10/19/2013

Executive Council and the matter of visibility

Executive Council is hard work, and the meeting this week in Chicago is an prime example of hard work done with care.The full summary report from Episcopal News Service is available HERE. As Episcopalians we ought to be proud of the work done on our behalf by Executive Council.

Among the items covered in the summary is this, concerning the United Thank Offering, its bylaws, operations, board, etc. Here is what was reported:

We (Executive Council) "Acknowledge “with deep regret the breakdown of communication and relationship between the board of the United Thank Offering and leadership of the DFMS”; state that the council is “committed to a season of reconciliation and renewal of all involved in a thoughtful and faithful engagement and conversation to resolve matters of governance and administration, while honoring the UTO’s historic promotion of a theology of thankfulness, so that the mission of the UTO can be strengthened”; “commit ourselves to continuing support of the UTO by offering gifts of thankfulness on a regular basis through the ‘little blue box’ or direct gifts to the spring and fall ingatherings, and inviting the whole Episcopal Church to join us”; “we give thanks for the years of inspirational and prophetic service to the wider church that the United Thank Offering and generations of women leaders have made, and look forward to celebrating the 125th anniversary of this important work as we seek renewal of this mission for generations to come” (GAM011)."

In an earlier ENS article on the UTO matters, it was reported that the Chair of GAM (Governance and Administration for Mission) committee, Steve Hutchinson,  

"noted that “notwithstanding 125 years of wonderful ministry in the church, United Thank Offering as an organization has never been formally defined as an entity in the Episcopal Church, and that has promoted a great deal of confusion at different times in its history and in some way has probably contributed to some of the erratic functioning in the relationship with other parts of the church.

Now however, Hutchinson told the council, there is hope for “a new identity, a new season of collegiality and cooperation.”

He told council that a working group of UTO board members and GAM members would soon be organized to continue the efforts to move forward."

Concerning UTO as part of The Episcopal Church, I think the Chair is mistaken. UTO HAS been formally defined as an entity in The Episcopal Church in the current bylaws. That was one of the things those bylaws hoped to state clearly.  But that identity is not as a "committee or commission" but as a "board" with a specific history and working style. The clarity of that difference is perhaps not as easily seen. 

The new working group of UTO board members and GAM members will be an important continuation of the effort to better relate UTO and DFMS concerns.

The joint statement of the PB and the UTO Board Chair has come out and basically reaffirms the work done in the meetings in Council.

I earlier opined that the conversations at Executive Council should be open. Wiser, or perhaps just different, minds prevailed and the substantive conversations were in closed sessions of the Governance and Administration Committee. 

Well, that's that. And the results seem to have been to step back from the proposed bylaws and have further conversation. On that level all to the good. I stand corrected.

The concerns and issues raised by the UTO Four, the UTO Board and DFMS are not yet settled. That is the work for the new group being formed from Council to report back to it later (February?)  This is not at the end of the matter, but at least it is nearing the end of the beginning of the matter.

The beginning of the matter involves, I believe, the matter of invisibility.  In our church, as in our society, our families, our culture, a technique often used to control people and ideas is the technique of making the person or idea invisible. We simply act as if the what the person did or said simply did not get said or done.

It is particularly the case that servants, minority persons, poor people and women are made invisible by this process and thereby lose voice and power. 

For the first 185 years of Episcopal Church history women were often as not made invisible in the councils of the church by simply ignoring what they might have to say,or what they might wish to do.

I cannot help thinking that invisibility was an issue in the whole UTO concern.  The establishment of a committee of UTO and Council persons to continue what must have been a very visible (although only to a few) exchange in the closed GAM session is a good first step to genuine acknowledgement of the visibility needed if there is resolution to be had. But make no mistake, in the long run that visibility will happen.
  
The ENS report states, "Council’s discussions were prompted by the resignation in early September of four UTO board members."  Those resignations were in protest.. a word which seems difficult for some to grasp.  It was as if the protest was made invisible by not mentioning the fact that it was a protest. 

Chair Hutchinson suggested that, "The most recent controversy was “a bit of a boiling over of a broken relationship, frankly, some of which probably goes back for decades, some of which is more recent.” 

The protest were about things recent, but may have had deeper roots in lingering suspicions from the past. Being suspicious of being made invisible is learned the hard way.  But be that as it may, the protest was an attempt not to be invisible, and invisibility was (and I believe still is) a primary element in the "broken relationship."

So here is to a new day of visibility. Perhaps Jesus' words are not too out of context here: "For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. (Luke 18:17)

Perhaps the conversations will bring new visibility to the words and wisdom of the many years of UTO history, and to UTO a new beginning of confidence in the visibility of their prayers and thanksgiving.

2 comments:

Sarah Dylan Breuer said...

Mark,

I believe you're spot-on in identifying a problem with transparency. That problem was made obvious (particularly at the most recent Council meeting) by the current situation with UTO, but it is (IMO) a very serious problem stretching across a great many (or more) issues this triennium.

"Circling the wagons" may be helpful and appropriate sometimes, but it should not be the default option for leaders.

I plan to write a substantial blog post updating folks on the substance of the business from this past Executive Council meeting, and also outlining some of the systemic issues that are beginning to show in relief -- that is, in the outlines of the shadows where light is blocked and in the corners of the room where the ushers won't let people look.

Thank you so much for continuing to exercise your thoughtful, prayerful, and prophetic voice.

Sarah Dylan Breuer said...

Important correction/expansion to my last comment:

I meant that you are spot-on with respect to INVISIBILITY and transparency.

If the people in power step in front and don't let light through to those on the margins, that's a problem different from the kind of invisibility that can happen with benign neglect, "help that doesn't help," and other more subtle ways of rendering some people invisible and/or inaudible.

As a Council, we were specifically and intentionally DISallowed a chance to look our UTO guests in the eye and listen to their testimony.

The resolutions that passed are very close to what I'd hoped would happen in terms of resolutions, and I am grateful for the hard word of the good-hearted people who brought them to plenary.

The process, however, raised concerns for me not just about the issues before Council regarding the UTO, but even more about how our polity is functioning at the moment.

At this point, I am grateful that the UTO Four resigned and went public with their stories, as otherwise I don't think I'd have any information at all about what happened -- especially that I still don't know any more about what happened on the "DFMS, Inc." side than everyone else knows via the documents that the 815 Public Relations Office released to the world.