Convention agrees to major structural changes

By Matthew Davies and Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Jul 3, 2015

[Episcopal News Service – Salt Lake City] The General Convention has approved two resolutions making major changes to the structure of The Episcopal Church.

The deputies and bishops serving on the Committee of Structure and Governance, which considered the resolutions, “were united in love for this church and its mission,” Committee Chair Bishop Clifton Daniel of Pennsylvania told the House of Bishops July 2. “In the end the tone of our conversations brought hope as our church enters into a renewing process of change.”

Substitute Resolution A004, rewriting the rules governing the church’s Executive Council, rejected a proposal by the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church to halve council’s size. The resolution slightly expands Executive Council’s appointment power concerning three members of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s executive staff, including the chief operating officer, chief financial officer and chief legal officer (a position created in the resolution). The presiding bishop will conduct annual performance reviews with all three of those officers and share the results with council’s executive committee under the terms of the resolution.

The resolution also sets up a provision for those three officers, along with the presiding bishop and the House of Deputies president, to engage in a mutual ministry review every 18 months.

Deputies struck from the resolution a controversial provision proposed by the Legislative Committee on Governance and Structure that would have allowed council, by a two-thirds vote, to direct the presiding bishop to fire any of those three officers.

Substitute Resolution A006 reduces the number of the church’s standing commissions from 14 to two. The two would be the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons, and the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. The presiding bishop and House of Deputies president would appoint study committees and task forces to complete the work called for by a meeting of General Convention, with council’s approval. All of those bodies would expire at the start of the next General Convention unless they are renewed.

The resolution concerns standing commissions only and not committees, agencies or boards. As with all General Convention resolutions, the legislation will take effect in the next triennium, which begins Jan. 1, 2016.

Substitute Resolution A004
Substitute Resolution A004 calls for both the presiding bishop as chair and the president of the House of Deputies as vice chair to nominate people to serve as the church’s chief operating officer, chief financial officer and chief legal officer. People who hold those three positions also act as officers of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, along with the chair and vice chair.

Council would then vote to appoint those people. Currently the presiding bishop appoints the chief operating officer, with the advice and consent of the council. The churchwide staff reports to the chief operating officer who reports to the presiding bishop. The presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies, as chair and vice chair of council, jointly nominate the chief financial officer, whom the council then appoints.

During a Governance and Structure Committee hearing on June 25, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori took the unusual step of speaking in opposition to substitute Resolution A004, as well as D006 and D010, saying they would dilute the authority and responsibilities of the presiding bishop. Resolutions D006 and D010 went beyond the reorganization of the presiding bishop-Executive Council relationship of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society proposed by the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church.

“A board cannot be responsible for employment relationships,” she told the committee. “A board can set policy about employment relationships but a board cannot carry out the work of managing employment issues. I see that as one essential piece of the presiding bishop’s responsibility.”

Northwestern Pennsylvania Deputy the Rev. Adam Trambley kicked off the debate in the House of Deputies July 1 by trying to assure the house that the controversial provision to enable council, by a two-thirds vote, to direct the presiding bishop to fire the chief operating officer, the chief financial officer or the chief legal officer constitutes “very limited ability to provide some kind of accountability authority to the officers.”

Trambley, a member of the Legislative Committee on Governance and Structure, said if the council is going to appoint the officers after the chair and vice chair nominate them, then it ought to have a way to hold them accountable.

Meanwhile, the Rev. Ledlie Laughlin, deputy from Pennsylvania, provided the shortest testimony of the debate, saying simply “the authority should stay with the chair of Executive Council.”

Deputies voted 464 to 359 to strike the firing provision, and passed Substitute Resolution A004 on a 649-179 vote.

The House of Bishops concurred with the House of Deputies on Resolution A004.

There was, however, debate on the appointment provisions. The bishops committee on governance and structure amended the deputies-passed version of the resolution to give the presiding bishop the authority to appoint a COO, with the advice and consent of the council, as is the current practice.

After some concern that the committee’s amendments would mean referral back to deputies, a motion was put forth to change the resolution back, retaining the language passed by the deputies that all three nominations need to be made jointly by the chair and vice chair, and then appointed by a vote of council.

Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut spoke against the committee’s amendment and urged the bishops to concur with the deputies. “As I read it, it seems pretty clear to whom the staff and these officers are accountable,” he said. “Three times it says ‘accountable to the chair.’”

Bishop Dean Wolfe of Kansas said he believes “we are experiencing an unprecedented assault on the authority of the presiding bishop and bishops in general. It sounds like, ‘Wow, we are paranoid, but one time my mom told me the house is on fire and it was.’ So I want everyone to be careful about this. I want to give our next presiding bishop the best possible runway to take off.”

In the end, the bishops passed the resolution’s language as approved by the deputies.

When asked, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori confirmed that the resolution would take effect on Jan. 1, 2016, and that it does not affect the incumbents of those positions.

Substitute Resolution A004, which revises Canon 1.4 Sections 1-8, covers some of the ideas advanced in the original version proposed by the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church as well as in Resolutions C032, D006, D020 and D010.

Debate on Substitute Resolution A006
Deputies rejected a motion to refer the standing commission resolution, which covers Resolution A006 in its original form and A097, to the church’s Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church. Such a move would have postponed any actions on standing commissions to at least the 2018 General Convention.

Diocese of the Virgin Islands Deputy Patricia Rhymer Todman, who made the motion to refer, said reducing the number of standing commissions amounts to the “indiscriminate destruction” of the church’s structure of committees, commission, agencies and boards, which operate between conventions to recommend policies and strategies for consideration by the next meeting of convention.

She said the church wants to focus on mission, evangelism and “our church needs a streamlined but suitable structure to fulfill its rich promise in mission.”

Diocese of Colorado Deputy L. Zoe Cole said that to adopt the reduction means “we become a church with a permanent structure devoted to rules and music.”

She added that it will take a long time during each triennium to determine what groups are needed, what they’re in charge of, and who will be appointed.

Deputies rejected a proposed amendment by California Deputy Sarah Lawton to add a Standing Commission on Mission, despite her argument that the church should not have only inwardly focused standing commissions.

North Dakota Deputy the Rev. John Floberg, who is also an Executive Council member, noted that the proposed 2016-2018 budget increases the amount of money available for the interim bodies as council might form. He said council needed the power to create interim bodies “in order for this church to more nimbly respond to the needs” that the church faces in society.

The Rev. Valerie Balling, chair of the Diocese of New Jersey deputation, said before rejecting the reduction, the church needs to remember that it is the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. “We need to live into the spirit of what the governance and structure committee has put forward and I believe that under the direction of Bishop Curry that this (idea of being members of a missionary society) will continue and (we will) not lose our identity as missioners.”

West Missouri Deputy the Rev. Stan Runnels, a member of Executive Council, told the house that “I want to assure the convention that the Executive Council in conversation in this last triennium, especially as the TREC report became more and more available to us, we are aware that this privilege to appoint task forces will require us to use the history of the CCABs as a guide and that many of the task forces that will be appointed will basically reflect the history of the CCAB structure.”

The house passed the resolution 649-114.

House of Bishops accepted the resolution on a voice vote.

Bishop Sean Rowe of Northwestern Pennsylvania, a member of the General Convention Legislative Committee on Structure and Governance, clarified that the resolution concerns standing commissions only and not committees, agencies or boards. As with all General Convention resolutions, the legislation will take effect in the next triennium, which begins Jan. 1, 2016.

Milwaukee Bishop Steven Miller proposed two amendments, one to call for the chair and vice chair of the two standing commissions to be appointed from different houses, and another to add a Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations.

The House of Bishops voted in favor of the first amendment but voted down the second by 69 to 71 votes.

However, following some debate, Miller asked the house to reconsider his amendment. The house voted to remove the amendment and consider the unamended Substitute Resolution A006, which passed by a straight majority vote. Had the amendment passed, the revised resolution would have required the concurrence of the House of Deputies.

Before the house revoked the amendment, Bishop Stacy Sauls, chief operating officer for The Episcopal Church, expressed appreciation for the resolution but concern about amending it and sending it back to the House of Deputies. “There are many people standing in line to add standing commissions back in,” he said. “I urge us to be very careful.”

Earlier, several other bishop members of the structure committee spoke about the resolution.

Bishop Mary Glasspool, suffragan of Los Angeles, said she is grateful for the work of TREC “for putting in some creative and loving thinking.”

The reduction in the number of standing commissions, she said, is the “most concrete and visible manifestation of change. It is very clear that we’re not ready for a unicameral legislature. We’re not asking for a decrease in the number of Executive Council members or deputies at General Convention. But the CCABs (the church’s committees, commissions, agencies and boards) is a starting place for an ongoing conversation. This is a marathon and not a sprint.”

Bishop Lawrence Provenzano of Long Island expressed concern about “the inward-looking focus of the two standing committees that remain.”

But he said he hopes it will allow Executive Council “to be more nimble in response to mission, evangelism, social justice, and then to fund some of these ministries, and then to sunset them as appropriate needs change.”

Matthew Davies and the Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg are editors and reporters for the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (5)

  1. r h lewis (VTS 1963) says:

    Will there be, at some time soon, an outline of what this is supposed to look like when it is
    implemented? The above account does not provide, in a clear manner, what the OUTCOME
    will look like. Thanks — RHL+

  2. Nancie Wilson says:

    Yes, some clarification is needed as to exactly what this will all look like come Jan. 1, 2016. While the detailed account is given, it is not really helpful in understanding the changes for those of us in the pews.

  3. Norman Hutchinson says:

    An explanation, in the vernacular, about how the above cited resolutions will affect the national and local church would be helpful. After a quick reading, it seems like the deck chairs are being rearranged. I hope that I am wrong about that and would like to be proven wrong. How will these changes allow the church to reach out side its walls into the world where Jesus directs us to go?

  4. Sarah Miller says:

    The description of Bishop Katharine “speaking in opposition to substitute Resolution A004, as well as D006 and D010” is inaccurate. I was at the hearing, and the Presiding Bishop came to the hearing at the request of the legislative committee to describe how she understood the relationships among Executive Council, DFMS staff and officers, and the Presiding Bishop. She offered to answer any other questions the committee had, which was helpful considering her unique perspective as the current occupant of the role of PB. She did not reference any of the resolutions, though of course her comments had bearing on what they proposed.

  5. Robert Horwath says:

    We really need to manifest structurally the implications of our ecumenical theology….and move to become a uniting Church. Our structures cannot hold with our declining membership unless we undertake a massive campaign of evangelization and mission work-mission in the traditional sense not soley for the purposes of social justice. If we don’t focus on evangelization in a traditional manner I’m afraid our broad and liberal Episcopal tradition will soon be overshadow ed by a pre-critical pre-modern Anglican evangelical fundamentalism. We should appropriate traditional notions of evangelism and mission while sustaining our tradition of dialogue and social justice. We must either choose to transition to a uniting Church focus or resurrect traditional notions of Christian mission to save our branch of Christ’s Church, in my view.

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