9/20/2013

And its one, two, three strikes, you're out.... Leadership and a post-corporate Church

Strike one:

At the last General Convention the people of Convention - the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops - made it clear by passing D-016 that it "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.  I have commented at some length on this HERE.

It would seem that nothing will have happened before the next General Convention regarding this matter.  This is not about leaving New York (although some hoped it was). It is about leaving the "Church Center building at 815 2nd Avenue."  

Apparently it was not the will of Executive Council that the will of General Convention be more than strong opinion. It was not helped by having Church Center officials say desire for relocation “only a mask for the real reform needed and called for.” Some who voted for this move have a bit of resentment about being involved in simply a masking of our real feelings.  The ENS article on the matter then reported that leadership asked "how long, we wonder, would it be before complaints about the isolation of the Church Center in New York would become complaints about the isolation of the Church Center in some other city?” This was a misrepresentation of the core matter - leaving 815.

To be sure, there is no reason to believe the Church Center leadership is not clear and even perhaps right in their thinking on the strategic issues regarding a move, even in NYC. But about the argument that the will of General Convention is a "mask" not so clear, not so right.

There was a matter of some urgency before General Convention when it passed D016. The need to act was almost a demand.  Now it is a small voice, mostly forgotten in the reorganization and revisioning process.

Strike two:

At the October 2011 Meeting of Executive Council, on October 23rd, Resolution WM-029 accepting the bylaws of the United Thank Offering Board was passed unanimously, resolving, "That the Executive Council receives and approves the newly developed Bylaws for The United Thank Offering Board, approved by the United Thank Offering Board at its September 2011 Meeting, those Bylaws being included as Appendix 2 of the Blue Book Report of the INC-055 Ad Hoc Committee to General Convention."

The Blue Book for the 2012 Convention published those bylaws and there is not record of any reservations about those bylaws at Convention.

Apparently bylaws received and approved by both the UTO Board and Executive Council in 2011 and recorded in the Blue Book of General Convention reports in 2012 without murmur, are, less than two years from their approval, being again closely examined to bring them into line with other Commissions, Committees, Boards and Agencies (CCABs). 

The problem is that it matters a great deal just what sort of beast UTO is to be.  Commissions and Committees are products of General Convention and their membership appointed by General Convention or Executive Council, the names being put forward by the Presiding Officers.  UTO is not such an organization, being neither a child of General Convention or an internal office of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS)... at least not yet.  It is perhaps a board (after all that is what it's name implies. Perhaps it is an agency. Both boards and agencies have real ties to the DFMS and oversight by the officers of the DFMS and Executive Council, but they may have considerable room for managing their own affairs.

There is no question that the current bylaws provide for revision. And the bylaws stress that changes can be presented by either UTO or DFMS and that only by their joint agreement can they be effected. So it is not unreasonable for DFMS, if it has concerns, to raise them. Further I would be hard pressed to assign wrong intent to the officers of the DFMS in this matter. 

But I do have some considerable doubt that a venerable organization that has for some 125 years had various officers including a financial officer or committee, a communications officer or committee, and as a board has made clear its will concerning the distribution of grant monies, must suddenly have to argue against having those offices discontinued.  The question is not about what is or is not required legally, it is about what is possible cooperatively. 

Of course every penny that goes through UTO for grant making passes through the finance office of the Church Center. As well it should.  Neither UTO nor the DFMS is being accused (as far as I can tell) of any financial wrongdoing.  Of course communications needs to be coordinated with the overall communications strategy of TEC, no doubt grants must be made with proper feedback about the responsible use of those funds. 

But something else is going on here. Something less about content of the bylaws of the UTO and more about the persistent circling of the wagons, less about the sharing of responsibility and more about the exercise of authority.

Something has gone awry.  Who would have thought that in less than two years the legal advice from the DFMS would have change so much that a fairly major rewrite of the bylaws  was required. 

There was a vision for a brief moment of a relationship between a simple act of thanksgiving at the kitchen table, the work of the Episcopal Church, and making a difference in the world.  In the proposed bylaw changes that vision seems to have faded.

Strike three:

In January 2010 there was a terrible earthquake in Haiti and in February of that year Executive Council resolved to bring the resources of The Episcopal Church to the recovery and renewal effort in Haiti. The report by ENS at the time spoke of a $10 million dollar challenge. That amount being roughly a tithe for the last two years of the three year budget cycle, that money to be at the disposal of the Church in Haiti. 

For several reasons that was quickly changed in the resolution that came out to a more general but still quite strong statement of commitment. But rather quickly the promise to put a large amount of money at the disposal of the Church in Haiti was morphed into a "rebuild our Church in Haiti" fund and then into a fund to rebuild the cathedral, "one brick at a time," and now to a line item for donations to TEC called "Give to Haiti, more than a Cathedral." The work for raising funds for the Cathedral complex is now in the hands of the Development Office of TEC.

The thing is, something happened in the move from immediate pledges of our core life to our own diocese of Haiti, and the end, which is a campaign to raise money to rebuild the Cathedral and complex.  Good people have given to a good cause, (I have done so) but the urgency of the cause is fading.

Now after three years the Church in Haiti is up and walking on, and what is the state of our commitment? The "project" is getting buried in the sweep of world events, including the destruction of parts of the Washington Cathedral, and the Cathedral in New Zealand, and more importantly calamities, wars and diseases world wide. 

So it's One, Two, Three strikes...Not so good, at the ol' ball game.

I must betray a prejudice for the leadership of The Episcopal Church:  I greatly admire the Presiding Bishop. She has done an extraordinary job.  I find the COO, Bishop Stacy Sauls to be a creative and honorable man. I know many staff people at the Church Center and know them to be capable and faithful. The President of the House of Deputies is a strong, creative and caring person. So my concerns are not about "Church Leadership" as particular people. 

But I have chosen three areas of disappointment, and I am sure many readers will find others, that are "strikes" on some deeper level.  This is not about "them" and "us," or "me."  This is about "Church Leadership" as understood in corporate America as persons who act "shrewdly" or as we might say more precisely, "prudently."  The corporate world, into which we, and all churches in this country, have stepped deeply, requires our leaders to act shrewdly and prudently. In doing so they are less and less able to be carriers of the Good News and instead become carriers of corporate decision making, which is sometimes good, sometimes bad news, but seldom has relevance to The Good News.

The Good News has some small bits and pieces related to these strike outs:  The Good News is that no matter where the corporate headquarters are, the work of the Church is always local;  that the two cents of the widow is still the energy for the poor, irreplaceable by large donors and great sums; that the Church in Haiti has a cathedral, one not made of bricks, that lives when the people and bishop gather, as they often do, to be the Church in Haiti. So we wait in hope for it all to shake out.

Even if disappointed by the scoreboard of this inning, I still believe the team in play is a good one. The Episcopal Church is alive, always local (including in the community of the Church Center) and it keeps coming up to bat, knowing that one day, we, like the Cubs, may find our way to glory.

Can there be a post-corporate Episcopal Church, incarnate yet not bound by the shrewd and prudent world?  

Yes there can. But I wonder if the revisioning committee has any idea just how hard that is going to be?





5 comments:

  1. And then, of course, there is the $60 million of UTO - not saying there has been any ill use - just it's a lot of money and in most areas of controversy - we say follow the money.

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  2. With all due respect, Mark, as another who was on the Floor of the House in Indianapolis,there was indeed a fair amount of energy around the thought of moving headquarters out of Manhattan, in addition to selling 815 Second Avenue. As I recall, even in the rhetoric on the floor,and certainly in side conversations, there were references to the Lilly Endowment, that at one time provided large grants to church headquarters that moved away from New York.

    Now, that's not compelling. Only the language as passed is compelling; and that was softened from the original, which required that the sale be complete before the 2015 Convention (an amendment that I did vote for, seeing it as prudent to make the sale a market decision: being wise as serpents....). Still, I do think some of the energy in the reaction to the (understandable) reluctance of Episcopal Church Center staff to leave New York is that there were indeed voices, and enough to be recognized, calling specifically for the headquarters of the Episcopal Church to move out of New York City, or at least out of Manhattan.

    Some of this is the result of prejudice and stereotypes about New York in the rest of the country. There is also, of course, anxiety of "East-coast elites" acting based on stereotypes in New York City about the rest of the Episcopal Church. By and large I believe the "East-coast elites" are mythical; just as I know that people outside New York are well-educated, sophisticated, and pretty darned worldly. It seems to me, though, in our culture currently overrun with conspiracy theorists we need more discussion, more communication, and less haste as we relate to one another. Corollary to your discussion, I think that discussion, communication, and patience are certainly incumbent on the Executive Council - not in hope of delaying or controlling an uncomfortable decision, but in hope that we are more together, more connected as we make any decision.

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  3. Marshall- I do love die respect! You are right. I was only commenting on what we can hold them to account for. In the debate record there is more. Thanks

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  4. An excellent post, as we have come to expect from you, Mark. As they say in baseball (at least, at Fenway Park): "Lady with ketchup, comin' through": Here's my 2.5 cents. I still believe that the changes made by DFMS to the committee structure of the UTO Board were - still are - illegal. As you note, the bylaws were approved by GC and EC. The present changes to the UTO board composition were made under the *proposed* bylaws. Might it have ANYTHING to do with the $60 M UTO endowment? I can only scratch my head in bewilderment. I've got more to say about all this but, if I'm not careful, I just might spill ketchup all over everything.

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  5. Mark, as a member of Executive Council I would like to clarify one issue, regarding 815. The leadership group of 815 did indeed issue a report recommending that the Church Center remain where it is. Executive Council has made no decision one way or another, but has appointed a subcommittee (on which I serve) to look into the matter and make recommendations. I, for one, take the vote at the last Convention quite seriously. And the many modifications that were made to the legislation simply point to the fact that there are three clear decisions to be made: (1) moving the Church Center away from 815 (clearly mandated in D016), (2) where to move it to (a complex question requiring serious and detailed study), and (3) what do do with the building at 815 2nd Ave. (a financial decision).

    This is still a live issue, and I, for one, really appreciate you calling attention to the fact that General Convention has spoken clearly on this matter. Please - keep reminding us. I believe Executive Council has a responsibility to respond quite seriously to this decision of Convention.

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