Reading "Shared Governance" with charity.

It arrived two days ago - "Shared Governance: The Polity of The Episcopal Church."  Every deputy got a copy, and I hope many others will get a copy from Church Publishing. There are historical and canonical observations in the essays presented and a good bit of solid information about just how General Convention works. 

The main thrust of this collection of essays is to support the notion that The Episcopal Church should retain its commitment to a polity in which lay and ordained persons continue to have a role in governance at every level of church life. 

Reading these essays makes most sense in the light of a contrary proposition, that the bishops ought to exercise both leadership and governance in a way quite different from that exercised by lay and ordained persons, and that bishops therefore have a particular role in governance that sets them collectively apart from other members of the body and gives them unique authority in governance as well as leadership.  In other words, the contrary argument is that bishops both lead and govern.  The argument of these essays is that bishops lead, but the community as a whole, in a shared way, govern.

The essays take on various aspects of the argument - but the argument is finally about the difference between a church both led and governed by bishops and one led by bishops and governed by bodies representing lay and ordained persons, some of whom are bishops.

Why all the fuss?

The last few lines of the book, in a closing essay by Ernie Bennett, tell the tale: 

"Ours is a messy method of governance bu tit is worth contending for.  As the late Dr. Pamela Chinnis, speaking at St. Phillip's, Laure, Maryland in the fall of 1991, put it succinctly,

"more and more we see efforts to increase the role and power of the House of Bishops and the national church staff. We have every right to be concerned. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom from a church dominated by the House of Bishops."

Perhaps a little overstayed, but it reveals the passion and zeal for our church from a dearly beloved servant and leader of our church. To lose sight of the genius and rich heritage of our form of governance would be to follow Esau in his trade of a rich blessing for a bowl of red pottage."

Is that really the case?  Are we close to losing governance by the people of the church for the mission of the church?   Have the House of Bishop, the national staff, and the Presiding Bishop sucked the air out of the room, leaving the House of Deputies and its larger constituency of lay and ordained persons, with less and less oxygen? 

Apparently the House of Deputies Special Study Committee on Church Governance and Polity thinks so. This is a bid, a serious bid, to make sure that deputies to this convention know what is at state in reorganization and revisioning of the future of The Episcopal Church.

I am sorry there was no bishop writer in these notes. It was, of course a House of Deputies Special Study Committee, but the committee itself could have asked for a bishop essayist to contribute. 

I am more concerned that the sub-text, namely the concern for the future of governance, was not more forcefully  placed at the center and up front in the essays as the guiding concern of the committee.

An interesting note.  The Introduction begins, 

"Shortly after the adjournment of the 76th General Convention, the President of the House of Deputies created and charged a House of Deputies Study Committee on Church Governance and Polity."

  Looking at the proceedings of the 76th General Convention we find the following notations concerning this committee.

pg. 4 lists the committee, along with several others as Committees of the House of Deputies:

Council of Advice
State of the Church
Study Committee on Church Governance and Polity

pg. 34 - 35 lists the members of the committee. 

As far as I can find there are no other references to the duties of this Study Committee. It was created by the President of the House of Deputies, apparently soon enough after General Convention to be listed in the directory of General Convention 2009, a directory which covers the period 2010-2012.  So there is no reference to this committee as having been formed by General Convention and certainly not by the House of Deputies. 

It is in reality a committee formed by the President of the House of Deputies between meetings of the House of Deputies, not as a product of any decision by the House of Deputies but as a priority by the President of the House of Deputies.

I wonder why it is called  "The House of Deputies Special Study Committee on Church Governance and Polity" rather than "The President of the House of Deputies Special Study Committee on Church Governance and Polity? 

So, this is a group of essays growing from a committee formed by the President of the House of Deputies.

As to its mandate, this is what is listed in the Episcopal Church CCAB's pages,


This does not in any way distract from the good work done by the writers, or the intent of the whole, to retain our system of governance.  But it perhaps useful to note that it is itself an example of the strain which The Episcopal Church's governance is dealing with regarding polity. Dr Chinnis may have voiced concern, but Dr. Anderson's committee has raised the volume.


  1. And why lump HOB with PB/national church? The former may have as many misgivings about the latter as the PHoD does. Let's not let her spat with the PB turn into a general pitch for her own power, under the guise of promoting the HoD in general.

    "In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king" -- I fear this is the new mantra of everyone claiming to know best how to make TEC into a new entity...


  2. "The argument of these essays is that bishops lead, but the community as a whole, in a shared way, govern."

    Thank you, Mark for this input. This ought be a question, too, for the Church of England. In fact the recent action by the House of Bishops to amend the original Draft Measure on the Ordination of Women Bishops (decided by the last General Synod of the C.of E.) in a way that would take away the traditional authority of a diocesan - if she were female - is just one instance of the H.o.B. overruling the Mind of Synod.

    All the next G.S. Meeting can now do is either request the H.o.B. to retract their amendments, which could end up in delaying the process, or vote on an amendment which G.S. had no part in making.

    This shows the H.o.B. to be both movers and legislators.

  3. Mark,
    I don't know why the mandate of the committee isn't at the GC website, but it appears in the first paragraph of the introduction to the book.

    The Committee was created under Rule 8.

    While I appreciate your concern about the sub-text, I think it is ultimately the text that is important. The goal was to acquaint deputies with some of the history of the House and General Convention that is not otherwise easy to find. The last major study of the PB dates from John Allin's time, for instance.

  4. Father Tobias was the chair, this is what he has to say regarding the book;


  5. I doubt reading a first paragraph in any way changes the main text which is the subject of this and very many other comments. We have dysfunction of the highest order with everyone vying for power. The idea of some permanent office of President of HOD is risible -- do you have any idea what percentage of church-going Episcopalians kow who Bonnie Anderson is? If you guessed 10% you'd be too high. This is like the 15 people at a 2500 student body high school sqabbling over who gets to be treasurer and who secretary of the Student Council.


  6. WEll, Msgr, I have to say that I think my friend Mark's comments here are skewed by his reading of the closing paragraphs. Nowhere does this collection of essays make the suggestion you aver -- that the PHoD be "permanent" -- whatever you mean by that. The essays are almost entirely historical, designed to give people information not easily found in a collected place.

    Once can of course, choose to ignore the reality of disagreements over church polity. But they are there, and this collection was intended to provide information, not advocacy. That some small amount of reaffirmation of the place of the House of Deputies appears from time to time is a result of and in response to, urgings from several quarters, including Canterbury, for the Bishops to "take control."

  7. Msgr..your last comment, and the reference to "The idea of some permanent office of President of HOD" is off the mark. The Pres, HoD, is elected from the close of one General Convention to the close of the next, thus the office is already a permanent office. The holder of the office is not permanent but rather elected every three years.

    Your comments seem almost always to be a dump on The Episcopal Church and it becomes harder and harder to see why you look in on articles here.

    I believe you misread the church. There are of course issues of deep division and struggle in the church, but there are deeper beliefs and actions that unite us.

  8. Anyone reading the bickering between factions in the present leadership should be appalled. Obviously the money is tight and/or running out, and that makes for difficult cuts. But the notion that something on the order of 40-50% of a strained budget goes to support a handful of unnecessary positions is risible. Let the PB be a diocesan. As for the PHoD, one reads now about how it needs to be a paid position! The incumbent sets up committees and parades around as if she actually had a standing office of some kind. Most church goers haven't a clue who she is, and quite properly so. This is all just a sad charade -- what does a GC purport to do for ten days and at vast expense? What does the average church goer need from a GC? New liturgies for communion without baptism?

    I simply believe we are watching TEC run amok and it is terribly tragic and unnecessary. Maybe the blogs have hyper ventilated the situation but I don't think so. It IS that bad. But the good news is that money is like the Rod of Assyrian fury. It can cleanse and root out what is not needed. And it is doing that.


  9. Msgr..that's your last post on this. You consistently overstate the case and continually dump on TEC. You have a blog? Point us to it. Meanwhile, we get it here: you believe TEC has run amok, has leadership that is power hungry, is broke, and that General Convention does nothing of value.

    And? Where are you in the effort to make things better?

    No..don't answer that. I've already determined that on this thread at least you are off the wire now.

  10. Could someone explain why we need a hugely expensive, ten day, over delegated event every three years to worship God in Christ and serve him in our parishes and communities?

    What is the actual, auditable business conducted and how is it justified? Businesses have to do this all the time.

    Frankly, I can't imagine what the reaction of a genuine Board of Trustees would be upon reviewing the budget for 2013-15. Heads would roll.


  11. SCM, I would say "need" is probably too strong a word. We "have" a General Convention to set policy and make decisions on matters that affect every parish and diocese in the church: changes to the canons and constitution, programs that have impact on education, stewardship, and mission.

    That being said, I, for one, do support a restructuring of how GC does its work, of whom it is made up, and how long it meets. I support reducing deputations by 25% to a total of 3 clergy and 3 lay; a unicameral house with all votes requiring assent of bishops, clergy and lay; restricting the vote of bishops to active bishops (and perhaps only diocesans, as in most other provinces of the Communion); and meeting every five instead of every three years.

    Although these may seem too small to some, and too large to others, I think they preserve the essential polity elements of TEC, most importantly the principle of shared governance.

  12. SCM a regular or a new member? Don't recall seeing his/her initials before, though could quite easily have missed them. Just askin'.

    ".... dysfunction of the highest order with everyone vying for power"? The breakaway sects are hardly the perfect model of humility and unity.

  13. Tobias--this is a good start, and will soon be required work anyway. There is no money for the status quo being preserved. Reduced deputations? Yes. Meeting less often? Yes. Not sure we should call this an 'Episcopal' church if Bishops are not properly demarcated. The life of the church is the diocese and parish, and the Diocese has a Bishop, constitution and canons, and its mission. We are not presbyterians. That polity has its own integrity but it is not ours.


    PS--do I have to pass muster with someone who calls himself a crazy rabbit? What kind of blog is this?

  14. Tobias--a follow on question. If our polity becomes more presbyterian in character (unicamerality) how would that effect the property question? The PCUSA is allowing its parishes to decide whether they wish to leave or stay. In Charlotte, just recently, seven churches are leaving, and all agree, on both sides, this is a good idea and a peaceful solution. Does this kind of thinking happen when one moves away from a diocesan integrity model and toward a GC-unicameral polity, familiar in the PCUSA? It would sure solve a lot of problems re: money and litigation -- though that is also obviously drying up (see budget 2013-15 commentary re: halting expenditures for litigation).


  15. To say that someone has run amok is to imply that they are about to haul off and kill a lot of people. I hardly think that is what is going on in TEC leadership.

  16. Bppwhalon said...
    There is a slogan the Old Catholics like: "episcopal leadership in synodical governance."
    The late Bishop of Peterborough, Ian Cundy, liked to remark that a better definition of ecclesial governance is "the bishop in synod."
    One aspect of our confusing the equal roles of the bishops and deputies has to do with the term "ecclesiastical authority." This obscures the fact that a standing committee, when the office of bishop is vacant, does not the authority to rule on rubrical matters assigned only to bishops.
    I have worked hard over the past eleven years to lead the Episcopal Churches in Europe into a diocese-like structure, in which lay leadership is a prominent feature. We can now govern ourselves like an Episcopal diocese. That meant tempering the powers the canon gives to the bishop in charge (see I.15 and Convocation canons), which was originally a paternalistic oversight to make sure these foreign congregations don't go off the beaten path.
    There are some real issues of accountability that go a-begging. To whom are the PB and the PHoD accountable? The treasurer, and general convention secretary? And to whom is a bishop accountable? The answer to the latter is "the House of Bishops" but that is quite limited.
    Rather than worry about episcopal overreach, we need to think systematically. Reviewing our history is of utmost importance at the starting point, so I am grateful for the work Tobias and his committee have done.

  17. Thanks, Bishop Whalon.

    SCM, I'm not following you here. I don't regard a unicameral setting as "presbyterian." The Church of England General Synod is unicameral, as are many synods in Anglicanism. ONe might observe that the Curia is unicameral too! The bicameral nature of the General Convention is a kind of historic accident; the reasons for the different houses disappeared very early on when they became legislatively equal, as they are today. Meeting in the same room doesn't alter the office of a bishop, it just means all get to hear the debate at one go -- voting, as I noted, would still be by orders. So I don't see this as having anything at all to do with property disputes, which can happen regardless of the polity of the church. Perhaps you could say more about what you mean by "presbyterian"?

  18. Tobias

    Since the mood appears to be, let's examine everything, my views as follows.

    1. Return the PB to a diocese, as in almost all parts of the AC
    2. Let GC meet every five years with reduced delegations (I believe you favor this)
    3. Clarify the relationship between constitution and GC canons/resolutions; or clarify that the dioceses must make determinations when in doubt, as we have no ecclesiastical court
    4. let Bishops and Dioceses be Bishops and Dioceses. We are The Episcopal Church. We are not The General Convention Church, The Executive Council Church, or the PB Church.
    5. Unicamerality is itself not the issue but the role of the Bishops in such a system being protected. They are the ones who must see to the effective mission of the church, and at present this has been lost sight of. The best running 'new polity' is not going to impact the need for mission (church growth and outreach, maturing in Christ) to be done locally, and not used as a slogan for what EC or the PB or GC does.


  19. Bishop Whalon--given the recent defense of marriage from the CofE it is being proposed by Michael Russell that TEC extend itself into England. You are to lead the charge from Normandy, he suggests. The Lead has his remarks. FYI.


  20. SCM,
    I'm largely with you here, though I don't understand your point 4. Our present C&C give rather wide sway to dioceses on much that they do in the ordering of their daily and yearly life. But some things are done for the whole church -- establishing the BCP, having standards for ordination, etc. I don't see much need for change here. Frankly I think much of the extravagant legislation of GC is a waste of time and soon forgot. I'd gladly restrict GC to only amending the C&C.

    Similarly your point 3. I think that is what we have now. But if there is a disagreement on the meaning of a canon or constitutional clause, the proper way to settle it is to bring it the GC for amendment to clarify any confusion. For instance, I'm supporting an amendment to the abandonment canon that clarifies the number of votes needed to act. I think the PB and Chancellor acted contrary to the plain sense of the document, though they rightly noted that's the way it has been employed for generations. I think that is bad practice and the wording should be adjusted for clarity, especially in such an important matter.

  21. "the proper way to settle it is to bring it the GC for amendment to clarify any confusion" -- not in the case of Title IV, e.g. What you say is not feasible. Three years is a long time. Five years is longer still. Dioceses actually have to do the business.

    Dioceses have done and should continue to assess actions of GC and decide whether they can accept them as constitutional, or not.

    Additionally that serves a good cause: reminding the GC of its limited remit. GC is governed by the Constitution of TEC.

    And by the way, that is what was intended by #4.

    cordinally, SCM

  22. Thanks for the explanation, SCM. I've read through a couple of the papers alleging unconstitutionality in the canons, but I don't find them very persuasive; in some cases relying on outdated or incomplete information, in some simply wrong, and in some places objecting to parts of the canon that as near as I can see have been on the books long before the recent revision of Title IV.

    However, I see no constitutional grant of nullificatory power to the dioceses. Nor do I understand the urgency. What precisely is the problem -- I don't see anything "urgent" in the papers from those alleging unconstitutionality. When you say, "Diocese actually have to do the business" could you say what the business is that is being obstructed, and why the canons are specifically unconstitutional?

    In the long run, only GC can amend the canons, so that is where it ultimately ought to end up. IN the mean time people can ignore canons they don't like -- a time-honored practice -- but it seems to me a step to far to suggest any nullification can be undertaken unilaterally.

    But I think GC can and should act regarding Title IV, which is in my perspective a gawd-awful mishmash of poor pastoral practice and ineffective and unclear law. But that's why I support the Diocese of Albany resolution to review -- not on the basis of any alleged "unconstitutionality" (though if there actually is any it should be fixed) but because the present Title IV is unjst and unclear, and brutalizes victims while keeping "offending" clergy in suspense. It seems not to do well on either side.

  23. "When you say, "Diocese actually have to do the business" could you say what the business is that is being obstructed, and why the canons are specifically unconstitutional?"

    This is a bit worrisome. Are you saying that it isn't fully obvious that something as crucial as a proper disciplinary process can wait a 'mere 3 or 5 years'! Dioceses have chancellors advising them on their legal position. You can't have a disciplinary system that is in some vague nullificatory phase! It is either a single system judged to be constitutional by the diocese, and legally defended as such, or it is the one that, gulp, they accept and use while they are being told it will be reviewed in time because it needs tweaking.

    I want to say this as politely as I can, Fr Haller, but I worry you misunderstand the level of your own review and its actual saliency.

    You are a single individual with opinions, and in addition you attend GC. Of course you can read documents and lodge an opinion. So you have. But that is irrelevant.

    A Diocese is in an altogether different position. If we had a genuine hierarchy someone could dredge out of the C/C it would be one thing, and then if a suit were filed for wrongful Title IV discipline, the diocese could shove it upstairs to, well, take your pick: GC? EC? The PB? Tobias Haller who says X and Y and makes assurances?

    Answer: None of the above.

    So Dioceses very properly exercise their duty to make sure they have ot right, and that what GC produces does not create legal chaos on the ground. If you simply assert that bad GC legislation waits around to be tidied up in 3 or 5 years, that is all well and good -- except that it isn't.

    The diocese is the entity that will have to defend what it is doing in something like Title IV. It will have no recourse to 'shove it upstairs' to GC or anyone else. You can be absolutely sure that legal advisors in dioceses have looked this over very carefully.

    If you want to change the entire system and tun it from some kind of top down model, you'll have your work cut out for you when it comes to the nitty gritty of things like clergy discipline.

  24. SCM, I'm sorry once again to say I don't know what you are talking about. I know from personal experience on my Standing Committee that the new Title IV has some problematical features, but I don't see a constitutional problem. NY and many other dioceses actually engaged in disciplinary cases are making use of the current Title IV. So I don't understand what difficulty you are referencing that makes its employment impossible and unconstitutional.

    As I say, I've read the "opinions" of those who make this claim, and also the rebuttals from other diocesan chancellors, which I think are correct. The only way to settle this dispute is to bring it to GC for amendment. That a handful of lawyers argue one way, against the actions of the whole assembly, is not in itself conclusive.

    If you could lay out in a sentence or two exactly where you see the "unconstitutionality" -- which I take to mean a conflict with the Constitution of TEC, not that of the US -- I think this discussion could be more fruitful. I asked Dr. Seitz for such some while back and all he did was point me to the ACI paper, which I'd already seen. I don't understand the reluctance to state the objection in a few precise sentences.

  25. Fr Haller

    The point you are making is that it's OK that a GC canon is poorly written (you apparently don't think Title IV is properly conceived yourself).

    My point is that a Diocese has to have a coherent policy on discipline. It cannot wait for one. It cannot merely ignore one that is poorly written. It will have to say how much of it is workable and how much not. The determination of that will be based on a reading of the constitution and what it permits.

    So, it cannot give the PB a role the constitution has not given.

    You may feel all of this is constitutional and argue for such. It remains a fact that the diocese must deal with the actual reality on the ground. Hence the decision by a diocese to receive what was poorly conceived (as you underscore in your comments) and by diocesan fashioning assure that its disciplinary process is constitutional.

    You may not like that this has transpired, but it has. The alternative is unworkable and even more so if the time gap between GCs is five years, as you apparently hope for.


  26. Wwll, SCM, the problem is that the Constitution says almost nothing about the disciplinary process, apart from giving the Dioceses the power to "institute" courts for the trial of the lower clergy. Only a missionary diocese is given the right to create its own canons for trial procedure. There is nothing "unconstitutional" in the GC setting up general rules for offenses and procedures in the canons -- and they've done so for many years, long before the current Title IV.

    I think the current Title IV is cumbersome and in some respects unfair, but it is not unconstitutional, at least not on the grounds McCall & al. claim.

    I don't think it's OK to pass badly written laws, but badly written laws sometimes get passed, and we have a procedure to change them. Title IV was subject to extensive review between 2006 and 2009, and I don't recall charges of unconstitutionality being raised. (If the complaint is the laying out of procedures and structures for diocesan courts, those canons have been on the books since the 90s!)

    The claim that the Constitution itself must spell out the duties of the PB is belied by the Constitution itself, which gives that power to the General Convention.

  27. Re: national church and dioceses, I see Naughton has recently offered this:

    "We can't think our way out of our current situation, let's leave enough money in the diocese for local congregations to experiment, tear down the national apparatus and see what the heck happens."


  28. You do stay away from the on-the-ground realities, Fr Haller, which an individual can do, but a Diocese in convention cannot do.

    The polity point in all this is that a Diocese can and must make a determination about the constitutionality or lack thereof of GC resolutions, canons, etc. And it has done. This allows for a disciplinary procedure to remain in place. What GC does in three (or five years) time to clean up its own messes is its own affair.

    This gives clear and proper indication of the respective roles of GC, Dioceses and the Constitution.

    Naughton's personal remarks are intriguing. He wants to consider eliminating costly national church-ism. Let subsidiarity take over.

    Actually, this is the basic polity of TEC as it stands. Dioceses do the actual work of the mission of the church.


  29. Fr Haller:

    Let’s move to a different test case. Title IV was dealt with by dioceses in an appropriate way, due to their own responsibilities and duties vis-a-vis the Constitution. Now, let say that liturgical rites for Same-Sex blessings are issued by GC. The canons and constitution (via BCP) of course already define marriage and alone give us the rites and canonical understanding. If GC issues new rites, a Diocese will again have a sovereign duty to adhere to the Constitutional BCP, and to stand aloof from whatever GC devises. That dioceses like MA have already proceeded unconstitutionally is simply an indication of general lawlessness abroad in the new TEC. But that does not lessen but rather requires other dioceses to stand by the constitutional document that is the BCP and its rubrics.

    This is the next episode before us. Title IV was a mild warm-up.


  30. SCM, I don't think this conversation is particularly advancing. You keep asserting a constitutional diocesan right to determine constitutionality of the canons that rises to a responsibility. I do not see such a right in the Constitution and you have not pointed out wherein it lies.

    The proposed same-sex blessings are not marriages. They are not covered by the BCP or the Canons, except to the extent that the Constitution gives Bishops the right to approve rites not provided for in the BCP; and for General Convention to provide for trial use of revisions (understood to include supplements) to the BCP. These trial uses normally contain a reference to the permission of the Ecclesiastical Aurhtority in a diocese on such matters, the Bishop or in his/her absence, the Standing Committee.

    All decently and in good order.

  31. And you have failed to indicate how a Diocese cannot do what it has done. It has acted 'decently and in good order'. Is there some tribunal which will reach a different judgment and force compliance? Of course not. So there is TEC polity in action.

    I confess the whole notion of having a Common Prayer (and declaring it a constitutional matter of high seriousness) is fully belied by the experimentation and 'every man for himself' model of loose-leaf binder Liturgy.

    Hooker would be appalled.

    Properly, dioceses will stand aloof from this notion, here specifically, but also for reasons of Common Prayer principle.

    I cannot imagine a day when a printed BCP with SSBs or marriage circulates through what remains of TEC. It will be the straw that breaks the camel's back. And yet that is precisely what is in the works. Look for a church with a population on the order of 40% less, making it smaller than the UCC, and without a genuine 'Common Prayer' ethos, indistinguishable as well.

    The 2012 experimentation phase is simply phase one.

    Dioceses will at least be on alert to have all their contingency plans at the ready. We are not talking Diocese of SC alone here.

    It was only ever a matter of time. 'Decently and in good order' indeed! Even the theological committee formed by TEC to study all this said SS marriage was a bad idea.



OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.