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.