Surprised by Article XII, or What can be achieved at a special convention?

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Someone who knows the Constitution of the Episcopal Church better than I do called my attention to an issue that has been hiding in plain sight in the church’s debate on structural reform.

More than 15 dioceses, and one province, have put forward a resolution calling for the creation of special commission on church structure that would make a thorough review of the way in which our church operates. The commission would

“endeavor to issue its report and recommendations along with resolutions necessary to implement them, including proposed amendments to the Constitution and Canons of this Church, so that they might be considered by a special General Convention prior to the convention of the 78th General Convention in 2015, but in any event, not later than February 1, 2015.” (emphasis mine.)

I was working under the assumption that the purpose of the special convention was to quicken the pace at which the church’s constitution could be altered. Constitutional amendments must be passed by two successive General Conventions before they can take effect. If we have two General Conventions in 2015, I was reasoning, we can get the job done in that calendar year, whereas without a special convention, we couldn’t change the constitution until 2018.

I was working under the further assumption that supporters of this resolution believed that making constitutional changes in 2015 rather than 2018 was worth the cost of a special convention, which people familiar with our conventions tell me would be about $2 million. (And I have to admit I didn’t think to ask whether that was the cost to the general church, or whether it included diocesan costs as well.)

All of my assumptions crumbled, however, when I was directed to Article XII of the Constitution, which states:

No alteration or amendment of this Constitution shall be made unless the same shall be first proposed at one regular meeting of the General Convention and be sent to the Secretary of the Convention of every Diocese, to be made known to the Diocesan Convention at its next meeting, and be adopted by the General Convention at its next succeeding regular meeting by a majority of all Bishops … and by an affirmative vote by orders in the House of Deputies in accordance with Article I, Section 5, except that concurrence by the orders shall require the affirmative vote in each order by a majority of the Dioceses entitled to representation in the House of Deputies.

(emphasis mine.)

I claim no expertise in interpreting the constitution, but based on my layman’s reading of Article XII, it would seem that holding a special convention couldn’t not hasten the amendment of the constitution.

I don’t know whether the folks who drafted and supported this legislation are as surprised by the language of Article XII as I am, whether they never intended to hasten the pace of constitutional change, or whether they are aware of other constitutional provisions that render my analysis moot. (As my previous understanding of these resolutions now seems to be.)

My tentative conclusion is that this situation demonstrates that reforming the church is going to require a great deal of care and humility, and that if we are too hasty, we may not entirely understand what we are doing.

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Kevin Montgomery
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Kevin Montgomery

I know there have been past attempts too look at moving out of 815, but does anyone know what led to the failure of those efforts? Other denominational headquarters successfully left NYC. Is that because most of them were based at the Interchurch Center and didn't have to worry about selling off property like we'd have to do with 815?

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Mary Ann Hill
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Mary Ann Hill

I agreed to run for deputy without knowing there could possibly be an extra convention to attend, but I would gladly give up my time and even pay my own way if it meant that we could reform our bloated, wasteful system. In fact, although I am not wealthy, I would donate to a fund to help those who couldn't afford it.

It seems like there are an awful lot of people invested in maintaining the status quo because for them the convention's "the thing." When we celebrate dupties who have been more than five times, what kind of message are we sending? I would never want to be in a parish where only a certain priviledged few get to go to diocesan convention or serve on vestry over and over, thereby depriving others of the opportunity to participate in the governance of the church. So why is that okay with Convention? How is that inclusive? I realize that there needs to be some repetition of terms for continuity's sake, but I also know there are plenty of people who behave as if Convention's an addiction.

I think it's time we stop enabling a dysfunction system.

Mary Ann Hill

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E B
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E B

Two additional thoughts around budgetary issues (I confess to having written this before reading Susan's blog post, which eloquently sets forth both ideas, but without my mild snarkiness):

- At the time when we have plenty of spare real estate, why not offload 815 and plunk national staff down in one of our empty properties? I am confident that we could find something with much lower carrying costs and perhaps no mortgage.

- At the risk of the banal, whatever happened to having an online meeting? Yes, face-to-face often is best, but $2 million buys a lot of bandwidth and is a whole lot greener. Some of these meetings would be perfect settings for an episode of Mad Men.

Eric Bonetti

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E B
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E B

Two additional thoughts around budgetary issues:

- At the time when we have plenty of spare real estate, why not offload 815 and plunk national staff down in one of our empty properties? I am confident that we could find something with much lower carrying costs and perhaps no mortgage.

- At the risk of the banal, whatever happened to having an online meeting? Yes, face-to-face often is best, but $2 million buys a lot of bandwidth and is a whole lot greener. Some of these meetings would be perfect settings for an episode of Mad Men.

Eric Bonetti

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Susan Snook
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Susan Snook

Dylan: a grassroots consultation that gathers input from all the sectors of the church, using that input to create a re-visioning of the church for the 21st century that is NOT controlled by the Church Center or by "insider" leadership, is what I am proposing here: http://goodandjoyfulthing.blogspot.com/2012/04/mission-mission-mission.html

I agree with you that a special convention would be ridiculously expensive, and an attempt to restructure using current structures would not succeed. Only input and creativity coming from the grassroots could really result in change.

Susan Snook

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Michael Russell
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Michael Russell

Whether we look for rejuvenation or resuscitation GC processes are not capable of achieving either, whether we diddle ith deputation sizes or CCABs or what not, if it takes until 2018 it is not nimble enough to matter. In six years more will change than we cannot imagine or what we can plan for.

Nimble is possible at the parish level, and I wish we could say it is happening at every parish, but many places will remain essentially chaplaincies until they cannot financially survive. Those clergy who retired on the 55+30 plan are now servicing many of these because they are financially able too. Clergy coming along would be wise to be as entrepreneurial as possible.

Rejuvenation will come from a different vector than chaplaincies. I suspect it will occur in spurts of collaborative creativity at very local levels. People's spiritual passions will compel them, as Roland Allen wrote, into ministry.

Centralized planning or visioning will not work. Discovering the working collaborative ministries that are out there and widely reporting them is the most useful thing they can do.

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A Facebook User
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A Facebook User

It seems that members of the Standing Commission on Structure (SCS) might not be avid readers of Episcopal Cafe... but some quick research indicates that they have been discussing these issues.

The minutes of the SCS 10/26 and 11/16 meetings (available here: http://generalconvention.org/ccab/meetings/52) are pretty clear that they considered Bishop Saul's proposal and that there was a response.

Maybe this particular situation is indicative of a culture that avoids publicity until official minutes and official documents are published (e.g., the Blue Book).

Maybe a helpful change is to ask/require CCABs to publish not only their meeting minutes but also a summary of their work after their meetings. I'd have to think about if such a change is adaptive or technical...

So, it appears the right people and organizations are having the discussion - just not sharing it so much with the wider church.

A Facebook User - please sign your name next time you comment. Thanks ~ed.

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tobias haller
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tobias haller

I'm with Dylan on this. While I favor a look at the structure of the church, including amendment of the Constitution, a special convention is not the way to go. We seem to by bypassing very basic questions, and perhaps giving the mandate to the Structure Committee to ask them and begin to sketch out answers would be helpful. Before tinkering or massively revising our Constitution, we need to understand how we got where we are -- and what we need for the future, a very different future from the church of the 60s that gave the current shape to our governing documents. We've had only a few massive reworkings of our C&C, and it may be time for that -- but this is best done in a systematic way, and with no haste at all.

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Michael Russell
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Michael Russell

@Dylan. We might mention that there is already a Structure committee that has been totally bypassed by the Sauls' proposals. Why were clone resolutions on a special GC sent out with a request they be passed by Diocesan conventions? Who generated it? Why did they bypass the Existing structure committee?

Why did th Executive Council pass on a terribly irresponsible budget? Why bother with the EC if it is not going to parse out the obvious implications of shifting program to Diocese while keeping all the central staff?

To be direct, I find these actions, in combination seriously disingenuous.

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Lionel Deimel
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I share Dylan’s concerns. We are discussing massive changes with little ground work. We’re not just trying to decide what color to use to repaint the narthex.

As for Mike’s dodge to be able to effect changes in 2015, I have to be skeptical. My understanding is that constitutional and canonical changes only take effect after the General Convention at which they are approved is over.

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Bob
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Bob

As one blade of lay grass in one root (Albany), I find much sense in Dylan's comment.

Robert Dodd (added by ~ed.)

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Dylan
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I remain open to persuasion. I'm in direct conversation with Bishop Sauls, and he's listened to my concerns as well as offered his own.

There's a proposal to create an interim body -- a "Special Commission on the Structure of the Church" -- that so far seems to have no purposes aside from what's already the purview of the Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church.

Creating an extra CCAB already redundant in purpose as a means to streamline our organization and reduce the number of CCABs seems counter-productive, to say the least. Funding such a commission seems wasteful.

As for a special meeting of GC:

It would involve extradinary expense.

It would make great demands unanticipated additional and unanticipated an great demands on deputies and bishops. Those who ran for deputy for GC 2012 did not know they could be required to go to two meetings of GC in the triennium instead of one. Issues of finding time away from work, finding child care, and all of the other challenges that face deputies are doubled.

Dioceses must come up with the money to send their bishops and deputations to the special convention. They haven't planned on that expense. Richer dioceses might not bat an eye at that (though times are tough enough that I think nearly all dioceses would at least flinch at the prospect).

Poorer dioceses -- some of whom already cannot afford to send a full deputation to regular GC -- would either have to strain incredibly and sacrifice local minitries and mission to go, or would be woefully underrepresented. I think the latter is more likely.

Church Center and GCO staff would have to put in countless extra hours and/or temporary additional staff would need to be hired. Things we expect DFMS staff to do on an ongoing basis would have to move to the back burner for at least some of the time as they work to prepare for the special convention.

And all of the volunteers for a special meetig would have to be recruited, trained. They'd need to sacrifice their time, find child care, and so on as well.

So we'd be repurposing vast resources normally devoted to mission so that we can get together and *talk* about how to repurpose vast resources for mission.

This might make sense *if* we had devoted or were going to devote resources to gather input from the grassroots level of the church.

The amount and breadth of consultation at least as extensive as those held on the single resolution on the upcoming resolution on blessings seems like a decent start -- necessary but not sufficient. Restructuring our polity will have far more lasting consequences, I think; it affects how we make ALL decisions, after all.

The consultation wouldn't have to be as expensive as the Blessings Project ones were; they could be done in a decentralized way of horizontal networking that could eilicit even more creativity from levels truly at the grassroots, in contrast to flying select deputies to one conference center.

But we haven't done that work. And sacrificing so many resources on so many levels to a special meeting of GC before we've done the groundwork even to name a single set of proposals to consider.

BEFORE we devote a ton of resources to a meeting, we should generate a wide variety of options. If we want to think in new ways, we should consult with new sets of people as well -- people who are NOT a part of our current structures, but who have extensive experience with other kinds of innovatice structures. We should have before us a set of "resource maps" showing not only what dollars and tangible assets we have to work with, but what assets of human talent and other less tangible but very real riches at our disposal.

I think I won't be able to recommend the creation of additional structures before we have cost-effective grassroots consultation suggesting that we need one and giving that special commission serious information, new models of organization, and a clear and non-redundant mission to work with.

I also think I won't be able to recommend a special convention until the need and the human and financial costs costs have been established through careful study that hasn't happened and that thus far has not been proposed.

Perhaps people have in mind that the special commission would study it, but that doesn't make sense to me. The General Convention Office would know much better how to calculate what resources would be needed; reshuffling of the budget to pay the costs would be the job of PB&F and the Houses during GC2012 and Executive Council before and after.

In sum, the proposal to:

a) cut an already lean budget to create yet another commission; and then

b) gather the same people in the same convention centers to make decisions in the same way we do GC every three years; and

c) counting on that process to yield fabulously creative but thoroughly studied *new* (to GC) models with proven results in at least some contexts ...

… strikes me as the very definition of insanity, doing the same thing over again in the same way but expecting dramatically different results.

Again, I'm open to persuasion, so if you disagree, please try to persuade me!

Blessings,

Dylan

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Michael Russell
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Michael Russell

@Tom: The canon for calling a special GC provides for no limitation of specifity of topic for such a GC. Here is the canon:

"Sec. 3 (a) The right of calling special meetings of the General Convention shall be vested in the Bishops. The Presiding Bishop shall issue the summons for such meetings, designating the time and place thereof, with the consent, or on the requisition, of a majority of the Bishops, expressed to the Presiding Bishop in writing."

Btw what possible reason is there to vest this in the Bishops alone when Deputies continue to serve?

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Michael Russell
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Michael Russell

If we do not come ready with any needful Constitutional changes then we are locked in until 2018. San Diego has submitted a resolution to amend Article XII to allow the calling of a Constitutional Convention. If we passed that amendment in 2012 and again in the early part of 2015's GC we could move right into a full Constitutional rewrite while seated.

While most of the structure ideas can be changed via canon, And thus avoid a Special GC, we do need to be ready with Constitutional changes this summer.

A special GC is not limited in anyway in what it can do. Whoever said GC's cost $2 million is blowing smoke up your nose. 110 deputations spending say $30,000 each is already $3 million, plus all that we put in through apportionment. My best guess is $7-8 million.

Having dumped a "theme" for 2012, we have added time to our schedule with the removal of all theme related activities and can talk restructure if that is what we really think we need to do.

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Rev. Thomas Ferguson
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Rev. Thomas Ferguson

I think that was actually part of the reason for wanting to hold it in the manner described, just prior to the 2015 GC. Things proposed at the Special Convention could then be forwarded to the regular GC of 2015 meeting right afterwards for a first reading. Purpose of using a Special Convention rather than the usual 2015 GC is that a Special Convention can only deal with business specifically pertaining to the issue for which it is called (the final wording would be crucial); therefore it couldn't get bogged down with any other matters. There is an issue concerning notification to diocesan conventions. But there has also historically been ambiguity about whether this is merely for informational purposes and whether this must be done prior to taking a vote on a first reading or simply done at some point in the process.

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