Bishop Sauls’ reform proposal, I: the political context

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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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Nathaniel Pierce
Guest

This piece makes for interesting reading. I cannot help but connect the dots. After all, this is the same Stacy Sauls who

imposed a de noveau interpretation on the national canons in order to defend a clearly erroneous interpretation of how one

deposes a bishop.

He is an "out of the box" thinker. Sometimes this is good, sometimes not. Working in a collegial manner (or giving due

respect to the whole C&C of TEC) is not his strong suit. No one should be surprised.

Nathaniel Pierce

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L. Zoe Cole
Guest
L. Zoe Cole

In response to Mike's comment about people whining about how long GC is: I am reminded of all the work the domestic violence advocacy community did to raise awareness of the cost to society of not addressing and reducing violence against women - only to have insurance companies get the message and raise rates for women who had been or were suspected of having been victims of domestic violence. Not quite the response we were trying to provoke.

I appreciate Ann's comments - its always so much easier to counsel OTHER people to change, isn't it (especially when you have more power/access to decision-making). A former friend of mine who is now the senior pastor at a mega-church once said: authority in the reign of God comes with responsibility - NOT privilege.

Still looking forward to the time when bishops actually become agents of unity.

God's Peace, Z

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Michael Russell
Guest
Michael Russell

Just to be fair and balanced, however, Deputies have been whinging for years now that GC is too long and too expensive. Now you know what comes from such whinging: let's reduce your authority and have you meet less frequently.

Lionel gets at a useful point about people not taking heed until a Bishop says it. Plenty of Rectors know this phenomenon with parishioners who do not feel like they have been pastorally visited until the Rector visits them. At the same time, I think our HoB is "listing" towards their colleagues around the world who are elevating the teaching authority of the Bishop to a central place in the life of the Church. They are welcome to make that their model elsewhere, but here,teaching authority is vested in various ways in all orders. Bishops are the protectors of what is necessary for salvation, but not vested with being the sole interpreters of scripture, for example.

I am sure that Bishop Sauls will now find himself in some chilly meetings. But at least it is waking us up to some real issues and decision points in how TEC is and will be governed.

Jim, I am presuming the "I" in this article is you. Perhaps the line at the end should be "written and posted by...." when the author is the active voice inthe story.

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Lionel Deimel
Guest

I find it increasingly difficult not to see bishops as church liabilities, not church assets.

Bishop Sauls should have presented his proposal to Executive Council or perhaps first to the Standing Commission on Structure.

I am getting tired of the notion that facts are not real until a bishop articulates them. When Bishop Sauls’ property report was made public, everyone suddenly realized that the church was under systematic attack. Via Media USA and Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh had been trying to tell The Episcopal Church that long before the Sauls report was written.

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Ann Fontaine
Guest
Ann Fontaine

Just as I orignally thought - a power play by the bishops - no wonder they all like it. For Deputies- I would say when the Bishops cut back on their meetings - then consider changes in General Convention.

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