May 25, 2015

Analyzing the TREC Report, Part 6

This is the sixth and likely last 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 remaining resolutions proposed in the report of the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church that I have not discussed in earlier essays. For a variety of reasons, my comments here will not be as detailed as they were for the first three resolutions.

Resolution A004

Resolution A004: Restructure Executive Council appears in Appendix 5 of the TREC report, “Resolutions to Amend Canons to Implement Proposed Changes.” This really means changes needed to implement the unicameral legislature called for in Resolution A002. (See my previous essay here.) Since that resolution is a hopeless muddle, I am tempted to skip Appendix 5 altogether, but there are ideas in this appendix that can be disconnected from the nature of the General Convention. Most notably, Resolution A004, which would rewrite Canon I.4, decreases the size of the Executive Council.

Permit me to digress. I am never sure whether to write “Executive Council” or “the Executive Council.” Likewise, I am torn between writing “General Convention” and “the General Convention.” (“The General Convention” seems more logical, as the gathering is a general convention for the church, as opposed to particular conventions for individual dioceses. The case for “the” before “Executive Council” is much less clear.) My inclination is to use the definite article in both cases. The constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church—I’ll pass on the rendering of the name of our church for now and whether “constitution” and “canons” should be capitalized—are inconsistent, but, in both cases, the article is used more often than not. The TREC proposed Canon I.4 maintains the inconsistency regarding the Executive Council; the definite article is usually, but not always, present. TREC made no effort to fix such little inconsistencies.

One more digression—I consider it unforgivable that TREC did not mark up their resolutions involving articles and canons to show clearly what is being changed and what is not. The task force was lazy, out  out time, or trying to pull the wool over our eyes. (I’m inclined to give them credit for two out of three.) Were I a deputy, I would want to reject, for example, Resolution A004 simply because I cannot figure out what is different about it from the current canon and what it will really mean in practice. In fact, TREC has generally followed existing wording and structure as much as possible, and some of the strangeness one is likely to identify in TREC resolutions comes from our existing governing documents.

Now back to the matter at hand.

I have an open mind as to the size of the Executive Council. The current council is indeed large, but it seems to get its work done, and its many committees would become an increased burden were there fewer members to do the needed work. My understanding is that TREC did not interview ordinary members of the Executive Council—they interviewed its officers—and therefore may not have had sufficient data to justify concluding that the membership of the Executive Council should be reduced.

The task force seems to be under the impression that its resolutions clarify responsibilities within the governing structure of the church. Actually, I’m not sure I understand the current relationships, and I understand those set forth in TREC’s resolutions even less. Given enough time, I might figure it all out, but my guess is that deputies won’t have enough time and will simply throw up their hands.

As I read the current constitution and canons, the Episcopal Church Center staff is actually the staff of the Executive Council. The function of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society is simply to collect and distribute money. TREC seems to have bought into the fiction that the Episcopal Church Center staff is the staff of the DFMS (or, actually, is the DFMS). I don’t know if this really matters, but I am tired of the church staff referring to itself as the Missionary Society, as though it is something above and beyond The Episcopal Church. I particularly dislike it when we are told that the Missionary Society has done something and not The Episcopal Church. When the DFMS was created, the intention was that everyone in the church was part of a missionary society, and suggesting that the New York staff have somehow become the missionaries of the church gets the matter all wrong.

I am not going to say much more about TREC’s rewrite of Canon I.4, but one feature did strike me as odd. The current canon states: “The Executive Council shall be accountable to the General Convention.” The proposed canon turns this around: “The Executive Council shall also have
oversight responsibility for the work of the Office of General Convention, and the Executive Officer of General Convention shall report directly to the Executive Council.” Whereas the Executive Council now is responsible for carrying out the program of the General Convention, TREC has it overseeing that work. Does this matter? As a writer and computer scientist, I have no idea. Moreover, the Executive Council, according to Resolution A004, oversees the work done by the Presiding Bishop. Given that the Presiding Bishop is a member of the Executive Council, I’m not sure how this would work out.

Resolution A005

Resolution A005: Of the Presiding Bishop in a Unicameral General Convention would rewrite Canon I.2. I am too weary to figure out everything TREC would like to change that is not required by the existence of a unicameral General Convention. Personally, I think the Presiding Bishop, both under the current canons and those proposed by TREC, has too much work to do and is required to possess too great a diversity of skills. I would like to see the Presiding Bishop be primarily pastor and spokesperson for the church. The Church General Manager, COO, or whatever, would be the chief administrator. I would like to see that person be a layperson with a strong management background, preferably someone who has run a major corporation or nonprofit. It isn’t clear to me whether this is what TREC has in mind, but I don’t think so.

In TREC’s proposed Canon I.2, we find more evidence of sloppiness, as the Executive Council is referred to once as the “Executive Committee.” This term also occurs once in the report’s narrative.

Resolution A006

The next resolution has received a lot of attention. Resolution A006: Restructure Standing Commissions and Interim Bodies of General Convention would rewrite Section 2 of Canon I.1. The revised section pares down the number of standing commissions of the General Convention. What remains are the Standing Commission on Theology, Liturgy, and Music (currently the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music) and the Standing Commission on Governance and Structure (currently the Standing Committee on Constitution and Canons).

I see no reason to rechristen Constitution and Canons, as its functions are not really being changed by the TREC proposal. Moreover, Title III (Worship)  is not so much about governance and structure as are the other titles. It is surely about canons, though. This is change for change’s sake.

Likewise, I see no reason to change Liturgy and Music to Theology, Liturgy, and Music. The charge to this commission is virtually unchanged—“House of Bishops” is now “Convocation of Bishops”—and, although there is theology embedded in our prayer book and hymns, the title may encourage mission creep.

One only has to look at the list of standing commission reports in the Blue Book to see that we have many, perhaps too many, such bodies. And there is a tendency of such bodies to persist long after the need for them has passed. It will be interesting to see if constituencies of existing standing commissions will be able to keep more that two in existence.

Resolution A007

Resolution A007: Canonical Implementation of a Unicameral General Convention replaces Section 1 of Canon I.1. Again, one has to compare the current canon to the resolution to see what is going on here. Largely, this resolution exists because a unicameral legislature is assumed, and the question of who presides over its sessions must be specified.

What is peculiar about Resolution A007 is explained in this sentence in the explanation of it: “It [the revision] calls for General Convention to serve as both a legislative body and a mission-oriented convocation.” It is the last paragraph of the proposed section (Canon I.1.1(l)) that provides for this:
Each General Convention shall function for the Church both as a legislative body and as a mission-oriented convocation.
This missionary thing—mission is so trendy at the moment—seems to be another big idea TREC glommed onto. I don’t know what a mission-oriented convocation is, and, without definition, I suppose it can be anything we want to call by this name. I worry about mandating something so totally unspecified. The only other reference to mission convocation occurs in Appendix 4: Who We Are as an Episcopal Church, What We Want to Uphold, and the Role of the Church-wide Structure:
Convener: The Church-wide organization should assemble the Church in traditional and non-traditional ways for governance and as a missionary convocation. The organization should also convene the Church with the broader Anglican Communion, with ecumenical church partners, and with other potential partners and collaborators in proclaiming Christ’s Gospel and living the Five Marks of Mission. For example, the Church could convene a General Missionary Convocation both in person and virtually, potentially concurrent with General Convention.
Frankly, this passage doesn’t help me understand what TREC has in mind, though I get the impression from earlier pronouncements that the task force would like the General Convention to spend less time passing resolutions and more time pursuing “mission.”

Resolution A008

Resolution A008: Provide Stipend for the President of the House of Deputies/Presiding Deputy is handled differently from other resolutions. Whereas some resolutions (such as A007) cannot really be passed until the constitution is changed to allow for a unicameral legislature, TREC is proposing here that the President of the House of Deputies or, eventually, the Presiding Deputy, should be given a salary now. The resolution proposes to replace Canon I.1.8, and the deletions and insertions are clearly marked. This is what the task force should have done with all its resolutions. I hope this resolution is passed, although I would have references to the Presiding Deputy deleted because (1) I don’t see the General Convention adopting TREC’s unicameral legislative, and (2) “Presiding Deputy” is nowhere defined in the canons and won’t be anytime soon.

Resolution A009

Resolution A009: Of Changes to the Officers of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society is, as I have explained in an earlier essay, a mess. I will have no more to say about it here.

Summary of Resolutions

I don’t think it at all likely that any TREC resolutions will pass unamended. If Resolution A008 is amended to eliminate the reference to the Presiding Deputy, I think it should be and will be passed. Resolutions A001 and A003 are not worth discussion. Resolution A002 cannot pass as written and proposes a radical enough change that I doubt that the General Convention will pass it without further study. It would require two consecutive conventions to effect. Resolutions A004 and A006, properly amended, may be attractive to a significant number of deputies. Resolutions A005, A007, and A008 assume that a unicameral legislative has been approved and will be largely irrelevant at this General Convention.

Final Thoughts

I have not been able to comment on everything in the TREC report, but I think I have been able to analyze the most important parts. What the report says is less important than what it proposes to do. Like most knowledgeable Episcopalians I have talked to, the proposals of the task force have been a great disappointment. They are not well thought-out and are presented badly. The church needs to move on.

I want to say a final word about Appendix 2: Church Engagement Process and Findings. In general, as I have said elsewhere, I am not impressed with the task force’s data collection. Most of the information collected from church members is modestly interesting and largely irrelevant. The colorful charts in Appendix 2 are visually arresting but tell me nothing having to do with the charge to TREC. A few questions should have been asked of everyone, but the responses of deputies and holders of church offices at every level would have been most relevant. TREC’s questionnarie should have asked
What is wrong with The Episcopal Church, and how would you fix it?

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