bishop, elected for a nine-year term, who is basically unaccountable to anyone (barring a Title IV offense), who has full power to direct the staff with very little input from General Convention, the board of directors, or anyone else. This is an unhealthy state of affairs and tends to create silos of folks that aren’t motivated to work together.

The fact is, we don’t want our Presiding Bishop to be tied down to the details of budgets and personnel; we want her or him to be our spokesperson to the world, our ambassador to the Anglican Communion, our prophetic voice, our Chief Pastor, our visitor to all dioceses and chief consecrator of bishops, our presider in the House of Bishops, and our chief vision-caster. The Presiding Bishop should be the person who leads the Council and staff in setting strategic vision and priorities. We should have an Executive Director who is responsible for putting those vision and priorities into action at the staff level, and who reports to Council. This is not a revolutionary structure; most non-profits operate in exactly this way.

The Presiding Bishop has a huge job even without overseeing staff. She/he doesn’t have time to direct the staff operationally, and delegates that job to a Chief Operating Officer who doesn’t really have an accountability structure. I am not critiquing the current occupants of those positions; I am pointing out that our current structure discourages collaborative vision, strategy, and priority-setting among the governance structures of the church.

To those who say diocesan bishops are the CEOs of their staff, I would respond that the job of Presiding Bishop is much, much different than that of a diocesan bishop, and our church-wide staff is orders of magnitude larger than a diocesan staff. This is a job too large to put in the hands of a person who is far too busy to do it all, who is elected for a very long term, and who is unaccountable in the meantime. Let’s bring our staff and governance structures onto one team and get them working together.

By the way, I think the proposal to have the Presiding Bishop elected by both houses of Convention has a snowball’s chance in hell of passing the House of Bishops. And I’m perfectly fine with having the bishops elect the Presiding Bishop, as long as there are accountability structures in place for the Executive Director. The staff shouldn’t report to the board, but the Executive Director should. This is how non-profits generally work.

Note that TREC appears to agree with a collaborative form of leadership – in concept; it’s only in their specific recommendations that they revert to the “hero” model of leadership and suggest making our governance more hierarchical. Here is a direct quote from their report (which doesn’t have page numbers, so I can’t tell you where to find it – sorry):

Around the world, networks are overpowering hierarchies. Profound changes are flowing from collaborative, co-creative, participatory relationships; from shared knowledge; and from communal power, while bureaucracies struggle to keep up. To equip all Episcopalians for ministry and mission in their daily lives in this century and the next, we must harness that power and grasp new opportunities by transforming the Church-wide organization to make it less hierarchical and more participatory.

  • Make the Executive Council 21 members instead of 42. All nominees would be proposed by the Joint Standing Committee on Nominations (some proposed by the provinces). None would be nominated from the floor of General Convention.

My position: undecided, leaning against. It is true that Council is rather large (38 members), and has not acted as a vision-setting body in the recent past. From my experience on Council, I don’t think lack of vision-setting actually has much to do with Council’s size. I believe that Council has not actually been allowed to collaborate on vision and priorities for the church. The budget committee, for instance, wanted to begin our budget process this triennium with Council, PB, and COO all working together to set overall vision and priorities, and were not allowed agenda time to do it.

Vision, to the extent the church-wide structure has it between Conventions, is determined in the inner workings of the staff. Currently, it seems to be centered on the Five Marks of Mission, which are laudable but not exactly strategic – meaning, it’s good to do all those activities, but how do they relate to goals, priorities, or the situation our church is now facing? How do we deploy our ministry activities in the service of a vision, a goal, or a set of objectives? Our church is in a transitional moment, not just in our structures, but in our ability to reach new people, grow, and even survive into the future. It seems like now, of all times, should be the time that all our governance structures focus strategically on how we should be doing God’s mission in the 21st century.

But I digress. Back to reducing the size of Council. Council actually has a lot of work to do. My Finances for Mission committee had a lot of work this triennium – we had members in charge of the budget process (me), staffing the audit, investment, and corporate social responsibility committees, and acting as liaisons to the United Thank Offering and to covenant committees for continuing dioceses. Our committee had seven members, which I believe made it the largest of Council’s five committees, and every member had a significant, time-consuming added responsibility. If we’re going to reduce the size of Council, that doesn’t mean the work will go away. We need to make sure we have people to get these things done. Should we possibly have a two-tier structure or some other “inner circle” that sets vision? I don’t know, but this question deserves more thought, taking into account the actual work that Council does, than TREC seemed to put into it – which may be because TREC didn’t interview any Council members, other than the Presiding Officers.

Regarding nominations, I am sympathetic to TREC’s desire to have the nominations committee discern the gifts needed on Council and nominate people with those gifts. My concern is that limiting nominations to “official” nominations, with no nominations from the floor, means that only “insider” candidates will ever be allowed. Not that it’s all about me, but I ran for Council at the last Convention as an “outsider” candidate intent on reforming the budget process (which I did). Do we really want to limit our candidates to long-serving, well-known candidates and exclude “outsiders” who might bring reform?

  • Eliminate all Standing Commissions except the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music and the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons. Rename these commissions to clarify the scope of their work. Add “Theology” to the scope of the Liturgy and Music Commission.

My position: mostly agree. I think it’s a good idea in general to name task forces instead of standing commissions. Some standing commissions were created in prior years to meet priorities of the time, and don’t really know what they are supposed to be doing now. The SC on Communications has actually proposed its own demise. And Standing Commissions are limited in their scope: they are really only supposed to write legislation, which I think is artificially limiting. Task forces could be created that have the power to actually take action between Conventions. Good!

One caveat: I strongly oppose adding “Theology” to the job of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. We don’t and shouldn’t do theology by committee, or by vote. Our theology is spelled out in the Nicene Creed. I’m not willing to delegate the official theology of our church to the SCLM.

That’s it for the specific structural proposals. In the next post, I’ll take on TREC’s non-structural proposals.

The Mission of the Church-wide Structure

The Acts 8 Moment is asking: what is the mission of the church-wide structure? Maybe the fact that we call this thing by an unwieldy name like “the church-wide structure” is some sort of clue that we have no idea what this thing is or what it’s supposed to be doing.

Since I have been involved in ministry at the church-wide level, I have noted several things: first, that there is a lot of talk about “mission.” Second, that “mission” means different things to different people, who often talk at cross-purposes, because two people can use the same word to mean completely different things. And third, that we in the Episcopal Church really don’t know what our church-wide structure’s mission is, except that it has some “Marks,” as defined by the Anglican Communion. According to its website, the Five Marks of Mission are:

  • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  • To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  • To respond to human need by loving service
  • To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth

The Book of Common Prayer, though, doesn’t talk about any Marks of Mission. Instead, it says the church’s mission is to reconcile all people to unity with God and each other in Christ – which, to me, is one of those mission statements that is so broad that it doesn’t give any direction at all.

So let’s look at what some of our leaders have said. The Chief Operating Officer of the DFMS, Bishop Stacy Sauls, recently said that he believes that “the church exists to do two things: to serve the poor and create servants of the poor.”

On the other hand, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby recently said this about the mission of the church: “First, the church exists to worship God in Jesus Christ. Second, the Church exists to make new disciples of Jesus Christ. Everything else is decoration. Some of it may be very necessary, useful, or wonderful decoration – but it’s decoration.”

I’m going to throw in my lot with Archbishop Welby here. I agree that worshiping God and making disciples of Jesus Christ are the primary missions of the church. Those committed disciples, nourished by Word and Sacrament, are the people who will serve the poor and accomplish all the other Marks of Mission. That’s the way the Great Commission is framed: Jesus tells the disciples to go and make more disciples, teaching them to obey Jesus’ commands, including the commands to serve the poor and to work toward reconciliation. The church must make disciples if it is going to accomplish anything else at all.

But Acts 8’s question wasn’t the mission of the church – the question was the mission of the church-wide structure. If we don’t know its mission, then we risk “mission creep” – letting it move into areas that are properly not its missions. This costs money and can be an unwelcome and inappropriate exercise of power. So we should know the church-wide structure’s missions. This is what I think they are:

  • To support dioceses and local congregations in doing the mission of the church; in other words, to support the work of making disciples and putting those disciples to work serving God’s people and accomplishing the other Marks of Mission.
  • To make decisions for the welfare of the whole church, including common prayer, clergy and leader discipline, ordination requirements, and so forth. (We do this decision-making in the Episcopal Church through our governance structures, which actually are fairly important structures supporting church-wide mission.)
  • To coordinate the church’s relationship with outside groups (including affiliate groups such as ecumenical and Anglican Communion partners, and relations with political entities), and to communicate about the church to the world. In this category belongs some work on Mark 4: transforming unjust structures does sometimes call for prominent church-wide voices to speak.
  • To provide Spirit-led, strategic leadership in order to inspire dioceses and local congregations to accomplish church mission.

DFMS can support the local church in making disciples in a number of ways. It can provide staff persons who bring people together to share resources, and provide expert support to dioceses and congregations. It can provide funding for strategically important ministries. Most importantly and transformatively, I believe, the church-wide structure can support local mission by doing the fourth thing on my list: providing Spirit-led, inspirational, strategic leadership.

This last item, inspirational leadership, is where I believe the church-wide structure has not done well over the past couple of decades. I am not pointing fingers at any particular leader; rather, I am pointing to the fact that the church has not seemed to be able to focus on any strategic initiatives that would reverse its decline and support the whole church in making disciples. We haven’t planted churches in nearly the number we need; we haven’t made it a priority to reach out to the rapidly growing Latino population; we haven’t focused on ministries with children, youth, and young adults. We have created big concepts like the “Decade of Evangelism,” and then haven’t done anything about them other than agree that they might be good ideas. Leadership takes more than pretty words; it takes strategic focus and action.

We can declare all we want to that numbers don’t mean anything and that all mainline denominations are declining and that our birthrate is lower than other churches’ and that the world is changing and that kids play soccer on Sunday mornings. Those are all fine excuses. None of these assertions changes the fact that our church has not focused in a strategic way on making new disciples. Spirit-led, inspired, strategic leadership could change that. Not by doing the work of making disciples – this happens at the local level, led by Christians who understand their local contexts and are willing to try risky and creative ideas – but by repeatedly, strategically, and inspirationally calling the church’s attention to the vital necessity of doing this risky work.

That’s what I’m missing from our denominational structure – inspirational leadership. Let’s hope the changes coming at the next Convention – from the “restructuring” process to the PB election – focus us on our mission of making disciples and inspire us to start taking serious, strategic steps to accomplish it.

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Addictions and the Church

Like you, I have prayed and agonized over the tragic Heather Cook situation. Like you, the night I heard about it, I lay awake, praying for the family of Tom Palermo, picturing what Heather Cook must be going through at that moment, wondering what I would do and feel if I had done what she did. Like you, I have watched in distress as more and more of the story has unfolded – what did her two diocesan bishops (Easton and Maryland) know and when did they know it, who knew about her prior DUI, how could such information have been kept from the electing convention, what should the Presiding Bishop have done and what in fact did she do, how could our church system have failed in selecting and supporting a leader at every step of the way, from the first DUI to the bishop search process to the pre-consecration dinner to whatever happened afterwards?

Like you, I have wished we could go back in time to 2010, when there was still time for Heather Cook to deal with her addiction. And possibly like you, I am completely unqualified to know what the church should have done, because I don’t have that much experience with addiction, beyond the basics I’ve picked up as a parish priest.

And yet, perhaps like you, I am the leader of a congregation, and perhaps like you, I may one day have an addicted employee, and will need to know what to do about it. So, as naïve and uninformed as I am, I realized that I needed to find out more – not about the Heather Cook situation, which I am not qualified to judge – but about our church system, and about how we should be dealing with people with addictions who can cause great harm to themselves and others, and to our church.

Anna Marion Howell has written a lovely reflection saying that Heather is a child of God, and in our Christian compassion, we should be loving her, not judging her. I couldn’t agree more. But I also think as Christians, our mission includes healing. Wouldn’t it have been more compassionate, though more difficult, to try to convince her to go into recovery before she killed a man, than to simply love her afterwards?

Convincing an addict to go into recovery, however, will almost certainly require “tough love.” One of my friends, an addict who has been in recovery for decades, says that we as Christians cannot possibly heal an addict. It is up to the addict to take responsibility for her own recovery. My friend writes: “What an employer, church or secular, must do is document behavior and, when well armed, give an option of the person entering treatment or termination. You can’t fix it. You are not responsible for it.  What you are responsible for is ensuring that those people that are supervised by you do their work and are not putting others or the institution at risk.”

So, let’s say you are the supervisor (bishop, rector, lay supervisor, etc.) of a bright, talented, enthusiastic employee who has great potential. But you suspect that the employee has an addiction problem – with alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, or any of a number of other addictions. What should you do about it?

I interviewed the Rev. John Christopher, a priest in the Diocese of Arizona who has been in recovery for many years, and who will soon become the diocesan recovery officer. I also interviewed a couple of others who prefer not to be named here, and I’ve used their insights as background information. I learned a lot from these conversations. Read on if you’re interested.

What trouble signs should you look for to determine whether someone has an addiction problem?

My recovering friends say to look for irresponsible behavior: coming in late, missing appointments, calling in sick frequently, unexcused absences. Look for relationship problems, financial problems, and other such concerns that should raise a red flag for an employer, whether the person is an addict or not. Keep an eye on the person who is always providing the wine, and who seems to think that alcohol is appropriate for any occasion (church business meetings; Sunday morning; etc.). Notice when someone consistently seems to grow anxious as cocktail hour approaches. Be aware that there are more addictions than just substance abuse – for instance, a huge pile of credit card debt could be a sign of a spending or gambling addiction.

John Christopher says:

If they already have a history of DUI, or they often leave early or come in late, that could mean a problem. If you smell anything, see odd behaviors, those could be indicators. I’m talking about more than just going out and getting drunk once; if these are persistent behaviors, it could mean they’re an addict. It’s not appropriate if you see them taking a drink at work from a bottle in their desk. The longer you drink, it starts to come through your pores, and you can smell it in their perspiration. As much as alcoholics and addicts think they’re fooling everyone, they’re really not. Always remember about a using addict: the further along they are in their addiction, the more that is their number one priority in life, no matter what they tell you. And their second priority is not getting caught. They will do whatever they have to do. Especially in our world, an actively using addict just puts up a wall between themselves and God. You’re lying to yourself, your family, your boss – you can’t be spiritual that way.

What should friends, supervisors, etc., do to convince an addict to get into recovery and to keep them accountable? How should people in authority deal with a person who is very talented and capable but who clearly has an addiction problem? 

My recovering friends say that these are issues we need to address with relentless honesty, demanding accountability. The compassionate thing to do is to hold an addict responsible for her recovery, because the consequences of not holding her accountable are much, much worse. It’s a difficult step to take – to call someone on an addiction problem – but dealing with difficult problems is one of the reasons we give authority to leaders. Supervisors can insist on a professional substance abuse evaluation, not just a general psychological evaluation, and they can insist on receiving assurance that the employee is following a recovery program. And if the employee won’t do the work of recovery, the employer can’t make him – the addict is responsible for his own recovery. But if he won’t do that work, the employer must terminate him, for the sake of the addict, who is not doing himself or the church any favors, and for the sake of the church.

John Christopher says:

We live in such a polite world in the Episcopal Church. We say, ‘I like her so much, maybe she’ll straighten out.’ No one wants to be the bad guy and blow the whistle. But we need to. The first thing, if they have not addressed it, the [supervisor] needs to say, ‘You have great potential; however, you have a progressive disease that can only get worse. We can’t afford to see that happen. The number one thing is your health. You have a terminal disease. If you are not going to do anything about it, we’ll have a different discussion.’

People in recovery have no problem with random drug tests or turning in attendance reports for meetings. At any AA meeting, someone will come to the leader and say, ‘I need you to sign my meeting report for the police, my probation officer, my employer.’ You should track whether they’re going to meetings. Their sponsor should be willing to comment without disclosing details: ‘We are continuing to meet and work on things,’ or ‘I haven’t seen him in three months.’ If the person is really in recovery they won’t complain. For me, the more people that know you’re in recovery, the more it’s a safe harbor for you. If the person seems to be doing really well it becomes a way of encouraging them, when they’re working a recovery program, living one day at a time based on their spiritual condition for that day. Most people truly in recovery have had a change in heart. If they’re truly working recovery, they’re not afraid to talk to just about anybody about it, unless they work for someone who would fire them. But they’ll share with plenty of other people.

Sobriety becomes the number one priority. It has to be – if you don’t have it, you’re going to lose everything anyway. As human beings, we need to first be concerned about the person’s welfare.

Compassion – for the addict and for those he or she could harm – compels us as Christians to hold our sisters and brothers accountable for their own recovery, even if it means unpleasant conversations and difficult accountability structures. If they refuse or relapse, they should not be allowed to take on or keep responsibility in the church, no matter how much we love them. Love means supporting them in their healing, not enabling their continued addiction.

If you were on a rector or bishop search committee, what kind of questions would you ask to determine whether there is an addiction problem?

My recovering friends say to ask directly about alcohol and drug history; ask whether dealing with substances has ever been a problem, and if so, what kind of recovery program they are working. How many steps have they worked? Do they have a sponsor? Are they a sponsor? How long have they been clean? These questions can be part of a whole conversation about spiritual disciplines. Ask their references for their observations about the person’s use of alcohol and drugs, boundary violations, money habits, etc. Make sure the person knows that you are going to follow up with their references about these questions. Pay attention to things that don’t ring true, or to areas where the person seems to be protesting too much. If a person has had a DUI, that’s an indication of extreme behavior, and the search committee needs to know how they are following up – have they had a substance abuse evaluation, did they check into a treatment center, etc.? If they are not willing to be public about their recovery, that should ring an alarm bell, because people in recovery usually are willing to talk about it – the recovery process is generally one of the defining spiritual crises of their life.

John Christopher says:

Check the legality and make sure it can be asked. But I wouldn’t have a problem asking about their history with drinking and drugging. Ask their philosophy on it: how do you feel about it, how would you handle a parishioner you knew was causing problems all the time? I think in search committees it might be important to have someone in recovery, even if just for that part. They will pick up cues others don’t, they will pick up if the person has a skewed perspective, even language others wouldn’t use that a person in recovery would pick up on. Any really great addiction specialist can develop questions for a psychological evaluation, and you can get a good indicator.

What kind of organizational structures in the Episcopal Church would help in dealing with addiction issues?

fd790ad27424214fed48d70f1cf41343We may have a cultural issue as much as a structural issue. Our reputation as hard-drinking folks in many cases is well-earned, and it doesn’t make things easy for addicts who are trying to stay sober. We should all be evaluating whether using or serving alcohol at church events is appropriate, and what kind of jokes we should be telling about ourselves. If our jokes reinforce a self-image that could be destructive, maybe it’s time to stop telling them. As John Christopher says, “Remember too, it only takes one person to cause an incredible amount of liability; it only takes one person to wipe out a van full of kids.”

My recovering friends suggest that each bishop should know of a professional substance abuse counselor to whom the bishop and diocesan clergy can refer people who might have a problem. This counselor could operate through a kind of Employee Assistance Program, whom clergy and lay employees of the diocese could contact confidentially. John Christopher suggests that a diocesan recovery point person could also visit every church on a regular basis, offering education and support. He proposes that each diocese should have a person to call, who will keep confidentiality and meet with you. Someone could tell me what they observed, then my job is to confidentially go meet with that person and say, ‘There’s been a concern raised here.’ It puts them on notice, and some may say, ‘I just have to hide it better.’ In some cases if it’s bad enough then I might have to say, ‘If you’re not willing to talk, I have no choice but to tell the bishop about behaviors people have observed.’ We have to have a place like where they can go and it’s safe to ask for help for themselves, or report someone else. Then I go to them and say, ‘There’s an easy way and a hard way. If you admit you have a problem, I will work with you and be your advocate. Don’t wait till you get caught in a bad situation.’

Church-wide, we could have similar point people to call – perhaps a group of people located around the geographic breadth of the church. These people would work with bishops and church-wide employees on recovery issues – both for themselves, and advising them on how to deal with diocesan clergy and employees who might have addiction problems.

As John Christopher says, “You’re not responsible for your disease, but you are responsible for your recovery. You need a lot of people around you.”

This problem is real, and it extends far beyond Heather Cook. One of my recovering friends says, “Addiction almost killed me through ODing, totaling a couple of cars, and getting myself in some very dangerous situations. I am grateful that I never killed anyone. I know people who have, several. This is real life. Being ‘kind’ or assuming responsibility is not any supervisor’s job regardless of the work setting.”

I hope we can get better at this. I hope we can start having the tough conversations and insisting on accountability from our lay and ordained ministers. I hope and pray a situation like Heather Cook’s never happens again.

For the Victims of Addiction (BCP, p. 831)

Blessed Lord, you ministered to all who came to you: Look with compassion upon all who through addiction have lost their health and freedom. Restore to them the assurance of your unfailing mercy; remove from them the fears that beset them; strengthen them in the work of their recovery; and to those who care for them, give patient understanding and persevering love. Amen.

Do Not Go Gentle: The TREC Report, Part One

First things first – let’s give thanks for the work of the intrepid souls on TREC, who have labored long and hard to learn about the issues facing the church, and to figure out how to address them. I have been plenty critical of TREC’s work in the past, but I do appreciate their work and their love for this church. I even appreciate much of what they have recommended.

doctor_patientThe problem is – and this is a common problem in the church – that they are better at diagnosis than at treatment. They are absolutely spot-on with their recognition of some of the problems facing the church. And their prescription that we need to “Follow Jesus, into the neighborhood, traveling lightly” is truly inspiring.

Let’s take a look at the problems TREC is trying to address. Two research reports recently released by TEC’s Research guru Kirk Hadaway highlight the issues: Domestic Fast Facts 2009-2013 and  Episcopal Congregations Overview 2014.  Membership is falling, attendance is falling, the median attendance at an Episcopal congregation is 61. These are not sustainable numbers. At the same time, we are closing many churches and failing to plant new ones. According to data that Kirk Hadaway gave me, in 2012 we had a net loss of 69 congregations; that same year, there were only three new congregations (filing parochial reports) across all of TEC.   And if you look at the Episcopal Congregations Overview for 2014, the problem is thrown into stark relief when you see the racial/ethnic composition of TEC: 87% White non-Hispanic, 6% Black or African American, 3.6% Hispanic/Latino, 1.3% Asian/Pacific Islander, 0.9% Native American, 1.3% Multi-Racial. This in a country where Whites will soon be a minority and where Hispanic/Latinos will soon be more than 30% of the population. We Episcopalians are older than the American population, too. I don’t have to rehearse all this stuff – you can see for yourself, and probably already have.

Given the stunning situation of decline we find ourselves in, I guess our church has two choices: we can Go gentle into that good night (as Dylan Thomas would say), or we can Rage, rage, against the dying of the light. Me, I’m not ready to give up the ghost yet.

bedside-mannerjpgWhat worries me is TREC’s apparent prognosis. They don’t name it specifically in the report, but many of their recommendations seem to be aimed at providing palliative care for a patient that has entered a long, slow, inevitable decline. What do you do with a church that is dying? You make arrangements for clergy to find other ways to make a living, you think of non-church ways to use the buildings to keep them open a bit longer, you try to find ways to provide pensions for people who can’t actually make a living in the church, you try to get seminaries to educate people for less money with more practical skills they can use elsewhere, you ask dioceses to consolidate, you discourage parishes from spending down their endowments in hopes that some future generation will find more productive uses for the money. And maybe, in addition to all that, you find ways to make governance more efficient.

These are all good things to think about, and some of them are inevitable. But I’m a church planter, and I look at things differently. I think we should not be restructuring for decline. I think we should be restructuring for growth.

If we actually wanted to revive the church, we would be looking at ways, not to manage decline, but to spark new life. We would be prioritizing evangelism and planting new congregations of every kind. We would be proposing to create a school for church planters and for bicultural/bilingual missionaries. We would be urging and training bishops and Commissions on Ministry to approve for ordination, not the folks that they would like to see at their bedside when they breathe their last, but the folks that both inspire and alarm them with new, risky ideas for reaching new people. We would be encouraging congregations with buildings not just to provide them for community use (always a good thing), but also to use them to plant congregations that actually do reach new kinds of people in their neighborhoods with the good news of Christ, in culturally relevant ways. We would be looking at our church-wide budget (the lever that moves the church, as my friend Frank Logue says) to strip away deadweight that does not encourage these priorities, and putting our resources behind life-giving ministries instead. We would be saying, yes, there are buildings and congregations in declining areas that have no hope of revival, and we would be making tough decisions and considering how to use those assets (or the money we could get for them) to reach new people. We would develop leaders for and pour money into youth and campus ministries. We would believe that Christ is not through working in our church yet.

By the way, TREC agrees with me, I think. They said very similar things on page 4 of their report (along with a very kind shout-out to the Acts 8 Moment, a grassroots network of which I am a founder and board member). They seem to agree with what I am saying in concept, but in their concrete recommendations they revert to managing decline.

I wish TREC had focused instead on sparking new life. It’s almost Christmas. Let’s not talk about decline and death. Let’s talk about new birth, new life, and how Christ is continually coming into our world.

Next Post: A look at the specific recommendations.

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The TREC Webcast: More Questions than Answers

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:

  1. 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)
  1. 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)
  1. Making decisions about matters that affect the whole church, including liturgy, ordination requirements, disciplinary proceedings for clergy, etc. (Catalyst, Convener)
  1. 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)
  1. 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.

Just the Same, Only More So: TREC’s Letter to the Church, September 2014

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.

treehouse

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.

Executive Council

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.

Church-Wide Staff

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.

General Convention

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.