September 6th was a busy Friday for those interested in or concerned for the United Thank Offering.
Early in the day the Public Affairs Office of TEC published "
the President of the House of Deputies, the Chief Operating Officer, the
Executive Officer of General Convention, the Treasurer, and I") has been heavy handed.
I said in a recent blog that "I
am firmly convinced that all parties to the current difficult situation
have the best interest of mission at heart. It turns out that "mission"
understood by the corporate entity called the Domestic and Foreign
Missionary Society and "mission" understood by the UTO and its Board are
quite differently configured." Having all these documents still leaves me believing so.
As I read it, if these bylaw changes take effect there will indeed be some real changes in UTO activities. There will be no Executive Committee (I don't know if that is good or bad), there will be no Communications Committee, there will be no Finance Committee. The sorts of committees that are pointedly in place for action - execution of program and policy, communication of ideas and execution of financial decisions - will all be discontinued.
The problem, however, is not about the details of the bylaws. If we were meant to go toe- to- toe, mano- to- mano over fine points of the law we would be well advised to get out of the Way and give up on the business of being Christian. Bylaws, like the Law, was meant to serve us, not us them. They are just bylaws.
The problem is that these are bylaws, the purpose of which is to make UTO one of the collection of groups called "committees, commissions, agencies and boards" - CCABs, of the Episcopal Church. TEC General Convention website considers UTO Board an "agency or board." The slide show presentation about CCABs asks
" What is a Board?"
– "A Board is established by Canon"
– "Membership elected by the GC"
– "Supervises area of the church’s work"
– "Reports to General Conventon"
Only some of this fits the UTO Board. It is not in the canons, its membership is not elected by General Convention, but it does supervise a area of the church's work and reports to General Convention.
The CCAB Manual says of boards and agencies, two of the ten types of CCABs,
Boards oversee semi-autonomous components of the Church, such as the General Theological Seminary, the Church Pension Fund, the Church Archives, and Transition Ministries. Since a board’s actions do not require ratification by the General Convention, their triennial reports are limited typically to an update on their work and request for continued funding.
Agencies are legally independent corporations affiliated with the Church, such as Episcopal Relief and Development. They have their own officers and boards which may be partially selected by the General Convention or ratified by Executive Council. Agencies are expected to develop their own mandates and make their own business decisions.
The UTO Board shares some characteristics of a Board and some of an Agency. On the whole it is more an "agency" than a "board", but it is not "an independent corporation affiliated with the Church." It is, as the UTO Four pointed out, "autonomous but interdependent" or as the description states for Boards, "semi-autonomous components" of the Church.
What is going on is the push back and forth about the extent to which the UTO Board is a Board or Agency under CCAB guidelines. The Presiding Bishop, Officers and Staff (I don't like the term "Church Leadership" one bit) are quite right to want some clarity on all this, as they are the corporate officers who are responsible for seeing that those doing work on behalf of the church are adequately guided so that the Church, the workers and all those they effect are protected from fraud, mismanagement, malpractice and malfeasance, and from general harm.
It is important then not to assign malicious intent to the work of the Presiding Bishop, officers and staff.
At the same time it is important to acknowledge that the purpose of making the proposed changes in the bylaws is precisely to place the UTO Board among the CCABs of The Episocpal Church - to define it as one of the ten types of CCABs mentioned in the manual.
The struggle is about precisely what sort of CCAB the UTO is. The difficulties have to do with how much of the UTO Board's work is directed from within the board and how much is directed directly or indirectly by Officers and Staff of the DFMS. Everyone agrees that UTO is part of the Episcopal Church, but how it relates to the institutional life of the Church is the question.
House of Deputies Presidenet Gay Jennings said, "It's important to note that the proposed bylaw changes, which are only
in draft form, seek to have UTO observe the same reporting, transparency
and governance standards as other Episcopal Church committees and
commissions." (emphasis mine).
The problem, dear friends, is that UTO is primarily an activity of Thanksgiving prayer and grateful response. That is not a corporate CCAB sort of thing. It is, to say it clearly, an activity of believers. It was not established by a corporate entity, but by women of the Church, and it exists now as an expression of believer's prayers by people of the church.
When past UTO leadership considered becoming a separate corporation some of us argued that UTO was too much a part of the DNA of The Episcopal Church as a community of worshiping and believing people to be separated out. So the effort has been made to find a way for UTO to express its work withing the structural life of the Church. I still believe the separation of UTO from distinct relationship to TEC would have been a mistake. But clarity about inclusion is not easy.
The work and effort to find a way forward has been extraordinarily difficult, for memories persist of past discounting of UTO as "women's work" (and therefore of lesser importance) and current suspicions of power, still exercised in a top down hierarchical way. There is nothing of the circle in these bylaws, nothing of the importance of the local and specific, nothing of the vision found by people of no power but considerable faith. Bylaw change is not enough to solve the problems of trust.
The document dump shows something of the struggles that have gone on and the way in which UTO and Church officers responded and reacted to one another. The primary conclusion to reach is that trust is at a very low ebb. UTO folk are suspicious, Church officers claim to be shocked but act angry, and in the end we still don't know why some of the changes are proposed and how much of these proposed changes are open for negotiation.
It is, as they say, a mess. A mess, I believe, that is part of a larger struggle for the future of the Church. Will its work be determined by legal constraints of corporate life, or will its work be determined by a constraints of incarnation? Or both? Or, God help us, neither?