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Who should exercise day-to-day authority in Episcopal Church governance?

Who should exercise day-to-day authority in Episcopal Church governance?

As the 2015 General Convention draws closer it may be time for another look at three scenarios describing how executive authority over the day to day operations of the Episcopal Church might be constituted. These scenarios are excerpted from the Taskforce for Reimagining the Episcopal Church’s paper on governance and administration.

Alternative I

– The Presiding Bishop (PB) would be the chair of Council, ex officio (this is the status quo).

– The President of the House of Deputies (PHOD) would be vice chair of Council, ex officio (status quo).[3]

– The corporation’s officers would be PB as President and PHOD as Vice President (status quo).

– The Secretary of General Convention could be the Council Secretary, ex officio (status quo). Alternatively, Council could elect a Council member as secretary and one or more DFMS employees as assistant secretaries.

– All employees would be employees of DFMS. We believe this is the status quo, although certain groups of employees (e.g., General Convention Secretary and that office’s staff, the Archives staff, the PHOD’s assistant, the staff of the General Board of Examining Chaplains, and the staff of the Board for Transition Ministry) have accountability that does not appear to follow the DFMS “chain of command” necessarily. For instance, the Archivist is elected by (and thus accountable to) the Board of the Archives but the DFMS CEO (the PB) seems to have some operational oversight of the Archivist. There is canonical language that refers to ‘employees of Executive Council,’ which further complicates the relationships. The canons must be changed to provide consistency.

– The President and Vice President would jointly appoint a chief executive officer (CEO) (who could also be, or have the duties of, chief operating officer – see below), subject to the consent of Council. The CEO could be a layperson. Currently, the PB functions as the CEO, ex officio. The appointment of a CEO by the President (PB) and Vice President (PHoD) would remove the CEO role from the PB, freeing him/her to focus on the other leadership, pastoral, and prophetic roles of the office.

– The CEO would be accountable to Council, although the CEO would keep the PB informed on a current basis on all significant matters in her capacity as President/Board Chair [4] and would give reports to the Council’s Executive Committee when it meets. Only the Council would have the authority to fire the CEO, even though the CEO had been appointed by the PB and PHOB with the consent of Council. The CEO would have authority to hire and fire all subordinate employees, including the CFO. In making hiring and firing decisions of senior staff, the CEO would consult with the PB/Board Chair and, where the Executive Committee directs, with the Executive Committee.[5] (Status quo, although under this alternative, the CEO is no longer the PB)

– Significant employee and human resource initiatives, including restructurings, are cleared through at least the Executive Committee, if not the full Council.

– Routine day to day operations would be the responsibility of the CEO and the CEO’s senior management team subject to appropriate policy (non-micro-managing) oversight by the Executive Committee and Council. This is not the status quo. Currently the operations are run and supervised by the Chief Operating Officer, who reports directly to the CEO/PB, and not to Council.

If Alternative 1 were implemented, it would seem to be necessary to identify the current PB duties that appear to have operational functions within and on behalf of DFMS and determine which would stay with the PB and which would shift to the CEO. To the extent that they remain with the PB, to whom and in what manner is the PB accountable for performance: Council? General Convention? House of Bishops? There is no provision in our Constitution or Canons for a performance review of a PB, or for dismissing a PB except through an ecclesiastical disciplinary proceeding under Title IV of the Canons.

We may want to explore what impact this shift of responsibilities might have on the PB’s prophetic, pastoral and primate roles. Currently the Canons require the PB to visit every Diocese at certain intervals. Other questions: Do the PB’s “personal” staff report to the CEO? How do we identify which PB activities are DFMS versus The Episcopal Church at large? Do we need to ask the same or similar questions with regard to the PHoD?

Note that Alternative 1 assumes that Council has an effective and accountable Executive Committee. The recent Council Bylaw changes established an Executive Committee consisting of the Chair and Vice Chair, and six members elected by Council. All actions of the Executive Committee “are subject to ratification by the Council at its next meeting.” [Bylaw Article VII.3(d)] We think that Council should convene a study group with some independence (or at least with outside participants) to examine whether the Executive Committee function is working as intended and whether that function can be enhanced. This is explored in more depth in section C of Alternative II found below.

Alternative II

Alternative II retains the PB as CEO and clarifies/strengthens the PB’s executive role.

-The PB and the PHoD would be chosen as they are currently. The elections of the Treasurer and Secretary will change (see below).

-The PB would remain Chair of the Executive Council, President of the DFMS and CEO of the Church.

– The PHoD would remain Vice President of the Church, Vice Chair of the Executive Council and Vice President of DFMS.

-The PB, with concurrence of the President of the House of Deputies, would nominate four people to serve the following offices: COO, Treasurer/Chief Financial Officer, Secretary, and Chief Legal Officer. The Executive Council would confirm these nominations. These positions would serve at the pleasure of the Presiding Bishop/CEO. Approval by Council and the PHoD would not be needed for the PB/CEO to fire the COO or other officers.

-The Treasurer and Secretary would take on responsibilities currently held by the Treasurer and Secretary elected by the General Convention. Canons would be modified to make clear that all the employees work for DFMS under the executive authority of the Presiding Bishop/CEO.

Alternative III

-The Presiding Bishop is not required to resign his/her tenure as a bishop diocesan or suffragan.

-The Presiding Bishop is the chair of Executive Council.

-The PHOD is vice-chair of Executive Council.

-The Executive Council hires a General Secretary for the Episcopal Church, who serves as the Chief Operating Officer for the Episcopal Church Center. The General Secretary may also serve as the Secretary of the General Convention, if elected by that body to do so.

-The General Secretary would nominate persons to serve as Treasurer/Chief Financial Officer and Chief Legal Officer. The Executive Council would confirm these nominations. These persons would serve at the pleasure of the General Secretary, in consultation with the Executive Committee of Executive Council.

-The General Secretary would be accountable to Executive Council, which would have authority to fire the General Secretary.

Which one makes the most sense to you? I continue to favor #1 because I think it best embodies the principles of distributed authority which I believe is central to our identity as Episcopalians, and is also the most democratic. I think I could live with #3. I am uncomfortable with option two because it would give the Office of the Presiding Bishop more power than it already has, and make the PB’s staff accountable to the PB rather than to the wider church.


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Paul Woodrum

It is where Presiding Bishops are installed and the PB’s cathedra is already there.


Paul Woodrum, I like your idea of a move to DC very much. I’ve been told there is space in the cathedral compound.

June Butler

Michael Russell

The organizational chart matters little if the institutional culture of the “central office” remains untouched.

Our present hierarchical structure continues to presume that the “central office” is the repository of wisdom and the generator of innovation. It is and can be neither.

The edges of the church, missions, parishes, community organizations, and etc. more especially the locus of innovation and most likely of wisdom too.

Of late the notion that “central office” folks are there for networking and support has to run alongside the rapidly advancing and essentially free technologies for networking. Facebook and Twitter already host of myriad of conversations. They grow by “word of tweet”

So tell me please how will the culture of job preservation and job description creep be addressed by any of these plans?

Paul Woodrum

OK. I’ll go for #2 + moving operations to Washington, DC and in time merge Bishop of Washington with PB to create an Archbishop & Primate of the Episcopal Church. But then, I’m a traditionalist.


Since Alternative 2 would centralize power in the office of the PB even more, I would not favor the change. Either Alternative 1 or 3 would suit me.

JuUne Butler

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