Sunday, May 27, 2012

Worse the WTF: Crusty Old Dean Ranks the SCLM Report

Just two posts into Crusty Old Dean's ranking of GC Resolution, and already a crisis on how to rank the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music's resolution A049, to authorize for trial use proposed liturgies for blessing same sex unions.  To remind you all, COD has devised the following ranking system:

Axios! (Greek for "Worthy!):  Resolutions receiving the coveted Axios ranking are GC doing what GC should probably be doing.
Meh:  A resolution which, in the words of the Book of Revelation, is neither hot nor cold, neither particularly visionary nor particularly harmful.
WTF?:  Resolutions which are ludicrous, useless, or will actually make the situation they are trying to solve worse.

COD finds himself in a crisis over the SCLM report for two reasons:

1)  COD finds himself with his first split ranking on a resolution; and
2)  because he was unaware, until now, that there was a ranking worse than WTF.

Digression:  COD supports blessing of committed, mutually supportive, monogamous partnerships, whether same gendered or opposite gendered.  He believes we should get out of the legal aspects of marrying completely, require all people to register their marriage/union according to the civil process, and then bless that in our liturgy.  COD has supported same sex blessings for years, from when he chaired his church's worship committee in the 1990s and drafted a blessing of same sex unions.

So why the reason for the decision?

1)  On the basis of the liturgies themselves, COD gives his first Axios!  They are thoughtful and well-written.

2)  It is the process which is the problem.  As the SCLM report points out, a grant from a foundation funded the work on these liturgies as well as a meeting of deputies during the triennium.  COD finds it completely unconscionable that an outside, partisan organization funded the work of a Standing Commission which drafts legislation.  What do we think the reaction would be, say, if the National Rifle Association (NRA) or American Israel Public Acton Committee (AIPAC), a lobbying group that supports policies of the Israeli government, provided a grant to support the work of our Office of Governmental Relations in Washington?    Yet no outcry when the Arcus Foundation, specifically devoted to advance LBGT equality, is funding the work of the SCLM, outside of the normal budgetary process, with the money essentially laundered by one of the church's seminaries to preserve the charade? COD is all the more upset by this because of his support for the liturgies themselves and the full inclusion of LBGT people in the life of the church.

The implications of this decision have the potential to be staggering.  As we look towards reduced resources for General Convention and denominational staff, should the church now tailor and modify what we do so as to make it more attractive to outside funding?  Should we absolve ourselves of the need adequately to prioritize our resources when we can decide to fund things outside of the budgetary process?  Will those issues which are pet projects of those in leadership be the ones which get fast-tracked for outside funding?  There are other implications and questions raised by this action, yet it was taken with little discussion or consultation.

When it comes to the process for producing these liturgies, this resolution ranks worse than WTF.  Where was the oversight from Executive Council, or the Presiding Bishop, or the President of the House of Deputies, who used money from this grant to fund the "historic" meeting of deputies in between Conventions?  It would be a shame if the PB and PHOD, who have done so much for this church, should have as part their legacies Standing Commissions for Sale.

7 comments:

  1. As usual, Tom, you offer us a chance to stand back a few paces and really look at what we're doing. I hadn't thought through the implications of the Arcus grant but now it seems obvious that it's problematic at best. Had there not been an additional meeting of the deputies, this might have a different feel. But as is, the word "junket" comes to mind. Still, I wonder how TEC can partner with the action of the Holy Spirit that moves beyond the walls of the church. Should there be a vetting process for grantors? [she asked, shuddering at the thought of even more beaurocracy] Thanks! Michelle Meech

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  2. I actually think the meeting of deputies was a helpful one, and which had helped broaden and deepen the understanding of the really excellent rites the SCLM has been produced. Rather than having them get the stuff in the BB report a couple of months before the Convention, that meeting, in the end, will be helpful to the process. I also fully support networks being creative, being empowered, and finding new sources of funding. I just find it utterly astounding that we are haphazardly deciding to fund GC mandates and resolutions through outside funding without any kind of standards in place. The law of unintended consequences could be staggering here.

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  3. Tom,

    The decision to seek funding from the Arcus Foundation was not made lightly or haphazardly, but in consultation with the Presiding Bishop’s Office, the President of the House of Deputies, the Executive Council, and the General Convention Office. Funding was sought to support work that General Convention had specifically directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to do, and both the grant application process and its implementation have made very clear that control of both process and product remain solely the responsibility of the commission. Moreover, decision about what to do with the resources this summer remains with General Convention.

    Given the direction of Resolution C056 that the commission do its work with an open process involving widespread participation in the Episcopal Church and inviting reflection from throughout the Anglican Communion, the commission needed more resources than those provided in the budget of the Episcopal Church. Far from a junket, the meeting in Atlanta was an intense 22 hours of plenary presentations and small-group conversations. Even the dinner included facilitated conversation.

    Without the resources made available through the grant, the commission could not have produced the high quality of resources that resulted, and it could not have engaged the church in such a wide-ranging conversation.

    Ruth Meyers
    Chair, Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music

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  4. Thanks for the reply, Ruth - your comments are more or less what is also contained in the SCLM report, and as a former staff member at the DFMS I understand well the strains put on Commissions when Convention gives mandates without always giving the necessary funding and resources adequately to fulfill them. I also think the church is going to need to empower networks and find creative ways to fund what we are called to do given the scope of change engulfing us.

    Yet I have serious concerns about seeking grant funding without an organization having guidelines in place, implications for funding things outside of a normal budgetary process, and the potential for appearance of conflict of interest when a partisan organization funds the work of a group that essentially drafts legislation. There is also a question of how just this is: there are some Standing Commissions which have access to people who know how to write grants and institutions which will administer them on their behalf, and some which do not, and all of our Commission do important work for the life of the church and have budget and staff strains. And so on; I could raise more concerns, to be honest. Not that I think any of these concerns are evident in this case, and am not saying anyone's partiality was impacted by this. The law of unintended consequences is what I am concerned about.

    I think this reflect process issues that have little to do with the SCLM or CCABs. I think this reflects broader issues about decision making, standards, and accountability in our churchwide governance. We should not be pursuing grant funding for Commissions without guidelines in place, and Executive Council and the Presiding officers (PB and PHOD) need to show some leadership here.

    PS -- I did not say the Atlanta meeting was a junket; in fact, I think it was helpful, said so in previous comments, and as you know I helped recruit ecumenical guests to attend. And I think the liturgies themselves are fantastic, have said so, and will continue to say how great they are. My concern all along has been process.

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  5. CDSP managed the grant from ARCUS precisely to create a level of remove from the work of the Commission. Given the huge scope of this project, and SCLM's assigned work generally, and the dwindling budget of TEC, it seems likely more outside grants will need to be sought to do important work of our Church in the future. SCLM has tried to work with utmost transparency , and to have participation and review not only from across TEC but from the Anglican WW Communion and ecumenical partners - an expensive and complex undertaking. To my knowledge, at no time did ARCUS have any involvement with our meetings, review our project in process, or influence its outcome.
    Jennifer Phillips
    Vice Chair SCLM

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  6. Jennifer, I agree with all you say; read my comments above, I think we need to empower networks to collaborate more on the mission work of the church and seek creative partnerships, including funding. But I'm equally convinced we MUST do this with guidelines and standards for how Standing Commissions and agencies seek outside grant funding. Otherwise there are potential issues of fairness, justice, and process.

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  7. My sincere apoligies to all. My flippant use of the word "junket" was not meant in any way to insinuate that the deputies meeting was not one of good faith with alot of hard work nor was it meant to call into question the work done by the SCLM. I know the people of this church too well to think otherwise and I'm sorry that my comment didn't reflect this. As a part of CDSP, I remain extraordinarily proud of the work done by Ruth and the SCLM.

    Rather, my remark was made to highlight how this might look from a much different perspective, which Tom's comments helped to illuminate for me. When I first read the blog, I was angered, primarily because I think so highly of the project and the important work done (not to mention, CDSP is my place of employment!). But when I took a step back and thought about this a bit, I could see his point very clearly. It struck me that had I not been so invested in the success of this project, I might have seen it differently. Which, to me, says we must pay attention to how we move forward with obtaining funding in the future.

    I have no doubt that all of the people involved in this did what was necessary to act in good faith. What I wonder about is, if we increase our use of external funds, if even by a few, will we still have the bandwidth to act in good faith?
    Michelle Meech

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