Saturday, June 27, 2015

PB Elections and HOD Parties: Past Informs the Future?

Crusty writes this from a very different perspective than nine years ago, the last time The Episcopal Church elected a Presiding Bishop.  In 2006, Crusty Old Dean was working for the denominational staff, and was staking out Trinity Church, Columbus, Ohio, from the Starbucks across the street.  This was in the days before the Twitterbookblogoinstasphere, and COD wanted to know who his new boss would be.  The bishops would come out periodically, in between ballots, to get fresh air, some were using their phones, though they all did observe the cone of silence and nothing was leaked.  COD could tell when they had elected someone, because the bishops began dispersing in twos and threes, either heading back to their hotels or back to the Convention Center.

COD learned about the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori when he saw someone from the communications office escorting her to the Convention Center.  Nobody leaked anything but COD would damn well tell she had been elected.

The process then was that the House of Bishops sent a delegation to the House of Deputies to announce the election -- and at that time, the representatives announced it to the whole house.  Crusty was sitting, waiting, since he knew who had been elected.  When the representative from the HOB announced the name, he didn't even get past the first syllable -- "The House of bishops has elected Kath--" when the House of Deputies first let out a collective gasp, then a cheer.  Consideration of the election was moved, there was short floor debate, and then a few deputations moved to have a vote by orders.  The whole thing was over in about 15 minutes or so.

A lot has changed this time around.  For one thing, COD isn't bothering to stake out the venue.  He doesn't work for the denominational staff, so it's not as crucial to know who the PB will be.  For another, with the explosion and advent of social media, it's not really necessary.  While he still full expects the HOB to respect the silence of not leaking this election, just like in 2006, Crusty believes somebody will figure out what has happened, just like I did when I saw Katharine Jefferts Schori with the communications officer.  That's how Crusty thinks the name will be leaked.

In addition, the whole process of the HOD giving consent has changed.  Rather than the admittedly informal and quick process of 2006, the process this time around has been designed to honor the HOD's role in giving consent.  Rightly so, COD thinks, he did think the whole thing was rushed last time around.  But the process does seem a bit overly complex.

The President of the HOD finished summarizing this elaborate bit of kabuki theater, down to secret entrance. The delegation from the HOB will be brought in through a secure and secret entrance and the HOD will get to them "when convenient."  They then will inform the President of the HOD, but that information will not be shared.  The HOD Committee to Confirm the Election will then meet in a nearby room in closed session to consider the name elected.  They will meet in closed session, but will not vote in closed session, so at some point, apparently, they will invite people in for the actual vote.  But will they be voting on a name, or just the choice, so as to preserve the cone of silence?  The committee will then return to the House of Deputies, where, at a convenient time, they will be invited to give their report and recommendation on whether to consent or not.  Then the recommendation will go to the House as a whole.

For the life of me, COD does not see the need for secrecy.  The name will get out before the Committee gives its report to the HOD as a whole.  The stated reason from the President of the HOD was out of pastoral sensitivity to the deputations from the dioceses of Connecticut, SW Florida, Southern Ohio, and North Carolina.  This really doesn't make any sense, for two reasons

a)  since COD believes the choice will leak out, is it better for these deputations to find out from other means?  Even if it does not leak out (And COD actually hopes it won't), then

b)  what difference does it make in terms of pastoral sensitivity if these deputations hear that their bishop has been elected by the representatives of the HOB, or to make them sit for 15-20 minutes and find out when the legislative committee issues its report?

Crusty thinks the process adopted has leaned way, way too far in the other direction, and needlessly complicated and prolongs the confirmation process.

COD stakes out this election from a different place - -the Salt Lake City Brewing Company.  Since there was no reason to stake out the HOB in a social media age, COD thought he would go to the House of Deputies.  The HOD, however, is spending the entire morning session (after doing some organizational business) from 11:15-1:00 celebrating its 230th anniversary.  Crusty stayed for the first half hour or so, then left, frankly because it was about as much fun not being included in someone's party as it was watching someone's small group conversations from afar.  They passed out hats to deputies but didn't even admit alternates to the floor of the House, once again caring little about any invited guests or people in the gallery.

Some initial thoughts on this celebration of the 230th anniversary of the HOD party:

--The last days of Convention are often busy ones, with legislation needing to be approved before adjournment.  Routinely many resolutions die from "non-concurrence," because they don't get passed in the same format by both Houses.  Is spend nearly two hours having a party the best way to structure legislative time?  COD will remember this when on the last day of Convention people are lamenting they don't have enough time to properly debate and consider legislation.

 --This frankly smacks as much of "if the House of Bishops is going to go off and do something on their own, we're going to do something on our own, too."  Newsflash: the HOB is not going off to do something on their own, they're going off to fulfill a canonically mandated requirement.  They're doing what they're asked of by the Constitution and Canons.

--The people being honored today are living legends, and people who have shown profound vision, courage, and leadership.  They are some of the most faithful people that I know: Louie Crew, Bonnie Anderson, George Werner, to name just a few.  However, I can only imagine if the House of Bishops ever did something similar it would be treated as a clerical, exclusionary, breach of collegiality, celebrating one aspect of our shared polity at the expense of others, if they spent an afternoon honoring bishops.  Are we in danger of clericalizing our lay leadership, where we honor some but don't even let alternates onto the floor?

Perhaps most importantly:

The President of the House of Deputies was spot on in quoting her predecessor Pam Chinnis' remarks that the House of Deputies was "revolutionary" for its time.  It was revolutionary to give laity equal say in the goverance of the church as all levels: not only among Anglicanism, but among other Protestant denominations.  Lay persons did not have equal representation in the Methodist Church for decades, for instance.


This was not the only revolutionary thing that emerged from the Episcopal Church's founding polity.  The vision of episcopacy the new church adopted was equally revolutionary: bishops in a catholic body elected by representative bodies.  Bishops who were considered to be "apostolic", serving as pastors and priests while also bishops.  Bishops who shared oversight with elected Standing Committees.  It is a warping of context to focus on certain revolutionary aspects of the church's founding polity and not others.

Our history should inform our future.  The PHOD also said the formation of the House of Deputies was "innovative."  I'm a historian by trade, and looking at the past is helpful only as much as it points us towards the future.  As we consider restructuring at this Convention, it's my hope that the formation of the House of Deputies was not its last innovation.

And Twitter is breaking with a PB election.  Let's see how the kabuki theater plays out with the secret entrances this afternoon.

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