10/14/2013

Thoughts on UTO and the October 2013 Meeting of Executive Council.

This week Executive Council meets in Chicago. I served for six years on Executive Council and I am both honored to have done so and glad not to have to be serving now. These reflections are no doubt limited. I have been told that "there is more to the story than I may know." Of course. But I do know that there is a gathering storm of issues facing EC and the Episcopal Church and that that storm is daunting.

  • The budget process will be increasingly complex.
  •  The re-visioning process is beginning to involve major changes in understanding just what church-wide offices and programs look like.
  •  The UTO "issue" just scratches the surface of the issues to come concerning creative new possibilities for a church with carryover corporate mentality.
  • The emergence of a very different sort of missionary sensibility will challenge old ways of relating to "mission areas" of our own church, both internal and external to the United States.

The beginning session of EC has ample opportunity for good conversation on several serious issues and, frankly, ample opportunity for avoidance.  

From the posted agenda here is what the first morning offers:

AGENDA FOR EXECUTIVE COUNCIL MEETING
Chicago, Illinois October 15-17, 2013
Tuesday, October 15
8:00 Morning Prayer 

8:30 – 12:00 Opening Plenary
• Roll Call, Announcements, Approval
of Agenda, Acceptance of Minutes
• Opening Remarks Chair and Vice
Chair
• Welcome - ELCA PB Mark Hanson
• Election of Executive Committee
member
• UTO Update
• Executive Session (if moved)
• TREC update (90 min)


The welcoming to the ELCA venue by Lutheran PB Mark Hanson will be a good moment. The hard work that led to full communion with the ELCA has been a blessing.  The election of an Executive Committee (of Executive Council) will hopefully be pretty straight forward.

The "UTO Update" will present some challenges and will require careful attention from EC members, and more. It will require the courage to face into central matters of corporate attitudes about administration.

Note that Executive Session is an option following this section of the morning agenda. Often leadership has called for executive session in order to hear concerns and answer questions in a less "debate" oriented context. Placed where it is, it would be tempting for members or leadership to decide that the UTO update needed further conversation in private.  This I believe would be a mistake. Conversations about UTO and leadership's relation to the board need to be public. 


The bylaws of EC say this about executive sessions:

Sec. 7 Executive Session
(a) The Council may enter into Executive Session by motion and a two-thirds vote of the members present. Such motion shall include the purpose of the Executive Session and identify special invitees or employees and staff as may
be necessary to remain.
(b) Members and others present may not divulge anything that occurs during the Executive Session. The Council may authorize the disclosure of specified information from the Executive Session.
(c) No action may be adopted during Executive Session.
(d) Confidential minutes may be taken and maintained by the Secretary.


Interestingly there is no requirement that the reasons for Executive Session need to concern particular matters of sensitivity, and there is nothing that suggests who may make a motion to enter such session. So EC can go into Executive Session on any matter the leadership or others wish, in order to talk in confidence about that matter.

Well, the positive side is that EC can make no vote in such session and there might indeed be some questions raised there that might not be raised otherwise. The negative side is that EC can be given information by leadership that is not subject to counter by any other person, agency or organization. There is nothing to require that persons, agencies or organizations that are discussed need to be represented in such meetings.

When open session is again established motions based on information given in executive session can sometimes be introduced and passed with little additional discussion. Part of the problem is that open debate of an issue that was discussed in Executive Session must be carefully crafted not to refer to details of the Executive Session. It is easier sometimes to just let it go.

Regarding the UTO mess, it will be very tempting indeed, whether or not there is an Executive Session, to "just let it go."  The whole matter is made to appear rather complex and tends to cast the UTO Four (those UTO Board members who resigned in protest) and others who object to the proposed bylaw changes as being unbending, a bit paranoid and resistive and the changes practical, reasonable and necessary. "Letting it go" is very tempting indeed.

The proposed UTO Bylaws are, after all, only proposed, say Church leadership  (an odd way of talking about the officers of the Domestic and Foreign Mission Society / Executive Council and the Senior Staff... but they made it up, not me). They suggest the changes are about best practices, conformity to the laws regarding non-profit organizations, and the canons of the Church. The Church leadership believes these changes to be reasonable, necessary and helpful.  

It's the "necessary" that is the stickler. If Church leadership says changes are necessary for compliance to this or that set of rules (IRS or Canon), who is the UTO Board to object. And to whom can they object?  When the governance of the church says such changes are necessary, where is UTO to go to find relief? 

The answer is: nowhere except the Executive Council itself.

That is why it is so important that Executive Council 
(i) keep the conversation about UTO and the bylaw changes in open session,
(ii) refuse to allow Church leadership to invoke judgment about compliance prior to a full airing of the issues with UTO and others,  and 
(iii) look with skepticism on any notion that "committees, commissions, boards and agencies" are of a single sort - all having the same sorts of officers selected by the same processes, elected (not just confirmed) by General Convention or Executive Council, and understood as necessarily advisory in nature.

I frankly don't see a way forward for UTO that does not require that it challenge the proposed bylaws. I've read them, was involved in the writing of the already approved bylaws, and have read most of the pro and con articles on them. I am still convinced that the changes  bend the UTO's work away from active initiation and implementation to advisory activities. More, it takes the UTO concept, which is horizontal, base community, women's circle, hearth centered, prayerful response and apparently turns its organizational expression into a corporate agency for raising funds. 

The UTO is not primarily a means of raising funds, but of giving thanks, and thanksgiving and gratitude for blessings received is a local and specific matter. UTO succeeds to the extent that the local church, and particularly the women in local church life, give voice to thanksgiving and gratitude. The funds are a product of the action, not the action itself.

Almost nothing of the changes proposed in the bylaws acknowledge the power and the work of the UTO as a voice of Thankfulness. 


According to the current bylaws (still in effect) changes to the bylaws must be approved by the UTO Board as well as by Executive Council. If UTO refuses to approve, the current bylaws continue in force, except of course the Church leadership could then take legal action to remove UTO leadership who refused to comply with changes that were claimed to be necessary under the rubric of "necessary for conformance to law" (civil or canonical).  To make matters worse, UTO apparently cannot hire and pay for legal council apart from that provided by DFMS / Executive Council, in part because UTO is considered integral to DFMS (you can't sue yourself), and in part because UTO does not have separate bank accounts and expenditures through DFMS accounts need approval from the Church leadership, not likely in this case. 

The challenge to the proposed bylaws then rests in four places:

The UTO Four and friends
The UTO Board
The Executive Council
The people of the church who pray and support mission through the UTO.

The UTO Four is clearly speaking out.  

The continuing UTO Board is trying to work its way forward in continuing conversations with DFMS / Executive Council / Church leadership.

The people of the church who pray and give are, for the moment steadfast in their giving. Many of us have given more in the past weeks in support of UTO in its time of difficulty. Elizabeth Kaeton has a fine article on continuing to give.  I have made a contribution to UTO specifically in thanksgiving for the witness of the UTO Four. I am sure others have as well.  We are all speaking out - agreeing with the Presiding Bishop, House of Deputies President Jennings, the UTO Four, the UTO Committee, The Episcopal Church Women, et all - saying that the monies going to UTO are going to be spent for the mission of the church and out of a spirit of giving. We all say, continue UTO's good work. Continue prayers of thanksgiving and thank offerings.

The one place where any new challenge can come at this point is from within Executive Council itself. The UTO Four, the UTO Board, and givers like you and me, have all pretty well exhausted the options for the moment. 

The stumbling block is that the proposed changes in the bylaws are made on the basis of interpretation of the requirements of civil and canonical law, and no one know how to challenge those interpretations. I don't believe that any agency outside the governance of The Episcopal Church is able to mount a challenge.  It must come from within. 

The question then is if there is sufficient challenge to the rationale for the proposed changes in bylaws, internal to The Executive Council. And, I suppose, the question is, does Executive Council really care?

Well, they better. 

The next thing on the agenda is the report from "TREC" - the folks revisioning the Episcopal Church.  

The reason why the UTO mess is so important at this moment is because UTO under existing bylaws, approved by Executive Council, attempts to be both autonomous and interdependent. It attempts to make its own decisions, for its own work, knowledgeable of its own financial resources, doing its own communication, while at the same time conforming to the financial and other norms  of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.  If there is no solution except for UTO to become totally subsumed into the DFMS, then this tells TREC that there is no way to reconfigure the Episcopal Church making it more a network of nationally active Episcopal Church related agencies and less a centralized regulatory system for management. 

If the so called necessary changes are indeed necessary then there is no hope for a new improved Episcopal Church that is not top down organized. Gone will be any possibility of genuine national church efforts guided by local prayer and giving with leadership chosen from local communities.

Executive Council alone can put the breaks on this.

Should they fail to do so UTO will indeed continue, and perhaps will continue to be funded by local folk praying and giving. But it will be a less interesting sort of church world and finally less interesting to this writer, who may find other places to plant his prayers and funds.

If Executive Council fails to find a way forward that includes the possibility of seeing UTO as a test case of new possibilities in organizing The Episcopal Church, there will be great disappointment in some quarters, including here in the small world of Preludium - which finds its hope is seeing the present as, well, the present, but also a prelude of a song to come.

If we are to sing new songs in a strange land, and God knows the 21st Century is a strange land, we need a lot more encouragement than seems to be provided by church governance as it stands.

I pray for and think of the members of Executive Council often. They are fine people and many are friends, from the executives to the members and staff, and work with considerable pressure to be faithful agents of a corporation as well as of the people of the church. 

They have a busy week ahead of them. Pray for Executive Council and its work. Among the prayers, let there be prayers for courage.

9 comments:

Ann said...

I agree this is a turning point for the current administration -- will it continue to centralize or will it be open to more network centric models of operation. UTO is really a test case in many ways.

Caminante said...

As always, a thoughtful and helpful reflection on very complex issues... you really do have the gift of crystalising multi-layered issues into something that those of us who are not following so closely can grasp.

The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski, M.Div/MSW said...

A very clear, helpful assesment and reflection on the issues before EC, UTO, and the Episcopal Church. Thank you.

PAMELA RW KANDT said...

Terrific commentary, Mark. Thank you for articulating so well what many of us are thinking. Now let's pray that Church leadership listens.

SCM said...

The negative effect on anyone giving money to the UTO in future must be staggering.

Did EC fail to consider this?

SCM said...

"Executive Council alone can put the breaks on this."

I confess I do not understand this kind of thinking. It gives EC too much power.

Why doesn't the UTO get a 501(c)3 status and get out from under an arrangement that made no sense anyway. Why would anyone borrow someone else's tax-exempt status if they wanted to guard their own mission?

UTO is having to learn what dioceses in TEC have learned. You must tell the 'national church' mechanism to back off. And when GC passes unconstitutional 'Title IV' texts, insist they be reviewed and amended or for God sake do not receive them. This is where we are getting into so much trouble, and where it obviously begins to create an attitude of overreach and entitlement.

SCM

Chris H. said...

Can EC stop this? It sounds like a done deal. And the CCAB website looks like it too. And I can't help wondering about how gifts given during the controversy will be interpreted. Won't gifts given now just be proof that the resignations meant nothing and that people support the changes? When our local United Way had a manager accused of mishandling things, his defense was to point to all the money that poured in after the problem was made public and say, "See, people have given all this since they found out, so nobody believes it, so I should keep my job." By giving money now that the changes have already been made, even though they haven't been approved, haven't all those donating to UTO done the same thing? Where my thank offering goes will be decided after the meeting, not before.

St. James Santee Church said...

Very thoughtful commentary, thank you.
For DFMS, it seems to me that staying connected to UTO without trying to control it would be the better course.
IMHO, UTO should become their own non-profit and, at the same time, build in an on-going board presence of a linking person who can articulate, advocate for the mission concerns of DFMS. Our little church has recently spun off a non-profit and built in a requirement for the Vicar and Senior Warden to be board members. I admit, it initially gave us pause. However, it seems to be working beautifully, and the non-profit has been able to accomplish things it could not have had it stayed just a committee of the Church. We are proud to have given birth to it and look forward to what it will accomplish in the future.
Staying connected without trying to control works for us. Perhaps, this might be away forward out of the mess.

Sarah Dylan Breuer said...

Well, I did my very best to get an open process on this - at least for any who wanted to speak publicly, or to all of Council, or to ANYONE outside of that executive session of GAM to be allowed to do so.

The folks on GAM are good people, as are the PB, the POTHOD, the COO, and Paul Nix. We'll just have to wait and see where they take this. Maybe it'll turn out to be a delightful surprise.