2/27/2013

The Will of General Convention and the Push Back of Church Center leadership.

It could not be clearer. Resolution D016 of the 2012 General Convention states:

"Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That it is the will of this Convention to move the Church Center headquarters away from the Church Center building at 815 2nd Avenue, New York City."

This is a greatly modified and simplified version of the resolution initially presented, which began,
"Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That it is the will of this Convention to move the Church Center headquarters away from the Church Center building at 815 2nd Avenue, New York City, as soon as it is economically feasible;"  That resolve was followed by detailed recommendations as to how the process would proceed.

So, for better or worse, the General Convention simplified the matter. It stated the will of convention that the headquarters of The Episcopal Church be moved away from the specific building in New York. Period.

"It is the will of..." is an odd beginning point for a resolution. Does it give more teeth to the matter or less than saying, "The Church Center headquarters must be relocated away from its current building" or "the Church Center headquarters will be relocated to another site within two years of this Convention..."

But however forceful "it is the will" is, the recommendation from Church Center leadership to recommend not following the will of General Convention is itself a push back, a forceful response.

From what I can understand from the lengthy report in The Episcopal News Service (ENS) the counter to the "will of General Convention" is in the argument from the report of Church Center leaders. That report states that,

“the real underlying energy in examining the location of the church center is less about its location and more about how it actually functions,” 

ENS quotes the report as stating that the desire for relocation “only a mask for the real reform needed and called for.

The risk of the report is its audacity in deflecting the matter of "will" and making it a "mask" for some other agenda. It is a risky business to tell the governing body of TEC that its statement of its will is a mask covering over deeper problems.

Executive Council is sometimes thought of as the continuation of the work of General Convention between General Conventions. It is mostly tasked with carrying out the will of Convention, although, granted, it can move beyond the resolutions and instructions from Convention on occasion.  But if Executive Council backs away from the clear intent of a resolution of General Convention it will have to do so understanding that the next General Convention may need to readdress the powers of Executive Council itself. 

The report from Staff seems very well organized, and I believe they have a strong argument for staying at 815 Second Avenue. The Resolution does not state when the move should take place, and perhaps staff can appropriately argue that given what they have discovered, and given the re-imagining of structure, Executive Council should recommend that Convention should consider again its will in the light of the report and other matters at the next Convention.

However it finally presents its recommendation to Executive Council the report should strike "mask" language and psycobabel abut the "real energy" of the resolution.

Resolutions often have long explanatory pieces attached, but they do not last through the legislative process. Only the resolution passes through to the holy land of the General Convention record.  What we have is a clear "will of Convention" statement. Countering that will can involved recommended delay in fulfilling that will, or reconsideration of that will.   Executive Council will have to decide at some point what to do with the report from Church Center leaders, perhaps now, perhaps in June. And they will have to decide what to report to General Convention if they expressly counter the "will of General Convention" statement.

This whole think has an edge of the idea that "real policy is to important a matter to be left to the voters" kind of thinking.  This voter at General Convention is watching.

Prayers for Executive Council, the Staff, and General Convention.  It seems to me the matter of structure is being formed (if not reformed) day by day.     

4 comments:

mojwnun said...

After 8 years there and 4 years not, I have come to understand that the "Church Center" is an artifact of an early 20th century ideal long past its sell-by date. There is no theological justification for such a structure (with a "CEO" in a "home office" and putative diocesan "branches"), and it does not mesh well with the polity of the Episcopal Church, serving mainly as an unaccountable power base for the sitting Presiding Bishop. Dismantle the "Church Center," sell the building or lease it at until the market recovers. Roll missional functions which cannot be addressed at a diocesan level into an enhanced General Convention Office (at CPG in New York, or elsewhere). Let the PB and the PotHoD be served out of the GCO as needed, consistent with their status as presiding officers. (Given the layoffs in recent years, it is useless to quibble over what remains.) Concentrate on building resilient local centers for mission instead of wasting bandwidth on outdated structures. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

thomas bushnell, bsg said...

I am not a big fan of "to quoque", but it doesn't take too much time to see the website of your parish and discover that you're not too assiduous in the "will" of General Convention. (The Easter Vigil must start after sunset, but you have it twenty-five minutes before; you alter the words of the Eucharistic Prayer [and in a patriarchal way, oh the irony!].)

So, is the will of the General Convention binding on some, but not on you, or only in things you deem important, or what?

Sarah Dylan Breuer said...

For better or worse, the report of management staff and the firms with which they consulted has already been officially and fully issued. Some data that legally needs to be kept confidential within Council, but what's been issued is the final report.

Implementation of the resolution regarding the location of the Church Center has been referred to Council's committee on Governance and Administration for Mission.

I personally argued against relocating the Church Center during and before last GC. I suspected that it would be fiscally far more costly than the more optimistic projections/guesses suggested, and was poorly timed while: a) the turmoil of numerous re-organizations and layoffs was only starting to subside; and b) we were voting for a serious, everything's-on-the-table revisioning of our governance structures and its staffing implications.

I lost the argument. GC has clearly expressed its will as being to move the Church Center -- not to study whether or not to move it, but to move it. Doing so will clearly involve some study -- where it moves to, as well as a zillion decisions about how and when and what to do with the building now that we know we're moving, for starters -- and I personally see that as Council's work, which GC has charged us to implement as efficiently as possible. Council will also have to do massive refiguring of the budget at some point or set of points to take into account the costs involved and both ends of the move.

And now it's not as though Council could stall implementation by putting that resolution last on the triennial docket. We are now officially working on it. If Council were to deliberately stall implementation in hopes that a future GC would want to keep the Church Center where it is, I believe we would be dodging, in not subverting, our canonical mandate.

Far from the "Voices of Conscience" controversy, in which parties disagreed in good conscience as to how best to implement General Convention resolutions that allowed room for differing interpretations, the Church Center resolution couldn't be clearer. In my opinion, Executive Council must act in good faith toward moving the Church Center if Council is to maintain trust and respect in the Church.

It will be most interesting to see what happens, though!

Blessings,

Dylan

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