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.


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.


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.



I am in Israel with a group of Episcopal clergy plus one Episcopal layperson, led by a Roman Catholic nun named Sister Ruth Lautt.  We will be learning about issues of peace between Israelis and Palestinians while we are here, but I won’t be blogging about those things until after the trip is over, by agreement with the other trip participants.  Just a few general observations as we begin our first full day in Jerusalem.

DSC00142Jerusalem is, famously, a city on a hill.  Driving into Jerusalem from the Tel Aviv airport yesterday was impressive, as we gradually ascended from sea level up the rocky slopes to Jerusalem.  We drove through the kind of desert familiar to an Arizonan like me – a green and rocky desert – through a very modern traffic jam.  I imagined centuries of pilgrims doing the same journey, on bare feet and in chariots and in automobiles.  I heard in my mind the voices of all those pilgrims singing the songs of ascent, such as the one we read in the bus as we climbed – Psalm 122:

1 I was glad when they said to me, *
“Let us go to the house of the LORD.”
2 Now our feet are standing *
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
3 Jerusalem is built as a city *
that is at unity with itself;
4 To which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the LORD, *
the assembly of Israel,
to praise the Name of the LORD.
5 For there are the thrones of judgment, *
the thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: *
“May they prosper who love you.
7 Peace be within your walls *
and quietness within your towers.
8 For my brethren and companions’ sake, *
I pray for your prosperity.
9 Because of the house of the LORD our God, *
I will seek to do you good.”

I imagined Jesus and his parents ascending to Jerusalem three times a year for the great festivals, singing that same song.  I imagined Jesus and his disciples, later, ascending to Jerusalem praying for its peace, Jesus knowing the turmoil that awaited him there.  I prayed for the peace of Jerusalem and for all the people who gather there to worship and to live.

More later.  Blessings – and pray for peace in this city and this world.

An Elevator Pitch

cab055The Acts 8 Moment, of which I am a founding member, has invited Episcopalians to give an elevator pitch – a quick answer to the question, “Why are you an Episcopalian?”  That is, a quick enough answer that when a stranger on an elevator sees your Episcopal shield pin and asks what it is, you can give your answer in the time it takes you to get from one floor or another.  So here goes.

The Episcopal Church is where I met Jesus.  I grew up Episcopalian, and from the time I was a child, the stories of Jesus became a part of my memory and my imagination.  As a child, I “played” those stories; as a teenager, I explored them, questioned them, and challenged them in the company of a terrific group of fellow youth group members, campers, and co-counselors.

As an adult, I left the church for quite a while, but it was here to welcome me home when I was ready.  And my encounters with Jesus continued.  I met him at my children’s baptisms when there was no doubt he was standing at the font with us, and I met him and at the altar rail one particularly memorable Easter.  I met him in a community of friends who became my family when I moved to a strange city where I knew no one.  I met him in thoughtful and engaging sermons, and in study groups that took him seriously.  I met him in careful and inspiring liturgies, and in theologically rich music.

I met him in more difficult ways, too.  I met him when I was going through hard times, yet he was there to give me strength.  I met him when I explored troubling and challenging Bible passages with a company of folks who were not afraid to ask tough questions.  I met him in people who made me think in new ways about social issues.  I met him in people who were not much like me at all, and who broadened my perspective on the world.  I met him in people who called me into ministry and refused to let me fail.  I met him in prayer and worship and song.

I met Jesus because he is truly present in this church.  That’s why I am an Episcopalian.

Mission … Mission … Mission – Part Three

This post is a continuation of parts one and two, discussing TREC’s Study Paper on Governance and Administration

In the first post, Theophilus, I discussed TREC’s (the Taskforce for Re-imagining the Church’s) suggested reforms in general, and pointed out that their financial recommendation to cut the diocesan asking to the biblical tithe (10%) could cost DFMS as much as $27 million in revenue.  In the second post, I talked about their suggested reforms to General Convention and estimated that they might save around $400,000 in all.  In this post, I will discuss the rest of their suggestions and count up where we are, money-wise.

The Office of Presiding Bishop


What are the absolutely vital tasks that we need a Presiding Bishop to do?  What are the other tasks that have fallen to the Presiding Bishop over the years that could be accomplished in other ways?  What are the most appropriate ways to do these other things?

The Presiding Bishop, as I have argued before, fills three roles in our church:

  • Presiding Officer of the House of Bishops.  This was the original office.  As presiding officer, the PB has big responsibilities in governance, including General Convention, Executive Council, and so forth, and also properly handles responsibilities such as pastoral development of bishops and bishop disciplinary matters.  This role includes a lot of travel within TEC.
  • Primate.  The PB is the spokesperson for the church to the world, including representing us in the councils of the Anglican Communion and ecumenical affairs, advocating for justice issues, speaking for the church in times of national crisis, etc.  This role includes a great deal of U.S. and international travel.  This function was not contemplated in the original job description of the PB, but we need this kind of public leader.  If we didn’t have one, we would invent one.
  • CEO and Head of Staff.  The original office of PB certainly never contemplated that the PB would have a staff, other than perhaps an administrative assistant.  But the church-wide staff has grown to the point that it would be impossible for a PB to do her other two roles and keep track of the staff as well.  Therefore, staff oversight is mostly delegated to a Chief Operating Officer who functions, effectively, as the CEO, and is accountable only to the PB.

The first role is the original office, and it is a vital one.  The second role was added much later, as it became more and more necessary to have a bishop who would act as the church’s face to the world.  I think it is vital for the PB to fill these two roles, and frankly, filling these two roles is all any one human being can do.

I do not think it is vital for the PB to fill the third role.  In fact, I think it is inappropriate – in the sense that if the PB is CEO and head of staff, it means the staff is accountable only to one person who was elected by only one house of General Convention and who really doesn’t have time to oversee them because of his/her other two vital roles.  Unless General Convention is willing to bring a PB up on charges (which I hope will not happen in my lifetime), Convention is required to fund offices that it has no ability to hold accountable.

In addition, PBs are not (or should not be) elected for their administrative abilities.  They are (or should be) elected because they are inspiring leaders and speakers, and we want them to be our spokespersons to the world.  Let’s turn them loose to do what they were elected to do, and let capable administrators run the Church Center (wherever it is located), with appropriate oversight from the church’s elected representatives.

The PB does, of course, need staff in her own office to help her fulfill her duties.  That would include governance, communication, and disciplinary duties, as well as Anglican Communion liaisons and ecumenical officers, in my opinion.  It makes sense for those functions to be handled through the Primate’s office, since she is our spokesperson to the world.

But I believe that the bulk of the DFMS staff should report to a different person who is accountable to both houses of Convention.  Staff who report to different officers can still all be paid by DFMS and be subject to DFMS human resources, employment, and travel policies.

Therefore, as far I am concerned, Alternative II in the TREC paper moves in completely the wrong direction, centralizing even more duties in the hands of the PB than she already has, and making the job even more impossible than it already is.  Alternative III is better, but seems to envision the PB taking on too small a church-wide role, possibly keeping her diocesan see (what this accomplishes is unclear).  Therefore, I think Alternative I is the best choice: keeping a healthy view of the PB’s leadership, while allowing for Council oversight (not micro-management) of the head of staff (“CEO” is a poor name for this position).  Alternative I also seems to be the one that TREC has thought hardest about, judging from the verbiage devoted to the three alternatives.

images-1The Money Scorecard

Alternatives I and II don’t save us any money, but they don’t cost us any money either.  We already pay both a PB and a Chief Operating Officer.  Alternative III will cost us money, because the poor diocese that is saddled with a PB as its diocesan bishop will need a subsidy to call a suffragan bishop.  Let’s say Alternative III costs us $500,000 per triennium. 

Executive Council

What is the Executive Council?  What do they need to do that no one else can do, how many people does it take to do those things, and where do they fit within the power structures of the church?

ens_022713_TS_CouncilOtherBizWell, full disclosure – I serve on Executive Council (that’s me in the photo, in the green jacket just over Silvestre Romero’s left shoulder).  I was elected by Convention in 2012, and my term goes until 2018 – argghh, that seems like a long time!

Executive Council, as TREC points out, has two roles.  (1) It is the designated body to carry out Convention’s policies while Convention is not in session.  And (2) it is the legal Board of Directors of DFMS / The Episcopal Church.  These are two, not-always-congruent roles.

Executive Council IS a large group – it is hard for a group of 40 people to act as a board of directors.  However, most of Council’s work happens in committee (just as is the case with General Convention).  Could a group of 21 accomplish the work of Council?  Probably, if all 21 are good, active representatives, and not blowhards or inactives.  Is it worth a try?  Sure, if we think it will really accomplish something.  The money spent by Council in meetings is not that much in the context of an overall budget in excess of $111 million (Council meetings cost less than $750,000 for the triennium, less than 1% of our budget, and this presumably includes the cost of having a significant staff contingent at each meeting), but if the church wants to reduce the size of Council, I won’t protest as long as there are other provisions to accomplish Council’s work (and note that Council’s work may increase under the proposals).

I think it would make sense for the remaining CCABs, and for task forces established by Convention, to report to Council, and for Council to have authority to establish other task forces as necessary, as TREC proposes.  Note that I have already recommended that we do away with the provincial structure, so I think TREC should re-think how Council is elected.

The good thing about Council is that it is, in fact, a representative group.  We are elected by the Church to be leaders.  Those Council elections are important, especially if, as I believe should happen, these representative leaders are given more responsibility to oversee (not micro-manage) the work of the head of staff.  I do believe that Council, as an elected, representative group, is the best-situated group to do this oversight work on behalf of the whole Church.

Future Council members:  come prepared to lead.  Come with an agenda for action.  Don’t accept the role of routine rubber-stamper or passive accepter of the status quo.  The church needs more than that from us.  It needs us to be leaders, catalysts for change, and innovators.


The Money Scorecard

The budget for Council meetings is approximately $750,000 per triennium.  Let’s say we can save $300,000 under this proposal – a generous estimate. 


What is the staff for?  What things do we need to pay people to do?  What things can DFMS do that no one else can do?  And by the way, what kind of functions should a church-wide headquarters building support? 

It is hard for me to believe that TREC issued a report on “Governance and Administration” and barely touched the question of what the staff should be doing.  The report’s main discussion of staff was about who should supervise them.

Yet TEC’s 2013-15 triennial budget shows 12% spent on Governance, including only $2 million on General Convention, which takes up the bulk of the TREC report, and 78% on everything else, including 30% on Administration.  This 78% of our expenditures wasn’t worth discussing?  Governance has to bear the full weight of our restructuring efforts?   Folks, we’re not going to get down to a 10% tithe  without addressing Administration, staff roles and responsibilities, and what kind of headquarters building we need.

So what do we need a church-wide staff to accomplish?  Do we want program staff?  Do we want all program functions to devolve to voluntary networks instead?  What do we think is unnecessary?

Note that TREC’s proposals listed above have barely affected the cost of our church-wide structure at all, maybe saving $1 million at most (less than one percent of our DFMS budget).  If we’re going to get the church-wide assessment down to the biblical tithe (which I think is a terrific number! but remember, that is as much as a $27 million reduction!), the staff plus other projects NOT EVEN MENTIONED IN THE TREC REPORT are going to bear the brunt of the reduction.

If they don’t want to talk about it, I will.

I think we can divide our budget into:

(1) things DFMS can do that need to be done and no one else can do;

(2) things DFMS can do that are nice to have done and no one else can do; and

(3) things DFMS can do that are nice to have done but other people can do.

If we are going to cut the budget by $22 to $27 million, we are going to have to decide something like the following:  The church-wide budget needs to support (1), should support (2) to the extent we have the funds, and should not support (3), perhaps not cutting these amounts immediately, but working to reduce them over time.

(1) Things DFMS Can Do That Need to be Done and No One Else Can Do

  • Functions of governance – PB office, PHoD office, General Convention, CCABs, Secretary of Convention, Title IV work, etc. (Discussed in part two.; current budget around $13 million)
  • Ecumenical, interfaith, and Anglican Communion work.  (Current budget $8 million)
  • Federal Ministries.  (Current budget $1.6 million)
  • Communications, including marketing strategy for The Episcopal Church (no postcards, please).  (Current budget $9.1 million)
  • Finance, human resources, legal, and information technology.  (Current budget $19 million, not counting debt service or facilities maintenance.)
  • Maintenance of some sort of headquarters location.  It, ahem, doesn’t have to be in Manhattan.  (Current budget includes $8 million of debt service and $7 million of facilities maintenance, offset by $5 million of rental income, total $10 million.)

episcopal-church-centerThese are necessary functions and we need to accomplish them at the church-wide level – not to say that there isn’t room for cutting budget funding in these areas.  Maybe we could bring the litigation to an end, someday?  Do we really need such a costly administrative staff?  Maybe we could get rid of those debts and get a cheaper headquarters location?  The 2012 General Convention voted to move the Church Center away from its current location in Manhattan, an action I supported.  Of course, that action has run into resistance from the Church Center itself.  Executive Council continues to work on this issue, and we are making some progress, but the real issue won’t be solved until we know what kind of staff we need and are able to fund.

Note that the “Administration” line in our church-wide budget is over 30% of our spending for the triennium – a cool $34 million.  TREC hasn’t even glanced at these expenditures.

(2) Things DFMS Can Do That are Nice and No One Else Can Do

  • Most of our program offices, from Christian Formation to Ethnic Ministries, fall into this category.  Most ministry in these areas happens at the local level, but church-wide coordination and support for learning and networking is certainly valuable.  For instance, with proper funding, some great work could be done by the Office for Hispanic/Latino Ministries in developing lay and ordained leadership training for church planting nationwide.  (Current budgets: Formation & Vocation $3 million; Congregational Development $4 million; Ethnic Ministries $4 million)
  • Sending of missionaries into other parts of the world.  (Current budget $3.6 million.)
  • Social justice advocacy, including the Office of Government Relations.  (Current budget:  $3.3 million)

I support all of these efforts, but we need to look carefully at how much we can actually afford in each area.  Especially if we’re going to reduce our diocesan asking to the biblical tithe, as TREC recommends.  TREC: which of these functions would you like to get rid of?  Reducing our asking from 19% to 10%, a $27 million reduction, is going to require some painful inroads into this category, I am afraid.

(3) Things DFMS Can Do That Are Nice and Other People Can Do

  • Marks of Mission Grants – I really like these grants, especially Mission Enterprise Zones, which I think could be truly transformative across the church.  But the fact is, these grants take money given by the dioceses and give the money back to the dioceses.  They are redistribution schemes – from committed and/or wealthy dioceses to dioceses with good ideas.  Do we want to continue sustaining redistribution schemes?  If so, we are not going to be able to get our asking down to 10%.  Marks of Mission grants totaled $5.5 million in the current triennium.  When I say “other people can do” these things, I mean, maybe we will have to decide to leave this money in the dioceses we got it from, to support mission in those dioceses.
  • Grants for Province IX dioceses, non-self-sustaining dioceses within the US and Europe, and Anglican Communion partners – we spend huge amounts on these ($10 million within TEC, $2.7 million on grants and covenants within the Anglican Communion).  I don’t think we can just drop these folks cold turkey.  Can we work these partners toward sustainability over time?  This project is already underway in Province IX.
  • Grants for other supported entities, such as Historically Black Episcopal Colleges (current budget $1.8 million).
  • CCABs:  most work of the CCABs can be accomplished by informal networks and elected representatives.  (Current budget $730,000)
  • Support for provinces – I think we can eliminate the provincial structure.  (Current budget $300,000; most savings will come at the diocesan level.)
  • General Board of Examining Chaplains – if we need this function, it can support itself by increased user fees.

And so on – this category requires careful analysis.  Are we willing to pull back on all these commitments?

You may disagree with my classifications, and whether we should be funding categories 1, 2, or 3 as the highest priority.  Terrific – let’s have the discussion.  TREC hasn’t had it, as far as I can tell.

The point is: we need to decide what we want our church-wide staff and budget to accomplish.  Until we have decided this, simply suggesting new asking percentages like the biblical tithe is not going to fix anything.  TREC: please tell us what you think our church-wide structures should be doing.  Your almost-exclusive focus on governance (which, by the way, doesn’t really end up saving much money at the church-wide level) allows the majority of our expenditures to escape notice altogether.  What about the other category in your paper’s title – Administration?

Back to the main question: what do we want to actually accomplish at the church-wide level?  Until we have answered this question, we are just wandering through the weeds, speculating on how many deputies we should have per diocese, a fairly minor question in the overall financial picture.


The Money Scorecard

TREC Proposals: no effect.  No attention paid to this category whatsoever.


TREC makes an utterly unrealistic recommendation to reduce the asking to the biblical tithe.  Oh, it can be done, but not based on the reforms they are suggesting, which might save $1 million at best.  Unless TREC does some real work to find another $26 million of cuts, it would fall to the heroic efforts of PB&F to find those cuts at the last minute, should such a proposal pass the next General Convention.  Which would make PB&F the ACTUAL Taskforce to Restructure the Church, the same as it was in 2009, no matter what it is called.  If TREC doesn’t do this work, then I think it is irresponsible of them to suggest such a reduction and leave the burden to someone else.

Let me reiterate:  I am completely in support of reducing our diocesan asking.  I think it is far too high, and I think we need to look carefully at what we are asking our church-wide structures to do so that we can make significant reductions in the asking.  But reducing the budget by $27 million would end up being, effectively, the true restructuring of our church.  Is that what we want – restructuring by budget cuts on the second to last day of Convention?  Or do we want TREC to take a realistic, comprehensive, and responsible look at what they are suggesting that we do?

In the end, it’s all about mission: what should The Episcopal Church be doing?  How should we be reaching out to new folks with the life-transforming love of Christ?  How should we be changing the world?  How much of this work can the church-wide structure empower and support?  And what should we NOT be doing?

Mission … Mission … Mission – Part Two

This post is a continuation of Part One, discussing TREC’s Study Paper on Governance and Administration.

In my previous post, I talked about TREC’s (the Taskforce for Reimagining the Church’s) recommended reforms on Governance and Administration in general.  I pointed out that the financial effect of their suggestion to reduce the diocesan asking to the biblical tithe (10%), while a great idea, could cost DFMS as much as $27 million in revenue, and said that we will need to take some serious looks at how we spend our money if we are going to take such a cut.  In this series, I will assess the recommendations in general and try to estimate the costs (or cost savings) involved.  In this post, I will take about their recommendations for General Convention.

General Convention

Why do we have a General Convention?  What things do we need it to do that no other structure can appropriately do? What needs to happen between Conventions to keep the work of the church going? 

We have a General Convention because we believe in shared episcopal, clergy, and lay leadership.  We believe in electing representatives to do the governance work of the church.  The founders of The Episcopal Church probably never dreamed that the church would grow to 110 dioceses, or 880 deputies – it is certainly an overwhelmingly large gathering.

But interestingly, if you take a look at the way TEC actually spends our money, General Convention is not that expensive in the overall scheme of things.  the 2013-15 triennium shows a cost of $2.1 million for Convention itself.  And guess what, we receive $1.2 million of revenue from General Convention, meaning the net cost of Convention at the church-wide level is just a little under $900,000 – less than one percent of our $111 million budget.  The rest of the $13 million “Governance” cost (12% of our overall budget of $111 million) relates to governance functions of the PB’s office, the President of the House of Deputies office (the PHoD herself is unpaid, but she does have staff and office expenses), the General Convention Secretary’s office, the Archives, Executive Council, CCABs, etc.  In this whole restructuring movement, an exclusive focus on General Convention in order to save money is misguided:  we spend 31% of our budget on Administration, for instance.  (Click here for the full 2013-15 budget passed by the last Convention.)  Why does Administration get a free pass on restructuring?  Maybe TREC is planning to look at it sometime – but their report is supposed to be about “Governance and Administration,” and I don’t see them talking about Administration at all.  I will talk about it, in Part Three.

General_Convention_PhotoWell and good: back to Convention.  TREC has proposed to reduce the number of clergy and lay deputies per diocese from eight to six, and to limit voting in the House of Bishops to active bishops.  These are good proposals.  There might be some side effects: some folks argue that such a reduction would reduce age and race diversity in the House of Deputies, but I am not convinced.  It is clear, however, that it would make our voting system less conservative.  Right now, controversial issues are subject to a “vote by orders” in the HOD, which means that to pass, we need to have a majority of clergy and lay deputations voting 75% or more in favor.  The reduction from four to three deputies per order in each diocese would mean controversial issues would only need to pass by 67%.  Are we okay with that?

The proposal to reduce the number of deputies would save money at the diocesan level: if each diocese sends all of its voting representatives plus one alternate in each order, the average diocese would send nine people to Convention (including the bishop) rather than eleven, an 18% cost savings.  My own diocese, Arizona, appears to budget $45,000 per triennium for General Convention, so maybe it will save $8,100 over the course of three years, or $2,700 a year.  Not huge, but maybe it will pay a few expenses.

At the church-wide level, we don’t save much on this part of the proposal.  The cost to DFMS might be somewhat reduced because a smaller meeting space might be found, though I doubt it would save 18% of the meeting cost, since 660 deputies still need a pretty big room, and we still need an exhibit hall, a room for the bishops, etc.  Reducing the total time of Convention would save some money, but not if the extra time is used for a “Mission Convocation” instead.  And our total cost might actually increase for the Mission Convocation: we would need meeting space for the convocation, speaker fees for the great folks who will be teaching us stuff, etc.  I’d say that at the church-wide level, this proposal is a wash – we won’t save any money on this, all things considered.  We might actually spend more.

Note:  I think having a Mission Convocation is a great idea.  I am not sure whether it would be successful – for one thing, will laypeople who are attending Convention on their hard-earned vacation time come for two weeks when the main work they were elected to do happens in one?  However, if that many members of the church are getting together to do something, by all means let’s make it a learning and enriching experience.  My hope would be that such a gathering would be different from a regular conference, though.  If it’s just a programmed gathering with a few keynotes and lots of workshops led by approved luminaries, it doesn’t sound that interesting.  How about a lot of keynotes and then open-source gathering time for any group to bring people together that wants to reserve a space/time slot?  It would be up to the group to gather a crowd interested in participating.  That’s what we did in 2012 for the Acts 8 Moment, and that gathering was a wonderful respite in the midst of an otherwise exhausting Convention.

Back to reducing the cost of Convention:  while we’re at it, can we look at other ways of reducing Convention’s size?  What about looking hard at small dioceses that are not financially viable, have tiny populations, yet have the same representation in Convention as high-population giants like Los Angeles, Texas, and New York?  Could we start working hard on combining unviable dioceses, taking a step toward more-proportional representation?  If not, maybe we should truly take a look at proportional representation, allowing small dioceses to be represented in proportion to their population.

provincesAnd can we take a look at our provincial structure?  Is there a reason we still need to organize by geography in the digital age?  Our dioceses are expected to pay assessments to provinces, which work with varying degrees of effectiveness.  Why not do away with this whole level of organization and trust that in the digital age, we can communicate with others who are across the country, just as well as we can with those who are two hours’ drive away?  (Or, in the case of my own gigantic Province VIII, as much as 8 hours’ airplane flight away.)  For those provincial network groups that are still valuable, such as the Province VIII young adult gatherings, there is nothing to prevent them still meeting if they want to, even if this whole level of governance doesn’t exist.  I don’t understand why TREC is not asking these questions.  Maybe it plans to, and just hasn’t gotten there yet.

Regarding General Convention:  TREC has correctly identified the most important things that only Convention can do:

  • constitutional and canonical changes
  • changes to liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer
  • adoption of a budget
  • elections canonically required to be held at GC (maybe we could reduce their number!)
  • governance and structural reform

Their proposal to establish a screening process to permit only the most important resolutions on social justice issues has caused some alarm.  But if we are honest, we have to admit that often, in cases that are not high-profile issues, many deputies are voting on issues they have may not have much knowledge about, trusting the relevant committee to have made appropriate judgments, and voting “yes” on what they recommend.  Even on high-profile issues such as Israeli-Palestinian peace, the legislative committee in 2012 did significant work to sift through competing priorities and controversial and complex issues that the rest of us were not privy to, especially if we were serving on other committees.  We had to trust the committee to make responsible judgments.

That means the church’s social justice portfolio is already effectively in the hands of a small group of people.  Here’s one idea: elect this group of people at Convention and empower them to make judgments on social justice issues while Convention is not in session, only involving all of Convention on the most high-profile issues.  The fact is that many social justice priorities arise in the interim between Conventions anyway, and Executive Council ends up creating positions for the whole church (at the recommendation of the relevant Council committee, an even smaller group).  We don’t wait three years between updating our thoughts on these matters.

church-planting-logoMy major concern with the proposal to limit legislation is with mission matters.  How about this: at the last Convention, we approved the concept of Mission Enterprise Zones to give grants for new church communities.  PB&F (Program, Budget, and Finance) responded by giving $2 million to this priority.  In 2009, we approved the Strategic Plan for Latino/Hispanic Ministries, and it was partially funded in response to overwhelming support on the House floor and in PB&F hearings.  What happens if we’re not allowed to bring such creative resolutions to the floor?  Should PB&F be in charge of dreaming up cool mission priorities all by its lonesome?

I might agree with TREC’s proposal if it is broadly stated enough to allow such creative mission priorities to come to the floor and get the opportunity for funding.  Perhaps these initiatives fall under the category of “adoption of a triennial budget.”

TREC’s other proposals about streamlining the work of legislative committees make sense, though I don’t see what reducing the number of legislative committees will accomplish.  It’s not like the legislative committees fill up their spare hours by dreaming up more resolutions to waste Convention’s time with.  They respond to the resolutions that others submit.  Reducing the number of committees just increases the workload of each committee, taking more time to bring legislation to the floor and potentially lengthening Convention, while increasing the number of deputies that don’t have a committee to work with and therefore aren’t fully utilized.

Allowing legislative committees to meet in advance is a good idea, and will promote efficiency.  There will be some additional costs for electronic meetings and so forth – not significant, but they will be there.  This is not a cost-saving measure per se, but it might save time on-site.

Reducing the number of CCABs is a perfectly fine idea.  From my work on Council, I am aware that some of the CCABs don’t really even know what they are supposed to be doing.  There’s no use having groups just because we’re supposed to have them.  Appointing task forces to do real, identified work is a good idea.  The work of thinking up resolutions to submit to Convention, which CCABs are supposed to be doing now – that’s what deputies and bishops are elected for, right?  Get to work, deputies and bishops – band together, dream up good ideas, and file those resolutions.  We don’t need to appoint groups to have meetings, spend money, and do it for us.

images-1The Money Scorecard
So far, if you’re keeping score on the money issue:  the proposal to eliminate most CCABs is the ONLY proposal that will save us much money (let’s say, $400,000 over the triennium, a generous estimate of the savings).  The other proposals to change Convention will save the dioceses some money, but may even increase costs at the church-wide level. 

Next Post:  I will continue discussing the work of the Presiding Bishop, Executive Council, and the Staff.

Mission … Mission … Mission – Part One

missionary-societySix of my friends and colleagues in the Acts 8 Moment have been blogging about this question: What does it mean to be a 21st century missionary society?  Go read their posts!  All six of these amazing folks have great things to say, from very different perspectives, and these vital perspectives should be part of the conversation as we move into Episcopal Church restructuring, or re-imagining, as the Taskforce for Reimagining the Church (TREC) likes to put it.

All this talk of mission, and of what it takes to be a missionary society in the 21st century, is right on point with the whole restructuring movement.  Recall how this movement got started:  DFMS Chief Operating Officer Stacy Sauls made a presentation to the House of Bishops arguing that church-wide “governance and administration” costs were too high compared to “mission” costs. The bishops got to work at their diocesan conventions, restructuring became a clarion cry, and the 2012 General Convention unanimously (unanimously!) passed a resolution establishing TREC.

missionNote the overriding concern that began this whole restructuring movement:  the budget, and how we spend our money to support mission.  Recall also what the biggest controversy was leading up to that 2012 General Convention: ALSO the budget, and how our money is spent to support mission.  I had a big part in that conversation, and my blogging, I think, helped inspire a re-visioned budget for the current triennium that is based on the Anglican Five Marks of Mission.  (Scott Gunn and Tom Ferguson don’t have a monopoly on crowing about their ancient blog posts.)

treasure1All this is to say:  in all this talk about restructuring the church, let’s pay attention to how the proposals we make will affect the way we spend our money, because money is what started this conversation, and money is a vital part of this movement to restructure the church.  Money is not some dirty, tangential thing; money is a direct measure of our priorities.  Jesus knew this, which is why he told us over and over in many different ways that money is one of the most important spiritual issues of our lives.  Let’s be sure we are putting our treasure where want our hearts to be (heaven), because Jesus said clearly that wherever we put our treasure, our hearts will follow.

So does TREC have this goal in mind, of putting our treasure where we know our hearts should be?  They do seem to be operating on the unstated assumption that one purpose of this restructuring is to save money, or use it more wisely.  Hence the proposal to reduce the number of voting deputies, to save money (well, and be more “nimble” – Bingo!  There’s one of our special words!  I am feeling nostalgic for the 2012 General Convention!).

But other than that, their only mention of the issue that started this whole process is this, on page 3:

In the reform of the budget process, reduce the general assessment to dioceses to something closer to the biblical tithe, and develop a sensible means of holding dioceses accountable for paying their assessments.

For the record, I think both of these things are great ideas.  The problem is that (as far as I can tell) TREC hasn’t taken the least tiny look at how we actually spend our money, and whether such a reduction would be possible, and they certainly haven’t begun to propose reforms that would bring our spending down to that level.

TREC thinks the biblical tithe, or 10%, is a nice round number.  That sounds like a nice round number to me, too, and as the chair of the Executive Council budget process, I will work with you to try to make it happen if I possibly can.

But let’s be clear – a reduction from 19% to 10% is a huge reduction in TEC’s revenues.  Based on my quick-and-dirty estimate of the revenue lost if this reduction had happened in 2013, this reduction might cost us $27 million over the triennium.  (Even if we could convince every diocese paying less than 10% to up the ante to a full 10%, we would still have to cut $22 million from the budget.)  You can’t propose reform of that magnitude without telling us how you plan to accomplish it.  Otherwise we could end up, not with TREC doing a careful three-year process to create a coherent restructuring, but instead with PB&F doing the actual, effective restructuring on the second-to-last day of Convention, as happened in 2009.

Note: in these three blog posts, I will do my best to count up the financial effect of the reforms proposed so far – not because money is the only important aspect of these reforms (it’s not), but because it’s something I can do that as far as I can tell, no one else (including TREC) has done.  Hint: they’re not anywhere close to saving us $27 million yet.

Cool Modified Structures (11)That’s not to say that this restructuring movement is entirely about money.  There are lots of inefficiencies, oddly constructed power structures, and unclear mandates in the way our systems have evolved, and this is a great time to correct those things.  TREC has some good ideas for how to do this.  And, as TREC correctly points out, The Episcopal Church needs to concentrate on mission, and restructuring “will not save the church or do the work of reaching out to the world in new ways with the transforming good news of the gospel.”  Underlying all the anxiety about money is the fact that the Church has less money now than it used to have because our numbers of active disciples are shrinking.  I hope that as this restructuring movement continues, we can find a way to empower mission and evangelism in the church.

The TREC Report on Governance and Administration

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the latest TREC Study Paper on Governance and Administration.  I am glad to see that TREC is finally getting to specifics, and some of their proposals have real merit.

The problem is that they seem to be lost in the weeds.  Why are we restructuring the church?  What are we hoping to achieve?  What do we want our church-wide structure to accomplish?  What should DFMS (the Episco-geek term for the church-wide corporate structure, including the staff) be doing?  What do we want the staff to concentrate on?  What are the major functions of the church-wide governing and staff structures?

In TREC’s “Identity and Vision Draft,” they talked about these questions at the 30,000-foot level, concluding that the church-wide structure should be a Catalyst, Connector, Capability Builder, and Convener.  Now they swoop right down to the 1-foot level, speaking about numbers of deputies per deputation, who reports to whom, and what to do with the CCABs (never mind if you don’t know what these are).  These are important questions, but we skipped some steps.

Unless we know what important things MUST be done at the church-wide level, we will never achieve clarity on our restructuring or on how we use our resources and our staff.  Some definition work needs to happen:

  • Why do we have a General Convention?  What things do we need it to do that no other structure can appropriately do?  Are there other things that could happen in conjunction with Convention to empower mission in the church?  What needs to happen between Conventions to keep the work of the church going?
  • What are the absolutely vital tasks that we need a Presiding Bishop to do?  What are the other tasks that have fallen to the Presiding Bishop over the years that could be accomplished in other ways?  What are the most appropriate ways to do these things?
  • What is the Executive Council?  What do they need to do that no one else can do, how many people does it take to do those things, and where do they fit within the power structures of the church?
  • What is the staff for?  What things do we need to pay people to do?  What things can DFMS do that no one else can do?  And by the way, what kind of functions should a church-wide headquarters building support?  (Recall that the 2013-15 budget includes $11 million of expenditures related to the Church Center building alone.)

Once we have defined these roles, we can figure out how we need to be structured, what things we need to get rid of, what things we need to keep or expand, and how much everything will cost.

In the next post, I will talk about the role of General Convention.

Executive Council, Feb. 2014: Let’s Hope It’s About Jesus

Each morning at an Executive Council meeting, we begin with prayers and meditation on a Bible passage.  At my table last week, during our discussion of one passage, a member said that every time he stands up to preach, or to lead a church group or meeting, he says to himself, “I hope this is about Jesus.”

It’s a good way to think about what Council does.  All the minutiae of budgets, by-laws, and boards – tiresome as it can be, I hope it’s about Jesus.  And surely it is.  The way we use our resources, organize ourselves to make decisions, and argue and advocate for different positions, may be complex.  But in the end, if all that politics helps us to advance the mission of Jesus, it’s all worth it.  I hope.

Executive Council just concluded its February 2014 meeting, and addressed some important issues, though we left some questions unresolved.  We have mountains of work to do, and not enough time in our three-day meetings to plow through all of it, though we do the best we can.

You can read a full report of our decisions on the Episcopal News Service site, here. While many areas Council worked on at this meeting were important (such as addressing human trafficking and football team names that support racial stereotypes), I want to talk about a few issues in particular here.  My apologies for a long blog post aimed at Episcopal Church groupies!

UTO Agreement

First, after much debate and dissension in the blogosphere over conflict between Church Center staff and some former board members of the United Thank Offering, Council approved new by-laws for the UTO.

The GAM (Governance and Administration for Mission) committee heard heartfelt explorations of the issues that led to the controversy at our last meeting (October 2013).  Those discussions were in executive session, so I wasn’t privy to their content (I serve on FFM, the Finances for Mission committee).  GAM then formed a committee of Council members who worked with current UTO board members to come to an agreement.  The only Church Center staff member present was Paul Nix, the legal counsel.  This group met over four days in January 2014, and did a lot of work to get to know each other, to explore the history and mission of UTO, and to discuss the way the UTO operates.  They came out of their meeting with a unanimous proposal for new by-laws and a new memorandum of understanding (MOU).

I asked Steve Hutchinson, the chair of GAM, to explain why new by-laws were necessary.  He said there were some unworkable provisions in the old by-laws, such as the requirement for a 75% affirmative vote for anything to pass; a no-excuses rule that required every board member to be present at every meeting, with one absence a cause for dismissal; and presidential power to dismiss any other board member at any time without reason.  I read through the new by-laws, and concluded that they were simply innocuous.  I have no objection to them; they are simply a standard set of governance by-laws.

I had a few more questions about the MOU, which I shared with Steve privately and in Council session.  My basic concern is that parts of the MOU can be interpreted in a way that allows Episcopal Church leadership (however that is defined) to create granting criteria for the UTO, and I do not believe it is Council’s intention to impose our judgment (or the staff’s) on the UTO.  Steve assured me that that was not the intention, that everyone understands that the process would be:  (1) the UTO creates granting criteria and proposes them to Council; (2) Council ratifies them in our usual rubber-stamp manner when given a proposal that others have labored hard over; (3) UTO goes away and does the work to determine grant recipients; (4) Council approves their grant requests (again, a rubber stamp in every situation I am aware of).  Steve also assured me that the MOU (unlike by-laws) is not a legal document, but one that will continue to evolve and be modified, and that my concerns will be taken into account as the MOU is corrected and changed over the next few months.

For the record, I voted in favor of the new by-laws, because as I said above, they are simply innocuous.  I voted against the MOU, because I would rather have a “fully evolved” and clear understanding of the process in any MOU that is adopted.  However, I do trust Steve that the intent is right, and that all parties are satisfied.  At some point, I hope Christians can stop relying on paper documents to do our work, and start trusting and working in partnership with each other.  I think that the UTO and Council are already at that point, and I hope that whatever conflicts have existed between the UTO and staff will be reconciled.  I am deeply grateful for the hard work that has been done by Steve Hutchinson and the other Council members to reach this point.

Once again, it should be clearly stated: no donated money will go to any other cause than to UTO grants.  UTO administrative costs are paid entirely from UTO trust funds, which are administered by DFMS.  We can all trust that our thank offerings are going 100% to their intended recipients.

Note that there is continuing confusion and unclarity about the status of “boards” (such as the UTO, the Board of Transition Ministries, the Archives, etc.), and how much oversight Church Center leadership has over staff working in areas of board operations.  These groups are not separate legal entities, but are parts of DFMS and are legally subject to Executive Council/General Convention oversight.  How much oversight staff is authorized to exercise is a curious question.  GAM is undertaking further work to clarify this question, and I look forward to seeing their report.

Location of the Church Center

I serve on the subcommittee for the Location of the Church Center, which is working to respond to Resolution D016 from the 2012 General Convention, which stated that it is the will of Convention to move the Church Center away from 815 Second Avenue, New York City.  There are two separate and interrelated questions involved here.  First, if we are going to move, where should we go and what is our vision for a reconstituted Church Center (or similar creature by another name)?  Second, what should we do with the real estate asset that we leave behind?  We are making some progress on both of these questions, though they are large and complex questions that cannot be answered quickly.  I can’t say much about what we are doing in response to the second question, because these deliberations are confidential due to real estate valuation considerations.  But please believe me that we are progressing well on the real estate question.

With regard to the first question, we have received some very helpful responses to our survey conducted last fall.  We had nearly 1200 responses, and they listed the following as the top five most important factors for a new Church Center to embody:

  • Is affordable
  • Provides affordable nearby accommodations
  • Provides excellent hospitality
  • Provides affordable meeting space
  • Provides easy access for members to fly to

“Affordable” is obviously a very important consideration, as is the idea that a new Church Center should be a gathering place that people can get to easily, gather comfortably, and stay nearby at a reasonable price.  This is a vision that I certainly agree with.  We will be researching how we can respond to these hopes, and reporting back on our progress.

Budget for the Current Triennium

Good news on the budget front for the current triennium – we expect to receive $885,000 more per year in 2014 and 2015 than budgeted, mostly due to better than expected collections from two large dioceses.  At our October meeting, Council agreed to use $258,000 to fund a new racial reconciliation officer.  At the February meeting, we agreed to use $150,000 to fund a critically needed digitization project at the Archives.

In addition, we expect to use $312,000 in 2015 to support the Anglican Communion Office, in response to a request from the Presiding Bishop.  If approved, this will raise our ACO commitment from $700,000 for the triennium to $1,012,000.  According to Presiding Bishop Katharine, her request came not only in recognition of greatly improved relations with the Communion, but also as a gesture of support for some very beneficial work, such as the continuing Indaba project and reconciliation work.  We did not officially vote on this request at this meeting, because it affects the 2015 budget, which does not come up for an official vote until October.  However, I expect we will approve it then.  Note that our 2013 and 2014 payments to the ACO were made as if we were spreading a total of $1,012,000 over three years.  If the increased 2015 budget is not approved in October, the ACO will experience a severe cut, to $25,333 in 2015.

I support the archives work and the ACO increase, but I hope the budget requests stop there.  These new revenues and expenditures will leave us with a surplus of about $1,050,000.  In my view, this money should be used to reimburse the endowment for part of the cost of the Development Office.  The Development Office announced the receipt of a pledge for $5 million for work in Haiti, which is good – they have now officially broken even, and have raised more than it costs to run the office.  They always said it would take time to build their contact list, and I have no doubt that success in this area is a long-term endeavor.  However, I don’t think the Development Office should be funded from the endowment.  If the office were raising funds for the endowment, this might be appropriate, but they are not.  They are raising funds for projects like Haiti and Navajoland – critical needs, but operating, not endowment needs.  We need to find ways to fund this office from operations.

Budget Proposal for the Next Triennium

One of the most important responsibilities of Executive Council is to propose a budget to the next General Convention.  The last two triennia, it has been a fiasco.  Without rehearsing those prior failures, I can say that I came into Council determined that we should not repeat them.  I was promptly appointed the chair of the Budget Process subcommittee, which has been working almost since the beginning of this triennium to put together the 2015 budget proposal.  We hope that this will be a document that embodies a true, inspiring, vision for the church.

Here’s what we’ve done so far:  requested all the CCABs (Commissions, Committees, Agencies, and Boards) to undergo a visioning process and tell us of their visionary priorities for the church’s work in the next triennium.  The Standing Committees of Council have now reviewed those priorities and ranked their most important ones.  Among our findings from this process:

  • First, there is widespread agreement about continuing to engage in Marks of Mission initiatives, and in some cases expanding them.
    • The current work being done in Mission Enterprise Zones, Province IX Sustainability, Young Adult Service Corps, and Engagement with Domestic Poverty was widely supported.
    • Some other exciting and visionary initiatives were proposed.
      • There was great interest in expanding our work with underrepresented ethnic groups, including evangelism, church planting, leadership development and support, strategic planning, providing resources in non-English languages, and anti-racism training.
      • There was interest in considering issues of lifelong Christian formation, ranging from a church-wide conversation on theological education to grants for campus ministries to paying special attention to Christian formation of non-English speakers.
      • There was a proposal to hold hearings across the country on issues of injustice and racism.
      • There was an idea to encourage companion relationships between TEC parishes and dioceses and parishes and dioceses in other countries by providing funds for matching grants for mission projects.

In addition to these Marks of Mission projects, there were a number of excellent proposals for strengthening the ways our infrastructure supports our mission (which I won’t bore you with here).

At our June meeting we will take up the question of revenue: how much should we be asking our dioceses to pay toward support of The Episcopal Church?  We currently ask 19%, but diocesan compliance with this rate varies widely, giving rise to much resentment on the part of dioceses that pay the full rate toward those that do not.  In my opinion, 19% is too high, and poses an unfair burden on the dedicated dioceses that pay full freight.  I believe we should lower the asking rate, though it will result in millions of dollars of reduction in TEC revenues.  A lower asking will allow more money to stay in local hands, where it will contribute to mission in important and tangible ways. 

At the June meeting, Council will be requested to make a decision on the revenue question, so this is the time to begin making noise if you have an opinion on the subject!  Once we have a revenue estimate, we can begin to create a real budget, which weighs the priorities we have identified against the revenue available.

2018 General Convention in Austin

While we’re on the subject of paying the diocesan asking – the General Convention Planning Committee brought to Council a proposal to hold the 2018 Convention in Austin, Texas.  This met with a question, because the Diocese of Texas is not paying its full asking – though it has recently raised its payment to 10%.  Should we be holding Convention in a diocese that does not meet its full obligations?  The answer the Planning Committee gave was that they have received assurances that Texas will be increasing their payment to full compliance before 2018.  After receiving this assurance, Council voted to approve Austin as the 2018 Convention site.

This raises the whole question of our unjust system of asking.  The most dedicated dioceses pony up the full amount, while recalcitrant ones get away with paying much less without penalty.  What kind of accountability should we have?  Should large church-wide meetings be prohibited from happening in dioceses that do not pay the full amount?  Should non-paying dioceses be asked to explain their choice?  Should the voluntary “asking” become a required “assessment?” I hope the 2015 General Convention will take up these questions.

I Hope it’s About Jesus

I have to say that attending Council is both an exhilarating and an exhausting experience.  We work hard to get a huge amount of work done in a few too-short days.  We do the best we can to make wise decisions in the face of a lot of time pressure and a lot of uncertainty.  Sometimes it all seems very institutional and bureaucratic, and it is.  But we are ultimately doing the best we can to steer a very large ship in the direction of God’s mission.  In the end, I hope it’s all about Jesus.