The news report from Executive Council raises more questions about governance and the relationship between General Convention, Deputies, Bishops, Executive Council, the presiding officers and staff. It is good to hear that the Presiding Bishop's remarks on "suicide by governance" were the subject of honest and clarifying discussion:
Council spent more than a half hour discussing Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's remarks from the previous day concerning the tensions inherent in the Episcopal Church's governance structure. Twelve members of council spoke during the conversation.
Council member Katie Sherrod, Diocese of Fort Worth, asked for time on the agenda and told Jefferts Schori that "while you did not question the need for a House of Deputies, I fear your remarks that bishops' vocation is 'their ability to do big-picture work, care for the whole flock, to invite others into the big-picture, long-term conversation while deputies are elected to represent the interests of their dioceses' will increase those tensions, not relieve them."
Sherrod said that she believes that "most deputies do indeed approach their work with a big-picture view of the church and a concern for all the people as much as, if not more than, many bishops do."
[Sherrod] said that her "deeper concern" is a "growing sense" that "some bishops are dangerously close to saying to the clergy and deputies, 'We have no need of you.'"
[Jefferts Schori] said she was trying to point to the tension between bishops "who ideally in vocation are called to care for the whole and deputies who are elected by individual dioceses who represent the interests of those dioceses." When a murmuring of "no" arose, the presiding bishop said "just a minute, let me finish," explaining that she meant that dioceses elect deputies from out of the context of the diocese's stance on the issues facing the church.
"I'm not impugning the understanding of individual deputies that they are called to serve the whole church," she said. "What I am simply saying is that deputies in their election are called by particular dioceses. That's not a perfect distinction, but generally it's a tension and I hope I was careful to say that I don't think we should resolve that tension.
"If we resolve the tension, we have failed. That tension should be energizing and keep us talking to each other and honoring the gifts of different vocations."
Council member Gay Jennings, Diocese of Ohio, suggested that the councils of advice to the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies ought to meet together to consider the perceptions discussed during the council meeting.
"As we approach [the 2012 meeting of General Convention in] Indianapolis, I would hate to see this kind of tension become exacerbated," Jennings said.
While, of course, the Executive Council should not try to fill the role of staff, at least two things are troubling.
1. The Mission Funding Office, which is presumably about two-thirds of the way through its $1.5 million allocation for the triennium, has raised about $350,000. That evokes alarm. Should the Council remain silent for fear of upsetting the leadership's sense of roles and boundaries?
2. It seems that we should at least be listening to those who think there is a better way to be carrying our debt. According to the ENS report, that discussion seemed to conclude with the Presiding Bishop scolding a former top level IBM executive, Del Glover, for hurting the Treasurer Kurt Barnes' feelings. Perhaps a fuller discussion of the logic behind each method would result in better relationships and the best way of proceeding.
[Barnes] said that the subcommittee's report did not take into account the work that he and Margareth Crosnier de Bellaistre, the church's director of investment management and banking, had been doing for many months to explore refinancing options and solicit proposals from lenders. "It acts as if we've been asleep," Barnes said of the report.
"The way it was approached, my staff and I absolutely felt that our intelligence or ability was always being challenged," Barnes said. "We give 10 hours a day to this church and then we have other people who say, 'but you don't know what you're doing.' That's our problem and if we have misread it, then I am sorry."
Glover said that the finance office staff had misread the subcommittee's intent. He said the group, made up of former members of the Joint Audit Committee of Executive Council and the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and those with expertise in the area, was in fact offering advice and contacts, not implementing policy. He said the need for the subcommittee grew out of the audit committee's concern about the level of debt the church has and about the payment coming due at the end of the year.
Regarding the press conference at the end of the meeting: perhaps briefing officers, appointed by the Council, might be a way to present what happened at the meeting. They could be chosen from the various standing committees to give a brief recap of what was discussed and acted upon. This would be especially helpful as most of the press is not present for the meeting but only listens in on the telephone conference and has no idea of the "news" of the meeting until later when the Executive Council message and ENS reports are published. The current method is to have the presiding officers answer the one question allowed, with no follow up, to each reporter. The answers are usually "we did not discuss that at the meeting" or "read the reports" - this results in frustration among those who are trying to report in a timely fashion.
UPDATE: The President of the House of Deputies closing remarks below:
I would like to make a request of all the members of council, visitors and staff. I ask that we do not to use quote “suicide by governance”. In the last few weeks our society has mourned the loss of teenagers who have taken their own lives as a result of bullying. Out of respect for those we do not know, for our own friends and family members I ask that we do not repeat this quote.
Now about governance:
After eight terms as a deputy I still marvel at the democratic way in which our church governs itself and the way authority is shared by all orders of ministry. Some people are attracted to our Church by our liturgy. I love the liturgy, but I was attracted to God’s Church by the way the authority is shared for accomplishing God’s mission.
Even here in Executive Council when we've had a lot of difficult issues to deal with, the members come and give generously of their time and their expertise to help the church find its way forward in tough times.
For example, it is churches with democratic polities such as us and the Lutherans who have done the most to welcome LGBT folks, and who have the most progressive social justice policies. One of our great missional accomplishments in The Episcopal Church over the past three decades is welcoming all the people of God into the full life of God’s church, restoring all people to God through Christ.
I know that our democratic governance makes us attractive to many people who leave more authoritarian churches to become Episcopalians. Our energy as a church--our ability to do much with few members--comes from the sense of ownership and investment that Episcopalians feel in the mission of their church, whether it is at the parish, diocesan, provincial or church-wide level. We do more with less than churches governed in a top down fashion, where lay people and clergy are disenfranchised, because the people in our pews know that they can make a difference in what the church does and says. That only happens because people like you [Executive Council] are willing to share your gifts, to take risks, and to immerse yourself in a form of governance that we think helps us understand and respond to the promptings of the holy spirit. Thank you for sharing your gifts, your leadership, your wisdom.
Reinventing the church for 21st Century ministry and mission is a central priority for all leaders in the Episcopal Church. To accomplish this reinvention, we need a structure that proclaims that all are welcome in the Episcopal Church--not just to sit and have ministry done to them, but to participate, vote and lead ministry and mission that is vital and connected to our local and worldwide communities.
At a time when younger generations are embracing ever more collaborative and decentralized models of ministry and mission, we need to avoid a return to a 1950's top-down ministry delivery system. We talk about subsidiarity. I look forward to exploring ways we can actually put that concept into practice. We need the full, democratic participation of all of the members of the body of Christ--every last one--to invigorate our mission and respond to the poverty, injustice, violence and fear in our world that God is calling us to address.
Thank you for the conversation this morning. Some very helpful suggestions have been offered by council members. In preparation for General Convention, I will ask that the Presiding Bishop’s and the President of the House of Deputies councils of advice meet together to have collaborative conversation as we look forward to the 77th General Convention.
Thank you for inspiring my ministry. Thank you Katie for your courage. And when we each are “afraid” to say something that is important to us and that affects the life of this group, I pray we will take courage from the courage we have seen among us.
The Holy Spirit dwells in the church and presides in its councils. What a council seeks to understand, by its debates and votes, is not the mind of the majority of its church members, but the mind of the Spirit. Deputies and the representatives they elect to Executive Council and other bodies are an essential part of the way the Spirit works through the Episcopal Church.
People don’t become Episcopalians to await further instructions. They become Episcopalians to get involved.