Friday, September 5, 2014

Don't Wal-Mart My Church, Dude: The TREC Open Letter

Like most of America, Crusty has been spending late August ensconced in the Every Simpsons Ever Marathon on FXX.  We live in a country with crumbling infrastructure, congressional gridlock, massive budget problems, but let's focus on what America can do right:  Every Simpsons episode ever, and this fall, every Simpsons episode on demand! U-S-A! U-S-A!

The Simpsons marathon came to mind as Crusty perused TREC's latest tease.  They've moved from "position papers" to "open letters" to the church, apparently, though Crusty isn't really sure what the difference is.  The most recent came out earlier this week, and, after reading it, Crusty was reminded
I don't approve of TREC's Exec Council policy, but I do approve...
of Homer's ethical dilemma when Sideshow Bob, the homicidal maniac who was repeatedly tried to kill his son Bart and also tried to kill his sister-in-law Selma, ran for mayor.  In the voting booth, Homer muses, "I don't agree with his Bart-killing policy, but I do approve of his Selma-killing policy," and votes for Sideshow Bob.

COD was equally torn in reading over the TREC Letter to the Church.  There's much about it Crusty likes, but he also finds large portions of it disturbing if not utterly incomprehensible.  Crusty knows they have a difficult mandate, but after nearly eighteen months of meeting, COD is a bit perplexed that TREC seems unable to communicate clearly and consistently what it is doing and what it is about.   In what follows, Crusty will attempt to sum up what he thinks is productive as well as point out where he is baffled by what they are thinking.

1)  OK, let's start with that Lazarus metaphor.  TREC, I hope you realize the difference between resuscitation and resurrection.   Lazarus is raised, but it is not to anything new:  he is resuscitated, but
Raising of Lazarus or Walking Dead outtake?
will decay and die again some day.  His is a temporary reprieve.  One of the most vivid and powerful chapters in Kazantzakis' book The Last Temptation of Christ is where it tells the story of Lazarus in the years after his resuscitation, just how miserable his life was:  always cold, never fully alive again, waiting to die once more. Jesus is resurrected; his death leads to being reborn into a different way of being and mode of existence.  From that perspective, COD isn't so sure he wants to get behind a Lazarus metaphor for adaptive change in the church:  does it mean we're being reborn to a brief renaissance only to die an eventual death?  Crusty isn't even sure about the loosing:  yes, Lazarus is unbound -- but those bindings actually were servinga rather important and productive purpose.  If you want a "loosing" metaphor, why not Luke 13:12?

2)  "The need for change."  In general, Crusty is in agreement with much of what is said here; after all, he's been arguing something very similar for years, and began writing a lot of this on this blog in the fall of 2011.  We have shaped our governance in certain ways, often reflecting trends in broader society as a whole; we have made important shifts and changes in our governance, in part a response to changing missional contexts, in part a result of larger changes in North American society. One of COD's church history axioms is:  when the world changes, the church changes.  In general, this section summarizes as best can be in such a short amount of space some of the issues, including confusion in clarity of roles and a disconnect between levels of governance.  Crusty does, however, think they jumped a bit too fast into the weeds of esoteric church governance, and thinks a paragraph reminding people of the broader systemic changes happening would have provided some perspective before leaping into the specifics of churchwide governance.  We are entering into a profound reassessment and recasting of how institutions function, in part due to information technology, globalization, and generational shifts, among other factors; impacting everything from churches to the Elks Club to the Junior League to the United Nations.  What's happening in the Episcopal Church is not unusual, though modes of its manifestation and dynamics are particular.

Crusty agrees with the emphasis on church in an age of networks -- and is would like to point out that The Episcopal Church was very much a coalition of affinity based, self-supporting the 19th century.  Christians in North America did things like advocate against slavery and abolish alcohol and support the labor movement, without even a denominational infrastructure at all.  As COD wrote  here and here, and probably in other places as well, the church of the future will look in some ways more like 1850 than 1950.  Thanks for reading Crusty, TREC (actually COD is under no illusion at all that they read this, and knows quite well there are people as well versed in all of this as he is on TREC).

3)  "A New Paradigm."  Here is where the letters begins to go off the rails on a crazy train. A
For those who want to sing along...
central problem in the next section is what, exactly, they mean by "churchwide structure."  Do they mean the PB staff? Executive Council? Standing Commissions of General Convention?  The way this term is used in without clarification undermines much of what is said here.  In "the need for change," churchwide structure seems to reference everything from PB staff to Executive Council to General Convention.  It's not clear to Crusty what it is referencing in this section, and it makes it difficult to understand the suggestions they make.  It is here Crusty approves of the Selma-killing policy, but not their Bart-killing policy.

For example, under role of "Connector," the letter offers the following for what this might mean:

"Specific examples of what the churchwide structure must and should do to fulfill this role would include representing The Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion; forging ecumenical relationships and alliances; exercising canonical authority to foster and preserve the church’s catholicity (unity in diversity with the wider Christian Church); maintaining the church’s institutional history through the Church Archives; and fostering communication across the church around new ideas, learning, and opportunities for collaboration."

This paragraph is a maddening combination of hyper-specific and almost meaninglessly vague.  On the one hand, who can argue with representing us in the Anglican Communion and in ecumenical partnerships?  Sure, that's sounds like a connector.  But, um, what churchwide structure is doing this?  The PB, who does much of the day-to-day interaction with the Anglican Communion and ecumenical partners as a function of primate?  Executive Council, in its canonically defined role to elect representatives and officers to inter-Anglican and ecumenical?  The Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, charged with legislative oversight of the church's ecumenical and interreligious work?  Since "churchwide" clarified here, how is it calling for anything different than the structures already in place?

Then there's the almost meaninglessly vague: "exercising canonical authority to foster and preserve the church’s catholicity (unity in diversity with the wider Christian Church)...and fostering communication across the church around new ideas, learning, and opportunities for collaboration."

What the f**k does that mean?  Exercising what canonical authority?  Is this some reference to the disciplinary process?  Crusty thought so, then saw "unity in diversity with the wider Christian Church" in parentheses afterwards.  This is simply unclear.  Add to that this is somehow understood to be part of what it means to be a "connector"?  Don't write a check your butt can't cash, TREC.  And then there's "fostering communication across the church around new ideas, learning, and opportunities for collaboration."  Great!  But again:  what aspect of the undefined "churchwide governance" is doing this?  Is it the Missionary Convention you bring up again later?  Is it the army of contractors you later call for?

Similar problems are rampant in  most of this section; for instance in the section "capability builder."  COD agrees wholeheartedly with the Bart-killing list of key capabilities: "Key capabilities needed in today’s missionary context include skills in ministry, community organization, reviving congregations, planting congregations, multicultural leadership, evangelism, Christian formation, reaching new generations, and reaching new populations. The expertise in these areas lies primarily at the grassroots level, but the churchwide structure can foster mutual learning, especially on a peer-to-peer basis."  Crusty shouted:  yes!

And then they provided the following specific examples: "Specific examples of what the churchwide structure must and should do to fulfill this role would include cultivating and fostering the sharing of expertise for targeted training and professional development."  Crusty scribbled, "These are not specific examples."  Again:  who will be doing this?  The Missionary Convention?  A subcommittee of Executive Council?  A reorganization of churchwide staff?  And how are we doing it? Massive reallocation of restricted endowment funds for the DFMS into building a 21st century missionary network?  This sentence is more like an extension of what comes before, not a set of specific examples.

4)  Implications for Churchwide Structures/Developing Recommendations.  Crusty is right on board with the realization that adaptive change is an ongoing process; we are not talking about birthing some kind of structures that will last us another 50 years, like updating the
HVAC in your current building, or something.  This will be an ongoing process, to be sure.
Hmm...maybe this is the problem.

 Then they lay out some vision here for a lean organization that sets goals and priorities...

And then we got some more problems.

Improvements to the effectiveness of the General Convention

--On the one hand, Crusty has some serious concerns that TREC even knows how the legislative process works.  For one thing, they note they will propose Constitutional and Canonical changes, which they hope will be "implemented as a total package."  Constitutional and Canonical changes are addressed differently in the legislative process, and thus would be exceedingly difficult to implement as a total package.  Constitutional changes require two successive Conventions, including a vote by orders in the House of Deputies.  Canonical changes may be changed by majority vote at a single Convention.  So the soonest any constitutional change voted on in 2015 could go into effect would probably be January 1, 2019.  Are we really saying we couldn't implement any changes at all until then when the package could go into effect? 

Then there's the proposal to reduce the number of legislative committees of General Convention. COD isn't sure how this will streamline General Convention.  Put simply, the legislative committees don't make any new work at all: in fact, they discharge resolutions, combine them with others, add them to en bloc consideration.  The way to streamline General Convention would be to find ways to be more effective about the legislation that is proposed.  For instance, in the ELCA, if a resolution comes from their version of Executive Council, it can go directly to the floor of their assembly.  We could increase the number of sponsors needed to file Deputies and Bishops' resolutions.  We could have Executive Council or the Secretary of General Convention combine numerous diocesan resolutions, which are voted on in diocesan conventions often months in advance, into omnibus resolutions before Convention meets.  We could move up the deadline for filing resolutions to the end of the first day.  COD doesn't necessarily endorse any or all of these, he's just pointing out actual proposals which would streamline legislation, whereas reducing the number of legislative committees would not.  Reducing legislative committees without doing any actual streamlining of legislation proposed would just mean fewer committees would deal with more legislation, actually slowing things down.

And what do they mean by "express permission" to let resolutions die?  They can already be discharged! "Hey, I know you can already do this, so could you please actually do it when you have a chance?"

--COD is concerned by their presumed mandate from the people, as they announce they will  "Draft resolutions for further streamlining of churchwide structures and governance that our work tells us represent the wishes of a large segment of church members and that we believe should be debated and resolved in the 2015 General Convention."  How do they know this represents the wishes of a large segment?  Have they done any kind of remotely scientific polling, or is this solely based on people who have self-selected and been in touch with TREC or taken various SurveyMonkeys?  If you're going to represent this as a mandate from the people, you damn well better be able to prove it.

Clarifications around the role of the central executive structures of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society 

Crusty is unsure why the duties and roles of the PB fall under "clarifications," since what they list here is (more or less, with some exceptions) the currently defined job of the Presiding Bishop.  But more importantly,

Crusty cannot support the proposals here for Executive Council and churchwide staff.  Yeah, I know.  Crusty is scared, too, he's actually defending Executive Council, the organization that almost single-handedly destroyed the budgeting process in 2012.

Executive Council:  To propose something this sweeping without any clarification for what kind of authority Council would exercise is inconceivable.  First, TREC proposes "The role of the Executive Council clarified as a “governance” role, similar to a non-profit Board of Trustees."  For one thing, Crusty thought they did have a governance role as outlined in the canons.  What is meant by the use of that word here, if it is different from that?  The fact they do not define "governance" is simply astounding to COD.  Do they mean some kind of policy-setting, big-picture, visioning Board?  Or some kind of Board with clearly defined governance role, just different from Council exercises now?  For instance, as a dean, Crusty has a Board of Trustees for a non-profit.  They don't just do the vision thing.  They can fire the President and Crusty!  Is that the kind of non-profit Board of Trustees you're envisioning?  If not, what?  Good God, you propose not to change the office of PB but propose a drastic reduction of Council without defining what it would do!

Council must have an actual governance role; for it not to, it would be like reducing Standing Committees to purely advisory functions.  We would never countenance that limitation on balancing clerical, lay, and episcopal authority.

The proposals for revamping Council are simply not fleshed out enough here, and COD believes would fall into the category of unintended consequences.  Specifically, Crusty cannot support and would do everything he can to prevent an all at-large Executive Council without regional representation.  The problems are so legion he can't even believe this was proposed, so will list just one right now:  This proposal has the potential to make large portions of the church invisible, specifically churches in the West and in rural communities.  If we want a Council consisting disproportionately of people from Provinces I, II, III, and IV, go right ahead.  If anything, COD would propose the reverse:  more specifics about representation in Council, not only from geographic and clerical/lay/episcopal, but also women, young adults, and persons of color.  The United Methodist Church and ELCA both have quota systems in place in governance, and this is one of the reasons they have some diversity in leadership.

■  Reduction in the number of CCABs and their scope

COD in general supports this; this was, after all, how General Convention functioned well into the 20th century.  Committees were appointed to work on specific projects; when they reported back to General Convention, they either turned in their report or asked to be continued to the next Convention.  We did things like, you know, establish the Pension Fund and revise the Prayer Book in 1892 and 1928 in this fashion.  This would, however, make "Nominations and Program" necessarily a kind of visioning or incubating Committee, since it would need to discern and prioritize projects and figure out who best to serve on them, not fall into the trap of responding to immediate needs of deputies and bishops and appointing the usual suspects.  The budgeting process of Executive Council in 2012 crashed and burned, in part, because it starting appropriating money based on who lobbied the hardest for their own passions.

A transition in the mission or program-related staff of DFMS to a primarily contractor-only model

Like the proposal for Council, to put forth such a sweeping overhaul without more clearly defining what is meant is simply either incompetent (they don't know what they're trying to say?), unconscionable (they do know and are scared to tell us?), or Machiavellian (they really know what they want to do but aren't telling us?).

What is meant by "contractor-only"?

--There is the justice component here.  To move to contracted staff that we will not need to pay unemployment insurance, pension, and benefits  would be like trying to run a university with only adjunct faculty.  This is a church which walked away from a union cleaning contract at its churchwide headquarters, without discussion or negotiation, to save money, but in turn purports to speak on matters of labor fairness and to support unions.  We already have a two-tiered system, where full-time lay employees are given different compensation packages than clergy; we already burn out so many of our volunteers.  Do we we want to have a two-tiered denominational staff of people in the PB's office, IT, HR, legal, and communications and a host of contractors who can be fired at will?

--Where would the "there" be?  It may be all well and good to assemble the people with the best skills, but how can that be done in conjunction with consistent emphasis on the priorities that are needed?  Take church planting, for example.  Addressing matters of evangelism through church planting will be a long process, requiring coordination, budgeting, and consistency in planning and oversight over a number of years.  Can this be done through a contractor-only workforce, with oversight provided by the Presiding Bishop's office, Council, and Convention as outlined in this section?   This would seem to run the potential risk for overcentralization in the Presiding Bishop's office, or simply letting the PB, Council, and General Convention get into their HR squabbles but this time over contracted employees with barely any rights or privileges.

--Staff in “support functions” like Human Resources, Finance, IT, Legal, Communications, or Archives would not be impacted.  Why?  We have already cut over 30% of the church budget and church staff since 2009.  With a smaller staff and smaller budget to manage, why do we not need corresponding reductions in support staff?  How can this simply be asserted with no explanation?  Just unbelievable.

Look, Crusty gets we need to have room for an adaptive approach.  The seminary where he
Will church plant for food.
teaches has done away with tenure, in part because we don't know what seminaries will look like in 10 years, let alone 20.  But we did so in an open, transparent way, with contracted employees with opportunities for advancement, promotion, and incentives, not through contractors.  There's a huge middle ground between running a university with a 100% tenured faculty on the one hand and a 100% adjunct faculty on the other.  There's a way to do so with denominational staff that doesn't have the potential to Wal-Mart our staff.


Thankfully, TREC seems to know that the work of adaptive change and innovation is already underway.    Let's take seminaries, for instance.  COD is constantly amazed that most clergy seem to think their seminary looks almost exactly the way it did in 1993, or 1989, or 1977, when they graduated; they think seminaries are full of a bunch of elitist intellectuals who don't know s**t about the church.  Well, almost every Episcopal seminary has programs in addition to a residential MDiv, including fully online degrees and low-residency models, and many of the parishes students come from are far more insular than most educational institutions.  Adaptive change is happening all around, and the disconnects are often as much the fault of centrifugal rather than centralizing tendencies.

So, good for TREC on realizing adaptive change is happening.  They didn't seem to know this in their first paper, when their brilliant ideas included email-listservs and pondering how they could be in touch with parts of the church already undertaking adaptive change.  

Crusty knows he has been critical of official TREC communications: this is not because he particularly relishes criticizing the work of others, often work undertaken with the best intentions and representing passion and commitment from those involved.  Crusty has been critical of TREC's official output so far because each of their papers, and now this open letter, have been frustrating mixes of getting some things right, but also rife with missteps and miscommunication.  COD still believe TREC is the best opportunity for presenting a comprehensive vision of reform and restructuring of the church to meet the missional challenges facing us, and will be attending the gathering in person in Washington, DC, on October 2 as a pledge of support.  However: if they can't communicate their vision and what they plan to do, is there any reason to believe they can shepherd through a massive set of reforms through General Convention?


  1. My initial questions on reading TREC's letter were:

    (1) Why must we use the language and models of for-profit corporate business management? Is making the church look even more like a secular business entity what we really want to do?

    (2) If, as the TREC finally says in its final paragraph, "with or without the General Convention, with or without any recommendations from TREC, the re-imagining of our Church is already and will continue to take place," why was this exercise necessary?

    Since then, I've had the additional thought that this, as I understand what I have read, gives more power to the PB, less to the General Convention, shrinks the Executive Council to an even smaller group of insiders, and lays off most of the "churchwide" staff leaving the work to be done by "contractors" (what's that mean in this context by the way?). Further, it recommends shrinking the size and time of the General Convention, and making it more a "networking" convocation (whatever that is) and less a legislative assembly. In other words, a commission that was created because many in the church were feeling disenfranchised by an apparent centralization of power .... is recommending a greater centralization of power on a corporate president-and-directors model with the General Convention basically being a shareholders' meeting. Will there be proxy voting, I wonder.

  2. I've been wading through this letter as well, trying to discern its' message and implications. I have also been looking for someone to translate the thing and help all understand what it means! Thank you, COD, for your cut and dried interpretation and exposition of the letter. And thank you Eric Funston for your questions and comment.

  3. But surely clumsy communication and flat-footed messaging comes as no surprise to Crusty. Indeed, were that not the case, would not Crusty suspect that the particular message was a fake, possibly from the CANA crowd, and immediately verify its authenticity? And how could Crusty not appreciate the endless shopping options as he stands in the EC checkout line?

    Need an example of TEC as Walmart?

    Just go to Go to the "Ministries" tab, and Crusty gets not one but 25 different options--a veritable blue light extravaganza! Choices range from "Indigenous Peoples" (by now, you'd think they'd be a little dubious, but I digress), to "Older Adults," to "Disabilities." And yet nowhere in there is LGBT ministries.

    Of course, no one takes this personally. And the chorus from the 815 choir loft sweetly sings, "But they are welcome! It's just that this is a local ministry."

    And that makes a lot of sense, since most ministry, like politics, is local. But then a feeling of unease settles in. I not missing something here? Why is there a prison ministry listed on the national site? Isn't this a local ministry? Are you saying that ministry to prisoners warrants more recognition that ministry to our LGBT sisters and brothers?

    For the record, I did send this comment directly to 815 via one of the online comment forms. I didn't expect a response, so I wasn't surprised when none came. But it's been at least a year since I commented, and prisoners still take precedence over LGBT.

    Crusty, my head hurts. I'm going in search of another cup of coffee.

  4. Thank you for beginning your post with a take down of the Lazarus metaphor. When I read that scripture opening the TREC letter, I cringed. Lazarus has no agency and no voice. Then he's targeted for murder by a bunch of priests. What a vision for our church!

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