This is the first installment in a series of essays on the final report of the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church. An index to all my posts analyzing the TREC report can be found here.I have written a good deal about the work of the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church (TREC). (See blog posts here, here, here, here, and here.) I have not yet had anything to say about the final report produced by TREC, which includes specific proposals the task force wants the 2015 General Convention to adopt.
I have repeatedly begun reading the TREC report and have found it rough going. The General Convention is fast approaching, however, so I think it’s time for me to get serious about the report if I’m going to have anything to say at all.
My original plan was to write a single essay about the report, perhaps to be accompanied by an annotated version of it to highlight particular issues. As I worked my way through the document, however, the significance of its 73-page length became apparent. There is a lot of material there, and the individual pieces are tightly coupled.
This led me to develop Plan B. I will begin a series of essays about “Engaging God’s Mission in the 21st Century: Final Report of the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church.” These reflections will appear here in no particular order. (Part 2 is here.)
This first essay addresses some global issues and looks in depth at what appears to be a minor recommendation of the task force. My primary concern is the task force’s Resolution A009. My comments on the overall report are mainly to provide context for an analysis of that resolution.
General Remarks on the Report
One might reasonably have expected that the task force would have followed a plan something like the following in presenting its recommendations:
- Articulate the problem or problems to be solved, illustrating the discussion with helpful examples.
- Analyze the factors contributing to the problems.
- Enumerate solutions considered.
- Indicate and justify the approaches considered best.
- Explain how the chosen approaches are likely to ameliorate the problems identified.
- Describe how the proposed solutions might be implemented. (Implementation could become yet another problem to be solved.)
There is a consensus, at least among General Convention deputies, that all is not well with The Episcopal Church, but not everyone agrees on just what is amiss. Curiously, a major reason the 2012 General Convention passed Resolution C095 creating TREC was an intense dissatisfaction with the way budget proposals were handled in 2009 and 2012. The task force has not even identified the budgeting process as a problem, however.
I will have more to say about the approach taken by the task force and the structure of its report in a later essay.
The three major proposals of the task force are presented early in the body of the report, but detailed explanations, such as they are, are only provided in Appendix 3. Even there, one finds more naïve optimism and hand waving than analysis and realism. The six resolutions intended to implement fully the changes in the main proposals are relegated to Appendix 5, where the explanations are, to be generous, modest. As always, the devil is in the details, and the General Convention will be making a serious mistake if it fails to pay as much attention to Appendix 5 as it does to the main body of the report.
In any case, it seems fair to say that the primary recommendation of the task force is the restructuring of the General Convention, along with the redefinition of certain church positions. These changes drive much of the implementing resolutions relegated to Appendix 5.
The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society
One of the canons that has to be revised if TREC’s proposals are adopted is Canon I.3, Of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. The explanation offered for replacing the current canon with the text in the Final Report is the following:
This Resolution conforms the Constitution of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society to the changes proposed in other Resolutions to the makeup of the DFMS officers.That seems straightforward enough and encourages the reader to skim the proposed text and conclude that it looks perfectly reasonable. This is especially true, as the proposed Canon I.3 appears on pages 72 and 73 of the 73-page Final Report. All is not as it seems, however.
The task force has proposed a number of substantial changes to the constitution and canons of the church. In doing so, it has offered replacement text without reference to the current article or canon. This makes it difficult to see exactly what is being proposed and puts an undue burden on deputies who want to understand what they may be asked to vote on. It is not clear if this approach was dictated by time constraints or by a desire to obfuscate. Had the task force clearly indicated what is wanted to change and why, its approach might have been forgivable. As it did not, it isn’t. In fact, one has to ask if even the members of TREC really know what they were doing, as we shall see.
The final resolution proposed by the task force, Resolution A009, offers replacement text for Canon I.3, Of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. Resolution A009 mistakenly says that it is offering a replacement for Canon 1.4, an identification that contains two distinct errors. Presumably, this is the sort of typographical error that will be caught and corrected by a legislative committee, though it calls into question the care with which the report was written.
To facilitate the discussion of Resolution A009, the reader may want to read the current canon, the proposed replacement, and the comparison of the two generated by Microsoft Word.
I now want to consider the changes being made by TREC. I should first note that there is a minor inconsistency in the current canon, namely the use of the in the canon’s title, whereas the first word in the name of the DFMS is always rendered The in the canon’s body.
Now consider the minor changes made by the task force:
- In line 2, and is substituted for as for no obvious reason. The meaning is unchanged.
- Article II changes the name of the society by eliminating the prefixed The and the terminating of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. (I will have more to say about Article II below.)
- In line 2 of Article II, in line 3 of Article III, and in the final line of Article III, By-laws has been changed to bylaws, which, of course, reflects more modern spelling and capitalization. On the other hand, in its rewrite of Canon I.1.2, the task force substituted by-laws for By-laws, which introduces an inconsistency in TREC’s own recommendations, albeit not one of substance. In the current canons, By-laws appears elsewhere as well. TREC should have conformed to current conventions, even if they are archaic.
- Throughout the proposed revised Canon 3, the Society is replaced by the DFMS, an acronym introduced in Article I. Again, this is not a substantive change, but it is an unnecessary stylistic one.
- At the end of Article III, TREC has substituted with the Canons for therewith, presumably on the theory that nobody says therewith anymore. The change is gratuitous but harmless.
There are more substantive changes here, however. Consider the matter of the Treasurer of the DFMS. According to the present Canon I.3, the Treasurer of the DFMS is “the person who is the Chief Financial Officer of the Executive Council.” Executive Council appoints a Chief Financial Officer, who is nominated by the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies, the Council’s Chair and Vice Chair, respectively (Canon I.4.3(e)). According to Canon I.1.7(a), the person who is the Treasurer of the General Convention is a member of the Executive Council and “may also be Treasurer of the Domestic & Foreign Missionary Society and the Executive Council.” (I assume that what is meant is “may be the Treasurer of the Domestic & Foreign Missionary Society and the Chief Financial Officer of the Executive Council,” since nowhere is there mention of a Treasurer of the Executive Council who is not the Chief Financial Officer. This is another instance of an inconsistency in the current canons.) In practice, it appears that the Treasurer of the General Convention, the Treasurer of the DFMS, and the Chief Financial Officer of the Executive Council are virtually always the same person.
So much for the way things are. What about how things would be were all of the task force’s recommendations adopted. When I tried to figure this out, I was immediately perplexed by this sentence in the proposed Resolution A009:
The Treasurer shall also serve as the Chief Financial Officer of the DFMS.This seemingly corresponds to the current wording, which is
the Treasurer shall be the person who is the Chief Financial Officer of the Executive Council;The careless reader might mistake these excerpts as saying essentially the same thing in a slightly different way. Of the 13 words in the proposed canon and 16 words in the current canon, 9 occur in both in the same order. They do not, however, say the same thing. In the second instance, “Treasurer” clearly refers to the Treasurer of the DFMS. Article III lists the DFMS officers and the proceeds to identify who those people are. In the present canons, the DFMS Treasurer is the person who is the Chief Financial Officer of the Executive Council.
Resolution A009 says that the Treasurer—presumably, the Treasurer of the DFMS—is also the Chief Financial Officer of the DFMS. (I don’t pretend to understand the difference between a Treasurer and a Chief Financial Officer, by the way, but I am led to believe that, in the arena of corporate organization, the two positions have different duties.) This provision is actually redundant, as the proposed Canon I.4.1(o) says that the DFMS Treasurer is also the DFMS Chief Financial Officer. It also says that the DFMS Treasurer is nominated by the Council’s Chair and Vice Chair. Notice, however, than in the current arrangement, it is the Chief Financial Officer of the Executive Council who is so nominated. In the new Canon I.3, Executive Council is without its own Treasurer or Chief Financial Officer. The significance of this is unclear, but it cries out for an explanation. The conventional understanding has been that the Board of Directors of the DFMS is Executive Council. That arrangement seems confused in the TREC report.
The matter of financial officers is further confused by the introduction of the Church Treasurer, who, according to proposed Canon I.4.1(g) is on Executive Council, though without vote. Who is the Church Treasurer? This person is given duties in the TREC report and provision is made for removing the incumbent, but nowhere does the report say how one becomes Church Treasurer. Is this someone different from the Treasurer of General Convention and that of the DFMS. Who knows? General Convention deputies had better find out.
What about the Secretary of the DFMS? In both current and proposed polity, the Secretary of the General Convention is designated the Secretary of Executive Council. In the proposed Canon I.3, however, the identify of the DFMS Secretary is never specified. Moreover, several lines concerning the DFMS Secretary have been stricken. What is going on here? Again, General Convention deputies had better find out what is going on here.
What is most perplexing about the proposed Canon I.3 is the changed nature of the DFMS. Two major changes have been made to Article I of the DFMS constitution. First, of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America has been stricken from the name of the DFMS. Second, the DFMS now includes “all persons who are members of the Church.” The task force is changing the name of the DFMS and throwing everyday Episcopalians out of it!
A quick history lesson is appropriate here. The DFMS was created in the early days of the church to extend the church into newly settled areas of the country and to spread the Gospel abroad. As a corporation, it could collect money, whereas the unincorporated Episcopal Church could not. At first, it was financed by subscriptions, but it was eventually decided that mission was the work of everyone, so everyone was included in the DFMS, which was incorporated in the state of New York. In the modern church, the DFMS and The Episcopal Church have essentially been coterminous. Only the lawyers and accountants could tell them apart, and the distinction was of no interest to the average Episcopalian. Lately, however, Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer of The Episcopal Church has been identifying the general church’s staff as The Missionary Society, in an apparent attempt to distinguish it (or the DFMS) from The Episcopal Church proper. (I do wish the General Convention would put a stop to this nonsense, but I don’t want to get into that here.) I think the purpose of this unilateral renaming is to polish the image of the New York office, which has not always been viewed favorably in the hinterlands.
Article I of the DFMS constitution that TREC would have the General Convention adopt seems to have the effect of disconnecting the DFMS from The Episcopal Church and its members. This appears to be a public relations ploy or power play or both. General Convention deputies had better figure this one out as well.
Some Final Thoughts
Irrespective of how one feels about the wisdom embedded in “Engaging God’s Mission in the 21st Century: Final Report of the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church,” the report is frankly an impenetrable mess. Even discounting the fact that recommendations are presented with very little analysis and justification, what is actually being recommended is very difficult to wrap one’s mind around. Additional text and a few key diagrams could have gone a long way toward helping deputies understand what they might be expected to vote on in Salt Lake City.
Evidence suggests that the members of TREC had lots of discussions, including discussions about the shape of the final report. That report was probably assembled hurriedly and without much checking for consistency and unintended consequences.
One thing is certain. If deputies simply read the TREC report without studying it for hours on end, they will have little idea of what the proposed changes actually mean for the church. Pray for the General Convention.