November 8, 2013

Observations on the Diocesan Convention (Part 2)

This is my second installment of reflections on the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh held November 1 and 2 at Trinity Cathedral in downtown Pittsburgh. Part 1 can be read here.
Anne Rudig, Director of the Office of Communication of The Episcopal Church, gave a brief talk to the convention on Saturday. Her remarks are now available on the diocesan Web site. It would be helpful to read her remarks before proceeding.

Anne Rudig
Anne Rudig
By happenstance, I sat at the same table as Rudig on Friday night, and we discussed many of the points she raised in her address to the convention.

I do believe that Bishop Stacey Sauls’ plan to designate a staff person at what Rudig called the denominational office to each diocese is a promising idea. People in Pittsburgh will have a particular and, presumably, knowledgeable person to deal with in New York. Not surprisingly, however, there is not a one-to-one mapping of dioceses to staff people. Rudig, for example, is also the contact for Fort Worth and San Joaquin and some other dioceses whose names I don’t remember. Do you see a pattern here? She has been assigned to dioceses that may need a lot of attention. In addition, she is the Director of Communication and a member of the Executive Oversight Group, whatever that is. (See the page on the Episcopal Church Web site here.) In other words, Rudig had significant full-time employment before being designated the general church contact for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Only time will tell how Sauls’ scheme will work in practice. Will Rudig be able to devote enough time to helping the Diocese of Pittsburgh?

One of our subjects on Friday night was the insistence, particularly by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori that neither The Episcopal Church nor that part of it beyond the dioceses is the “national church.” Rudig took pains to remind the convention that our church has outposts in Taiwan and Micronesia, Honduras, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. That’s true, of course, but, as I pointed out in my essay, “The Missionary Society,” a fundamental pillar of Anglicanism is that churches should be national (or, if that is impractical, regional). We have churches in various countries either to serve Americans abroad or as missionary enterprises that, at some future time, should become independent. If “national church” does not seem a proper designation, perhaps we should speak of the “American Church.” We still do not have unambiguous names for our entire church, on one hand, and the top-level policy-making and administrative mechanisms of our church, on the other. We should.

Rudig discouraged referring to 815 Second Avenue as the Episcopal Church Center with the fanciful explanation that the “center” of the church is not in New York City. “The center of the Episcopal Church is right here in the middle of this room.” That, of course, is just silly. “Episcopal Church Center” has always been understood to be a building (or a building, along with those who work in it); no one thought of it as somehow being the locus of the church’s essence.

Rudig continued:
I work for the Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church. And I have been sent out to you to share resources, staff, and opportunities for partnership. I am also here to listen and learn about the hopes and needs of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
This sounds distressingly like “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” In fact, that is really what Rudig is trying to say, with “Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church” substituted for “government.” Bishop Sauls recognizes that the denizens of 815 Second Avenue are not universally beloved of Episcopalians in the hinterlands. (The Diocese of Pittsburgh is home to more than its share of ambivalence respecting those in the denominational office.) We should all hope that the Diocesan Partnership Program delivers the service it promises.

Then, there is that “Missionary Society” thing that I analyzed at length in the post cited above. Rudig works for the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS) because the DFMS is a corporation, and The Episcopal Church, an unincorporated society, is not. In any ordinary sense, however, she works for The Episcopal Church. Every baptized member of The Episcopal Church is a member of the DFMS, whose board of directors is the Executive Council. The DFMS is essentially a wholly owned subsidiary of The Episcopal Church and exists only for legal and financial purposes. It remains unclear just what the “Missionary Society” is supposed to be, and one has to wonder if Sauls is thinking of the DFMS, a.k.a., the Missionary Society, as the general church administration. The matter is hardly clarified by this paragraph from the press release announcing the Diocesan Partnership Program:
The Diocesan Partnership Program is a component of a refocusing effort aimed to partner with ministries on the local level. Looking at the DFMS efforts as The Missionary Society, Bishop Sauls furthered, “We are embarking on a concerted effort in supporting the children, women, and men of The Episcopal Church in engaging God’s mission—to reconcile all of us to each other and to God in the love of Jesus Christ. It is a vision worthy of a Missionary Society for the 21st century. The effort before us is to connect the many parts of our Church and most especially to build partnerships and connections between its many parts by using the resources available to come together at the churchwide level as The Missionary Society.”
Thus, the Missionary Society is DFMS efforts. The page on the Episcopal Church Web site to which Rudig called attention refers to the Missionary Society as a strategy and says that it seeks partnerships for mission. People or organizations seek; strategies do not. The whole Mission Society thing is a hopeless muddle that should be (and probably will be) soon forgotten.

The rest of Rudig’s talk was devoted to convincing the convention that she is the conduit through which assistance and riches could flow to the diocese. And she promoted an upcoming forum, “Fifty Years Later: The State of Racism in America.”

I am delighted that single point of contact has been identified for our diocese, and I am grateful for Anne Rudig’s visit to our convention. In the end, however, results, not fancy names for vague concepts, are what will count in developing effective partnerships within The Episcopal Church. Let’s drop the confused jargon and get on with the Lord’s work.

Update, 11/8/2013. Part 3 of my observations on the diocesan convention can be found here.

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