June 14, 2015

Somebody’s Got the Presiding Bishop’s Job Right

Tweaking (or massively revising) Episcopal Church polity is an item very near the top of the 78th General Convention’s agenda. Both the TREC report and the resolutions from Episcopal Resurrection would rearrange duties at the top of the Episcopal Church hierarchy. I don’t think that either group has it quite right, however. In “Analyzing the TREC Report, Part 6,” I wrote
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.
I have been keeping an eye on the ever-expanding complete list of General Convention resolutions, and one of them particularly caught my attention today. The resolution is from the Rev. John F. Dwyer, Rector of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Roseville, Minnesota. It bears the sexy title of “Amend Canons I.4.3(a), I.4.3(d), and I.4.3(e), regarding a Chief Executive Officer of Executive Council.” The resolution is numbered D020 and can be found here. I won’t bore you with the details of the various parts of Canon I.4.3 that D020 would change; you can read those details for yourself. I do want to reproduce the Explanation for the resolution here:
As part of the TREC report the roles and responsibilities of the Presiding Bishop and the Executive Council were explored with explicit recommendations made to alter those roles and responsibilities. This resolution is put forward as a different option and direction than that suggested by TREC.

The role of the Presiding Bishop is fundamentally one focused on being the chief spiritual leader and international spokesperson for The Episcopal Church, serving as the first among equals in the House of Bishops. To expect the gifts and skills of a chief administrative and executive officer to also reside within the same spiritually skilled individual is unrealistic. Of the 5113 surveys returned to the Joint Committee for the Nomination of the next Presiding Bishop, not one person indicated managerial abilities as a key role or desirable trait for the next Presiding Bishop.

By creating a position of Chief Executive Officer, accountable to the entire Executive Council, the legal and fiduciary responsibilities of The Episcopal Church will be more appropriately attended to by those canonically charged with their oversight. This canonical change also more closely tracks with the polity of The Episcopal Church, where clergy and laity share equally in the fiduciary and legal responsibilities of the church.
You can decide for yourself (1) whether you agree with the rationale for D020 and (2) whether you think the suggested canonical changes accomplish the desired result.

As for me, I think the rationale for Resolution D020 is exactly right, and an admittedly cursory examination of the body of the resolution leads me to believe that the resolution would deliver on its promise.

This resolution needs to get serious attention. I must admit, however, the General Convention is going to have quite a big job changing how our church works by taking the best ideas that have been put forward and combining them in a way that is both coherent and beneficial. In the meantime, deputies should tell their colleagues about Resolution D020 and suggest that they might want to have something to say at the hearing about this and related resolutions.

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