10/27/2010

The Presiding Bishop on Leadership, and various other worthies on carping

The Presiding Bishop made some remarks at Executive Council on Sunday that provoked considerable discussion on Monday at the closing session of Council. The Washington Post also interviewed her, either before or after council and there she also took up the same themes of nimbleness, willingness to engage, and other matters of leadership. Listen carefully as she reflects on the issues of leadership in church and society. You can view the interview HERE.



The Executive Council meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, has elicited considerable comment, primarily from the usual gang intent on badmouthing The Episcopal Church and its leadership, and in particular the Presiding Bishop. The fact that the PB's comments gave rise to considerable discussion within Council was taken by the negativity gang as a sign of Council in disarray. 

There is no question that the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies see matters of leadership differently. They do, after all, come to leadership by very different routes. But in many ways their differences complement one another, providing a wider range of reflection that would be possible if only one or the other were the sole speaker. 

The Anglican Curmudgeon has gone to considerable lengths to make something out of the various financial reports from Executive Council, and in particular the report about taking a loan with the Episcopal Church Center as collateral, "mortgaging the Church Center."  That in turn has been picked up by BabyBlueOnline, and she has run with it.  Obviously there are genuine financial concerns being faced - a budget shortfall of 2 million dollars, about 5% of the overall budget for the year 2011 which required program limitations, and the need to replace a line of credit debt with a mortgage based loan, one that would include repayment of the initial loan, the loan for purchase of property in Austin, and funds for short term cash needs.  

As with any board, or even family, these matters required both careful attention and elicited very different views on how to proceed. At times those charged with oversight and those charged with specifics of funds management came to different conclusions and found themselves at odds with one another. All of which was considered a BIG DEAL by those who see The Episcopal Church and its leadership in disarray or worse on the verge of collapse.

Much of the work of Executive Council is done in committee and the struggles there seldom make it to the whole Council. That is as it should be. I find it hard to imagine 40 people successfully working through the pros and cons of continuing to use a line of credit or going for a loan against particular property.  So the sometimes difficult and sharply contentious debate takes place in a more workable committee who then report out their recommendations to the whole. The report that the Treasurer and members of the Committee differed in their understanding of the role of Council or its committees and subcommittees has been taken as a sign of the end times. That is a bit of a stretch. It is certainly a sign that there continue to be issues of role and function.  This is why it was very helpful that the Governance committee is taking up a discussion of board function and roles in coming meetings of Council. But internal debate and even friction is not the end of TEC as we know it.

Perhaps the strangest critical comment concerned the changes in the whistle-blowing policy. Babyblueonlyine comments:

"In addition - without comment - the Executive Council "Adopt a revised whistle blower policy for DFMS employees (GAM008)."  What's up with that?  What is the story here?  What exactly is going on?  And why release the sunshine and roses "message" that seems to bear no connection to what actually took place at the Executive Council.  From that message we are lead to believe they spent most of the time eating and looking at the Utah foliage."

The change in the policy concerns making sure that whistle-blowers have recourse to someone completely outside the system to whom they can make reports if necessary. The change was to bring TEC policy more in line with best practices used by other corporations and agencies.  This ought be viewed as good news.

As to the "sunshine and roses "message" from Council, these messages have been the custom in the past few years as a way of giving a general sense of Council's work rather than the news stories of the work as provided by Episcopal News Service (ENS).  Council gathers in particular place and with particular concerns each time it meets. So our work was described against the background of the grey of first arriving and the personal concerns and joys we each bring to our meetings, and then turned to the way we approached our work. Yes there was the foliage, and the deaths in families, and the joy of being together, and the hard work. 

Most of the "Message from Executive Council" gave an overview of the work of the three day's meeting, assuming that greater detail was available through ENS reports. 

I was amazed that one commentator to a previous post on the resolution on Haiti who wrote

"Borrowing Millions of dollars, mortgaging 815, squabbling with Sherrod amidst murmurs of No, Council and Staff clearly at odds over financial management -- and this is just what has been 'reported' publicly (requiring decoding for all that). Of course it is important to support Haiti -- unless the only real reason to do so is to change the subject and appear to be healthy when every indication is otherwise. Is TEC headed for financial collapse? Who will give a true statement of events? That is a Christian duty."

To suggest that support for Haiti is part of a cover-up for the possibility that TEC is headed for financial collapse, is both insulting to those who first proposed this Haitian Initiative (I having made the first statement of that plea in February) and wrongheaded. 

The true statement of events?  (i) TEC has every intention of ending the triennium with a balanced budget sheet. (ii) Its debts related to refurbishing the Church Center, buying property for the Archives and having sufficient reserved (if needed) for short term cash flow issues will be consolidated as a loan rather than a line of credit, (iii) its internal issues of role and function in governance by various bodies, including Executive Council and Church Center staff, leadership style as exercised by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies and others, continue to be a work in progress, and (iv) TEC remains a faith community with a wide breadth of leadership exercised within the various orders of ministry and areas of oversight. 

Suggesting TEC is on the verge of a breakdown, going broke, or likely to a takeover by a Presiding Bishop who has become too "metropolitical" for TEC tastes, is not just suggesting - it is a provocation. It seems very important to some people that TEC be seen as an institution set on failure. TEC has become for some the enemy whose every move must be analyzed for weakness. Too bad.

19 comments:

  1. Thank you for honesty, clarity, and robust rebuttal!

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  2. And of course the great news is that the PB has acknowledged her limited canonical authority in South Carolina, dismissing the ridiculous demand from the Episcopal Forum for an investigation...

    In other business, council:

    authorized a letter to be sent to the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, which had asked the council and the House of Bishops to investigate a series of actions which it said "are accelerating the process of alienation and disassociation" of the diocese from the Episcopal Church. The letter says that the council and the presiding bishop are "committed to doing what we can to help the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina continue to participate fully in the life, work and mission of the Episcopal Church," but notes that "there are canonical limits to how her office and the Executive Council can intervene." Jennings told the council that those limits prevent the investigation that the forum requested. Council member Jim Simons, Diocese of Pittsburgh, offered any help he could by drawing upon his 25-year friendship with South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence. Jefferts Schori encouraged Simons to make informal, personal contact with Lawrence, saying "the more bridges we can build, the better."

    Father Andy

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  3. Mark, everything you say is plausible, and makes me question the vague and ill-defined disquiet I just expressed on The Episcopal Café. Yeah, we've gone off chasing implications and fears without waiting for better accounts of what actually happened.

    But you yourself have been dubious about the Anglican Covenant, with its specious assumption of illegitimate authority. When the PB talks about "nimbleness," one wonders if she's thinking about her very nimble overriding of General Convention's reluctance to ram through B033 as the conventioneers dispersed. And the reorganizations at church headquarters have seemed ham-handed from outside. It may have been a productive Executive Council meeting, not worthy of carping complaint, but the direction of TEC and the relations of clergy and laity are rightly tender issues of the day.

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  4. Curmudgeon is a master of subjective reasoning, following only arguments which lead to a desired conclusion. As a prognosticator of legal matters relating to TEC, he has a pretty dismal record. The prophets of Baal come to mind. One expects Stand Firm to say, as they have indeed said, "another superb analysis by the Curmudgeon", but BB ought to know better, given Mr Haley's track record on the CANA suit.

    I enjoyed Christopher Seitz's, question at T19: "Can someone who follows these things tell us what she[KJS] is talking about? ..... I don’t track Exec Council machinations, so maybe someone can decipher this who does".

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  5. On Mr. Haley's comments about TEC finances. First, if one looks at his comments, they are connected to the way and how TEC is obtaining financing to conduct its lawsuits. Mr. Haley has an interest here. He is counsel to +Schofield in his appeal of the San Joaquin decision. And, although, Mr. Haley himself argued the case on the 21st of this month, in his thread on his Anglican Curmudgeon website, made no mention of the fact no any mention at all of the fact that he was counsel to the appellant. Mr Haley has been very vocal in his condemnation of TEC legal expenses, even citing firms by name, but he has failed to disclose his personal interest, and that of his firm, or their economic interest. The cost of his service (normally booked at $300/hr) or he and his firm could be working pro bono. If so, have they been so doing from the beginning or just more recently? TBL

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  6. You mean to say that borrowing this amount of money, with declining income from dioceses, ought to give us no pause at all? This is a staggering debt, and one can wonder why a bank would even extend a loan at all. It sounds like the subcommittee on Council also raised questions, as well they should have. Where will the money come to pay off these loans (60 Mil)? Is the idea that lawsuits will prevail and the income from church property sales will make everything even out? Many, many questions remain. AJM

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  7. Considering that my company's credit line runs 7% and the mortgage rates are now under 4.25%, switching to a mortgage from a credit line seems to me to be prudent stewardship. Your take on the predictions of our stiff-necked brethren are a fair assessment of their negative attitude.

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  8. That's all well and good. But where is the income that will pay such a loan? You cannot have the amount of giving decreasing at such levels and also think that moving from 7% to 4.25% (your figures) solves a problem. It just defers one. A major one. Is this negative or just basic common sense? AJM

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  9. Babyblueonlyine comments:

    "In addition - without comment - the Executive Council "Adopt a revised whistle blower policy for DFMS employees (GAM008)." What's up with that? What is the story here? What exactly is going on? And why release the sunshine and roses "message" that seems to bear no connection to what actually took place at the Executive Council. From that message we are lead to believe they spent most of the time eating and looking at the Utah foliage."


    Sounds like someone who's never read annual reports from Fortune 500 companies.

    Actually, all of these negative commentaries sound like people who have a very poor grasp of modern finance and budgetary procedures for large institutions.

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  10. Mary Sue--would you bring your big business expertise to bear on these realities? 1. only 40 dioceses out of the total pay 20% asking; 2. 3 Million less was contributed than in the previous year; 3. 815 has been mortgaged to take out a 60Mil loan; 4. lawsuits -- these cost a lot of money. How does one pay a 60Mil loan with these realities facing them? I can think of only one 'nimble' solution -- sell 815. But that only pays off the debt. What about the downturn in income, which shows no sign of changing. This is not a negative inquiry, but a positive one. AJM

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  11. I do not see where, in any your three posts to date, you have responded to Fr Harris's term "insulting", re your off-the-wall allegations on the Haiti Resolutions thread, in a remotely appropriate fashion, AJM

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  12. Mr Rabbit--if anything is insulting it is being unable to support Haiti more aggressively, due to TEC's money drain and failure to inspire via its present state.
    Very serious questions as posed do not go away because you want to change the subject. AJM

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  13. Not trying to change the subject; just to see if it is possible to persuade you to demonstrate to the rest of us that you are not utterly ill-bred.

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  14. Rabbit--you are stalking again. We have a series of press accounts dealing with major issues within EC and TEC. What did we get from Preludium? A Haiti resolution. Does that look like avoidance? It does to this observer. As for breeding, when you and your friends decide it is time to make serious commitments to Haiti and other causes in the land of the less fortunate, instead of borrowing 60Mil against a mid-town Manhattan office block, your complaints might have more moral authority. As it stands, they are, as stated, efforts to change the subject.

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  15. AJM,

    With respects to Fr Mark., what you get here at Preludium is HIS view of what’s important to him. This is a blog after all. Because I think we share many values, his views are important to me. Creating a false dichotomy is not helpful here. Help Haiti or refinance the operating line of credit. The reality is that both must and ought to be done. We agree on this one right?

    Many informed and diligent people with expertise will come to a productive decision regarding credit matters. They will most likely know the history, be familiar with the options and have experience with likely outcomes. It is one of the gifts of the spirit expressed in this church.

    “…it is time to make serious commitments to Haiti…” Indeed. It’s time for all of us to step up; unless you want to change the subject.

    Word verification atycidl. Is that self inflicted attytood?

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  16. Thank you Executive Council for your continued belief and support of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. It will not be too terribly long before we will be able to pay you back -- assuming the Anglican Curmudgeon has not spent all our diocesan funds on legal expenses he has incurred.

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  17. Mary Sue--would you bring your big business expertise to bear on these realities? 1. only 40 dioceses out of the total pay 20% asking; 2. 3 Million less was contributed than in the previous year; 3. 815 has been mortgaged to take out a 60Mil loan; 4. lawsuits -- these cost a lot of money. How does one pay a 60Mil loan with these realities facing them? I can think of only one 'nimble' solution -- sell 815. But that only pays off the debt. What about the downturn in income, which shows no sign of changing. This is not a negative inquiry, but a positive one. AJM

    Oh, I can think of a whole bunch of ways that big business would fix those problems. They include firing people, slashing budgets by cutting off all benefits and pensions, and consolidating and selling off property. 'Nimble' is one of those words I've learned to hate in my daily vocation as a businesswoman. (I highly recommend the book "Why Businesspeople Speak Like Idiots" as a primer for those who haven't spent a lot of time in large corporations)

    However, it is my firm belief that while it has to intersect with the world as a 'non profit corporation', the church ceases to be the Body of Christ when it begins operating as a major business. This is at the higher level, as in at 815, and at the parish level.

    After all, I am not a demographic to be marketed to, I am a child of God!

    The one question I would ask myself, if I was an exec at 815 and not just some yayhoo jabbering on the Internet, is how I could help the dioceses who aren't paying the 20% meet that goal. Again, as a yayhoo jabbering on the Internet with little knowledge of the internal issues, I can see two options right off the bat-- provide materials to educate the Body of Christ in budgeting and debt reduction, and look at the 20% figure and see if it's unreasonable considering the current economy and the strains that it is putting on the Church-provided welfare programs.

    I'm living in Oregon with our 11.3% unemployment and 25.9% under-employment, I know from economic difficulties.

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  18. Mary Sue--thank you for your cordial reply. On just one matter. It isn't as if something like 25 dioceses need help to pay 20% -- our non-hierarchical church polity means they do not have to pay this, and they choose not to because of the direction of TEC. So the only way you could 'help them pay' would be to find room for them, quit litigating them and so forth. I don't think that is in the picture, however. Hence the concerns articulated that income is and will continue to be down. AJM

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  19. PS--I should add. Of the 30% or so who give in the 10% range, it probably is true that economic hardship figures in. My point was that dioceses like SC, CFL, Dallas, W-TX, and others give practically nothing because they do want to support the direction of the church and they would prefer to spend their money on mission and outreach in their own regions...and they fear their money will be used to assist with causes they do not support. This is what it means to have a church with dioceses with their own integrity, historically. I can't see the constitution being changed to alter that, but who knows? The clear thing is that TEC can't continue in this direction and remain solvent. Chairman Glover helpfully pointed that out.

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