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

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

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

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?

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

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

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

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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