5/18/2015

Why are there no additional bishops nominated to be Presiding BIshop?

The Joint Committee for the Nomination for the Presiding Bishop made the following announcement: 

"The JNCPB is canonically charged with “establishing a timely process for any bishop or deputy to express the intent to nominate any other member of the House of Bishops from the floor at the time the Joint Nominating Committee presents its nominees to the joint session of the two Houses, and for each Bishop so nominated to be included in the information distributed about the nominees”.
The JNCPB outlined this procedure in a message to the Church on April 27, 2015.
The deadline for bishops and deputies to nominate a bishop under this procedure was May 12, 2015. JNCPB announces that no additional bishops were nominated.
Therefore, the list of bishops presented by the JNCPB will be formally placed in nomination before a joint session of the two Houses of the General Convention on June 26, 2015."
So no additional nominations were made. Apparently that is that.  I still would argue that nominations can indeed be made from the floor quite independent of the process.  But the fact is the JNCPB set out a "timely process" as canonically charged, and was clear about it.  It would take a person of great courage to rise to nominate from the floor anyway, and a bishop willing to be raked over the coals for allowing her or his name to go forward. So, chances are it will not happen. So much for the possibility that between now and then, just a few weeks away, some strange stirring of the Holy Spirit were to arise to test the whole matter of "timely process," the currently nominated" or "intent to nominate."  
I quite understand the reality that essentially makes "nomination from the floor" moot. But I am appalled that the the only way for new nominations to arise is the failure of election and the return to a joint meeting of the houses to name new persons. Essentially nomination from the floor is reserved for failure of the nomination system.  There is no possibility (apparently) for a genuinely new nomination to come from the General Convention at the time it meets until and unless the House of Bishops is unable to elect from among the candidates.
We know that the work of the Holy Spirit is not contained, but you wouldn't know that by hearing the Church speak. It would seem that the Church considers the Holy Spirit its friend in this nominating and electing process. Too often the name "The Holy Spirit" is involked to assure us that this or that work is guided by the Holy Spirit, mandated by the Holy Spirit, demanded by the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately the work of the Holy Spirit, at least as I understand it, is an occasion for judgment, grace, and glory, since it is the Spirit, not us, who sets the ground rules.  
The Holy Spirit is not, in other words, to be called upon to confirm our tidy processes, but rather is to be recognized in those occasions when we are surprised, dumbfounded and even confused by the incursion of the Divine in human affairs.  We do not invoke to bring the Holy Spirit in, we are compelled to announce the Holy Spirit has already struck or to plea that the Holy Spirit strike. The first, our own willingness to invoke, can be a pious incantation, the latter, the compelling call to affirm or plea, is asking for trouble. 
In our caution (quite understandable of course) the General Convention of The Episcopal Church, is expressing once again its prayer for "no surprises."  And no doubt we have been rudely surprised these days and not in Godly ways.  So how might the Holy Spirit strike, vis-a-vis the election of the Presiding Bishop? Will the Holy Spirit even join the fray?  We will of course make our plea that the Holy Spirit inspire our hearts, or at least the hearts of the bishops assembled. But should the Holy Spirit strike, how will we know that presence?  And how, in God's name, can the Holy Spirit strike in a process where no room for immediate, incarnate, raw and dangerous ideas are allowed (a nomination being the "idea" that this or that person ought to be tested as a candidate)?
To be fair, there has been a window of a few days for persons to bring forward other nominations. None have come. Why?  
Is the list just fine as it is? (It may well be.)  
Is the job so onerous that no more bishops were willing to even consider standing for election? Could be. 
The current list is all male, all members of the class "diocesan bishop."  Did the nominating committee just lean towards established authority models or did they determine that that was precisely what is needed?  Was that on their minds at all? Who knows. But we do know that there are no women, no bishops other than diocesan bishops. And we know now that no one has signaled intent to nominate a woman or a non-diocesan.
My opinion is that there are no other names because in the midst of the TREC conversation, the decline in numbers in all mainline denominations, the distrust of institutions, the continuing culture of snarl and growl, and the very real difference bishops can make in the place where they have been called, service as Presiding Bishop seems more and more a an opportunity for failure. Not failure that is put to good use by God, but just failure. 
There are no other nominations for this job because few people have the stomach for it.
And that is precisely the reason for wanting to assure a place for the Holy Spirit in the nominating "process."  The work of the Holy Spirit in this instance might well be to give courage to the hesitant, so that in the end the bishops would have a wider, more varied list from which to choose.  And that same Holy Spirit might well find voice in the Joint session where nominations are received and potentially made.
And the next time someone patiently explains to me just why the inconsistency exists between the call to the Nominating Committee and the canonical call for nominations from the floor, and just why we need to do screening in advance of election, and so on, I want to remind them that should the process fail to produce an electable presiding bishop, the canons do indeed call for a second joint session at which new names are put forth. No prior screening possible.  And, just to be clear, the idea of immediately inducting the Presiding Bishop, as some would propose, assumes that screening always takes place before election.  
The possibility of nominations from the real floor is done in by the need to have things neatly packaged. How's that for openness to the Holy Spirit, or even other spirits, principalities and powers? Better safe than sorry or amazed. 

5/06/2015

The principle of Subsidiarity is a Trojan Horse.

The Standing Commission on Structure has its report in the Blue Book, the book of reports and resolutions from official bodies of the General Convention to the General Convention meeting in Salt Lake City in June, 2015. 

In its report it proposes resolution A098: "Endorse Principle of Subsidiarity."  On the surface this looks like a reasonable, if not very forceful, resolution.  The first resolves states "Resolved...that the 78th General Convention embrace the principle of "subsidiarity" as embodying a fundamental truth about effective ministry." 

Subsidiarity is defined in the report as meaning "the appropriate balance between the unity of the whole and the roles and responsibility of its parts, all working toward an measured against a sense of the good of the whole."
What's not to like about the principle of subsidiarity?  Who can be against it?

Well, the devil is in the details. 

(i) "Subsidiarity" is elsewhere defined as "(in politics) the principle that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level. [ as modifier ] : the Maastricht Treaty reasserts the rights of member nation states through the subsidiarity principle."   (Online Meriam-Webster Dictionary)

So "subsidiarity" is often touted as the principle that places action at the level where it can first be performed in a satisfactory way, rather than with the central authority. In church terms, at the parish, or diocese, or domestic province, and only at the last at the Church wide level. 

Sounds good, yes? Well yes and no. Who decides which actions ought to take place on which levels?  Well, if there is a constitution that spells out the duties and functions of the highest level of authority, and relegates those not enumerated to a lower level, that would work. (The Constitution of the United States of America does this, more or less.)  Or the agreement can be made by those constituting the membership of an organization - say a General Convention - that certain powers (changing the Book of Common Prayer) rest at the central authority of General Convention, namely those representing the Dioceses in assembly as General Convention. Or the central authority can be variously placed for various reasons - with the General Convention or some other agency, with the Presiding Bishop, with the Dioceses.  But in each case someone makes the decision as to how the principle of subsidiarity ought to be applied.

Look carefully at the Resolution and what it proposes as the gate-keeper for applying the principle.  It suggests that Executive Council be that agent. 

(ii) The resolution is very squishy indeed.  What does it mean to "embrace the principle of subsidiarity"?  To use it, I suppose. Beware resolutions to "embrace." Suppose this thingy, this principle, turns out to be a bear?

(iii) Subsidiarity is about gate-keeping and the principle applies,"know your keeper."

The resolution suggests that General Convention embrace the principle, and Executive Council works to determine where actions (work) should take place. 


The Executive Council takes on the gate-keeper function regarding the application of the principle of Subsidiarity, embraced.

(iv) The principle of subsidiarity LOOKS like a way of spreading roles and responsibilities to the levels where they will be most effective, and is widely used as a way of talking about dispersed responsibilities - everyone doing their part for the whole, etc.  But the measure is always the whole, and the decisions about what best serves the whole is made - guess where - at the center.

So subsidiarity is also about defining what has to be dealt with at the highest level as well as at the lowest. 

Subsidiarity was widely touted in Anglican Communion circles, first as an assurance that Provinces had autonomy to do work as they saw fit, except where their work impacted the work of other provinces, or concerned matters of basic or core understandings of the faith or the Communion itself.  In this scheme, subsidiarity means that when any Province proposed to undertake ministry with innovations that are controversial, it should first have wide consultation in the Communion and not proceed until some measure of consensus had been reached. The decision as to what constitutes a matter requiring Communion wide support lies, as one would expect, with the highest authorities of the Communion - the Primates, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Consultative Council.  So elements of this use of "subsidiarity" finds its way into the proposed (and hopefully defunct) Anglican Communion Covenant.
 ------

The principle of subsidiarity is a Trojan Horse. Hidden in its bowels are the same components of controlling machinery that continue to make true shared and dispersed authority impossible.  The gatekeepers make sure the real decisions about the dispersal of "roles and responsibilities" happens at the highest levels. 

The principle of subsidiarity stresses the unity of the whole and the assignment of parts to play. But the script rests with the directors. It is increasingly clear that the directors are not accountable back down to the lowest levels.
 
Subsidiarity decries the actions taken by those involved in the Philadelphia and Washington ordinations, all those who through the years tried out liturgical innovations that only later would become part of our practice. Subsidiarity decries the ordination of women to the episcopate, the acceptance of LGBT members as full members of the Church, all on the grounds that decisions on these matters requires "the highest level" of consensus and decision making.

So a resolution that seems to be about doing things at the "level" appropriate for the work being done, turns out to be about "levels" - about hierarchy - and about who does what. It turns out that the determination of who does what lies at the highest level.  Surprise, surprise!  

Look at "the principle of subsidiarity" with just a grain of salt.

5/01/2015

In The Episcopal Church...why don't we just say so?

Nothing makes for better "in-house" special information than the practice, well established in The Episcopal Church, of not actually saying what we mean, or alternately, not actually meaning what we say.  This practice is refined to the point where only those who know the secret realities of the inner workings get to fully participate in decision making in the Church's governance. These worthies live in rarefied regions of inner knowledge. The rest of us wonder what the hell is going on.

Some examples:

(i) There are four nominees for Presiding Bishop, produced by the Joint Committee through a process spelled out quite adequately in the canons. Now comes time for other nominations, called "nominations from the floor." At a joint session of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies the Nominating Committee will formally place the names they have brought forward in nomination. Then the canon (I.2.1.f) says, "At the Joint Session to which the Joint Nominating Committee shall report, any Bishop or Deputy may nominate any other member of the House of Bishops for the consideration of the two Houses in the choice of a Presiding Bishop, and there may be discussion of all nominees.

That is what it means to nominate from the floor.

However, earlier the canons specifically charge (i.1.2.1.e.2) the Nominating Committee with:

"establishing a timely process for any bishop or deputy to express the intent to nominate any other member of the House of Bishops from the floor at the time the Joint Nominating Committee presents its nominees to the joint session of the two Houses, and for each Bishop so nominated to be included in the information distributed about the nominees."

Now,on the day of the joint session, any bishop or deputy can nominate any bishop he or she likes. That's what it says.

But the assumption of the earlier section is that the Nominating Committee will put in place a process for expressing the intent to nominate. This, for obvious reasons is prudent, since with notice all persons so nominated can be vetted, prodded, screened, and otherwise deemed OK for the process.

Still, nothing prevents a genuine last minute nomination from the floor by someone who can claim extraordinary reasons for doing so.

If we are not going to allow real nominations from the floor we should say so.  If we are, then we should say that. But what we have is an area of nebulous muck.  Ah, but perhaps not.

Apparently the House of Bishops agree among themselves that they will not consider someone actually nominated from the floor, without the previous screening, and so forth. So, we have the insider out. No matter what the canon says on the surface, those who are not screened according to the Nominating Committee's (or perhaps even the bishops own) criteria won't be considered.  

Now I don't know if this agreement exists as a long term standing understanding in the House of Bishops, if it gets discussed each time there is an election, or if it only exists sometimes, but it adds a layer of insider information not available in the canons.

It would be helpful for the canons to be clear that either (i) real nomination from the floor is possible, or (2) dispense with the pretense of nominations "in the moment" being possible (get rid of the "nominations from the floor" idea).

I'm not against screening, a needed thing. I am against saying one thing and meaning another.

(ii) The Constitution of The Episocopal Church states (Article 1), "There shall be a General Convention of this Church, consisting of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, which Houses shall sit and deliberate separately; and in all deliberations freedom of debate shall be allowed. Either House may originate and propose legislation, and all acts of the Convention shall be adopted and be authenticated by both Houses."

Thanks to Scott Gunn for pointing out that there is no exception offered in the Constitution. Actually, reading his whole article, I see that he also remarks on the "from the floor" problem.  He is on the case. I wrote on this some time ago. I got roundly trounced by a Church legal beagle who informed me of the bishops trump card. 

But given Scott's observation, perhaps we either ought to clean up the Constitution to provide for joint sessions, or drop the "joint sessions" idea entirely. The other regular "joint session" that takes place is on the matter of the DFMS budget, but in the past there was a clear division of that being part of a meeting of the DFMS, not the General Convention. So General Convention did not meet, but rather the DFMS, of which the members of the two houses, while General Convention was in session, constituted the meeting membership. 

Of course it all could become moot if the TREC proposal of a unicameral legislature  takes hold.

(iii) I have already written on the problem of the two canons in conflict: namely the canon that provides that clergy can decline to marry any couple at their discretion, and the canon that says that clergy and this church may not discriminate. See my article HERE.

If we mean to allow clergy to act with discretion in a class of cases (all gay couples, all formerly married couples, etc.) then let us say so, specifically excusing this discretion from the non-discrimination canon. If not, then let's say that: as pertains to the ministries and sacraments of this church no clergy can exercise unilateral discretion for a whole social class of persons.   

(iv) There was a time when the official name of this church was only "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America."  The clear understanding was that this was a church organized with bishops and their jurisdictions, not part of the Roman Catholic Church, but rather protestant, in the United States of America.   It's domestic mission was clear - to be that witness (church) in all parts / states/ territories of this nation state.  All of which was in conformity with the idea of a church for the nation, or what Professor, now bishop and indeed bishop nominee for presiding bishop, Ian Douglas called "the national church idea." 

This set part of the agenda of the DFMS - the domestic mission was to see that TEC- PECUSA was present in jurisdictions with bishops throughout the USA.  That mission continues in our support of those jurisdictions most in need of such support even now.

The agenda of the DFMS that engaged "foreign" mission was less clear. But the basic intent seems to have been to develop the presence of Episcopal  / Anglican communities in those places where Episcopalians found themselves or were sent, with the intent that at some point those congregations and / or dioceses formed in "foreign lands" would become their own expressions of a "national church idea."  That is, they would become their own church entities - a synod or convention of dioceses - that would constitute the "church in place."

But we in TEC have found ourselves in a difficult place, in that we both want to include overseas dioceses and regional groupings of churches related to TEC in the body of our deliberations and life AND we want them to have their own life. The end result is that we call ourselves an international church, in that we have other countries / non- US dioceses as part of our own church body - the General Convention, AND we work at various levels of interest and intent on growing their witness to be THEIR witness, not ours, and for autonomy.

We are, however, very unclear about it all. If we want to be an international church, say so and develop an understanding of ourselves as a church deliberately larger than one with jurisdictions in the USA.  If we want to be the church "in this place," then say so, and be clear that overseas jurisdictions are temporary "for the time being" estates, as we hope for and work for their witness as their own. 

As it stands we are variously enamored with this or that overseas jurisdiction or grouping. Province IX gets lots of attention and has reasonably wide engagement in the life of TEC. It also receives lots of critical comments about its slow development and consistent dependence on funding from TEC and places of corruption. 

At the same time one diocese, attached to Provence II, Haiti, is in all likelihood the largest diocese in TEC, and at the same time one of the least represented in the governance of TEC. There too there is both pride in their being part of TEC and wide criticism of its dependence on US funding official and unofficial, and of possible corruption.

But in neither case is there a clear missionary goal, honestly stated and reflected in canons of the church.  We have mostly abandoned the notion of missionary diocese or missionary bishop, believing that this distinction breeds inequality.  But at the same time we know (or at least the inner gang knows) just who is dependent and why, and just who is really first and second class.  

It is time we straightened this out: Either all dioceses are the same - domestic in that they are part of this body - in which case they get support on an as needed basis, or some are "overseas jurisdictions" part of TEC because we are engaged in a missionary enterprise that expands and frees national or regional episcopal churches to be their own witness in their own places. 

There are those who are just as glad to have side agreements on nominations, disparities between constitution and canons, ambiguity in matters of discretion and discrimination, and lack of clear intention in forming overseas jurisdictions. But my sense is, why don't we just say what we mean?  Why don't we just say so?

Either have nominations from the floor, or not.
Either have a constitution that takes precedence over canons or not.
Either have an exclusion of some forms of discretion from the non-discrimination rule or not. 
Either be an international church or not. 

But perhaps I ask for too much. If it got clearer, then more of us would know what is going on. If it got clearer, some people would leave. If it got clearer, there would be no need for some of us telling others of us that we don't know what we are talking about, because it is all run by the people in the know.

TREC has not even touched on the power that comes from "special knowledge" in this church.

4/25/2015

TREC and The Episcopal Church as an international church.

It is clear that the TREC (The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church) Report to the 78th General Convention concerns itself with The Episcopal Church. That is, its mandate grows from concerns about the future of TEC viewed as a spiritual, social and political agency or entity within the United States of America.

The mandate for its work is stated this way: "To urge The Episcopal Church to reimagine itself, so that, grounded in our rich heritage and yet open to our creative future, we may more faithfully: proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom; teach, baptize, and nurture new believers; respond to human need by loving service; seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind, and to pursue peace and reconciliation; and strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth."

The mandate engages the "Five Marks of Mission," which has become a kind of "Anglican Communion " icon.


Many in the Anglican Communion make use of the five marks of mission as a touchstone for what it would mean to be faithful to the Gospel. Each of these Five Marks are universal in scope, although some imply locale. The hope is that these "marks" found wherever Christians gather, might indeed reasonably map out the missionary scope of the Church worldwide.

The Five Marks are interestingly not described in a sacramental or incarnational form, but rather in operational form. We are to baptize, teach, nurture, respond in service, transform, challenge, strive to safeguard. These are things we do, but they are not seen as outward and visible signs of Grace, nor are they seen as embodiment of God's presence.

So it is possible, as the TREC report so clearly shows, to hold up the five marks of mission as something which we must faithfully be about, and yet spend most of the energy in the report on a "reimagining" that hardly touches on the doing of these five marks. For this report "reimagining" preceeds "doing." 


We should note that the TREC report has astonishingly little to say about the "Foreign" work of The Episcopal Church. It looks primarily at the "Domestic" side of the reimagining, and the church it images is one growing primarily out of local engagement. In its "engagement process" there was little to indicate any involvement by Episcopalians outside the US.  

All this is appropriate, given that it is precisely the "local" with which parish churches have lost touch. As local social conditions have changed, and people and groups have gone and come, what used to be neighborhood churches have become churches disconnected with locale. It is quite understandable that TREC has focused on the work needed to be responsive in local terms - on a variety of levels of "location."  In spite of there being TEC congregations and dioceses outside the United States of America TREC quite rightly has focused on changes as they relate to life in the church in locations part of the US. TREC has, as a result, very little to say to the notion that TEC is an international church. 

The one place where the "Foreign" in the title of the church as a corporate entity (The Foreign and Domestic Missionary Society) is concretely addressed is in the interesting proposal that the General Convention be closely tied in with a "Missionary Convocation."  The section on this reads as follows: "the Church could convene a General Missionary Convocation both in person and virtually, potentially concurrent with General Convention." (p.47)  The canonical provision is simply this, "Each General Convention shall function for the Church both as a legislative body and as a mission-oriented convocation." (p. 61).  There is no suggestion one way or another that "Mission" in this general missionary convocation concerns foreign as well as domestic issues and concerns.  I assume it would.But the report says little about this.

The sixty two page TREC report references "foreign" 26 times, always concerning the title "Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society."  It is silent on just what "Foreign" might mean in practice, except to refer in turn to Anglican Communion interests.  "International" comes up exactly once, in reference to the Presiding Bishop's role. (p.12). 

TEC has touted its "international" character, noting that there are 16 jurisdictions outside the USA that are part of TEC. But TREC says very little about those jurisdictions. 

TEC is international in its internal life. We are increasingly conscious that we are a church made up of indigenous peoples,of immigrants from England, the islands off shore from mainland Europe, from Hispanic, Haitian, Caribbean islanders, African slaves, and Asians, and more. But that is in TEC itself.  What about the overseas jurisdictions? Are they what give TEC its international character? 

TREC does not address the issues related to our missionary efforts in these other nations. Surely, as part of our reimagnining we might think of a policy or image of the future in which those jurisdictions become fully churches of their own. 

TREC has little to say to the future of our engagement with emerging churches in jurisdictions not part of the USA. 

My sense is that this failure by TREC needs to be addressed. To the extent that it is the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society that is our core corporate model, we ought to have a policy, or at least a imagining of TEC as a jurisdiction always devoted to autonomy for those areas outside the USA. 

How will TREC's reimagining move us to a missionary zeal to see those parts of TEC in other countries become autonomous? 

 

3/30/2015

Dance, dance, wherever you may be...

 If we Christians of a liturgical bent get through the three days - Maundy Thursday to The Vigil of Easter - we take part in a holy event unlike any other in the Christian year. 

In a wonderful meditation on the meaning of the Triduum Jim Friedirch writes
 
"To treat the Triduum as a la carte, or to skip it altogether, would be to miss the richness of the interrelated whole. Imagine only seeing one act of Hamlet, or skipping the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth. There are things we can only find out by entering into them fully. The journey is how we know."


Read the whole thing HERE. 

The journey is how we know. It is true, often true, that the only way to know is to walk, to journey, to go from here (messy meals with friends and disaster following to absolute devastation in execution), to there, ( the stunning and strange emptiness that points to fullness of life, and joy.)  Sometimes the only way to know is to take a journey. And the liturgy of this journey can be powerful.

I remember one year at St. Thomas' Newark, where I was interim, we paid considerable attention to Holy Week, and in particular the Triduum (although I didn't call it that at the time). We did indeed see and experience it as a whole. One of those who came for every part of this liturgical cycle said, "Thank you for making Holy Week holy."

It solidified my sense that we ought to look at the whole of that time (including the "intermissions" between services) as a time of meditation on last and then first things, on weeping and then dance.

At the close of Jim's meditation he says, 
 
"In the apocryphal Acts of John, Jesus leads his disciples in a dance. Some are resistant, but he tells them, “Those who do not dance do not know what happens.” By the time we reach the Vigil finale Saturday night, dancing around the altar to “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” we will all know what happens."  

Here at the church by the bay and the big water in Lewes, Delaware, people are not much given to dance in the physical space that is our church, but perhaps, just perhaps, we will have been on the same journey, and the dance will be by the heavenly beings that hover 'round us when we sing with delight that indeed "Jesus Christ is Risen Today."  And who knows, maybe there will be dancing in the aisles.