May 30, 2015

Discouraging Sign

Playground sign

The Web is replete with pictures of illiterate signs and documents. Often it is easy to identify the confusion or misconception that must have been in the mind of the writer. Today, I came upon the sign pictured above, but I have no idea what the person responsible for it was thinking. The missing periods are understandable, I suppose, but the apostrophe in AGE’S is odd in the extreme. The author had to go out of the way to create this abomination, as the apostrophe isn’t even a real apostrophe. (You can click on the image for a bigger one.)

Education in America is surely in serious trouble.

May 27, 2015

Thoughts on the Episcopal Resurrection Resolutions

The 79th General Convention is rapidly approaching, so I’d better say something about the resolutions from the Episcopal Resurrection folks now if I’m going to say anything at all. I have already written two essays about this recently released material (here and here). In this post, I want to discuss the resolutions proposed by Episcopal Resurrection.

Having just written six posts about the report from the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church and having reread the Episcopal Resurrection material, I can say with confidence that the General Convention would do well to ignore the TREC recommendations and move on to consider those from Episcopal Resurrection. The TREC resolutions are, as Scott Gunn suggested, a hot mess. (I don’t know if Gunn intended to apply this judgment to all the TREC resolutions, but I am comfortable doing so.)

Image from Episcopal Resurrection Web site

Clearly, the Episcopal Resurrection resolutions have been influenced by the TREC report. Also, although there isn’t a 1-to-1 correspondence between the two sets of resolutions, there are 9 resolutions in each set. I don’t know if this is a coincidence.

Creating a Capacity to Plant Churches

The Episcopal Resurrection resolutions do not yet have numbers, so I will use the titles from the Web site to refer to them. Click on the section heading to read the proposed resolution.

The first resolution is probably the boldest and most important. For a variety of reasons, it is also the scariest. First, it proposes to spend nearly $8.5 million, all of which, save $2 million, is to come from the church budget. The first question that must be asked is where that money is coming from. What will we not be able to do because we are funding church plants?

Another reason this resolution is scary is because it forces Episcopalians to face the dreaded “E” word, evangelism. Evangelism is an activity that just doesn’t seem to be part of The Episcopal Church’s DNA, although there is evidence that it once was. (Why else would we have churches all over the world?) Because we are a church—as we are fond of saying—that does not require you to check your brains at the door, we are also a church that does not foster the absolute certainty of doctrine that drives the passions of many other Christians to proselytize.

As a Pittsburgh Episcopalian, I am especially wary of the doctrinal certainty that caused a schism in my own diocese. (I find it interesting that the past few General Conventions seem to have had no response to the schisms of the past decade.) Mind you, I love my church and believe that there are those who would love it also if given the chance.

Frankly, I don’t have a good sense of how to form new Episcopalians. Our worship is something of an acquired taste, and one not likely to be acquired quickly. (We do a good job of attracting disaffected Roman Catholics, however, who are familiar with a not dissimilar worship style.) I worry that, in planting new churches, we will de-emphasize that which most makes us Episcopalian. Will new church plants use guitars, slide presentations, and have people rolling in the aisles? Gosh, I hope not! Yet I do realize that worship in a church plant will necessarily differ from that of an established urban cathedral.

Of course, there are different ways of planting churches, and I suspect that sending out teams from existing churches to form new churches is more effective (and more Episcopalian) than sending out a single clergy person into the neighborhood. I wonder if we, as Episcopalians, really know how to start new Episcopal churches. The church planting resolution would fund seminary positions devoted to church planting. Is there a body of knowledge ready to be taught? My concern is that we need to figure out how to plant churches. I am inclined to think we should fund some sort of church planting pilot project, rather than jump with both feet (and millions of dollars) into the full-blown program called for in this resolution.

I really am not an expert in church planting, however, and I could be convinced that making a bold move in this area is what the church needs to reinvigorate it. I recommend reading what two of the people behind Episcopal Resurrection have said about church planting. Adam Tranbley has written a blog post titled “Creating a Capacity to Plant Churches.” Susan Brown Snook has written “Treasure to Share: Why Plant New Churches?” on her blog. See if you find their arguments compelling.

I am concerned that an activity related to church planting is not dealt with in the Episcopal Resurrection resolution. I am referring to publicity. The Episcopal Church was once known as the church of the elite. I don’t think we have to worry about that anymore. Instead, I think we are known to the public as a church that has been involved in fights over doctrine. That is not attractive to the unchurched. Also unattractive is the most common notion of “Christian” in the public’s mind—the intolerant, self-righteous reactionaries that often represent Christianity on newscasts. We need to let the world know that there is a church that values science, that respects the dignity of every human being, does not believe that war or guns are the answer to every problem, and is concerned about such social ills as income inequality. Getting that message out would make Episcopal church planting a good deal easier.

Revitalization of Congregations

This resolution surely addresses a real problem. With a $1 million price tag, one can raise some of the same objections as to the church planting resolution. I’m not going to say too much about this resolution, because I’m not sure how best to achieve its objectives. I do have questions about it—do we really need a network of regional consultants?—but I want to raise an issue that this resolution brings to mind. It would require that
that a churchwide staff position be created to facilitate the creation of this network and coordinate training opportunities for congregational leaders
The problem I have with this proposition is that I have no idea how many churchwide staff positions there are and what those people do. In fact, I am even rather unclear about who supervises whom and who reports to whom at the administrative level of the church. Both the TREC resolutions and the Episcopal Resurrection resolutions address organization somewhat, but I think the General Convention needs to see a complete organization chart of who is working on its behalf. One picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words. Were I a deputy, I would be reluctant to add another staff position having no idea of how big or engaged the present staff is.

Permit Dioceses to Explore Shared Ministry and Collaboration

This resolution is straightforward and, I suspect, will not be controversial. No money is involved abd only minor changes to the canons. In particular, it allows dioceses to share a Commission on Ministry. It also allows dioceses to share a bishop, which might help dioceses under severe financial pressure to maintain their independence. This can be important because joining existing dioceses can create groupings that are geographically large, thereby discouraging maximum participation because of the travel involved.

I appreciate that the proposed resolution shows clearly how existing canons would be changed, something that TREC largely failed to do in its massive rewrites of portions of the constitution and canons.

Amend Article V of the Constitution

This is another fairly straightforward proposal. It would allow dioceses to consider joining (merging) even if one or both lacks a diocesan bishop. I don’t see any potential for mischief here, since any plan to consolidate dioceses must be approved by the General Convention.

Create a Task Force to Study Episcopal Elections and Appointments of Bishops

This resolution is not unlike one proposed by TREC, though the cost associated with it is 50% higher. As I suggested earlier, I am skeptical as to whether something like this is needed, and I suspect that the Heather Cook affair has the whole church a bit gun shy. I am impressed by how well thought out this resolution is, particularly in its specification of the kind of people who should staff the task force. The resolution suggests that we need to investigate how we can achieve greater diversity among our bishops. This becomes particularly important now, since the Cook debacle will have a tendency to make dioceses more wary (and therefore conservative) in their choice of bishops. Frankly, we need more women, gay, and minority bishops. We could even use another Bishop Pike or Spong every now and then.

Amend Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution

This is another simple resolution, and one that I think will be passed easily. Like the resolutions involving shared resources among dioceses and easier joining of dioceses, the resolution is simply permissive. It allows for joint sessions of the General Convention houses. Such sessions already happen, but, apparently, without constitutional sanction.

Budget Process for the Episcopal Church

The explanation given for this resolution is the following:
Our current canons contain a number of unclear, conflicting, and outdated budget procedures. We propose updating them to reflect current practice regarding budget development and oversight. In addition, we propose changing the provisions regarding the support asked from dioceses to clarify that full support is expected from all dioceses, and that dioceses that do not comply with the full assessment amount, and that do not receive a waiver from Executive Council, may be subject to some sanctions, including ineligibility for DFMS grants or loans, and ineligibility of lay, clergy, or bishops from those dioceses to be elected or appointed to church-wide bodies.
It is surprising that TREC did not propose a resolution on this topic, as a seemingly dysfunctional budgetary process was a major factor in creating the task force to begin with. I don’t have much to say about this resolution, as I have largely avoided trying to understand the church budget and how it comes to be. If the resolution does what it says it does, I guess that would be a good thing. I have long said that it is crazy that the church does not demand money from its dioceses, and both TREC and the Episcopal Resurrection folks seem to agree. Moreover, I like the fact that this resolution provides for consequences if a diocese’s assessment is not paid. I leave it to others to figure out if the resolution has all the details right.

Clarify Officers of The Episcopal Church

This is another area where there is some agreement between Episcopal Resurrection and TREC, at least insofar as clarification is needed. TREC resolutions are contingent on adopting a unicameral legislature, however, which is not going to happen. The explanation for this resolution is worth reproducing here, because it has lots moving parts, all of which are important:
We propose a change in the office of the Executive Director of The Episcopal Church (ED). The ED will be nominated by the Presiding Officers and appointed by Executive Council, reporting to Executive Council. The ED will be responsible for all staff except for the staff directly allocable to the offices of the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies and the staff of the Office of the General Convention. The ED will ensure that churchwide staff are working toward strategic priorities set by General Convention and Executive Council, under the leadership of the Presiding Bishop. This change will free up the Presiding Bishop to be the chief pastor of our bishops and to be a public voice of the church. The PB will be the President of DFMS, the chair of the board of directors and the chair of Executive Council, and the leader who guides the Council and staff in setting strategic priorities for the church. The President of the House of Deputies (PHoD) will be the Vice President of DFMS, vice chair of the board of directors, and vice chair of Executive Council. We have also included a provision to provide a stipend for the PHoD. We believe that this structure will bring together staff and governance structure in a collaborative, working team which will better serve the church.

Under our proposal, there is an Executive Officer of General Convention, who will fulfill the functions of Secretary of General Convention and lead the Office of General Convention, and also serve as corporate secretary of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. There will no longer be a separate canonical position of Secretary of General Convention.

The current canons name several distinct roles, and it is unclear how they interrelate: Treasurer of General Convention, Treasurer of Executive Council, Chief Financial Officer, etc. The proposed revisions clarify that there is one elected Treasurer of The Episcopal Church, who also serves as the Treasurer of General Convention, of the Executive Council, and of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. This person need not be the same as the staff position of Chief Financial Officer, who will report to the Executive Director.

We propose adding the position of General Counsel of The Episcopal Church, who will advise the Executive Council and General Convention Office on legal matters. The presiding officers may still name their own chancellors, but may also use the services of the General Counsel. This person should not be the same as the staff person of Chief Legal Officer, who will report to the Executive Director.

All of these positions—Executive Director, Executive Officer of General Convention, Treasurer of The Episcopal Church, and General Counsel of The Episcopal Church—would be nominated by the presiding officers and elected by Executive Council. They would report to Executive Council, and Council could terminate any of them by a two-thirds vote.
I have not checked all the details in this proposal. In particular, I have no idea if all the necessary canonical changes are correct. Others need to be sure that everything is proper and consistent. On the other hand, I think this resolution gets the organization of the church exactly right and makes the office of Presiding Bishop something that a sane person might actually hold. (My apologies to the four candidates for PB.) I like the addition of a General Council and a salary for the President of teh House of Deputies. I hope this passes. If it needs some amending, I don’t know where that might be.

Eliminate Provinces

Although the first eight proposed resolutions are either small changes made for good reason or bold initiatives that may or may not pay off, this resolution seems to make a fairly significant change that will save little money and will probably yield no significant benefits. It may do actual harm. I have written about this resolution in my essay “In Praise of Provinces” and will have no more to say about it here.

Parting Thoughts

When I first encountered the Episcopal Resurrection Web site, I was, like many, impressed with “A Memorial to the Church.” On first reading, I was not too sure about the recommended resolutions. I am still skeptical about the first two, which could have the same effect as the Decade of Evangelism, though with more money sent down the drain. I am encouraged by the thoroughness of the resolutions generally, however, which has the effect of reducing my anxiety regarding the church planting and church revitalization proposals.

The General Convention will, I think, have a relatively easy time with these resolutions, simply because they are so well crafted. I would anticipate attempts to amend the first two, and the officers resolution might need tweaks that aren’t easily identified.

May I propose a resolution of my own? We should thank Susan Brown Snook, Tom Ferguson, Scott Gunn, Frank Logue, Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, Steve Pankey, and Adam Trambley for the excellent work they have done without anyone’s having asked them to do it.

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?

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.


Nutmeg jar
Seldom do I use ground nutmeg. Instead, I grate nutmeg with my nutmeg mill, a wonderful tool that seems not to be a standard kitchen gadget.

I was surprised the other day when I went to load my mill with another nutmeg and discovered that I was apparently out of whole nutmeg. I thought I had bought some recently, but, as one gets older, “recently” seems to refer to a longer and longer time interval.

I hate running out of nutmeg because so few supermarkets stock it. Indeed, my nearby store, although it carries a wide assortment of spices and dried herbs, did not have nutmegs. Today, however, I got to my nearest Giant Eagle. After scanning the spice shelves for a few moments, I noticed a jar of McCormick whole nutmeg.

When I got home, I unscrewed the top of the jar, and, before I even removed the protective paper seal, I noticed that one of my “whole” nutmegs was not whole at all. (See photo at left. Click on it for a larger view.)

Suddenly upset, I resolved then and there to contact McCormick & Co., Inc., to complain. That’s when I took the photo, which was intended as evidence of McCormick’s deception. Before lodging a complaint, however, I decided that I should check on just how much product I had received.

I felt considerably better after I weighed the contents of the jar. The nutmeg in the jar weighed 46 grams, 4 grams more than promised on the label. Moreover, the partial nutmeg weighted only 2 grams; even if I threw it away, I would have 2 grams more nutmeg than promised on the label.

Sorry, McCormick, that I doubted your integrity.

May 21, 2015

More on the Anglican Covenant Resolution

Scott Gunn, who is planning to analyze every resolution in the 2015 Blue Book on his blog, Seven whole days, got around to Resolution A040 two days ago. This, of course, is the resolution responding to the Anglican Covenant, about which I have written recently. (See “End of the Line for the Covenant at the General Convention” and “Further Thoughts on the Anglican Covenant and the General Convention.”)

In “Tangled Up in Blue: Executive Redux,” Gunn discusses resolutions originating in Executive Council committees. After declaring the probable vote on Resolution A022 through Resolution A035 to be negative, he predicts a positive vote on A040.

It is important to note here that Gunn has long favored a lukewarm response to the Covenant, neither rejecting it nor accepting it (or all of it, in any case). In a 2012 post before the 77th General Convention, he wrote in “Resolutely Reading: Anglican Covenant responses
I don’t much like the way the Covenant goes about its project, but I think it would be a mistake to reject the entire enterprise without at least some appreciation for parts of it.
No Anglican Covenant logo
It is not completely surprising, therefore, that he is positively disposed to A040, which affirms “our common identity and membership in the Anglican Communion as expressed in the preamble and first three sections of the Anglican Communion Covenant.” Even Gunn admits, however, that the resolution “treads very close to failing on grounds of being too commendy or affirmy.”

I won’t revisit why I dislike the formulation of lukewarm acceptance of parts of the Covenant—see “Further Thoughts on the Anglican Covenant and the General Convention”—but I do find the resolution too commendy or affirmy, and it is worth saying why.

One might argue that, short of actually “adopting” the Covenant, and particularly without saying anything about the disciplinary Section Four, The Episcopal Church will not have committed itself to anything of substance. In any rational world, that would be true, but the Anglican Communion is not such a world.

In the Anglican Communion, merely writing something down, even if the words are never subjected to an approval process, can find those words elevated to holy writ by those who find doing so useful. Thus, the Virginia Report and the Windsor Report, which are only reports never adopted by any Anglican body, are regularly quoted as definitive statements of Anglican identity. And most notoriously, the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution I.10, on human sexuality, is repeatedly cited as articulating Anglican Communion policy. Resolution I.10 was adopted by the assembled bishops of the Communion, of course, but Lambeth Conference resolutions have never been considered to be other than the opinion of the assembled bishops at the time.

Because of the Communion tendency to view as official anything that finds its way into print, I am concerned that saying anything positive about particular parts of the Anglican Covenant will be taken as an endorsement of propositions that we will be expected to support wholeheartedly in the future or which will be thrown in our face for past infractions. (If “the Holy Scriptures” are “the rule and ultimate standard of faith,” how can we bless same-sex unions, which, at least to some Communion churches, clearly violates scriptural norms and amounts to endorsing sin?) For this reason, I believe that any General Convention resolution concerning the Anglican Covenant must not suggest that we agree with any part of the Covenant.

I hope that the General Convention will adopt something like my amended resolution or something even stronger.

May 20, 2015

On Electing Bishops

In her sermon yesterday at General Theological Seminary, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori said, “We can’t go on choosing leaders ‘the way we’ve always done it.’” There certainly is widespread concern that we may not always do a good job of choosing bishops, and I suspect this is at least in part what the Presiding Bishop was thinking about. Even for those who have not been particularly concerned about our episcopal selection process, the crash-and-burn end of Heather Cook’s ecclesiastical career has been something of a wake up call.

Mitre and shield
In all likelihood, the General Convention will have something to say about the way we elect bishops, and it will probably throw money at the problem. In Resolution A002, the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church proposes to spend $100,000 on a task force to recommend “a new process for discernment, formation, search, and election of bishops in The Episcopal Church.” The Episcopal Resurrection folks have offered a better thought-out proposal that calls for a task force that “will study the election, appointment, roles, and responsibilities of the Episcopate, including the use of Bishops Diocesan, Bishops Coadjutor, Bishops Suffragan, Provisional Bishops, Missionary Bishops, and Assistant Bishops in this Church.” This resolution carries a price tag of $150,000.

Admittedly, both the TREC and Episcopal Resurrection proposals involve more than just examining the episcopal selection process, but I am skeptical about how much study is needed. There is already a good deal of commonality in the search process from diocese to diocese—there may even be too much—and at least some of the variation arises from different views of what is needed in a bishop at particular times and places. The process can never be perfect because what is needed can never be precisely defined, the talents of candidates likewise cannot be exactly calculated, and, however, those properties are defined, there is never a perfect match. I believe that if dioceses relied less of consultants to tell them what to do and experimented a bit, letting the wider church know how things worked out, we might gradually improve the way we select out bishops. (There is a need for networking here.)

Of course, we didn’t need the example of Heather Cook to tell us that the episcopal selection process can run off the rails. Mark Lawrence provided an equally effective example, as did Robert Duncan and John-David Schofield. There are two most important defenses against selecting the wrong bishop are (1) transparency and (2) the consent process.

Cook may never have been chosen bishop had her history of alcoholism been known by the people who chose her. Likewise, Duncan was thought unqualified for quite specific reasons by the search committee. For that reason, he was not nominated by the committee. When he was nominated from the floor—Pittsburgh has learned never to allow that again—no words of warning were heard from the search committee. Candidates for bishop should expect that their lives will be open books and for their qualifications to be debated by convention deputies. If Candidates feel the need to hide something in that past (or present, for that matter), they should be asked to be excused from the search process. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

The need to obtain consents from the wider church is a safety mechanism in cases where a diocese has made a bad decision. The consent process prevented Kevin Thew Forrester from becoming Bishop of Northern Michigan. His involvement with Buddhism gave people the willies. He might have made a good bishop, but perhaps not. Why should the church take a chance? Mark Lawrence, on the other hand, represented a clear and present danger to the church. He failed to receive sufficient consents once. Unfortunately, Episcopalians’ pathological niceness resulted in his obtaining the required consents when the Diocese of South Carolina elected him a second time from a candidate pool of one. The church knew what to do, but it didn’t have the will to do it. A task force won’t fix that.

Perhaps some study of bishops and their qualifications is needed. I believe that the way we elect bishops, however, is not so bad. We don’t need to abandon what we are doing now, but it would help if we experimented a bit and we became more of a learning organization that could improve our process by analyzing both our successes and our failures.

May 18, 2015

In Praise of Provinces

Episcopal Resurrection has proposed that The Episcopal Church eliminate provinces, a task that, as it turns out, requires a lot of changes to the church’s canons. The authors of the Episcopal Resurrection Web site argue that
This layer of denominational structure serves little purpose today other than to ensure geographic diversity on certain committees. … This change will free up resources currently spent on maintaining an outmoded structural model.
They also argue that eliminating provinces will allow certain bodies that now require representatives from provinces, such as the Joint Nominating Committee for the Presiding Bishop, to be made smaller. They confidently assert that “we can ensure continued geographic diversity without rigid lines.”

I am skeptical of these largely unsupported claims. I don’t believe the existence of provinces constitutes a significant drain on church resources, and promises to achieve geographic diversity are not completely credible where there is no mechanism to assure it. Moreover, the existence of provincial groupings does not preclude dioceses in different provinces from working together for some particular purpose. The Dioceses of Pittsburgh and Northwestern Pennsylvania—the dioceses were once one—have consulted about possible efficiencies that might result from working together.

Rather than making an abstract argument for the existence of provinces, I want to make an argument from personal experience.

Province III logo
Province III Logo
As early as 2003, Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP) began seeking assistance and advice from 815—the general church was regularly referred to as 815 back then—as Bishop Robert Duncan’s actions seemed increasingly schismatic. PEP believed that there was sufficient evidence to bring a presentment against Pittsburgh’s bishop, but we were told that the bishops of the church would never act against a colleague. In short, we received no encouragement or assistance. (Actually, this is not completely true. We received some sub rosa assistance from sympathetic people in New York.)  Three years later, when Duncan supported a resolution that purported to withdraw from Province III, PEP reached out to the province, representatives of which attended a PEP meeting to brief members on the operations of the province. (The diocese had not been taking an active part in Province III for some time.) As Duncan’s actions became increasing alarming, PEP members began meeting with Maryland bishop and president of Province III Bob Ihloff at locations outside of the Pittsburgh diocese. Ihloff was more effective at getting attention from 815 than PEP had been, and the meetings were later expanded to include non-PEP Episcopalians and legal representatives of the Presiding Bishop. By October 2008, when the diocese actually split, Episcopalians were ready to move on, both to rebuild an Episcopal diocese and to carry on the legal fight. Of course, the lawsuit filed by Calvary Church in 2006 was instrumental in retrieving millions of dollars of property from the breakaway group, but 815 had opposed Calvary’s move at first. Province III helped bring everyone together when unity was needed most.

In the time leading up to the diocesan split, informal representatives of Pittsburgh were warmly welcomed at Province III events. Generally, our connection to the province helped maintain an emotional connection to the wider church that would have been difficult to maintain with the more distant Episcopal Church Center. Even had my diocese been a “normal” one, the provincial connection would have helped counteract the sense of isolation and independence that so easily develops at the diocesan level.

Province III has sponsored a number of useful programs, but, perhaps most useful, is the provincial synod, particularly in years in which the General Convention meets. (You can visit the Province III Web site here.) This year, for example, attendees were briefed on issues to come before the General Convention in a meeting attended by the Presiding Bishop and other church leaders. Such an event is more easily staged by an organization with an ongoing existence than by an ad hoc group, as would be necessary in the absence of the provincial system.

Finally, it is worth noting that other organizations have taken advantage of the provincial organization to segment the work of their own groups. Episcopal Relief & Development and Daughters of the King both rely on a provincial structure.

For these and other reasons I hope that the General Convention will reject the call to eliminate provinces within The Episcopal Church. I suspect that, if General Convention does eliminate provinces, some provinces may even continue to exist informally. In any case, if anything is going to save our church, it isn’t going to be the elimination of provinces.

May 15, 2015

Another View of Reimagining the Church

In a surprise development, a new Web site made its debut on May 14, 2015, Ascension Day. The Web site is Episcopal Resurrection: Calling the 78th General Convention to Proclaim Resurrection. The site includes a memorial, a kind of letter to the church, and a set of proposed resolutions for the upcoming General Convention. The About page of the site explains the origin of the site:
At the 77th General Convention in Indianapolis, several Episcopalians gathered to encourage prayer at the heart of General Convention. That gathering resulted in the Acts 8 Moment, a movement that is devoted to fostering prayer within and for the church.

The Acts 8 Moment is about prayer, not legislation. Still, some of us who grew to know each other in this effort wanted to work together to encourage our church to recommit to spiritual disciplines, to find its life in Jesus. We gathered at the Bexley Seabury campus in Bexley, Ohio in April 2015. There we drafted A Memorial to the Church along with some enabling resolutions, ways in which the General Convention can incarnate a vision of a renewed and revitalized Episcopal Church. We have also asked a number of people to sign on to the Memorial, and you can add your signature too, by emailing Signing the Memorial does not necessarily mean that you agree with the resolutions, just that you share the vision of the Memorial.

Those of us who have worked on these materials offer them to the church in the hope that they will spur conversation and prayer. Our hope is that our church can be ever more effective in proclaiming resurrection and in sharing the riches of God’s grace with the world.

Susan Brown Snook
Tom Ferguson
Scott Gunn
Frank Logue
Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale
Steve Pankey
Adam Trambley
Dean Tom Ferguson, one of the authors, has written about what this group has done on his blog, which is worth reading. This new Web site contains a lot of material, and I am not yet prepared to say much about it. My overall impression, however, is much the same as that offered as a comment on Dean Ferguson’s blog by the Rev. Eric Funston:
The real difference between this memorial and the TREC report and recommendations is that this is a new vision of mission for the church, whereas what TREC produced is management reorganization. A friend has characterized the Memorial as an attempt to design a new ship for new seas; what TREC produced is a plan for rearranging the deck chairs on the old ship. I have signed onto this as an alternate deputy sponsor; I cannot support the TREC material.
Of course, the authors of this Web site were not limited by the charge to the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church (TREC). They were really free the reimagine the church as a whole.

I am impressed that this small group of Episcopalians was able to put together this well-thought-out material in what appears to be a very short period. Suddenly, deputies to the General Convention will find that the resolutions of TREC are not the only game in town. This should be interesting.

The authors of Episcopal Resurrection have put their memorial and resolutions in a PDF file that readers of the Web site could easily miss. It is available here. That file is almost helpful. It lacks internal links to facilitate navigation, is missing one heading, orders the material in manner that some may consider unhelpful, and does not contain the material on the About page. Readers may prefer to read my own edited version of this file, which contains bookmarks that provide a virtual table of contents and the About material. You can find that here.

I expect to say more about the Episcopal Resurrection material soon.

May 14, 2015

Further Thoughts on the Anglican Covenant and the General Convention

In an earlier post, I suggested that Resolution A040: Affirm Response to the Anglican Covenant Process proposed to the 78th General Convention this summer was less than ideal but would probably be adequate to get the Covenant off the church’s plate without doing too much damage. In this essay, I want to explain what I don’t like about A040 and how I would like to see it fixed.

Here is the resolution recommended by the Executive Council task force charged with monitoring the Anglican Covenant:
A040: Affirm Response to the Anglican Covenant Process

Resolved, the House of _____ concurring, That the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church affirm our common identity and membership in the Anglican Communion as expressed in the preamble and first three sections of the Anglican Communion Covenant; and be it further

Resolved, That the 78th General Convention direct The Episcopal Church's members of the Anglican Consultative Council to express our appreciation to the 16th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC16, Lusaka 2016) for the gift of inter-Anglican conversation and mutuality in God's mission engendered by the Anglican Communion Covenant process.
Pursuant to the charge given the B005 Task Force, we monitored Anglican and ACC activities regarding the Anglican Covenant process and believe this resolution to respond appropriately to the current status of this process in Anglicanism generally and the ACC specifically. This resolution has no budgetary implications.
My guess is that the task force did not think deeply about what it was going to propose to the General Convention. Episcopalians generally have no use for the Anglican Covenant, and the postponement of a decision about it at the last General Convention was largely designed to avoid offending elements of the Anglican Communion until such time as ardor for the pact had largely run its course. I hope we have gotten to that point, but, despite the fact that many people have declared the Covenant dead, a trickle of adoptions by Anglican churches continues.

General Observations

The title of the resolution is odd. The resolution responds to the invitation to adopt the Anglican Covenant, and it expresses appreciation for the conversation about the Covenant. This fact justifies “Response to the Anglican Covenant Process,” I suppose, but what is the function of “Affirm”? What are we affirming? “Affirm” occurs in the first resolve, but that seems coincidental. Is the intention that we affirm our previous response, that is, our non-response of 2012? In any case, the second resolve is simply a piece of Anglican niceness meant to cushion the blow of the thanks-but-no-thanks first resolve.

The explanation for the resolution is amusing. It asserts that the resolution is appropriate, but it neglects to say why. Of course, everyone knows that we would adopt the Covenant when Hell froze over, and by not saying so, we avoid giving our detractors something else to complain about.

I hope that this resolution will be amended to delete “as expressed in the preamble and first three sections of the Anglican Communion Covenant.” Affirming “our common identity and membership in the Anglican Communion,” however, seems innocuous enough. I do not believe that the Preamble and first three sections of the Covenant do, in fact, express our common identity and Communion membership. The rest of this essay will be devoted to justifying that belief. I will try to ignore minor objections to the Covenant and to point out only major ones. You may want to read what follows with the Anglican Covenant nearby.

Covenant Details

If there is any affirming going on, it is our church’s endorsement (but not adoption) of the Preamble and the first three sections of the Covenant. What is not being affirmed is the Covenant Introduction and the enforcement-oriented fourth section. The Introduction is strange in that we are told that it must be published along with the Covenant, even though it is not part of it. The Introduction is a strained theological justification for what follows. The less said about it the better. I need hardly say much about Section Four, which is a thinly disguised club with with to discipline The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, and any other Communion church that dares to speak credibly to a modern audience.

Even if the references to the first three sections of the Covenant are retained in Resolution A040, the resolution should be amended to delete “preamble and.” The Preamble begins
We, as Churches of the Anglican Communion, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, solemnly covenant together in these following affirmations and commitments.
Clearly, “these following affirmations and commitments” refers to everything that follows, including Section Four. We cannot, in conscience, affirm this while rejecting Section Four.

Even though the wording comes from the Lambeth Quadrilateral—the Lambeth Conference version, though our church never officially adopted any version—I find objectionable the wording of Section 1.1.3: “[Each Church affirms:] the Holy Scriptures … as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.” If this were true, we wouldn’t have female priests, and we wouldn’t eat shrimp.

Like so much of the Covenant, Section 1.2 can be the subject of very different interpretations. It deals with scripture, theology, and ecumenical relations. I suspect that an Episcopal Church bishop could interpret this section in a way that would be accorded nearly universal acceptance within our church. I also suspect that a GAFCON bishop could conclude from Section 1.2 that in no way could The Episcopal Church in good conscience subscribe to it.

Section 2.1 is largely unobjectionable. I even like the description in Section 2.1.4 of the Communion as “a worldwide family of interdependent churches.” Section 2.2 is as acceptable—it is mostly about the Five Marks of Mission—though the phrase “mutual accountability” in Section 2.2.1 gives me the willies.

My queasiness increases as I read Section 3.1. Section 3.1.2 begins
[Each Church affirms:] its resolve to live in a Communion of Churches. Each Church, with its bishops in synod, orders and regulates its own affairs and its local responsibility for mission through its own system of government and law and is therefore described as living “in communion with autonomy and accountability.”
The quoted phrase “in communion with autonomy and accountability” is another of those clubs that conservative churches will use to try to restrain liberal ones. Perhaps more objectionable is the suggestion that all churches in the Communion are ruled by bishops. Frankly, this is not a strength but a problem. Members of our own House of Deputies should strongly object to Resolution A040’s suggestion that this describes our own church. The same section asserts that the Instruments of Communion enable Communion churches “to be conformed together to the mind of Christ.” Diversity, no matter how civil, is not an objective of the Anglican Covenant. Unity in doctrine seems also to be the objective when Section 3.1.4  speaks of articulating “the common faith of the Church’s members (consensus fidelium).”

Section 3.1.4 goes on to enumerate and attribute functions to the so-called Instruments of Communion. (Note that there has never been an official designation of what the Instruments are, though the Covenant, if widely adopted, would be such a designation.) In the descriptions, we see more indications that all churches of the Communion should progress in lockstep. The Anglican Consultative Council, for example, “calls the Churches into mutual responsibility and interdependence.” Although other tasks attributed to the ACC seem appropriate (e.g., “[i]t facilitates the co-operative work of the Churches of the Anglican Communion”), I’m less enthusiastic about our church’s being called “into mutual responsibility and interdependence.”

In fact, I think one can call the whole notion of Instruments of Unity into question. The Lambeth Conference, whose very purpose seems to be controversial, appears to be on indefinite suspension. This appears to be the case for the Primates Meeting as well. Moreover, the Standing Committee, which has quietly been given enhanced legal status, is not mentioned among the Instruments.

In reality, the Anglican Communion has become schizophrenic in recent years, asserting the independence of Communion churches, on one hand, and declaring that they must restrain their actions where other churches object. This is perhaps best illustrated by Section 3.2.2:
[Acknowledging our interdependent life, each Church, reliant on the Holy Spirit, commits itself:] to respect the constitutional autonomy of all of the Churches of the Anglican Communion, while upholding our mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Body of Christ, and the responsibility of each to the Communion as a whole.
This naturally leads into the notion of shared discernment. In Section 3.2.3, we find
Some issues, which are perceived as controversial or new when they arise, may well evoke a deeper understanding of the implications of God’s revelation to us; others may prove to be distractions or even obstacles to the faith [emphasis added]. All such matters therefore need to be tested by shared discernment in the life of the Church.
No doubt, we are being told that such matters as the blessing of same-sex unions should not proceed anywhere until all churches agree that such blessings are acceptable (i.e., when Hell freezes over).

Section 3.2.4 asserts that churches should “seek a shared mind with other Churches, through the Communion’s councils“ and “undertake wide consultation with the other Churches of the Anglican Communion and with the Instruments and Commissions of the Communion.”

Section 3.4.5 will certainly be violated in Salt Lake City as the report of the Marriage Task Force is considered:
[Acknowledging our interdependent life, each Church, reliant on the Holy Spirit, commits itself:] to act with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy, which by its intensity, substance or extent could threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness or credibility of its mission.
Section 3.2.6 asserts that, “in situations of conflict,” we will “participate in mediated conversations.”

Finally, Section 3.2.7 commits us “to have in mind that our bonds of affection and the love of Christ compel us always to uphold the highest degree of communion possible.”


From the foregoing, it should be obvious that the first three sections of the Anglican Covenant neither describe the present relationship of The Episcopal Church to the Anglican Communion nor a relationship we intend to develop. As such, it is not the case that, as the current version of Resolution A040 asserts, the Preamble and first three sections of the Anglican Communion Covenant affirm our common identity and membership in the Anglican Communion.

Therefore, Resolution A040 should be amended to read
A040: Response to the Anglican Covenant Process

Resolved, the House of _____ concurring, That the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church affirm our common identity and membership in the Anglican Communion; and be it further

Resolved, That the 78th General Convention direct The Episcopal Church's members of the Anglican Consultative Council to express our appreciation to the 16th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC16, Lusaka 2016) for the gift of inter-Anglican conversation and mutuality in God's mission engendered by the Anglican Communion Covenant process.
Pursuant to the charge given the B005 Task Force, we monitored Anglican and ACC activities regarding the Anglican Covenant process and believe this resolution to respond appropriately to the current status of this process in Anglicanism generally and the ACC specifically. This resolution has no budgetary implications.
Update, 5/21/2015: In my May 21, 2015, post “More on the Anglican Covenant Resolution” I suggest another reason that any resolution about the Covenant should not be construed as endorsing any part of the pact.


A local health system is using a word in a way I have never before encountered. Butler Health System has been advertising on television that it accepts most “insurances.” “Insurances” is also used on Butler’s Web site (see circled text below; click for a larger view):

Butler Health System Web site home page

The meaning of “Insurances We Accept” is clear, but I think that most native speakers of American English would write “Insurance We Accept” or “Insurance Plans We Accept.”

“Insurance” can refer to a particular policy (“My car insurance is very good.”), but it can also mean coverage by some insurance plan (“All clients have insurance.”). Because of this, I see no reason ever to use the plural of “insurance,” and I think it should be considered nonstandard usage. Perhaps usage is different within the insurance industry; I don’t know about that. Has anyone else encountered “insurances” in speech or writing?

Update: A Google search turned up many other uses of “insurances,” all of which are on Web sites of medical institutions.

May 13, 2015

Analyzing the TREC Report, Part 4

This is the fourth 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.
My comments on the report of the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church so far may have seemed rather random. In this post, I will begin at the beginning of the TREC report.

The Task Force

The first page of the report—see above link, as the first “final” report is slightly different from the Blue Book version—lists task force members. By orders, the composition of the task force looks a lot like that of the General Convention. Lay and clergy are equally represented, and there are fewer bishops. I would like to have seen more laypeople who represent the greater part of the church. It is unfortunate that the task force report does not contain biographies of the contributors to the report. One recommendation of the report is that members of Executive Council be chosen for their particular skills. I wonder if such a selection process was used in forming the task force itself. I have no idea.

Page 1 also includes a statement of TREC’s mandate—something of a distillation of the charge in Resolution C095, which is reproduced on pages 19 and 20—and an abbreviated summary of TREC’s meeting schedule. One may quibble about the recommendations found in the report, but, on the whole, the task force seems to have done what it was asked to do. As far as process goes, however, I believe TREC made one serious misstep, and it is one for which it is not totally responsible. The enabling resolution included this item:
Resolved, That the Task Force shall convene a special gathering to receive responses to the proposed recommendations to be brought forward to the 78th General convention, and shall invite to this gathering from each diocese at least a bishop, a lay deputy, a clerical deputy, and one person under the age of 35. It may also include representatives of institutions and communities (e.g., religious orders, seminaries, intentional communities);
There were at least two serious problems with this mandate. First, without substantial funding, it was unreasonable to expect every diocese to send the desired attendees. Second, no deadline date was set for the “special gathering,” although a delivery date was specified for the final report. Ideally, the General Convention resolution should have required that the event called for happened sufficiently in advance of the deadline date for the final report that adequate time would be available to factor insights offered from across the church into the task force’s ultimate product.

The “special gathering” was implemented as a brief meeting at Washington National Cathedral that was “attended” primarily by people sitting at home at their computers. Even if one believes that a few thousand people can meaningfully participate in such a meeting, there were three major problems with the event designed by the task force. First, although TREC had published several papers, no one really knew, either before or after the event, just what “the proposed recommendations” of TREC were. Offering “responses” was therefore a shot in the dark. Second, the National Cathedral event was scheduled in October, and the task force was supposed to be meeting together for the last time the next day. The report was due in November, a deadline it missed by about a week. Even had the proposed recommendations been known and intelligently criticized, the task force really had no time to incorporate any substantial criticisms into their final report. Of course, the recommendations were not known and, third, the “special gathering” was too short to collect much feedback. Moreover, members of the task force did half the talking, so not much in the way of “responses” were really possible. In short, the “special gathering” was a disaster.

Introductory Matter

A number of pundits have had good things to say about the introductory matter in the TREC report. Personally, I have had a hard time wrapping my mind around it, and I think that members of the task force found it difficult to distinguish what was and was not part of their remit. Following a resolve setting forth the Five Marks of Mission as the mission of the church, Resolution C095 states
Resolved, That this General Convention establish a Task Force under the Joint Rules of Order, whose purpose shall be to present the 78th General Convention with a plan for reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and administration;
Was the task force to concentrate on issues of polity and management with the goal of making church governance more efficient, or was it necessary to consider mission and how structure could support that mission? The task force seems to have done a bit of each. Recommended changes to Executive Council, for example, are clearly intended to make that body work more efficiently. (It is an open question whether the changes would have the desired effect, but the desired effect is clear.) Other recommendations, such as those promoting clergy working other than full-time, address changed circumstances in how we do church. TREC was not asked to reimagine how we do church, which is perhaps where the redesign of our church should really have started. Resolution C095, however, was really the product of deputy frustration with the workings of the church’s administrative mechanism, especially its handling of the triennium budget, and the resolution, for good or ill, concentrates on organizational structure.

In any case, the report is surely correct in pointing out that The Episcopal Church no longer occupies the privileged position in society it once did. Only yesterday, the Pew Research Center published “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” which reports significant declines in mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. The message in the TREC report seems to be “make do with less.” Perhaps that is the best we can do, though I surely hope not. What I do know is that making the General Convention into a unicameral legislature is not going to do much to save our church from current demographic trends.

The report admits the limitation of the administrative changes it recommends and paints a glowing, but unrealistic picture of what the future could hold for the church:
While structural and technical changes, by themselves, will not be sufficient for reimagining the Church in the midst of a changing world, we have come to believe that they are essential to progress—even at the local level. Chosen wisely and implemented well, these changes will give us more time, energy, and financial resources for innovation and adaptation; speed decision-making; provide Church leadership with a bold and holistic agenda for change; and reinvent the roles of Church-wide organizations away from “doing” mission and toward enabling mission by connecting communities and individuals for mutual support, learning, and collaboration.
What the task force ignores here is the cost of change. First, dealing with the TREC report in Salt Lake City will take an enormous amount of time and energy, and other matters will suffer. More importantly, any kind of reorganization is disruptive and time-consuming. Even if the polity changes recommended by TREC result in minor efficiencies—and I don’t think anyone is suggesting the resulting efficiencies will be anything but minor—no one seems to have considered the opportunity costs of implementing them. The church may be focused not on mission but on institutional change for three, six, or nine years or more.

Finally, in this post anyway, I want to say something about the story of Luke 10:1–11. I should first say that I am wary of the Anglican tendency in documents to find guidance (or, more likely, support) in scripture. The Luke passage actually is rather perplexing. What is Jesus about here? Is this a training exercise for the disciples? Is he sending out advance teams to prepare for his next ministry campaign? I really don’t know, but I don’t think Luke is telling us how to run a 21st-century church. Despite its apparent fondness for this story, TREC notes: “The 21st century represents a profoundly different environment for The Episcopal Church, with new challenges and opportunities.” If that environment is different from the 20th century, it is surely different from the 1st. To the degree that the Luke story is relevant to how we do church, it seems most relevant at the parish level, not at the highest level of the church. But that level, of course, is not what TREC was tasked to examine.


In my next post about the TREC report, I will consider in greater depth the resolutions proposed by the task force. Please stay tuned.

May 11, 2015

Squirrels 2, Human 0

I took pride in my strategy for keeping my suet feeder attached to the bungee cord used to hang it from a tree limb. (See “Defending against Squirrels.”) The morning after I had declared victory over tree-climbing rodents, however, I found the feeder, less suet, and bungee cord on the ground.

I ditched the bungee cord, fastened the handle of the feeder more securely to the body of the unit, inserted a new block of suet, and re-hung the whole thing using nylon cord. The pictures below (click for a larger view) shows what I awoke to this morning.

Empty feeder on tangled cord
Empty feeder on tangled cord

A clearer view of the disaster
A clearer view of the disaster
I am at a loss to explain how the suet was removed and the cord was wrapped around the tree. I am assuming that one or more squirrels is responsible, but it is difficult to see how this bit of larceny could have been pulled off on such a slight limb.

I am contemplating my next move.

May 8, 2015

Defending against Squirrels

When I first put up a suet feeder, I hung it from a thin branch that I thought would not support a squirrel. In the past week or so, I have had to pick the feeder off the ground several times, and I suspected that a squirrel might be managing to knock it down. The last time I found the feeder on the ground, I replaced it and held it in place with a cable tie. (In case it isn’t obvious from the photo below, the feeder is hung from a bungee cord.) In the last couple of days, I’ve caught a squirrel too near the feeder for comfort. I think the feeder will be staying in place now, however.

Squirrel near feeder

Supermarket Irritations, Part 2

Supermarkets usually hang signs over aisles announcing the items found below. The signs are quite helpful, though they seldom list all products in a given aisle. Some intuition is needed on the part of shoppers to find unlisted items.

I can appreciate the need to minimize the text on these signs while still communicating the necessary information. A common abbreviation (or indication of ignorance—I don’t know which) is the use of “can” where “canned” is called for. Tuna packed in a can is canned tuna, not can tuna. (You really cannot make tuna from a can.) In many supermarkets, however, I see signs for “can meat,” “can fruit”—doesn’t that sound delicious—or “can soup.”

Supermarkets are not uniquely guilty of this sort of mistake, though the omission of “ed” in a modifier does not seem widespread. Perhaps the most commonly misused examples are “ice coffee” and “ice tea” for “iced coffee” and “iced tea.” Neither drink is made from ice! In speech, “iced tea” usually is sounded as “ice tea” because of the awkwardness of the juxtaposed “d” and “t” sounds, even for the knowledgeable  speaker. The customer who asks for “ice coffee,” however, has no excuse.

Aisle sign in supermarket
Typical supermarket aisle sign

May 7, 2015

Supermarket Irritations, Part 1

I received e-mail today from supermarket Giant Eagle advertising current specials. Among the specials were 4 cartons of a dozen eggs for $5, 2 packages of bacon for $6, and a free package of English muffins when one is purchased at the usual price. It is also common these days to see ads for 10 of whatever for $10. Happily, though not invariably, one need not purchase all the items advertised to get the sale price. How often, after all, does one need 4 dozen eggs? Presumably the marketers think that people believe that 4 for $5 seems cheaper than $1.25 each. Probably, some people, uncertain of whether the price applies to a single unit and not wanting to be embarrassed at checkout, will actually buy 4 cartons of eggs, even if so many eggs aren’t immediately needed.

The buy-one-get-one-free English muffins is probably a good deal. All too often, however, one sees buy-one-get-one-half-off offers. The inattentive shopper sees such an offer and thinks 50% off. Of course, the actual discount is 25%, which is only half as impressive.

I find all this complex pricing very irritating. The unit price for a 10-for-$10 item is easy to calculate, but that of the buy-one-get-one-half-off item or the 3-for-$2.50 item is less perspicuous. Carry your calculator with you when you go shopping (or plan to use the calculator on your cell phone).