Monday, June 2, 2014

General Convention Preview: Days of Future Past

The Trident gum stakes out a tense no-man's land.
COD agrees with his similarly acronymed colleague at ESPN, TMQ, in moving towards a Unified Theory of Creep.  TMQ began a running feature where he noted instances of Christmas Creep, like Santa appearing in Labor Day parades.  Crusty, by the way, received crazy map props from TMQ in his September, 2009, column for submitting this: "Rev. Thomas Ferguson of Madison, Wis., tops them all: 'My wife and I checked into a hotel over Labor Day weekend. On the coffee table was a book titled 'Prayers for the Season.' I opened it. The first was, 'A Prayer to Remind us of the True Meaning of Christmas.' It warned against -- Christmas commercialism.'" A packaged spiritual commercial book warning us against the commercialization of Christmas! After years of publishing instances of Christmas Creep, TMQ retired the section on his blog, noting the phenomenon had become so widespread it was pointless to note all the instances of it.  Resistance is futile, and Christmas Creep is here, time to stop posting photos of Christmas trees appearing in malls in September. Then TMQ instituted a Unified Theory of Creep:  that the phenomenon of Christmas Creep was everywhere present in the culture, and we need to realize how pernicious the phenomenon of Creep has become; giving but one example, TMQ noted, "Yours truly pulled into an Exxon station on July 31 for petrol; the advert on the pump said, 'TIME FOR A WINTER TUNEUP.' I went to my mailbox on Aug. 6, and found a Land's End catalog headlined "FALL ARRIVES."  COD's favorite Unified Theory of Creep example is the picture he took shortly after Christmas, in the second week of January, with the clearance Christmas candy stacked next to the Easter candy.  Then again, this picture was taken in Canada, so maybe Canadian Easter and Canadian Christmas come at different times than they do in the States, due to the metric system or something.

Thus, Crusty is proud to announce Unified Theory of Creep:  General Convention Style!  Crusty is beating his slovenly competitors to the punch and coming out with his 2015 General Convention Preview, over a year before the actual Convention itself, which will be held next June in lovely Salt Lake City, Utah.  Seriously.  Crusty isn't being cynical, it's quite a beautiful city.  Crusty's been there a number of times, CODW (Crusty Old Dean's wife) grew up three hours north of the SLC, in beautiful Twin Falls, ID (home of the eponymously named falls that are taller than Niagara Falls -- yeah, two swipes at Canada in one posting.  COD is still angry about the Canadiens beating the Bruins. Suck on it Habs! And it's still too early for Crusty to talk about the women's gold medal hockey game from last February.) It gets a bad rap because people who've never been west of Pittsburgh think it's all Mormons, tumbleweeds, and bears, or something.  COD always wondered why
Crusty's preferred martini: Death's Door gin, up, very dry, with a twist.
we have never held General Convention there.  A former bishop of Utah replied to him, "We did host an Olympics, I think we could handle a General Convention," and Crusty replied, "Yeah, but it'll never happen because half the House of Bishops probably think you can't get a decent martini there."

Apparently, the advance team has reported back favorably on the martini situation, since General Convention is set to kick of June 25, 2015, in Salt Lake City. So:  on to Crusty's Convention Conjecture!  Remember, as noted in other preview posts, all predictions guaranteed to be right or your money back!  Which, since this blog is free...

I)  The PB election.  One major piece of business will be electing a Presiding Bishop.  Next year's election is unique in that the current PB is a viable candidate for nomination.

Note Crusty didn't say "current PB is eligible for re-election," for several reasons.

1)  Technically (note COD said "technically") you don't run for PB.  There's a nominating committee that vets, screens, and recommends a slate of candidates.

2)  There are no term limits or other rules around re-election of a PB, except for one: the same mandatory resignation age for all clergy, age 72.  That's the only criterion that informs the election of the PB.  (Well, there's also the five-year rule, but that's disputed -- since the PB must resign his/her current position, some think that the rule that a bishop can't resign to take another position unless he/she has been in his/her current one for five years applies -- Article II, Section 8 of the Constitution.  Thus you sometimes hear people say, "Oh, so-and-so isn't eligible because they haven't been bishop for five years."  They're wrong, in COD's mind, because Article II, Section 8, specifically refers to a bishop who may be "elected as Bishop..of another diocese."  The PB is not bishop of a diocese, so COD therefore decrees this Article is not in effect.)

Any active bishop at the time the election who is under the age of 72 is eligible, and any retired bishop physically present and under the age of 72 is eligible.  The only bishops excluded are "retired bishops not present."

This PB, who was elected at age 52, could be elected three times.  Once in 2006, again in 2015 at age 61, and again in 2024 at age 70, at which point she would need to resign in 2026.  Frank Griswold was elected at age 59 (he turned 60 later in that year) and could have been nominated again in 2006, but would have needed to resign in 2009.

There are provisions in place, of course, for filling the office of Presiding Bishop should it become vacant, because it's happened  ALL THE TIME.  John Gardiner Murray died in office (suffered a
Best left unsolved.
stroke in the House of Bishops!) as did his successor Charles P.Anderson, (lasted one year) who were the first two elected to the office rather than succeeding as senior bishop.  Three Presiding Bishops IN A ROW resigned before their terms were up:  Henry Knox Sherrill, Arthur Lichteneberg, and John Hines.  Of the first six persons elected to the position, only one served a full term and retired.  Even the drummers in Spinal Tap had a better record from 1929-1974 than Presiding Bishops, thankfully no primates died from a bizarre gardening accident.

So the current PB may be nominated, because she is a non-retired bishop at the electing conclave and under the age of 72. Then there's the question of *whether* she would consider being nominated, and here we have a whole host of rampant, and frankly at times ill-informed, speculation.  Full disclosure:  Crusty worked for the churchwide staff from 2001-2011, and served at the pleasure of two different Presiding Bishops, including the current one from 2006-2011.  COD doesn't claim to have any insider information (he's been gone for three years), and, even if he did, he wouldn't tell you.  On the one hand, idle church gossip with pretend insiders thinking they're in an Aaron Sorkin movie is one of the things Crusty has the least patience with; on the other, idle gossip from people who may be in the know leaking stuff is the only thing Crusty has even less respect for.  Even if I did know, I wouldn't tell you.  I consider it a privilege to have worked with Frank Griswold and Katharine Jefferts Schori, and won't cheapen that by inflating my own ego and pretending I have insider knowledge, or even giving it to you if I did.  Crusty grew up in Boston and knows how to treat snitches.  This is why COD was sorted into Hufflepuff, because apparently he is honest and loyal, or so Pottermore's Sorting Hat told me.

That said, Crusty predicts based on no insider information that the current PB will not let herself be considered for nomination.  Eighteen years is a long time to do anything in the church.  Mark Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, announced he would be willing to be considered for a third, six-year term.  He was the first Presiding Bishop to be defeated for re-election, not so much because of any groundswell of resentment against him personally, but because eighteen years is a long time.  As one voting member of that Churchwide Assembly told COD, "It was hard to have as our theme, 'Always being made new,' and voting for eighteen years of the same PB at such a crucial crossroads in our history." Having worked with two PBs up close, the one thing Crusty
Everyone wants to be in Gryffindor.  Fear the Badger!
will say is that being a bishop is a hard, often thankless job, and being PB is a harder, even more thankless job, because your average bishop can get more done in his/her diocese than the PB can.  This is why the term was shortened from 12 years to 9, because the job damn near killed John Allin and Ed Browning.

Additional sideline:  frankly, Crusty doesn't really understand why we spend three years and over $226,000 on a nomination process when we also have a process for nomination by petition.  Why spend all that time and money when anyone can be nominated from the floor?  Frankly, Crusty would like to see an open process:  every bishop under the age of 72 is eligible, first ballot is a kind of nomination ballot.  Anyone can remove themselves from the ballot at any time after the first ballot, start dropping candidates after the third ballot with various vote thresholds, allow candidates after the third ballot to make presentations/speeches.   This is what the ELCA does, and it can be a crazy, Spirit-led fandango that brought us someone like their first woman Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, who was not on many people's radar (but was on Crusty's, who worked with her on ecumenical projects).

So Crusty predicts the current PB will let the committee know she will not be considered for nomination, but will wait as long as humanly possible to announce this, because she becomes a lame duck the instant she does.

Crusty prognosticates that some combination of the following persons will be on the list of four nominees presented by committee:  Mary-Gray Reeves (El Camino Real), Eugene Sutton (Maryland), Dean Wolfe (Kansas), Ian Douglas (Connecticut), Daniel Martins (Springfield), Andy Doyle (Texas), and Ed Konieczny (Oklahoma).

Right now Crusty is predicting either Ian Douglas or Gene Sutton as PB.  He does, however, reserve the right to revise this in his second General Convention preview edition, which will probably come out about a year from now.

II)  COD predicts that the issue of divesting from Israel -- more specifically, divesting from companies that do business in the occupied territories and/or supply materials to the Israeli Defense Forces as part of the occupation -- will make it out of committee for the first time and to the floor for debate.  This is an issue which has been debated in various church governing bodies, including a crazy parliamentary session at the 2012 Presbyterian General Assembly where a motion to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett Packard because of materials it supplied to Israel failed by TWO VOTES, 333-331, with two abstentions.  Crusty doesn't think it will pass but thinks there's enough momentum for it to make it out of a legislative committee for the first time and thus derail all other business while we obsess over for a good 36 hours or so.

III)  There will be a much more reasonable and saner budgetary process, and no repeat of the utter fiasco of 2012, with clearer accountability and transprarency.  There's lots of reasons for this, first and foremost there's really no way to imagine it being more of an unspeakable, dysfunctional, clusterf**k than it was in 2012.  Nowhere to go but up, sadly.  Oh yeah, there are also changes in leadership (the previous President of the House of Deputies and the PB were at loggerheads) and a rosier revenue picture (great market returns in the past triennium and reasonable income levels from dioceses), among others.  However, we should also realize that this superficially rosier financial situation is in part a result of laying off/downsizing/not filling over 30% of the churchwide staff in the past 9 years and essentially turning the 815 building itself into a rental property management company without ever sitting down to do any strategic thinking or visioning on what we think a churchwide organization should look like.  "Wow, the patient looks better even though instead of trying to figure out what was wrong with her we just started chopping stuff off."  Which leads me to

IV)  The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC).  Put simply, nothing will come of this.  They have put out two study papers.  The one on networks was cover-your-eyes awful (see Crusty's thoughts here; it's the only time COD has gotten emails castigating him for going too easy on someone or something).  The second addressed Governance and Administration (see Crusty's thoughts here), and received the kiss of death when the PHOD expressed her concern with structural reform limiting the prophetic voice of the Episcopal Church (COD can't find the tweet, which was from someone summarizing the PHOD's remarks, so is doing this from memory -- would welcome it if someone could find it).  Upon reading that, COD said, "TREC is dead, my friend.  TREC is dead."

They will, of course, play out the string.  They will release another paper or two (though have not done so for over three months), hold some kind of webinar or something in the fall since they don't have any funding for a churchwide conference, and duly file a report, perhaps even with some specific suggestions.  But since they are a special commission, any proposals would need to wend their way through the committee structure, where those who see TREC and talk of restructuring as a threat to the Episcopal Church will make sure nothing of substance makes it to the floor, and, if it does, that it will not pass.  This was a fait accompli, to a certain degree, when any substantive funding for a churchwide gathering was stripped from the resolution that created TREC at the 2012 General Convention and no one, anywhere, either from TREC or other governance structures, seemed inclined to lobby for any.  COD was present at a meeting of Executive Council in Fall 2013 when TREC gave a report; the question of funding for a Fall, 2014 churchwide gathering was mentioned, and someone asked if there was the possibility of finding the funds somewhere.  The response from the chair was, "No one has asked." And that was nine months ago.  There are good, thoughtful people on TREC who care about The Episcopal Church, Crusty doesn't blame them personally.  They never had a chance, but to be fair they have also done their own share of bungling (exhibit A:  the eagerly awaited and appalling first Study Paper they released).  Mind you, this is from a church that ADDED $100,000 to the committee which nominates a PB -- even though they can also have nominations from the floor, we spend $226,000 and three years to come up with four candidates -- and which estimates the costs of nominating, electing, installing, and transitioning at $500,000.  But we can't give TREC the money it needs to do a thorough job.  Where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.

To be clear, Crusty doesn't want the prophetic voice of The Episcopal Church to be inhibited, either.  Crusty isn't into a disempowering of lay persons or disenfranchising persons of color -- all three of these things he has been personally accused of, by the way.  COD has said again, and again, and will say again:  structural reform does not inherently, by its nature, do any of these things, or, for that matter, do anything inherently.  Often these charges are hurled by those who derive their own power, prestige, and authority from the current system and simply don't want to lose what they derive from it.  The current Constitution and Canons did not come down on Mt Horeb from God; they are a creature of their own times and places.  Many inherent elements of the polity of the Episcopal Church -- a bicameral structure, equal representation of dioceses regardless of size, making change in the church difficult (voting by orders; two successive conventions to amend Constitution) -- date straight back to 1789 and a church that consisted of a tiny handful of bishops and dioceses clustered on the East Coast and are now governing a much larger, globalized church. To give but one example: Put simply, would we really be the only church in Christendom that permits retired bishops the right to vote on budgets and legislation that they have no responsibility to implement if we were structuring a church in 1979 instead of 1789, when they had no category of retired bishop or even imagined a time when we would have so many?  Crusty's all for empowering the laity, having the most representational church governance bodies that we can have in terms of race, class, age, and gender, and having the Episcopal Church claim its voice in the pubic sphere; he's just not convinced our current polity does that.

Nothing of substance will come from the Restructuring Task Force, except maybe some resolution thanking them for their work, commending it to the church for discussion, and about continuing the conversations.  On the one hand there will be those seeking to undermine any efforts at restructuring; on the other there will be those who say, "But we need the new PB to weigh in on these conversations!" That one-two punch has TREC doomed.  BTW, Crusty called for electing an interim PB precisely to deal with the second objection, see my thoughts here, which includes proposals for revamping the PHOD and creating a truly representational office.

Oh well -- these are four issues COD sees on the horizon and some initial thoughts.  Crusty guesses that's enough for now for being one year out from General Convention and doing some long-range forecasting.    COD has to say he's not feeling very hopeful about General Convention 2015.  Crusty still believes in the Holy Spirit, and honestly hopes something may happen in the next year to change some of these prognostications -- TREC pulls Trinity Wall Street funding out of a hat and holds a churchwide gathering in 2014, a PB candidate expresses a clear desire for reforming the church as part
Kitty Pryde, take me to GC 1853 before saving the X-Men in 1973!
of his/her primacy -- but as it is, believes General Convention 2015 will be looked at much like the Muhlenberg Memorial of 1853.  Realizing the church had fallen behind on mission and evangelism, William Augustus Muhlenberg (GPE, Greatest Presbyter Ever!) proposed some visionary reforms to the church to remedy a chronic shortage of clergy and lackluster missionary work.  The General Convention formed a committee to study the issue, which came back in 1856 and recommended allowing people to separate the services of Litany, ante-Communion, and Communion so church wouldn't be so long, and punted on any and all other suggestions.  This, in part, is why in the year 1900 91% of Episcopalians still lived East of the Mississippi, and in 2000 only 12% of Episcopal Churches were founded after 1968.  In 2015, as in 1853, when the church is clearly presented with some (but certainly not all) of the challenges it was facing, it will end up doing nothing of substance.


  1. "@ReimagineTEC proposal limiting legislation is a potential threat to historic prophetic voice of Episcopal Church" @gaycjen @HouseDeps

    10:57am · 10 May 2014 · Mobile Web (M5)

  2. Surprised you didn't put +Curry on your short list, if +Sutton is.

  3. Don't think Curry would accept nomination.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. You know, my concern is with the context of the question. I have heard a number of voices, and little consensus, of what "substantive" might require. If we reduce the number of legislative committees without other changes, is that substantive? If we consolidate and/or eliminate Standing Commissions of General Convention or Standing Committees of Executive Council, but don't reduce General Convention itself, is that substantive (much less sufficient)? I haven't given up hope that General Convention will do something "substantive," and perhaps even something based on the work of TREC. Seems to me that the problem is my own view of what is "substantive" may well be too low, too broad, too something to have anyone else agree.

    1. Hey, wouldn't it be nice to have some entity set the boundaries for a conversation about this? Maybe some kind of special, blue-ribbon task force? Oh wait, we do have that, and, to be fair, they have tried to collect feedback and one of their study papers was on governance. But you're right, I think there's some differing understanding of exactly the nature of the conversation. I'm on the record for thinking we should completely revamp our polity in light of our changed context ( browse through the 2011 and 2012 archives) so my bar for "substantive" is pretty high. The great baseball manager Billy Martin once said, "You can kick a mule all you want but it won't win the Kentucky derby." Sometimes (sometimes, that is) I look around and think people are kicking a lot of ecclesiastical mules and thinking they can win the Kentucky derby.

  6. And what about the Millennium Development Goals? The date for achieving the goals is 2015. Will we hear a report? David Bailey+

    1. Oh yeah, how about that? I'm guessing they will say there are now subsumed under the Five Marks of Mission. In ancient archaeological sites we can date them by the coins left behind, which note distinctive eras (who was emperor, for instance). In the future they can date Episcopal blog posts by the current buzzwords. "20/20 Evangelism Project" = 2001-2003. MDGs = 2006-2010. 2011-2015 = Five Marks of Mission.


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