May 23, 2015

Analyzing the TREC Report, Part 5

This is the fifth 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.
This essay will deal with the three main resolutions proposed in the report of the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church.

Resolution A001

Let me begin with Resolution A001: Restructure for Spiritual Encounter. For the most part, this resolution says that everyone with responsibility in the church should do his or her work. As such, passing it is a waste of time and energy. Everyone knows that, in 2015, churches are finding it increasingly difficult to support full-time clergy. Therefore seminaries, dioceses, and the Church Pension Fund must find ways to deal with the situation. We don’t need the General Convention to tell us this or to create demands for reports whose primary effect will be to increase the reading burden on General Convention deputies.

The final resolve of A001 is somewhat different. Rather than describe it, I will simply reproduce it:
That the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society develop a network to help Episcopal congregations, including clergy, vestry, organist, musical, lay, and other liturgical leaders, to become skilled in creating, nurturing, and developing spaces and moments for spiritual encounters that transform lives and unjust structures; and to have partnerships and practices with other congregations to become excellent stewards of spiritual, financial, real estate, and community resources; and to report their progress and learning annually to their Diocesan Convention/Council and Bishop.
This resolve is a manifestation of TREC’s obsession with networks. (See my post “Evaluating the TREC Study Paper on Networks.”) First, one has to admit that it would be wonderful if a network such as the one described here actually existed! Also, wouldn’t it be wonderful if this magical network could be built without spending any money! Apparently, it is to be built for free, so TREC hasn’t asked for any funding for the project. The DFMS (presumably the Episcopal Church Center staff) is to build the network, but progress reports go to dioceses. I cannot figure out whether this makes sense or not, since I cannot figure out what “and to report their progress” means. Who does the reporting? Whose progress is being reported?

Resolution A001 is fit only for the trash can..

Resolution A002

I suppose the jewel of the TREC report is meant to be Resolution A002: Reimagine Dioceses, Bishops, and General Convention. It is mostly about converting General Convention’s bicameral legislature into a unicameral one. The second resolve tells bishops what they should do. (Good luck!) The last thing bishops are instructed to do is “reportage on their progress to each succeeding General Convention.” Apparently, “reportage” is meant to function as a verb, something unknown to native speakers of English. In any case, who exactly is to report to General Convention? Every bishop? As is evident elsewhere, the resolutions in the TREC report seem to have been thrown together at the last minute.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the next resolve is much like what has been proposed by the Episcopal Resurrection folks, only, apparently, cheaper. It calls for a study of the episcopate and how we choose bishops. This may be worth the money ($1000,000), but I doubt it.

The call for a task force to study the episcopate suggests that TREC doesn’t know how episcopal searches can best be carried out, but the next resolve indicates that the task force is certain that the Standing Committee of a diocese looking for a new bishop must consult with Standing Committees of adjoining dioceses. Is there really any reasons that adjoining dioceses can add value to the search process? Why not collaborate with dioceses within the province?  I suspect that this proposal is a subtle ploy to get dioceses to consider mergers. It doesn’t make much sense any other way.

Then, out of left field, comes the proposal to lower the diocesan assessment and make it mandatory. I think this is a fine idea—one of the few in the resolution, in fact—but the report doesn’t say much about it, justify the need for it, or back it with financial data. If this proposal remains a part of this garbage-pizza resolution, I predict that nothing will come of it. Why did TREC see the need to pack so much unrelated material into one resolution? I suspect it was to force deputies to vote for the package, even if they are uncomfortable with parts of it. I hope deputies will not stand for this and will vote only for what they believe to be well considered.

I have only dealt with Section A of resolution A002. (I have never seen a resolution with A and B sections. See paragraph above.) Section B is all about replacing Article I of the constitution to provide for what is said to be a unicameral legislature. Let me say at the outset that I think this is a bad idea. It could perhaps be made to work, but it doesn’t seem as though TREC has thought the whole thing out very well. I have already commented on the proposed composition of the General Convention—see “Analyzing the TREC Report, Part 3”—so I will have nothing more to say about that here.

TREC claims that meeting as one body will be more efficient—legislation won’t have to be sent back and forth between houses as it is now—and it “will best forward [I assume “advance” is meant here; this is another exceedingly peculiar locution.] our experience and practice of being one Body.” I don’t buy it. First, having our existing houses work separately results, I suspect, in better thought-out legislation. Efficiency is not the highest good where legislation is concerned. Additionally, I am concerned that the presence of bishops may intimidate clergy (and perhaps even laypeople) from their dioceses (or even other dioceses). If rules of order do not distinguish between bishops and deputies (in the current sense), bishops may feel that they are given insufficient opportunities to express their opinions, particularly if the clergy and laypeople are speedier at getting to the microphone. If rules of order do distinguish between speakers, it may be difficult to achieve the perception of fairness. Also, if voting is not by orders, bishops will lose their veto over legislation, as there are many more clergy and laypeople than there are bishops. This, of course, may mean that everything will be voted on by orders.

There is a peculiarity regarding what constitutes a quorum in TREC’s proposed Article I. In Section 2, we find
A majority of all Bishops and Deputies entitled to vote shall be necessary to constitute a quorum for the transaction of General Convention business.
In Section 4, we find
To constitute a quorum for the transaction of business, the Clerical order shall be represented by at least one deputy in each of a majority of the dioceses entitled to representation, and the Lay order shall likewise be represented by at least one deputy in each of a majority of the dioceses entitled to representation.
The Section 2 requirement is vague. Is a majority of bishops and a majority of deputies needed for a quorum or simply a majority of the unicameral house. If the latter interpretation is given to Section 2, then business could proceed without the presence of any bishops at all, and clergy and laypeople could pass any legislation they want. What, then, is to be made of the quorum requirement in Section 4? My guess is that both requirements would need to be met to have a quorum, though I don’t really know what the Section 2 requirement actually is.

Crusty Old Dean (Tom Ferguson) observed in his analysis of the TREC report that A002 really creates three houses, as, for certain purposes, bishops and clergy and lay deputies vote (and even debate) separately. I have visions of members of the “unicameral” house spending much of their time moving from place to place as they debate now in the larger group and now with their own order. Surely this could negate any “efficiencies” TREC thinks it has found.

The job of the Presiding Bishop has long since outgrown the task of merely presiding over the House of Bishops. It is therefore time for the person in that office to be chosen by the wider church and not simply by its bishops. I am therefore pleased that TREC has recommended (in Section 3) that the Presiding Bishop be elected, in some meaningful sense, by all of the General Convention. At least, I think that’s what the proposed Article I says. In particular, Section 3 states:
Candidates for the Presiding Bishop shall be elected by the General Convention, by concurrent vote of each order. The affirmative vote of a majority of the deputies of each order shall be required for the election of a Presiding Bishop.
 Like other formulations from TREC, it’s a bit hard to figure out what this means. I think that what is intended is something like
The Presiding Bishop shall be elected from a group of candidates by concurrent vote of each order. The affirmative vote of a majority of the deputies of each order shall be required for the election of a Presiding Bishop.
TREC’s Resolution A005, which replaces the current  Canon I.2 explains the nomination process, but, even in this context, Section 3 of Article I does not seem to make sense.

I would say more about Resolution A002, but, frankly, my eyes are glazing over trying to understand TREC’s Article I. Like much of the resolutions in the report—see, for example, “Analyzing the TREC Report, Part 1”— this resolution is badly drawn. I see little hope of fixing it.

Resolution A003

Now we come to Resolution A003: Restructure Assets in Service of God’s Mission in the Future. This is a rather foolish title, as we cannot do much about serving God’s mission in the past, and anything we do now necessarily has future implications. But I digress. The resolution recognizes that our church has a lot of assets; this resolution tries to guarantee that we use them well.

A003 begins rather badly. It requires that all dioceses “develop a theology of sacredly inclusive use-of-space that is adaptive and generative financially and spiritually.” I think this means do good work with your buildings, but make them pay. One wonders what Jesus would make of this, given that the priests of the Temple were so good at this task. TREC has eschewed plain English in an attempt to make implementing this resolve into a great theological enterprise. “Every diocese” is to develop such a theology. Will every diocese create a different theology? Is this what we mean by Anglican diversity? Really?

Alas, this resolution doesn’t get much better. The second resolve directs the spending of $200,000 to create a dog-and-pony show of Episcopal bigwigs and a menagerie of “experts” to travel around the church and tell dioceses what to do with their buildings. There is a great opportunity to save $200,000 here. It might be worth paying for the development of advice here, but the travel seems unnecessary.

The next resolve is all motherhood and apple pie, so I will say nothing more about it.

The final resolve seems to be about the use of endowments. I’m sure that every diocese already has a policy about how endowments are to be used. They certainly need to develop one if they don’t. Frankly, I don’t know what the “Future Generation Funds” mentioned in the resolution are. The term is nowhere defined in the TREC report; it occurs only in Resolution A003.

In my next post on the TREC report, assuming my sanity holds out so long, I will discuss the resolutions that TREC saw fit only to put into an appendix.

Update, 5/24/2015: I edited the material on the election of the Presiding Bishop above, which was not correct as first written.

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