June 3, 2015

Memorials and the Name of the Church

This essay is really about two pretty much unrelated topics. They are related only in that one led me to remark on the other. I learned some things in the process of writing this piece, and I suspect that others my be interested in what I learned.

I stumbled into the list of 2015 General Convention memorials today. You can see that list here. I had heard of memorials before—they are mentioned frequently in White and Dykman—but I was only vaguely aware of what they are. Many Episcopalians have suddenly became aware of memorials, however, because of the prominent memorial drafted by the Episcopal Resurrection authors.

A memorial is a document addressed to the General Convention urging some action. It can come from one or more individuals or from an organization. Memorials are not resolutions; they are sent to appropriate legislative committees and could result in legislation. Memorials most commonly come from diocesan conventions. Conceivably, a non-deputy could suggest a resolution via a memorial. (A memorial is defined here from An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: A User-Friendly Reference for Episcopalians.)

I was surprised to learn that, as of today, five memorials have been submitted to the 78th General Convention. Three are from dioceses—Iowa, El Camino Real, and New Jersey—one from the Episcopal Resurrection authors (and endorsed by a large number of Episcopalians), and one from the Province III Synod. They deal with a variety of issues.

I was especially interested in the memorial listed as Memorial_2015_IV because it comes from my own provincial synod. This memorial, acknowledging that the TREC report urges the abolition of most standing commissions, recommends
Therefore, in addition to the two Standing Commissions proposed by TREC, we urge the establishment of four others: Domestic Mission, World Mission, Ecumenical Relations and Inter-religious Affairs, and Peace, Justice & Reconciliation.
The memorial goes on to explain that
We take some guidance on this issue from the official name of our church: The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (see Title I, Canon 3). If that name still means anything at all to anybody, would it not make sense to have a Standing Commission on Domestic Mission and another one on World Mission?
I leave it to others to decide if this collection of standing commissions deserves to be created. Taken together, the proposed commissions seem to partition (in the mathematical sense) the entire mission waterfront.

What I really want to talk about, however, is not the substance of the Province III memorial but the mistaken notion that the name of our church is “The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.” Not only is that not the case, but Canon I.3 in no way indicates that it is. The official name of the church is, and always has been, the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.” When the constitution was first adopted, it carried no Preamble and was simply titled “The Constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.” The Preamble was added to the Constitution in 1967, and despite its apparent concern with the Anglican Communion, was added to allow the official use of a shorter name for the church, namely, “The Episcopal Church.”

The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society was originally created and incorporated to collect funds to extend the church into newly settled areas of the country and overseas. Its members are everyone in the church—TREC would change this, for reasons that are unclear—and the Executive Council is its board of directors. As I have said before, White and Dykman offers this view of the DFMS: “The only present function of the society [i.e., the DFMS] is to act in the nature of a holding corporation.” (vol. I, p. 241) This is still the case. One might say that the DFMS is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, “otherwise known as”—in the words of the Preamble—The Episcopal Church.

For decades, the DFMS has been virtually invisible to Episcopalians. Its existence is an accident of history and legal necessity. It has lately been pulled out of the closet and attached, inappropriately, to the general church staff, which is now being referred to as “The Missionary Society.” Presumably, this has been done to circumvent the often bad feelings associated with the terms “815” and “Episcopal Church Center.” This missue use of “The Missionary Society” may also be intended to enhance the self-esteem of the church staff.

I have one piece of advice for anyone tempted to use the term “The Missionary Society”: CUT IT OUT! The same advice applies to anyone using “DFMS” or “the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society” in public. I never want to hear these terms again. The memorial from the Province III Synod is a clear indication that we are confusing even organization-minded Episcopalians about what the name of our church is. Let the DFMS sink back into obscurity where it belongs, lest we begin seeing signs saying “The DFMS welcomes you!”

Postscript: Since the DFMS was created to collect and distribute funds and to hold property, why have we never incorporated the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America to simplify matters? Is there a lawyer or accountant out there who can explain that to me?

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