Further Reflections on the Sauls Presentation.

Bishop Stacy Sauls, COO of the Episcopal Church and member of the House of Bishops, made a presentation to the House of Bishops at their Spring meeting in Quito, Ecuador. The report, but not the presentation itself, is reported out by ENS and can be read here as, "COO asks church to engage in 'structural reform' conversations to shift focus toward mission" and was reprinted in my earlier post,  COO Bishop Sauls on a Special Convention.

There has been considerable comment on his report, much of it on the House of Bishops / House of Deputies (HoB/D)  list.  (Access to that list is open, as far as "listening" goes. Commenting is reserved.) The range of responses varies from "good idea" to "good God, not another convention!"  Several of the questions have to do with just why Bishop Sauls raised this at the House of Bishops meeting, rather than say, in Executive Council or some other venue.  There was one question about the dual role of the Bishop as a member of the House and a member of Staff. There were several concerns about the fact that this initiative had no parallel in the House of Deputies.  

I appreciate that Bishop Sauls raised the concern at the House of Bishops.  If there is to be a special convention it has to be called by the House of Bishops, so it is appropriate that the conversation begin there.  Bishop Sauls does indeed have a dual role (member of the house and also staff) and it took considerable courage for him to put the proposition on the table. Good for him.  Now that it is out there all sort of groups will be involved in the matter. 

Interestingly, according to canon, the calling of a Special Convention is by the bishops alone, and not subject to any needed assent or approval of any other body (at least as far as I can see).  It is not called by "the House of Bishops," but by the majority of bishops either as they organize themselves to do so, or by the Presiding Bishop with the assent of a majority of the bishops. 

On the HoB/D list and published on her own blog Telling Secrets, are some comments by Elizabeth Kaeton in an essay, "The Seed of the Jack Pine."  Elizabeth goes to interesting places here. She begins with the observation "I don't like writing about church stuff ... but this particular subject has pulled my poor, last, tired nerve."  Go read it.

What seems to have pulled at her is the need for there to be leadership by example.  So, she asks, is the House of Bishops about the business of reforming itself as well?  (Someone elsewhere, perhaps on the HoB/D list, has suggested that the House of Bishops could return to a single meeting a year as a start.)

But at the core of Elizabeth's concern is this, "I would submit to you, once again, that we need to be clear about our identity and mission before we restructure ourselves and cut spending to fund the "idea" of mission."  

That is absolutely right on.  That is why I believe we need to have the collective conversation not at the 2012 General Convention, in which it would be bound down by the budget issues and current staff and committee configurations, but in a separate Special Convention for which preparation could be had in meetings throughout the church's dioceses with an eye to sending deputies and bishops to this Special Convention for the precise purpose of becoming clear about our "identity and mission" prior to restructure and budget and so-forth. The upcoming General Convention could begin the process by using a budget making process that does not simply build (or deconstruct) its line items from an internal contest among offices and duties for the remnants of the pie.  A quite different sort of budget process, one that was guided by some clear principles related to responding to God's mission, is possible.

By the way: A Special Convention can be run with clear intention to limit expenses - meet on a college campus, send only deputies (no alternates), have no services other than simple daily Eucharist and daily prayers, have no marketplace or special banquets or dinners, etc. And yes it would be expensive, but its results if successful would be valuable in any restructured budget based on a revised system of governance, use of committees, frequency of General Conventions, and on and on. It would be money well spent. 

Restructuring, however, should not about cutting spending, although it does require a realistic understanding of budget limitations. If we were to restructure in order to cut spending it would be a disaster.  Restructuring is about revisiting just exactly what we are about and responding to that.

The reason for restructure is in order to meet the requirements of a clear understanding of just who we are as a church and what we understand our work to be. I use "work" here because I believe as a Church we ought to reserve "mission" for our understanding of God's mission (reconciling, etc) and not for "mission" meaning goal or outcomes of an organization.  We are a Church and we have work to do in response to what we understand God's mission to be.

So we need to get clear about who we are and the work we have to do.  

That work is a product of leadership. In a hierarchical system we must demand that level of leadership from bishops, clergy and laity in leadership roles, true. But I believe that the ecclesial world in which we move is rapidly becoming more horizontal (not necessarily more democratic) involving lots of us who are not particularly near the top of the pile. 

Out here in Episcopal-land, many of us get the itch, have a spark of the fire, get some sense of just how much we can do as people of faith and people in this particular church, The Episcopal Church, and we have greater voice in the system than ever before. The conversations about what we understand as our identity and work is already going on, and a whole host of witnesses are out there sharing more and more about just why being an Episcopalian is part of their Christian identity, why the Episcopal Church matters, and just what our work is about.  One of the issues facing any effort to do a restructuring for mission is to gather a sense of just how and why any "center" is necessary at all in a more and more networked church.

The leadership issue is of course about fire. So, in our prayers for a way forward, let us pray that the fires are lit and we see more clearly by that light the work we are called to in this Episcopal Church of ours.


  1. If part of the implication of Sauls' proposal (made to his colleagues in the first instance) is serious reduction of 815 (he speaks of 47% in his remarks), one wonders how the PB receives that?

    On the one hand, we have a picture of a diocese in Ecuador acceding to the authority of the PB (whatever that language means and leaving aside the polity implications); and on the other, we have an obvious crisis situation with distinct budget implications for the maintenance of 815 and the whole idea of an expensive 'PB Staff.'

    One wonders how this dynamic plays itself out within the actual HOB.

    Another strong hunch is that an expanding group of Bishops is feeling uneasy about the viability of their respective dioceses and so are now shifting attention away from the usual topics (SSBs, 'open' communion, even jeep trips into the countryside) toward simple survival and financial prudence.

    Who'd have thought we'd suddenly be hearing about special conventions and recognition of admin costs in a downward spiralling TEC. One suspects there has been a good deal of behind the scenes chatter.

    Better late than never.


  2. "There was one question about the duel role of the Bishop as a member of the House and a member of Staff."

    Although Bishop Sauls certainly has a dual role, he would need a sword or pistols to play a duel role. :-)

    (Same in the next paragraph, too).

  3. Hope you meant a "dual" role rather than a "duel" role although a sword fight might be an interesting diversion.

  4. Michael Merriman22/9/11 10:40 AM

    And reduce the number of deputies to two per diocese and two alternates and have only bishops with jurisdiction in the House of Bishops. And always meet in campuses or other similar places.

  5. Alan and Dan... good eye! Rather have dual spelling correction than dueling spelling opinions.

  6. Mark - I would be opposed to calling a Special Convention not only because of the cost but because I think doing a new thing in the old way is a recipe for mediocrity.

    I would be in favor of small "focus" groups in dioceses and provinces around the church with a report being made to the next GenCon. How might we use technology to assist us in this?

    Scripture reports that, at the end of the day, when the people who had gathered to hear Jesus were hungry, He did not commission a group of disciples to go fetch some food to feed them. Instead, Jesus bid the people to sit down in small groups and said to his disciples, "What do you have? Go and see." Parker Palmer's take on this is that this was the first recorded community organizing event ever recorded.

    We need fewer people who consider themselves "leaders" and more community organizers.

  7. I wasn't going to post another comment, but I just had to point out that the Word Verification is "fullysin". So I shall Fully Sin with this comment. :-)

  8. I have to side with Elizabeth on the convention idea--though anything short of an "official" convention might be seen negatively by the rules lawyers.

    I am also wondering if any of the conversation about funding has included any focus on increasing revenues. Putting more into mission need not only involve the cutting of staff (which seems to be implicit in the coverage) or trimming of convention.

  9. One of the very best indicators (among several) of a non-hierarchical church is that giving is voluntary from the church units (in our system, the diocese),

    Many dioceses simply do not wish to suppport TEC as it presents conducts its business, and allows the diocese to be the chief engine of mission. Even the survey as written has a clear box one can check if this is seen to be the optimal way forward.

    The 'asking' system worked reasonably well so long as all agreed that the faith and order of anglicanism was being upheld and furthered. Once that was no longer clear, in a voluntary system dioceses began to allow parishes unhappy with progressivist trends to designate their giving. (The alternative would be something like seeing the parishes just exit).

    I think the Sauls proposal recognizes this is a fact. You can't compel assent to causes. So the financial fallout is real. His is an effort to trim the central claimant to hierarchy: the '815 national headquarters' (an innovation of its own, measured against TEC's 200+ year existence.

    My question is: how is that being received?

    In point of fact, a church of dioceses in voluntary association with less claim to a central hierarchy might even recover some giving. But the trend had being going the other way, in part for the purpose of legal argument in secular courts (which until recently had two rather wooden categories: congregational and hierarchical). But they seem to be realising the situation is far more complicated than that, thank goodness.


  10. I wonder what name the next bothersome serial nutcase will use?

  11. http://www.americananglican.org/we-have-all-your-stuff-now-but-we-think-you-owe-us-more
    This is how the budget will be balanced - be seeking voluntary contributions from ACNA churches.
    This may be the most pathetic plea ever.

  12. Inclusive David --

    "I wonder what name the next bothersome serial nutcase will use?"

    sounds like the answer is 'Dan.'



OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.