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Bishop Sauls’ reform proposal, I: the political context

Bishop Sauls’ reform proposal, I: the political context

Bishop Stacy Sauls’ presentation to the House of Bishops last week in Quito, Ecuador has stirred significant comment, not to mention anxiety, in the church. We hope to devote significant time and space to discussing his proposals in the days ahead, and would like to begin by describing the context in which it has landed.

Tensions between the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies are high, as are relationships between the Executive Council and the staff at 815. Some bishops have even discussed encouraging a candidate to run against Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies. Bishop Sauls seems, on one level to be sensitive to this. His power point presentation includes the following:

Slide 42—


A general word of caution about continuing this conversation.

The problem is a systemic one and not an individual one.

There will be reactivity to these proposals. That is the nature of systemic issues.

This is not a problem with the leadership of the House of Deputies or with anyone individually.

Let me say something about the President of the House of Deputies.

This is not a problem about Bonnie Anderson.

Bonnie Anderson is a good and faithful person who loves Jesus and loves the Church and is devoted to serving the Church.

To be perfectly honest, the level of conversation in the House is sometimes not helpful on this issue and, in fact, the people of the Church deserve a higher standard of leadership from their Bishops.

When I need to ask Bonnie about something she has said or done, or when I need to consult with her on something, what I do is pick up the phone and call her. I have never, not once, had Bonnie do anything other than have a collegial and helpful conversation with me. I suggest you do the same.

Before I say more, a moment of full disclosure: Bonnie Anderson is a client of mine. (So are several of the bishops in the house.) I was with Bonnie when the news that Bishop Sauls had called for a special convention focused on reforming our church’s governing structures first broke. She was completely blindsided, as were the other members of her Council of Advice, which was then meeting. So was the Executive Council, whose executive committee had met with Bishop Sauls just two weeks before his presentation in Quito. So was the Standing Commission on Structure, which had recently held a lengthy consultation on governance reform at the Maritime Center near Baltimore. So were the members of the Budgetary Funding Task Force, on which Bishop Sauls serves, and in which many of his proposals had been discussed—but not, to this point, accepted.

So, on the one hand, Bishop Sauls seems to be aware that the two houses must learn to trust and respect one another, on the other hand, he has preempted the work of a task force on which he himself serves, and gone to the bishops with a presentation emphasizing the savings they would realize if the House of Deputies met less often—and didn’t bother to inform any of the clergy or lay people involved in church governance that he intended to do so.

A number of church leaders expressed their concern to Episcopal News Service, but their views were not represented it its story on this matter.

In his proposal, Bishop Sauls also suggests that the Executive Council, a body on which clergy and lay people constitute a majority, should no longer exercise control of the Church’s finances. At least that is the conclusion that I draw from Slide 26:

Slide 26—Principle 2: Separate Mission Decisions from Fiduciary Decisions

Let people do what they’re best at

Executive Council best at mission

DFMS Board of Trustees is different (currently vested with Executive Council)

I am not sure precisely what Bishop Sauls intends here, or how he intends to redefine the Board of Trustees, but one would have thought that alerting Executive Council ahead of time that he was about to float a proposal stripping it of its fiduciary role would have been the courteous thing to do.

Church reform in a polity such as ours, in which authority is shared by bishops, clergy and laity, is a politically delicate matter. The bishop has made a substantial and significant proposal on an issue that is critical to our church, and it deserves serious and energetic consideration. However, he has made it in a way that has put many of the lay people and clergy who are most deeply involved in issues of governance and structural reform on their guard. That is unfortunate, because it may make it difficult for the bishop’s ideas to receive the consideration they require.

We will move on to substantive discussions of the bishop’s proposals in subsequent posts.


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I have been a priest in this church for 12 years now. I have heard very few people talk about the structure of the church. I’ve not been a deputy to General Convention and so I guess that’s why I have not heard deputies whine about the length.

I actually find it completely refreshing that the new CEO of the Church Center is suggesting that we dream again about how we can have a Church Center that helps congregations live into the mission of the Gospel in this century and not the last.



To offer to the HOB a proposal which includes major changes to the functions of the HOD and the Executive Committee without informing the leadership of the bodies is a major failure of communication. I won’t attribute the failure to communicate to sinister motives, but what was Bishop Sauls thinking?

And I’m with Elizabeth in doubting whether now is the time for a Special Convention.

June Butler

Jim Naughton

Bruce, I am all in favor of moving on to discussing the proposals. I look forward to you and other commenters weighing in on part two.

Bruce Garner

As I posted elsewhere, I don’t have a problem with the ideas Stacy floated. They are just that, ideas. Unless some bishop or diocese/province/group of deputies has latched on to his resolution and actually put it forth, it is also just an idea.

I’ve known Stacy for many years. Trust me, we have had some very candid conversations about a variety of issues. He knows full well that if I were to learn he had been less than forthcoming about this suggestion, I would give him very public hell about it.

Stacy does think out of the box. And while he has only been on the job officially for 3 weeks, he has spent the time from being hired to now in gearing up to it.

As a member of Executive Council, I am sure we will discuss this among other issues at our meeting next month. I’ve never been shy about asking the difficult questions and expecting an answer. My own background in non-profit management has served well in giving me a lens through which to view much of the work of EC and GC. If I don’t get what I consider an accurate or adequate answer,I will continue to raise questions and “call folks out” if I need to do so.

We have a wonderful tendency to always look for the worst possible motives behind changes. Maybe we need to devote some of our apparently boundless energy to studying the proposals, evaluating them based on their own merits and not the author, and deciding what else we need to know to make informed decisions. If we are not willing to devote that amount of energy and interest, why continue to waste keystrokes?


Elizabeth Kaeton

This smelled bad from the moment the HOB were offered an opportunity to bring to their diocese a resolution to restructure the church through a special convention which they have been asked to bring to their diocesan conventions without (1) defining mission or (2) restructuring their own house first.

We’ve seen this in corporate models of business. Restructuring is suggested so that there can be more money for R&D (Research and Development – the corporate version of ‘mission’). First we look at cutting the cost of the product – using less expensive materials. Then, we look at cutting the cost of production – lay-offs, outsourcing, union busting, etc. The money saved is, of course supposed to go to R&D, but as we all know, just a small percentage ever gets there. Mostly the costs are passed on to the owners, administration and stockholders.

Two things occur to me about what is being referred to in some circles as the “Sauls’ Plan”. I believe Bishop Sauls is a good man. He’s been at the job – what? – three weeks? Hardly enough time to think up much less hatch this plan. My suspicion is that “someone” handed this off to Bishop Sauls. “Someone” who was once at 815 but is no longer. “Someone” with an agenda about the organizational structure.

The other thought is prompted by the idea that we take away fiduciary decisions from Executive Council. This is clearly a power-grab (or a pissing contest) between a few folk at the top of the administration.

Finally, I think this whole thing is designed as a distraction from the hard work we’re all going to need to do on the budget, the Anglican Covenant, and Marriage Equality. Let’s get us fretting over “structural changes” and some vague references to “mission” and throw in the possibility of a Special Convention to get everyone distracted.

I’m not buying it, folks. Let’s stay focused on the work we have to do and get clear about our own identity as Episcopalians, determine our mission as a church and then look at ways to structure ourselves in order to be more authentically who we are and support what we say is our mission.

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