President of House of Deputies clears up confusion

Received via email from Dr. Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies:

January 29, 2012

Dear Deputies and First Alternates:

A confusing situation has arisen and I’d like to set the record straight:


On Thursday, the Presiding Bishop released a video directed to the House of Deputies expressing her opinion about legislative issues that will come before General Convention this summer. Yesterday, the Office of Communications sent an email to bishops that mischaracterized my response to the video’s release and asked the bishops to forward the video message to their diocese’s deputies.

On Thursday afternoon, I received word from the General Convention Office that the Presiding Bishop, via the Office of Communications, had directed that office to forward a video message from the Presiding Bishop to all deputies. I had neither seen the video nor been consulted about it and so I told the General Convention Office to hold it.

In my nearly 25 years as a deputy, I don’t ever recall the Presiding Bishop speaking directly to the House of Deputies outside of a joint session or without giving the House due notice, while at General Convention. I don’t ever recall a Presiding Bishop corresponding directly with deputies outside of the General Convention, without the knowledge of, or in collaboration with the President.

I was surprised because I thought that the Presiding Bishop, her staff, and I had worked through some important issues of internal communications last fall. I had talked with both Bishop Sauls and the Presiding Bishop and asked that we proceed in a more collegial and cooperative manner. I thought we had agreed to do so.

But while the General Convention Office was holding the video, it was released by the Office of Communications to the whole church just hours before the Presiding Bishop and I were scheduled to arrive in Baltimore where we could have resolved the situation in person.

I am glad to tell you that, while we have been in Baltimore, Bishop Katharine and I have shared a meal and talked in person. I told her that I’m disappointed about what’s happened in the last few days and asked that we proceed toward General Convention with collegiality and a cooperative spirit even—especially—when we disagree. I also told her that I am concerned about the use of churchwide resources to lobby General Convention on only one side of a legislative issue.

Despite this productive conversation, upon direction from the Presiding Bishop, the Office of Communications sent the second email, this time to bishops, that mischaracterized my request that the video be held, thus putting me in a difficult position and making it necessary to spell all of this out.

I am confident that we can get back on track and work productively and faithfully to prepare for General Convention. I will continue to urge that those of us who lead the church talk directly with one another to resolve differences. I will also continue to ask that the resources of the Church Center be deployed in ways that present the full range of opinions on legislation that will determine how the church meets the challenges before us.

Thank you for your commitment to our work. I am looking forward to being with all of you in Indianapolis and to the work that we will accomplish together.

Peace,

Bonnie Anderson, D. D.

President, The House of Deputies

The letter to the bishops to which Dr. Anderson is responding.

Dear Bishops,

You received this notice Thursday and thank you for your feedback.

A similar note was to be sent simultaneously to HOD deputies and alternates. However, the President of the House of Deputies, along with the Secretary of the General Convention, indicated that distribution to the HOD through their own email list would not be permitted.

In order to effectively assure that members of both houses receive this message, and to assure the HOD deputies and alternates that they were not left out of this process, it would be appreciated if you would forward this message directly to your own HOD deputation.

Thank you.

Neva Rae Fox

Public Affairs Officer

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38 Comments
  1. www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=621192053

    While I appreciate the clarification about the confusion about process, what is the issue that the video and other communication is about?

  2. Ann Fontaine

    The video is here.

    The letter that went to the Bishops: (moved into the story now.)

    Dear Bishops,

    You received this notice Thursday and thank you for your feedback.

    A similar note was to be sent simultaneously to HOD deputies and alternates. However, the President of the House of Deputies, along with the Secretary of the General Convention, indicated that distribution to the HOD through their own email list would not be permitted.

    In order to effectively assure that members of both houses receive this message, and to assure the HOD deputies and alternates that they were not left out of this process, it would be appreciated if you would forward this message directly to your own HOD deputation.

    Thank you.

    Neva Rae Fox

    Public Affairs Officer

    This is what Dr. Anderson is responding to.

  3. E B

    Hi Ann. Thank you for this information. Can you help me understand the larger context for this issue? It certainly sounds like there is some tension here. I hope not–that’s surely not helpful.

    Eric Bonetti

  4. Cynthia Katsarelis

    i really liked the video as a call to mission. I was relieved to hear the call to look outward to mission. It also sounds inspiring to empower those of us doing outreach at the grassroots level. It would be nice to get energy and support from the broader church.

    But it’s disturbing to hear of an “end run” around the president of the HOD, after all, they are supposed to represent us in the laity. So the situation is confusing, and I’m afraid that the Communications Office looks kind of rude and disrespectful.

    I don’t keep plugged into the workings of the HOD. Is there any good reason for autocratic behaviour out of the PB’s office? Would it have been dreadful to hold the video for a few hours?

    I too would appreciate background about this and past tensions.

  5. garydasein

    On what authority did the Presiding Bishop request the bishops distribute the video to the deputies and alternates?

    The Presiding Bishop should answer Dr. Bonnie Anderson’s objections publicly.

    “In my nearly 25 years as a deputy, I don’t ever recall the Presiding Bishop speaking directly to the House of Deputies outside of a joint session or without giving the House due notice, while at General Convention. I don’t ever recall a Presiding Bishop corresponding directly with deputies outside of the General Convention, without the knowledge of, or in collaboration with the President.”

    The video itself is of little interest because it is short on specifics.

    Gary Paul Gilbert

  6. Howard Parr

    To paraphrase Hank Hill, we are making some sausage now, I’ll tell you what. This is the second time today I’ve seen evidence that much of what causes hand wringing about the future of the church is self inflicted. While the other incident was local, and whatever the truth in either case, it’s a shame.

  7. Everett Lees

    When I tell people that our General Convention is second only to India’s parliament for world’s largest governing body. I then share how much money we spend as a church to put on General Convention and people are embarrassed. I think the turf wars going on seek only to protect a vision of the church locked in a past time, and we need a church built and focused on the future.

  8. David Sibley

    Have we really come to the point of having church leadership arguing about the mailing of a link to a YouTube video? Publicly?

    No matter who is “right” in this situation, this is incredibly, profoundly sad.

    I’m a 26 year-old, newly ordained priest. And if people want to ask why more people of my generation aren’t in church, its because of foolishness like this.

    How about we try to live the gospel we preach, and worry a bit less about turf, power, prestige, and who is right?

  9. Ann Fontaine

    No that is not the core of the issue David. It is about talking “to”each other and not “about” each other. When we have problems or questions of another – we go to them we don’t send letters through our press people to bishops complaining about some one’s actions and never talking to them directly. If in beginning the PB had gone to the PHOD – none of this would be happening – having the note from the Office of Public Affairs go out to the whole world is not a good way to care for one another or the church. It is also important that laity and priests and deacons are part of the decision making and bishops do not heap power to themselves. Unless you want a Roman Catholic style church which I don’t.

  10. Bill Dilworth

    I started reading The Bishop Pike Affair over the weekend, and was surprised to read of the poor communication among people at ECUSA’s national and diocesan levels back in the 1960s. it’s frustrating to learn that things don’t seem to have improved very much since then.

  11. Obadiah Slope

    You sure about being the world’s second largest governing body?

    The world’s largest parliament is China’s with almost 3,000 members. Then comes the UK with 1400… but the good news is the GC is bigger than the Indian Parliament. But if you are looking at religious bodies what about the US Assemblies of God with over 3,000 delegates to its biennial General Council or the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting which though shrinking draws 14,000 “messengers”.

    sources: http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/04/representatives_parliament

    http://www.adherents.com/largecom/baptist_fewerSBC.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Council_of_the_Assemblies_of_God_in_the_United_States_of_America

  12. This morning I preached a sermon defending Episcopalian polity as compared with less democratic processes in other parts of the Anglican Communion. One of the aspects of our life together that I emphasized is that the Presiding Bishop’s role is really to preside over the House of Bishops (hence the title), while the President of the House of Deputies presides over that house. Constitutionally, they are equals. However, I fear that despite her good ideas and intentions the Presiding Bishop has been spending too much time with her primatial colleagues world-wide and is forgetting the intentionally limited role of the Presiding Bishop in our church, and especially with regard to the House of Deputies, which is most definitely not her sandbox to play in.

  13. To follow up on Ann’s response to my previous comment:

    I think we’re on the same page in regard to what’s upsetting in terms of pastoral care in this letter, but are approaching it from two different tacks. This issue should have been resolved – in by either of the aggrieved parties – by conversation, both before and after the perceived sin here. The fact that this is being aired in public is a shame, one way or another, no matter who is “at fault” in this issue. Having a note from one office is not a good way to care for one another; then again, neither is sending airing grievances in public like in this letter. It most definitely does not feel like this letter is the equivalent to the “tell it to the church” of Matthew 18:16-17ff.

    But, from an entirely different perspective, I do think this is symptomatic of a larger, untouched issue of turf, power, and prestige. It’s part of what feels to me – as an outside observer and repeat attendee of General Convention, with absolutely no intention of ever being a deputy or a bishop – a disturbing, continuing escalation. For example, it’s not the role of the President of the House of Deputies to send pastoral letters to the whole Episcopal Church- that’s clearly a role for our Bishops, who are charged with guarding the unity of the whole church. Yet President Anderson has done that in the past triennium – that’s an unprecedented action, too. It may be unprecedented of the PB to issue a YouTube video to anyone other than the House of Bishops, but she did that. Bishops may forget the very intentional role of the HoD in our polity; but, it also seems that Deputies often forget we are The Episcopal Church, not a congregational one, a church that by its very name indicates the unique role we give to our bishops. People like having power – whether real or perceived. (And canonically speaking, both the PB and the PHoD have more perceived power than they do actual power.)

    The continuing spat between Bishops and Deputies – one that, to my mind, has escalated enormously since the current presiding officers of both houses took up their terms of office – is doing the entire church no favors, other than pointing out just how broken the entire system is, and how invested people holding power under the current system are in maintaining it.

    For instance, we tout how wonderfully democratic General Convention is – but what percentage of the House of Deputies are the equivalent of incumbents? I dare say, it’s most. I’d venture that in most dioceses, someone seeking to be elected as a deputy for the first time faces an enormous uphill climb against an “incumbent” – which doesn’t strike me as truly democratic. We still give our retired bishops votes in the House of Bishops as well, which is ridiculous – even the Roman Church, with a vastly different polity, doesn’t allow Cardinals to vote in Conclave past a certain age. And the argument for maintaing both is that each house couldn’t function without people who know how they work. And so the same people have the same positions, and nothing changes.

    So for a church that touts how democratic it is – from the ground – it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like it is the same people, fighting the same battles, in increasingly public and deleterious ways.

    (Rant Ended).

  14. Jim Naughton

    I intervene here strictly to provide a little information. If I am not mistaken something perhaps slightly fewer than 40 percent of the deputies were first-timers in 2009, and slightly more than 40 percent will be first timers in 2012.

  15. Kraut1701

    The Presiding Bishop should be a moral leader, not the head of a bureaucracy or a property manager. The endless conventions, committees and bureaucracy at all levels of the church are stupefying. We know this, yet we still are not doing anything serious about it. Meanwhile, the mission suffers.

    Morris Post

  16. E B

    The fact that folks are mesmerized about the office building is illustrative. Sell it, lease it out to other businesses, or do something really useful, like turn it into a homeless shelter. The reality is neither the HOD nor the PB are approaching this with any sort of strategy. The whole philosophy is to keep the bilge pumps running full-throttle while we figure out why the ship is taking on water and what we should do about it.

    Eric Bonetti

  17. Ann Fontaine

    The difficulties between “houses” has ever been the same – sometimes more public then other times – partly now seems worse due to instant communications and “leaks”. Ever since the Bishops were allowed into the governance there has been “authority creep” and resistance from the Deputies – especially the laity.

    “The House of Deputies is the older of the two houses having been formed in 1785. William White was the first President of the House of Deputies. The House of Bishops was formed in 1789 to win the support of those who wanted a greater role for bishops. The House of Deputies had the advantage because with an 80 percent majority it could override a veto of the House of Bishops until 1808 when both houses were given absolute vetos.” from Wikipedia.

  18. Ted Mollegen

    The percent of Deputies who are first-time has been around 40 percent going back at least into the 1980s.

    Ted Mollegen

    Senior Deouty

  19. Jonathan Grieser

    David Sibley puts his finger on the problem:”The continuing spat between Bishops and Deputies – one that, to my mind, has escalated enormously since the current presiding officers of both houses took up their terms of office – is doing the entire church no favors, other than pointing out just how broken the entire system is, and how invested people holding power under the current system are in maintaining it.”

    General Convention is one of the reasons I despair of the future of the Episcopal Church. More here: https://gracerector.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/why-i-despair-of-the-future-of-the-episcopal-church/

  20. Ann Fontaine

    Jonathan – it only seems to have escalated because you know about it. It has ever been. It is the difficulty of a bicameral legislature – with bishops who do not understand that laity and priests and deacons share governance with them and the need for Deputies to stand up to power grabs.

  21. Bill Dilworth

    Does anybody know who would be PB today if that office fell to the Bishop with the most seniority, as it used to?

  22. Ann Fontaine

    The most seniority among active bishops is The Rt. Rev. Leo Frade of SE FL.

  23. Ann Fontaine

    Here is a complete list by order of consecration.

  24. Jim Naughton

    Just a reminder folks, the Cafe requires you to sign your name to your comments. We make exceptions, but not to those taking anonymous potshots.

  25. Fra Savanarola

    ooops – was this the anonymous potshot?

    “This e-mail/press release from Honorary Doctor Anderson is every bit as snarky and illuminating as any commentary Borowitz could ever imagine concocting about the congregant-subsidized hi-jinks of the PB and the HOD Prez !

    I bet the lead-up to the General Convention is gonna be one continuous laff riot with these jokers at the helm ! ”

    OK – I’m sort of sorry for the descent into the sardonic…but this kind of junior high school rivalry between those two has been going on unchecked for way too long…sometimes mis-placed humor seems the most gracious way to bear it…at least it beats slashing the diocesean take to 15% in response to increasing perceptions of lack of care and competence in stewardhip of church assets at the highest level of the TEC…

    Fra Savanarola

    (Lewis Samuels)

  26. joebrewer

    Term limit the deputies. Twice. Then you’re out, clergy or lay. Bishops get no vote after retirement.

  27. Jim Naughton

    Not a fan of term limits. In public life they leave matters in the hands of lobbyists who end up knowing the issues better than elected reps. In the church, power would end up in the hands of the people who provide the greatest institutional memory. That would be denominational staff and some bishops.

  28. Henry Burt

    This feels like a protocol dispute, and David Sibley makes a key point. Our protocol issues will be – and are being – disrupted by social media.

    I admire both the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies a great deal. I don’t understand why this spat erupted – it is not an issue of substance.

  29. Henry Burt

    And I meant to sign it:

    Henry Burt

    Virginia

  30. I’m not for term limits for deputies, and if I were, I would make the limit significantly higher than two terms.

    People get better at crafting legislation with experience. It’s not as easy as it looks.

    The budget is extraordinarily complex for those of us who haven’t dealt with budgets for a nonprofit of TEC’s size. I wouldn’t want PB&F to consist only of experienced bishops and inexperienced deputies.

    Chairing committees is another thing that ideally is done by people with significant committee experience. It is VERY difficult to deal with the volume of legislation GC handles, and skillful chairs are crucial for the kind of efficiency that allows as much legislation as possible to get a hearing (a lot of resolutions can’t be heard at GC and so get punted to Executive Council as it is).

    And who would want a President of the House of Deputies who’d only served one term before and who could only serve for three years? The only thing worse would be a president who had NO prior experience as a deputy.

    — Sarah Dylan Breuer

  31. David Sibley

    Having attended the last two General Conventions as an observer, and sat in on numerous committee meetings and whole house meetings from the other side of the rope, I will agree that it isn’t as easy as it looks from a news blurb. While I can’t imagine the whole scope, though, I do have a pretty good idea. And, as Sarah points out, I wouldn’t want a House of Deputies with a one-term president, either. It would be a train wreck!

    That said, I’m in favor of a four-term limit, with a PHoD in office for two triennia. But I’m also in favor of a dramatic reduction in the size of the house, and a bunch of other changes to the current polity. Given the average tenure of a priest at a parish is now in the 7-9 year range, 12 years for a deputy seems fair.

    The chief problem with the current system is, to my mind, that the House of Deputies never really “reinvents” itself, which in turn, reinforces cultural dynamics that hurt mission and ministry, like the one present and made very visible in the current dispute. These tensions have always been there – but I don’t think they have to be.

    Turnover in the HoB is much slower, but the average term in office of a Bishop (at least a Bishop Diocesan) seems to be decreasing as well. (I have no hard statistics for that.) Removing the vote from retired bishops would speed that process of “dynamic reinvention of the house” up some more, I’d hope.

    One or another, I think many people in the church are ready for a major culture shift. Less concern about turf, right, and wrong, and more concern about getting the meaningful stuff done. I hope and pray we’re going to get there.

  32. Fra Savanarola

    just a footnote on mere protocol:

    Material violations of protocol, unless occurring inadvertently, are typically considered matters of substance between individuals, corporate entities, and states and, if not checked, frequently lead to escalation of dysfunctional hostilities.

    And thus the breach of protocol by the PB and the Office of Communications resulting in January’s TEC videogate was apparently, at least from the perspective of the HOD Prez, a matter of great substance “making it necessary [for her] to spell it all out” and thereby to alert her loyal troops of the systematic disrespect the PB was showing them by sending them unauthorized video greetings.

    With the serious issues facing the church, I really am appalled at the games the HOD Prez and the PB are playing on our dime.

    If I thought it was not a regular part of their interaction (or if there was evidence they knew how to reconcile and behave nicely after such blow-ups), I, like many, would probably find the most recent “spat” merely curious and/or amusing.

    But reliable sources tell me the TEC’s a church in need of leadership and not more passive-aggressive put-downs by press release.

    (Rant Ended, Really)

    Fra Savanarola

    (Lewis Samuels)

  33. I also told her that I am concerned about the use of churchwide resources to lobby General Convention on only one side of a legislative issue.

    I’m puzzled about what Bonnie Anderson is talking about here. The Presiding Bishop is not advocating a specific piece of legislation and is not promoting anything that has not already been discussed. She’s continuing to issue a call to mission, which is appropriate for both her position and the church’s communications department.

    I’m also a little bemused and somewhat mystified that the Presiding Bishop apparently must get the PHOD’s permission to release this video to the wider church. Really? What century are we in? I can record a video and upload it in minutes for public consumption. It seems like the restrictions described belong to a much different era than this one.

  34. The idea that the Presiding Bishop of our church must get someone’s permission before releasing a video to any segment of our church—including the Deputies—seems entirely ridiculous to me.

    It does not seem to me that the tone of the Office of Communications message to the bishops involved any “public airing of grievances.” It was just clarifying to the bishops why it was that the video was being sent to them rather than sent through the Deputies e-mail list.

    The message from Dr. Anderson, however, seems very much to be airing a personal grievance and perceived affront. Her message, to me, is the message which is inflammatory.

    In my opinion, Dr. Anderson is here fighting on behalf of those who are still angry about Bishop Katherine addressing the HoD at the last General Convention. That anger is being projected on what should be a fine and normal action—the PB releasing a video to the Deputies and the wider church, a video that does not lobby but instead calls us to mission.

  35. Jim Naughton

    The suggestion is not that the Presiding Bishop does not have the right to address the whole church. Had that been the suggestion, I imagine the President of the House of Deputies would have complained about the video being posted on the church’s web site. The suggestion is that there are issues with the Presiding Bishop addressing the House of Deputies without even informing the President of the House that she has plans to do so. You are entitled to your own opinion on whether this is problematic. I think it is. If the churchwide budget has resources for the Presiding Bishop to make numerous videos putting her views before the House of Deputies, and no resources for the President of the House of Deputies to put her views before her own house in this manner, I think that’s a problem.

    I should mention that I do consulting work for the PHoD, didn’t write the letter in question, and have tried to stay out of this conversation because I am involved in the situation.

  36. Ann Fontaine

    For those who think this is about anger and turf – the letter from the Office of Public Affairs was incorrect (see text in article) and that is what the clarification is about. The HOD list is one run by and for the Deputies (an electronic version of a meeting of the Deputies). Before the Deputies’ leadership knew about the video – the office told the list host to run the video – it is the same as if the PB or any bishop were to walk in and take the microphone at a meeting of the HOD (forbidden by canon). We are still finding our way in this new electronic era. This is a clarification of that too. Perhaps we need more thought about this but there is a reason for the separation of powers – in the early days of governance bishops were not part of the General Convention – and when they were allowed in – all voted together so bishops were always a minority. Now we have equality and the power of veto over each other.

    In all my years as a General Convention Deputy – the Presidents have always had to resist the bishops’ authority creep to become the main voice of the church. Unless you want a “curia” based church – you will appreciate the President’s willingness to suffer your insults so that you maintain your voice in governance.

    This is not a new thing with KJS and BA – it is being characterized as a “cat fight” – sexist and demeaning words. I have served with 4 different PHOD’s and they all had the same battle to keep the system of governance we desire.

    There was no attempt to “block” the video – it was released on youtube and in ENS before the PHOD had a chance to send it out to the Deputies. So there it was not a “block” but a plea for procedure. The PB and the PHOD have since reconciled this issue – time for us to let it go too. IMO

  37. A Facebook User

    Ann Fontaine,

    You mentioned that “[t]his is not a new thing with KJS and BA – it is being characterized as a ‘cat fight’ – sexist and demeaning words.”

    I haven’t heard anybody say that, but I certainly would like to know who did say such a thing.

    Was it a blogger, deputy, Bishop, staffer, or who ?

    — Eli Havermeyer

  38. Ann Fontaine

    All of those. Check on Facebook, blogs, listserves — google “cat fight” and you will find it.

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