At the request of several bishops, the Church Center staff recently provided the House of Bishops with “talking points” regarding the recent controversy involving the board of the United Thank Offering. As you may recall four members of the UTO board resigned in protest over what they viewed as the Church Center staff’s attempt to erode the independence of the UTO and weaken its relationship to the Episcopal Church Women.
We have received a copy, and are publishing it here because it represents the best distillation we have seen of the Church Center staff’s take on the controversy. Executive Council will take up the matter when it meets next week in Chicago.
We don’t know nearly enough to attempt to weigh the competing claims that the senior staff at Church Center and the women who resigned from the board have made about the events that led to their resignations. We’d note, though, that logic alone does not prevent one from believing that the business practices of the UTO could stand improvement and that the Church Center team overreached in attempting to provide it.
One unfortunate feature of the document is the self-exculpatory quality of the first talking point. The Church Center’s senior staff released to the wider church an unsigned account of the controversy that was questionable in some of its assertions and regrettable in its tone. The account of the controversy was made accessible via a link from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s statement on the UTO controversy, which, in most other ways, struck the right notes. The link led to a Word document that, according to data stored in the document, was written in the Word program registered to Bishop Stacy Sauls, the church’s chief operating officer. By following the same link, one also arrived at private correspondence sent from the former UTO board members to the Church Center team. This correspondence was released without the UTO members’ permission and cast the UTO members in a negative light.
To blame the controversy that surrounds the UTO resignations on “many comments, statements, charges, and allegations have been presented about UTO board actions, both by former board members and in subsequent discussion in the public forum” without acknowledging the role of the senior staff at the Church Center is misleading. The release of the former UTO leaders’ correspondence was an abuse of power that startled people who have no particular opinion about the UTO controversy, but who do not believe that the senior staff should use the communications tools of the wider church to shame and embarrass political adversaries.
Talking points for the House of Bishops concerning the United Thank Offerings
Over the past few weeks many comments, statements, charges, and
allegations have been presented about UTO board actions, both by
former board members and in subsequent discussion in the public forum.
Much confusion and misunderstanding have resulted. Both the
Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies have
issued statements on this situation.
The United Thank Offering is an important ministry in The Episcopal
Church, which continues to be led by women of The Episcopal Church.
Its mission-oriented work, grounded in gratitude, will continue.
The level of confusion is deeply regrettable. A season of healing,
deep listening, and renewal is essential.
The following is an overview of actions.
· Drafts of new bylaws and a Memorandum of Understanding were
put forward by Episcopal Church leadership as part of a process agreed
to by the United Thank Offering board. The proposal would establish
standard business and fiduciary practices expected in the life of the
Church. These actions, in turn, will make the United Thank Offering
more accountable and transparent, especially to those who give.
· From its very beginning, the UTO has worked in partnership
with the churchwide Department of Mission.
· A regular review of UTO practices, procedures, and methods
showed the need for fiduciary guidelines and sound business practices,
aligned with expectations of all Episcopal Church ministries. These
include such matters as a) conflicts of interest, b) the need for
authorized budgets for travel and meeting expenses, c) the need for
legal and authorized contracts with vendors, d) recognition that legal
representation is the responsibility of DFMS, d) board practices that
meet churchwide expectations of transparency, and e) the need to
include all members, both elected and appointed, in all meetings and
communications. Irregularities need to be addressed for the on-going
health of the United Thank Offering, and compliance with secular law.
· Accusations that revisions will sever the relationship
between UTO and The Episcopal Church Women are simply not correct.
· The granting process has not been assumed by DFMS, nor has
this been proposed. As UTO is an integral part of DFMS, DFMS and the
Executive Council have a responsibility to exercise prudent oversight
to further the overall mission of UTO.
· The Executive Council will discuss this situation at its
upcoming meeting in October.