Re-revised UTO Bylaws again.

Apparently the United Thank Offering (UTO) / Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS) / Executive Council committee to revise the preposed revised version of the previously Executive Council approved bylaws will bring their work to Executive Council meeting in Maryland beginning tomorrow (February 5, 2014).  (Did you follow all this?)

The whole thing reminds me of Pong, the first video game our son Matthew and I played many years ago at the Deer Park in Newark, Delaware.  In Pong the ball is paddled back and forth, as in ping pong. It was for its day an electronic marvel.  Matthew usually won.

In the current PONG battle over the content of the bylaws and memorandum of agreement between the UTO and the DFMS it is unclear just who will win or what winning would look like. 

It's not as if one group was enemy to the other. Indeed all the players are convinced Christians of the same religious community (Episcopalians) who love their church enough to care enough to even ping and pong through it all. As with my match with my son, the PONG game now under way is among members of the family.

I have seen what is apparently proposed as the new bylaws. It seems to me they are an improvement on both the previous proposal that emanated primarily from Church Center concerns. I think they may be an improvement on the initial bylaws approved by UTO and Executive Council some two years ago, which I had a hand in crafting.  Certainly they are shorter. Perhaps too they are clearer.

On one subject they are particularly clear: UTO is to be understood as an integral part of the machinery of the General Convention / DFMS / Executive Council grab bag of Commissions, Committees, Agencies and Boards (CCAB's) and is therefore in the last analysis a creature of the DFMS and guided by the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church.

OK. Got it. Actually that was a primary point of the original bylaws which for the first time specified that UTO was indeed a part of The Episcopal Church.

For some reasons that did not satisfy.  I suspect it was unsatisfactory because the definition of what a "board" is in Episcopal Church Canons is a bit unclear as regards the extent of autonomous action it may take in furthering board goals and the board mission. UTO's autonomy in making decisions has been muddled and a concern for years.

There are all sorts of reasons why the UTO's relation to the DFMS and Church Center has been muddled in the past, but at the core those reasons rested on three powerfully difficult problems. (i) Women in The Episcopal Church had until the 1970's a separate and unequal voice in the governance of the Church and at the same time a mighty passion for the Church's missionary life, (ii) laity in the Church (women being I suspect a majority party in the same) continue to have unequal voice in the governance of the Church, and (iii) most funding in TEC relies upon the commitment of laity to the Church's mission, or as now is stated more precisely, to the God's mission for the baptized. 

That muddle, in its current incarnation in the PONG match between UTO and DFMS, is about just how The Episcopal Church intends to carry out its response to God's mission, as it understands it.  

Is the understanding of God's mission for TEC something guided primarily by insights of the center - the center being the organized staff generally lumped under and paid by the DFMS (including the Presiding Bishop) and General Convention officers, or is it by a wider more defused and horizontal community of organizations and structures (the wide variety of organizations and agencies related to TEC, the dioceses, the seminaries, etc, including UTO?

At the core the issue is about just where mission initiative arises. Who determines just what pertains to God's mission and call to us as Episcopalians?  And who really speaks for The Episcopal Church?

I am proud to know the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies. They are both faithful and clear in their efforts to speak the mind of the Church in discerning God's mission for The Episcopal Church. They are very good at what they do. But they are not alone. 

Indeed without the clarity of work done by CCAB's by General Convention Deputies, by staff people, by Bishops, and independent groups, and, in this case UTO, their work would be impossible.

All of which is to say UTO speaks at various times and places for The Episcopal Church. Often it speaks without words. Indeed, having stood in many buildings in various parts of the Anglican Communion built with monies raised with considerable theological and spiritual purity of heart, as a thanksgiving response. I believe UTO has spoken clearly for The Episcopal Church in ways that belie the distance of women and lay people through the years from the centers of "power" in the Church. 

So to return to the revision of the revision of the bylaws.  It seems to me it is time to turn from attention to the bylaws and return again to the matter of discerning God's mission for this Church. Bylaws are not a little thing, but they are not the core either. 

UTO is about prayer and response. If it is clear about that it cannot go wrong.  

If its work is too controlled by leadership from "on high," it will cease to be a voice from the horizon of faith and commitment.  If that happens UTO will fade, but in its place there will always be new mission initiative from "the horizon," that is from the mass of prayer and offering of people not at the center of anything.  The power of the widow's mite may be mightier than even that of sword or pen.  

But I don't believe that UTO will fade. There will continue to be "power struggles," and the continuing demands of fiduciary responsibility and various legal matters to concern leadership. But no one, as far as I know, is opposed having those who pray and offer having a large part in determining the direction of such prayer and offering. 

Perhaps it is time to let matters rest a bit.  The worry about bylaws can finally be a distraction from attention to mission.

And, perhaps it is time also to be watchful, just in case there are wild beasts lurking about in the wings.  Who said attention to mission meant no longer posting guards on the watch tower? 

Prayers for Executive Council and its Presiding Officers this week as they work, for the UTO leadership as it seeks to get about its mission, and for all of us who must work at being innocent as doves and wise as serpents.

Being an Episcopalian is not for the faint of heart.


  1. You are, as always, poetic - the language of the prophets - but I fear I find your words about the UTO bylaws not so much prophetic as they are fatalistic.

    UTO has lost the battle for interdependence to 815. The proof is in the bylaws. It is now simply a marketing tool for whatever mission 815 determines. It's a huge loss, one that I grieve.

    I have no doubt that UTO will live on - at least in name - but it will not be the same and more's the pity. It will not be an Offering in which we are all United in Thanks. Rather, it will be akin to ERD - just another fundraising arm of the church.

    Perhaps, in time, the next generation which does not know and may not care about the history of UTO will not see the significance of this moment.

    Who would have thought that the prophetic action in 1974 would eventually lead to the death of the UTO as a women's interdependent organization which supported and funded - and, in many ways, determined - the mission of the church? Or, that the action would have happened on the watches of a woman PB and a woman POHOD.

    There's a painful irony.

  2. Mark, your words on the UTO/DFMS collision remind me of a true story. Some years ago, when the brutal civil war in El Salvador was at its height and Washington, D.C., was filled with Salvadoran refugees, most of them undocumented, a group of parishioners at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church (of which I am a long-time member), formed a group they called the Plumb Line. They began to minister among the local Salvadorans. The then-rector said that the situation in El Salvador was desperate and they should add ministering to that need to their mission. The group said they shared the rector's concern about El Salvador, but that was not their mission. The rector said he was in charge, and if the Plumb Line was to exist, it must add El Salvador to their work. The Plumb Line disbanded. End of story. My read is that the Spirit blows where she will.

  3. Pamela W Darling5/2/14 11:47 AM

    Thanks for your - as usual - calm and reasoned review of the UTO by-laws issue. Let me expand on one aspect. You write:

    "UTO is about prayer and response. If it is clear about that it cannot go wrong."

    This statement is fine as far as it goes; but the UTO is also about decades of attempts to harness the energies of independent churchwomen in the service of the (still very male-dominated despite the current Presiding Officers) centralized bureaucracy of the Church.

    St Cecelia's book group in my parish scheduled a discussion of New Wine(1994) this spring, and I decided I'd better re-read it. No surprise: much has NOT changed in the 20 years since it was written.

    Efforts to wrest control of the money raised by the Woman's Auxiliary haven't ceased since the UTO began in 1889. For half a century, adroit maneuvering by the self-effacing Julia Chester Emery resisted takeover with the coded double-speak of submission. What she could not do was re-balance the gendered power differential built into the church's structures, to an even greater extent than in the surrounding culture.

    The current conflict over the UTO by-laws is the latest iteration of our struggle to understand the connections between gender and power, brought into acute focus by the pressure of the almighty dollar.

    In our lifetimes, the Episcopal Church has opened women's access to leadership positions and the ordained ministry, but such access is by no means uniform throughout the church. It may be at least another generation before we see the full effects of gender balance on church structures and financial decision-making.

    Until the mid-20th century, the Woman's Auxiliary was a sort of "shadow church," with parish and diocesan chapters linked by a national office which provided guidance and resources. This was not so different from the pattern of the rest of the church. But the informal links between the two were strained by the gradual centralization of the bureaucracy.

    By 1970, with women finally seated in the House of Deputies and women's ordination under serious consideration, the Woman's Auxiliary was abruptly transformed into a General Division of Women's Work within the National/Executive Council structure. Soon it became the Division of Lay Ministry (directed by an ordained man), before disappearing altogether.

    The Auxiliary tried to reconstitute itself as the Episcopal Church Women, with uneven results. It retained the UTO Committee which determined where the money went, but the UTO office was located within the Church Center. This very unstable arrangement could not last forever -- hence the current conflict.

    Pamela W Darling

  4. Grace Henderson23/2/14 4:39 PM

    Grace E. Henderson

    UTO is alive and well. We are still what and who we are/were: a group of women AND men AND youth who are fairly quietly going about God's work and trying to spread His love. As Desmond Tutu said: "We are all missionaries or we are nothing"
    The by-laws recently agreed upon and signed by DFMS and UTO do not hurt in any way the esteemed ECW and the granting process for mission is still finalized and determined by the UTO Board.
    All is well. Come join us. We need you and welcome you.
    Grace Henderson, Province VII UTO Co-ordinator


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.