Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Modest Proposal for Reshaping, Part 3: Interim Bodies

No, interim bodies are not some kind of sci-fi version of an artificial intelligence moving through various replicants in pursuit of eventual domination of humans. That would be far more entertaining than the interim bodies COD is taking about. It's the unruly name given to the various entities which meet in between General Conventions and exercise some kind of form of governance or oversight, of various things and in various ways. And Crusty Old Dean does mean unruly: the official church acronym for these entities is...wait for it...CCABs: Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards. The fact that there are four types of them indicates we are in for a lot of disparate groups with disparate responsibilities.

Before we get too deep into this, Crusty Old Dean should remind you this proposal should be read in light of previous ones here (calling for initiating a process of reform), here and here (explaining why our current structures don't work), and here (a proposal for restructuring General Convention).

Again, to cover some old ground again (with help from the Dept of Redundancy Dept): part of the complex overlaying of different governing structures in the Episcopal Church results from the fact that a minimalist, skeletal Constitution that imagined a network of dioceses with a minimalist denominational structure designed for a handful of Episcopalians struggling to survive on the Eastern seabord has developed over 220 years into a church with over 100 dioceses in 16 different countries with over 2,000,000 members and which has a denominational structure doing things no church in 1789 ever would have imagined. We have, sometimes gradually, sometimes in spurts, created, added, subtracted, and reorganized governing structures over two centuries. Thus we have creatures which have been around for almost 200 years (the current Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations is the resulted of a name change in 2003 and a merger in 1976 of various commissions, one of which dated back to 1862; Convention has been electing trustees for the General Theological Seminary for some time) and some which are relatively new.

Thus we have CCABs. They are a disparate bunch. There are 14 different Standing Commissions of General Convention, which, as their name indicates, are creatures of the Convention, charged with oversight in between Conventions of everything from Constitution & Canons to Lifelong Formation, each established by Canon. These Commissions prepare reports and resolutions, and have a liaison appointed by the Presiding Bishop and President of the HOD. The members of Standing Commissions are appointed by the PB (bishops) and President of the House of Deputies (hereafterPHOD) appoints clergy & lay persons. There is the General Board of Examining Chaplains, whose members are appointed by the HOB and confirmed by the HOD. The Convention elects Trustees for the Church Pension Fund and the General Theological Seminary. The General Board of Transition Ministries and the Archives have their members appointed by the PB and PHOD. There is the Executive Council, which has members elected by General Convention and others by the Provinces. There is the Domestic & Foreign Missionary Society (hereafter DFMS) technically the official corporate entity of the Episcopal Church, established in 1821 as a mission society, and, when we invented a denomination, became the legal shell into which we scuttled like some ecclesial hermit crab. Legally and ecclesially, for instance, employees at the Church Center, from the mailroom to the ecumenical officer, are employees of the DFMS.

Some members of these CCABs are elected; some are appointed. Some have a close working relationship with the General Convention, some do not -- for instance, does the General Convention supervise in intimate detail the Church Pension Fund and General Theological Seminary (at least since the Arthur Carey incident and subsequent Romish witch-hunt, demonstrating we don't WANT General Convention actually to exercise oversight of any of the places it elects Trustees for)?

Thus it seems clear these CCABs function in a variety of ways. This can lead to confusion, inefficiency, and lack of mission clarity, but COD thinks the most pernicious element arising from CCABs is conflicting understandings of authority and oversight. Who, really, has oversight of the mission work of the church in between Convention? The Executive Council? The PB? The official Standing Commissions of Convention? What is the role of staff of the Church Center, and how does their work relate to the CCABs? Since Commissions meet once or maybe twice a year the Church Center staff do a lot of the day-to-day work. This has in part led to a dysfunctional relationship between the PB and Council, with an awful lot of turf-protecting coupled with turf-expansion. COD really has no desire to get into this, but, suffice to say, anyone with any experience in the dynamic between Executive Council and the Presiding Bishop know that there can, at times, be a tense relationship. And COD does NOT mean to single out this PB, this PHOD, or this incarnation of Council (you should know by now COD doesn't single anyone out, he singles everyone out): pretty much every single PB and Council since it became an elected office and the PB became the sort-of-but-not-quite-CEO of the denomination.

It's important also to see the gradual change in understanding of what is now Executive Council: it was formed in 1919 and eventually became known as the National Council. It functioned very much as a collective oversight of the church's ministries. Council was divided into departments, absorbing previously incorporated agencies that did similar work. Employees worked for the National Council and received oversight from the Council and the PB: its original name was "Presiding Bishop and National Council." Doesn't really "pop", but it was meant to be functional.

Almost 100 years later, this has changed. Executive Council functions largely legislatively: its committees do not necessarily provide oversight for program and mission. What we would call program development is largely under the purview of the Presiding Bishop, who hires & fires and directs staff. Council does not manage or give oversight to staff. In addition, Standing Commissions have had their roles clarified -- in the 1800s and early 1900s they were mostly (though not exclusively) a group of more or less ad hoc commissions that were created as occasion needed and ended when work was done (though some were required by Canon and still are; the Committee on State of the Church, for instance, presenting its triennial report). They now are mainly charged with following up on GC Resolutions referred to them, or developing new ones in light of situations which may emerge in between Conventions.

It seems clear to COD that Executive Council and the interim bodies are in need of reform as well, to streamline our processes and make us more responsive to mission. As you may guess, COD has some suggestions:

1. Proposal for Reforming Executive Council:

Cut the number elected by General Convention in half, from the current 4-4-12 (bishops-clergy-laity) to 2-2-6.

Increase the number elected by the Provinces from 2 to 3 in a 1-1-1 ratio -- with the requirement that each person come from a different diocese in that province, and that one of these comes from one of the smaller dioceses in the Province (to be determined by something like -- "one representative from one of the dioceses in the province in the bottom third of membership/number of congregations" or something similar). Thus Council is more or less the name size, from its current 38 to 37 in this structure.

Why change this? Two reasons.

--Increasing representation from the Provinces will help insure the needs and concern of smaller dioceses are not lost in the transition to proportional representation in the General Convention (used here in reference to COD's revised, unicameral body, not its current 2-headed beast). 9 of the 37 members would be guaranteed to come from smaller dioceses. In the current Executive Council setup, there is nothing to ensure this at all (though it occurs in practice).

--Build stronger connections to the Provinces, and more ownership by Provinces in mission and governance. More on that later, COD has suggestions for revamping dioceses and provinces.

2. Having GC Standing Commissions coordinate with Executive Council committees. Right now there is little overlap between Executive Council's internal committees and the Standing Commissions of General Convention. When COD used to go to Executive Council meetings, I sometimes had to think about what committee I should attend; there was no clear, logical cognate.

As part of this process, reduce the number of Standing Commissions.

COD has no real opinion on how many there should be; but having 14 Standing Commissions and several different Executive Council internal committees and several different "teams" into which church Church Center program staff are grouped is akin to when you had to change money into 17 different currencies to move across Europe, or when stevedores had the job of breaking down cargo packed into one kind of container into different kinds. The implementation of the euro and of the standard shipping container show the positive effects of being able to move across platforms.

So for the sake of argument, 7 Standing Commissions. These 7 SCs would correlate to a Committee of Executive Council. In turn, these would correspond to the internal groupings of mission & program staff at the Church Center. COD humbly proposes something like this: (again, I'm not married to it; as COD often said when negotiating ecumenical agreements, "I'm only married to my wife, not the language here.")

--Justice and Advocacy
--Global, Anglican, Ecumenical, and Interreligious Partnerships
--Mission and Ministry Development
--Congregational Development
--Constitution and Canons/Governance
--Evangelism and Communication

So, taking a page from a current Presidential candidate, COD proposes

COD 7-7-7 PLAN!

7 Standing Commissions which correlate to the same 7 Committees of Executive Council which correspond to the same 7 internal groupings of Church Center staff. This would help with consistency of message, focus on priorities, and in general allow for better interaction and communication from these differing forms of oversight and program work.

Get the General Convention out of the business of electing leadership for organizations it really has no right to be involved in, or where it does not exercise oversight, or where oversight should be lodged somewhere else. Otherwise it is at best a waste of time and at worse an inauthentic farce. Allow the Church Pension Fund, Archives, and General Seminary (sorry, Bishop Hobart, your vision of creating a central seminary for the Church never came true and we don't need to keep electing some of its trustees) to become entirely self-governing. Groups where Convention and/or Council actually are involved and have an oversight role -- such as Examining Chaplains and Transition Ministry -- would have the functions of their General boards/governing agencies subsumed into one of the 7 Commissions and staff.

3. Solving the lack of clarity between Executive Council and Presiding Bishop.

There has been nearly a century of development and mission creep since the Presiding Bishop and National Council was formed in 1919, with the vision of the PB at the head of a Council which would provide oversight for program areas. Council has become largely legislative and oversight of staff and mission/program devolved almost entirely to the PB. This leads to confusion and at time conflict. When sometimes people would say, "Well the PB has oversight of staff," COD would opine, "Yes, but not fiduciary oversight: power of the purse is with Council." So therefore does the PB really have oversight? And what role do positions like Canon to the PB and Chief Operating Officer play? These positions internally have often looked different from PB to PB and Canon to Canon and COO to COO in the past 50 years or so. Some have had vdefined portfolios, some have served as sort-of-Chief of Staff.

We need to embrace and acknowledge collective oversight, shared between PB and Council. This was the intention of the creation of the elected offices of PB and Council in the landmark 1919 Convention. It is also how our polity works in other levels: while technically the staff works only for the Rector, in practice in many congregations there is active participation by lay persons in oversight of program and staff. In dioceses Standing Committees, or Executive Committees, or an elected Diocesan Council, work with the Bishop and staff.

COD proposes that oversight for all program and mission work in between General Conventions, from Church Center staff to coordination of Standing Committees, be vested in Executive Council and spelled out in the Canons (remember we suspended all the Constitution and Canons in 2012, and thus are in the process of drafting new ones? Keep up with COD, people!). In practicality -- a 37 member Council doing this would be unwieldy -- there would be an elected Executive Committee of Council consisting of 2-2-4 (bishops, clergy, laity) which would take primary responsibility for this in conjunction with the elected officers of Council. The officers of Council would be paid, full-time positions. The President would still be the PB, the VP a clergy or lay person, a Secretary (distinct from the Secretary of GC), and a Treasurer, who would be the same as the GC and DFMS Treasurer. Funding for this would come from eliminating positions made redundant (no longer a need for a COO since those functions would be handled by VP and Secretary of Council) and reducing the number of Standing Commissions by half.

Having solved the matter of restructuring General Convention and interim bodies, in our next installment COD hits close to home: restructuring dioceses. Stay tuned. It may be a while, Crusty Old Dean is formally being installed this week -- so COD realizes he probably should have been calling himself Yet To Be Formally Installed Crusty Old Dean up to this point.


  1. This is good stuff, Tom. I hope you are planning to send all these reflections, once complete, either to Stacey, or the new "Commission" or to whatever General Convention body (Structure?) might actually begin to take this up at this General Convention. Your knowledge of history as well as your experience serving DFMS make these insights unique.Not, of course, perfect...but unique!!)

  2. I definitely plan on collecting and editing these into some kind of manifesto. I have little hope in the GC instruments themselves initiating change -- the people within the system who have power derived from that system will be most resistant. I think it will need to come from dioceses as part of a mass uprising. Occupy General Convention 2012!!

  3. I like the idea of Occupy General Convention! All churches could use an outcry of the masses like this every so often.

  4. Hi, Tom,

    I am curious as to where you see the finance and budgeting function(s) being handled in your 7-7-7 scheme.

    I am reading all of what you have written and will be writing regarding structure, in detail, and with great interest. Thank you for sharing your thinking on this subject. I am interested in this conversation at all levels, especially when the voices also have the benefit of varied experience with our history and how we have come to where we find ourselves today.

    Member, Executive Council

  5. Hello Lelanda - thanks for your thoughtful comment! I would think budgeting could be handled in several ways: the Executive Council could have a subcommittee with the sole purpose of drafting a budget but have it come mainly from Council. Or, we could fold the budget drafting process into the Governance Commission in the 7-7-7 plan. Or perhaps in another way, Crusty Old Dean certainly doesn't think he has all the answers. Mainly looking to get a conversation going.

  6. "...the legal shell into which we scuttled like some ecclesial hermit crab." Classic!

    Dude, did you know you're the 4th hit on google for Crusty Old Dean? Outranked only by Homer Simpson himself! I'm suitably impressed.

  7. Again, these are just great ideas. It's time to shake up the structure of the church, and this sounds like a great plan! I agree that GC is unlikely to do much on its own. #OGC2012!

  8. Thanks for the comments, Joe - while I realize we may not shake things up at General Convention, at least we can know there are lots of different people interested in doing something.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.