9/05/2013

On the Charges of the UTO Four

About the "Statement" as protest.

"A Statement from the Former Communications Convener of the United Thank Offering Board" released yesterday and published on this blog, was a statement on behalf of four members of the UTO Board who resigned in protest. While it is, as the Public Affairs Office of the Episcopal Church states, "a statement by former members of the board of the United Thank Offering," that description divorces their being "former" from the reason for their being former, namely their resigning in protest. Granted, the "former" Communications Convener of the UTO Board titled herself that, but the content of her message made it clear: 

"In protest, 4 persons including the board president, Barbi Tinder, and most of the officers have resigned from the board.  The group resigning includes 3 of the 4 persons appointed by the Presiding Bishop to be part of a working group to revise the "old" bylaws that were approved by Executive Council just two years ago." 

This was a statement of resignation as protest.

To start with then, the statement is a protest statement. It is not simply a missive from former members of the UTO Board.  The Church Center communication does not acknowledge that the statement was a result of protest.

The Charges of the UTO Four:

The Statement makes several distinct charges:

(i) The general charge is that, "The revised bylaws document eviscerates the United Thank Offering." The statement then provides the following in support of that general charge:

(ii) "the current board is superseded by a new election process that totally removes the United Thank Offering from its historic relationship with Episcopal Church Women."

(iii) "Any decision making from board is removed; it will be only an advisory body."

(iv) "The earned interest from millions of dollars of UTO trust funds and annual UTO offerings come totally into DFMS control."

I have a copy of the proposed revisions, but am not at liberty to release it, since the document has not been made public. In relation to the charges being made I observe the following:


As to the opinion that ""The revised bylaws document eviscerates the United Thank Offering," the changes may be no more than what House of Deputies President Gay Jennings says are necesary:

"Revising the group's bylaws, updating its memorandum of understanding (MOU) with DFMS and putting standard business practices in place are necessary steps in ensuring its ability to continue its invaluable mission for years to come. The work we are involved in now builds on the work of a task force created by Executive Council in 2008 to strengthen the UTO for ministry in the 21st century (INC-055 Ad-Hoc Committee). 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. Constable Fund grants and Jubilee Grants, for example, are all approved by Executive Council."

This argument says that the changes are to make UTO like other CCABs (Committees, Commissions, Agencies and Boards.) 

The INC-055 report pressed for a particular status for UTO, "autonomous but interdependent." This is indeed a new development, raised after the first set of bylaws was vetted by the Church Center legal advisers, passed on by "Leadership" as well as Executive Council. So apparently the Church Center has reconsidered the "autonomous but interdependent" character of the UTO.  

The charge of "evisceration" of the UTO is about it becoming a complete subsidiary of the General Convention and Executive Council, namely a CCAB. 

Not very many people will give a damn, but some in the UTO do, and many of us might take note: When the first iteration of the Executive Council, the National Council, came into existence there was no place for the women of the church in the governance of the Church - then the Woman's Auxiliary - and only by force of the UTO's emerging powerhouse, the UTO Grants, did they finally find representation in the 'Foreign' department of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. From that point on the relationship between the Woman's Auxiliary, later the Episcopal Church Women, and the National / Executive Council as been, let us say, mixed.

Now at the approaching end of the corporate age of The Episcopal Church it is no wonder that the difficulties of these days would involve some struggle again with one of the largest mission funding organizations related to the Episcopal Church.


We might note that as a result of INC-055 for the first time it was made clear in writing that The United Thank Offering is a ministry of the Episcopal Church. That matter is not in dispute. The character of the relation of that ministry to the work of the church-wide governance is.

We turn to the specific charges related to the proposed bylaw changes.

A. "the current board is superseded by a new election process that totally removes the United Thank Offering from its historic relationship with Episcopal Church Women."

My comments here are observations which could be mistaken, and while I cannot quote directly from the proposed bylaws I will reference them indirectly.

There is no difference between the current bylaws and the proposed bylaws on the election of provincial representatives. The old bylaws stated," The nine (9) Province Representatives shall be elected during the Provincial Meeting or Synod of each Province." The reality was that they were usually elected during the Provincial Meetings by Episocpal Church Women.  

I believe there is a misunderstanding between some UTO Board members and Church Center leadership about whether it is Episcopal Church Women who elect, at the meeting, or of they are elected by the Provincial deputies  / delegates. If the elections are deemed by the Church Center to be by the Provincial delegates, not the ECW representatives, it would indeed spell a different community of electors.

There is a change in the matter of who appoints the two "appointed members," the old bylaws saying it was a joint appointment of the Presiding Bishop, the President of the House of Deputies and the President of the UTO.  The new excludes the President of the UTO.  It was perhaps a cumbersome arrangement.

The validity of this charge depends, in the matter of the provincial representatives,  on the interpretation of the current bylaws. 

There are only two references to The Episcopal Church Women in the current bylaws, and one of them is retained. Triennial is mentioned several times in both bylaws.

The changes, in themselves, do not support the complete break between UTO and the ECW.  The interpretation of election at Provincial meetings is the crux of the problem. That interpretation is precisely what further discussion would clarify.

B. "Any decision making from board is removed; it will be only an advisory body."

The changes in the bylaws are mixed, but it is true that the descriptors of the UTO work concerns "promote", "assist", "recommend", "evaluate", and "nurture", and language is put in that clearly makes their work dependent on criteria determined by the COO of DFMS or designee, and accountability to the DFMS, Executive Council and General Convention is strengthened.  It is all more or less in accordance with the idea that UTO becomes a "regular" board of a subsidiary agency of the DFMS / General Convention.  Elections to the UTO Board will, under the new bylaws, have to be approved by Executive Council, not just announced to it. 

On the level of policy and awarding of grants the revisions do place real authority and decision making ultimately in the hands of the leadership of the DFMS and Executive Council.  The reality might be quite different in practice, for the UTO might under normal circumstances operate much as it has. The problem is the decisions about such leeway lies with the DFMS. 


The criticism here has merit. Of course concerns could be worked out in conference and the language changed, but as it stands the revisions recast UTO as a Board or Agency of the DFMS / General Convention.


C. "The earned interest from millions of dollars of UTO trust funds and annual UTO offerings come totally into DFMS control."

The operant word here is "totally".  There is no question that all UTO monies are handled through the financial system of the DFMS and that funds are to be used according to the policies of the DFMS regarding accountability and so forth.  The issue here seems to be that the proposed changes in the bylaws eliminate the financial committee and officer of the UTO board. This change means that there is no UTO oversight of the monies it raises or the trust funds on which it relies. 

This is a valid complaint and concern.

There are several other administrative "control" issues in the proposed changes. The communications committee is eliminated.  The existing article regarding 'staff' is eliminated, although one assumes there will continue to be staff at the Church Center related to the work of UTO.

What does this all mean?

Regarding the Protest:

The UTO Four resigned in protest over what they believe is a complete change in the role and function of the UTO Board, making it no longer autonomous in any way and completely under control and supervision by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.  

Whether or not their action was necessary remains to be seen. It was a costly protest in that their resignations mean that these officers are no longer part of the continuing conversation. They could be easily dismissed. That, I believe, would be a mistake.

In part, I believe, the protest concerned precisely their feeling that the proposed bylaws were constructed without consideration of their views and that they would go to Executive Council for approval without having first been agreed to by UTO itself. 

The protest resignations were an act of courage, for these women have worked to become members of this board and they are committed to the work of UTO and the mission of the Church. Resigning means giving up those positions for some end they believe is greater than their positions in the organization.

The UTO Four have made specific charges, charges which in my read merit some consideration. The charges are not simply about the wording of the revised bylaws, but about the intentions that are reflected in them.  My sense is the UTO Four have lost confidence in the possibility of negotiating an "autonomous but interdependent" relationship with the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.

Regarding the Bylaws themselves.

Until there is an official release of the proposed bylaw revisions I don't feel it is possible to examine them in detail. More, I don't believe that alone will tell us much. Bylaws are on the main dormant documents, ready when needed but otherwise at rest. A case could be made for these revisions being an improvement.  (I believe lots of language got cleaned up, for example.)  But the real issue is that the bylaws, as interpreted by the DFMS leadership, could indeed bring UTO into line, and also under control, of DFMS itself.  Is this a bad thing? a good thing?  Who knows?

The Bylaws are a problem, but they are not THE problem. The problem is about how to be an agency for mission at a time when the corporate character of the existing mission "engine", the DFMS, is itself in the midst of radical change. 

The hopes for horizontal neural networking as a model for church life.

There are historical reasons for UTO being watchful concerning its relations to the ECW on the one hand and the DFMS on the other. The UTO Committee, now the UTO Board, has had to carefully align its work of prayer and mission support to the structures of church governance and the various centers of power in the church system. UTO is attractive as an organization because its trademark Blue Box and UTO Grants are widely known and appreciated. UTO is a major engine of monies for missionary efforts both domestic and foreign and its grants are an important part of Anglican Communion support for mission. So there are always reasons for reassessing its work and policies in relation to the work of the DFMS / Executive Council / General Convention. 

Bylaw revision is a normal and necessary part of such reassessment.

At a time, however, when The Episcopal Church is going to have to rely more and more on quasi-independent (autonomous but interdependent) agencies doing work no longer done by the corporate agent (the Church Center, the DFMS, etc) the concerns raised by the UTO Four become concerns for all of us. To what extent can we have confidence that corporate concerns will not overwhelm mission initiatives that are not in conformity with its policies?

Final thoughts

The UTO Four did what their conscience called them to do. For the courage of their convictions they should be honored. 

As to the context of their protest, I have been told I may not have all the information.  I suspect that is true, being no longer on  Executive Council, or in the leadership of the DFMS. On the basis of what I have seen and heard it is clear that there is a lack of trust by at least these four in the process and results of the bylaw revisioning.  Having seen the revisions  I believe there are indeed real concerns.  Whether or not they could be dealt with in different or better ways, I do not know.

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.  

It will be difficult to reconcile these two viewpoints at a time when the whole structure of the Church is under examination and possible change. We ought to pray that reconciliation and patience overtake us all.  Perhaps it is time to put the proposed bylaws on hold. 

13 comments:

Jeremy Bonner said...

I have no axe to grind in this particular fight (not even being on the same continent now, never mind in TEC) but it's still interesting to observe in a macabre sort of way.

The really telling observation to a historian in your analysis is this one:

At a time, however, when The Episcopal Church is going to have to rely more and more on quasi-independent (autonomous but interdependent) agencies doing work no longer done by the corporate agent (the Church Center, the DFMS, etc) the concerns raised by the UTO Four become concerns for all of us. To what extent can we have confidence that corporate concerns will not overwhelm mission initiatives that are not in conformity with its policies?

In other words we reverting back to the pre-1919 (or even the pre-1901) Episcopal Church in which the national agencies depended on voluntary contributions (the old dual envelope system, where people in the pews put their national contribution on one side and their diocesan/parish one on the other). And yet - and the evidence for this seems to be coming as much from people within TEC as from its critics - centralization of church agencies continues apace.

In recent years this has happened with a number of secular charities in Britain that rely upon local volunteers but have worked to take decision-making away from the localities and put it into the hands of generously compensated chief executives. The result has been that many local chapters have seceded from the national organization.

Unknown said...

I am sure we do not have all the necessary information to make an informed decision about UTO and ECW. I do know that every Baptized female in the Chursch is a Member of the ECW. Therefore, if it becomes apparent that The ECW will lose the ability to have some say into the use of the funds, which millions of women have collected, then it will be time for all of us to make our concerns known to Executive Council.

gracerector said...

Thanks for this, Mark. When I saw the original post, I was outraged. You help to bring some clarity to the issue and to raise important questions. Another (unnecessary) PR debacle for TEC and another breach of trust.

gracerector said...

Thanks, Mark for informing us about this and for offering your insight. It's another PR debacle for TEC and another breach of trust

Charlie Sumners said...

From the DFMS public statement about the UTO:


“Leadership’s proposal would establish standard business and fiduciary practices, including for accountability and transparency, expected in the life of the Church and as is expected of all CCABs.”


Transparency Hah!

In the interest of “fact checking” the statements of Episcopal Leadership about transparency and accountability:

1. After months of inquires, DMFS at the end of July provided a detailed accounting of income and expenses to the UTO board for the first time in 2 years.

2. After being told the UTO board would be involved in the decision to hire a new UTO coordinator, for which they were paying half the salary, they were on one telephone interview and not allowed to ask any question to candidates about knowledge of UTO or potential suitability for the job.

3. After repeated assurances that DFMS would provide a way for grant applications to be received, nothing happened by the deadline in 2013 forcing the Board to set up its own website and grant application which it did in a few days.

4. At one point, reacting in fear to a report that UTO had legal advice (which had been in place for four years) DFMS staffers were forbidden to talk to UTO members.

5. Ingathering Fund: Unlike other DFMS funds ie: Constable, the UTO created the Ingathering fund itself. They have been able to make grants from this fund without subjecting their decisions to anyone lest there be undue influence and bias. Below is the description from the Trust Fund Book published by DFMS indicating clear ownership by UTO of at least one fund. If the COO and the Executive Council are going to “approve” the grants, the option to disapprove must also exist. How are they to make judgments without reading every grant application and all the supporting documents?

6. Quote from latest public DFMS Trust Fund Book

1021.00 UTO Contributions/Ingathering Funds

“This fund was established with $1,000,000 from the United Thank Offering. This is a custodial-type trust fund, meaning that DFMS is not trustee for these funds but is simply providing the owner (United Thank Offering) with access to investment management through DFMS endowment.” (emphasis added)

DFMS does not have the right to utilize the funds in this trust.


7. See no. 3, After hundreds of hours of work devising a process for granting for the 2013 season, grants were made with every board member reading every application deemed in criteria and the awards were sent to DFMS for payment. The stated goal of the grants committee was that from the end of the application process the awards would be announced within three months, and award checks received within the third month. The awards happened, but the checks were not written. Objections started coming from DFMS staff about diocesan eligibility because of past grant documentation being incomplete. The objections were technically correct but because of DMFS non-transparency the board had no knowledge of these, some of which were ten years old. In many cases the dioceses had no knowledge of any problems. There are still outstanding grant awards not sent to recipients and the UTO Board has not been kept informed of this process.


8. One final word about accountability: The UTO 2012-2015 board was made up of twelve women, four of whom had a PhD. degree, four more had Masters degrees, several others had professional degrees. All had held important jobs in business, law, education, healthcare, and accounting. One was a former CEO of a corporation with over 400 employees and a budget over ten million dollars. They know about accountability.








David and John said...

Until the Executive Council decides to be more forthcoming about this situation, our conversations can not be based on facts. I submit that if the proposed changes are not released quickly (with full explanations and details about the need for modifications), the UTO will suffer so seriously that their very future will be called into doubt.

I have always stood behind our PB and other leaders, but I draw the line when they start picking on the UTO. While the DFMS needs to be heavily involved and influential in the UTO program, they also need to share that power with the ECW and other existing UTO stakeholders.

Marshall Scott said...

I find myself feeling a certain sense of bemusement. While I can appreciate that by-laws need to be reviewed and revised as circumstances change, I find myself wondering about solidifying the UTO as "just another CCAB" (my words) when the Task Force may well be revisioning CCAB's out of existence. Okay, perhaps that's hyperbole; but until we see the recommendations for restructuring governance in the Church, I don't know that haste is merited in rearranging the functional relationship between/among UTO, Executive Council, and General Convention.

Lisa Fox said...

Thanks for this analysis, Mark,though I confess I'm still digesting it.

One question occurs to me: We've heard recently about the overhead that is acceptable. Do you have any idea how much "overhead" UTO costs, compared to the 40'ish "overhead" of the DFMS? I'll confess I ask that question with a bias: I bet UTO has much lower "overhead" than the DFMS.

As to the rest, I'm still trying to wrap my head about it.

Lisa Fox

Mark Harris said...

Marshall... good point. If UTO became "another CCAB" dependent on General Convention's actions concerning the future of specific CCAB's, then it could be discontinued and its assets revert to the DFMS. Rearrange the functional relationsip (even if sometimes disfunctional) between UTO and Ex.Con and GC might not at this time be in order.

geoconger said...

Thank you for this intelligent appraisal of a difficult situation.

Unknown said...

It seems that the fundamental point made by Bishop Katharine is that UTO cannot be an autonomous group because they are not a separate 501c3 Corporation. Thus, the final fiduciary control most follow DFMS policies.

To me, that would be analogous with a common parochial situation where a group ministry within the parish develops a sense that it is an independent body, raises its own money and even establishes its own checking account. However, the Vestry is the fiduciary of any parish—because it is elected by the whole parish—and so the Vestry seeks to bring the practices of the ministry group back into parish policies. In result, the ministry group is outraged at being taken over... when they never were an independent entity.

If that's what is going on, then it seems to me that the members are resigning in protest to very real concerns about changes, but that these changes absolutely need to happen for UTO clearly to be put into a proper relationship with DFMS, with Executive Council as the fiduciary.

Is that right?

Mark Harris said...

Unknown....yes and no. Yes there does have to be action consistant with DFMS policies. But unlike a group that grows out of a parish life, UTO predates the National / Executive Council whose bylaws and policies govern. To the present the UTO trust funds are understood as held by DFMS as custodians only, and the UTO grant funds are held for the UTO Board to disperse, in accord with policies of the DFMS, of course, but by the Board.

At least that is how I understand it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

With regard to UTO becoming a CCAB while one of the things the COO wanted to do was to make the church "more nimble for mission" by reducing the number of CCABs, here's the difference:

Most of the CCAB's cost the church money in order to do their work. UTO would bring money INTO to the budget.