Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cracks at the Top (Part V of "The Constitutional Crisis")

Now that we have the reports from the third and final day of the meeting in Salt Lake City of ECUSA's Executive Council, we are finally able to fill in the picture of what is going on among the Church's elected and appointed officials. The picture is neither pretty nor reassuring.

First and foremost, the Executive Council continues to tiptoe through the tulips, and to ignore its role to act as a watchdog for the whole Church during the 154 weeks out of 156 when General Convention is not in session. As documented in the series of posts called "ECUSA's Attorneys -- a Runaway Train", the litigation in which the Presiding Bishop has embroiled the Church on her own continues to drain the latter's resources -- but as far as Executive Council is concerned, it has no oversight role to play. We find out that in approving a reduced budget for 2011, the Council approved the Church taking out a new loan of up to $60,000,000, and securing its note by mortgaging its headquarters at 815 Second Avenue, as well as by pledging unrestricted endowment funds.

The new loan is necessary because the Church has already borrowed $46.1 million, the note for which falls due at the end of this year. Of that amount, nearly $10 million was used to acquire land for a new site for the Episcopal Archives in Austin, Texas, and the balance was used for improvements at 815 Second Avenue -- a good part of which has now been rented out to third-party tenants.

The Church has bought raw land when it does not yet possess the additional money required to construct a building on it, and the raw land itself is not financeable -- that is, since it is non-revenue producing, it cannot be used to secure a loan. Other income-producing assets of the Church must be pledged in its place. The $10 million property will just sit there, incapable of being developed for the time being, because, according to the last resolution adopted by the Executive Council on the subject,
A diversity of individual gifts is needed for the next phase of oversight and effective completion of the many tasks that lie ahead for the successful raising of funds; relations with development partners, neighborhood businesses, governmental agencies; finalizing design; and, the selection of appropriate consultants and construction contractors. The number of members is not as critical as the skills available; individual members may possess several of the desired skills.
The $37 million spent to refurbish the headquarters on Second Avenue obviously will not finance all of the new borrowing the Church now needs to make as a result of the past decisions made by its leadership. It is left to Mr. Kurt Barnes, the Church's Treasurer, to (a) decide how much he can borrow on behalf of the DFMS (the Church's corporate arm), up to $60 million; and (b) how much of that amount he can finance with a mortgage on the building at 815, and how much additional the DFMS can put up in unrestricted trust funds.

Is it any wonder, then, that Mr. Barnes should feel himself under great pressure? He is having to navigate the fragile DFMS vessel between the Scylla of the Church's many pressing needs for operating capital (in a world of declining revenues and diocesan contributions), and the Charybdis of the Presiding Bishop, who is waging a one-woman war against all the former Episcopalians she can manage to sue. She expects him to come up with the money to pay the bills, and the Executive Council turns a blind eye to the amounts she is spending.

The tensions resulting from the failure to deal with the elephant in the living room -- the uncontrolled cost of dozens and dozens of lawsuits -- finally spilled over into the deliberations of the Executive Council. In particular, the head of the Council's Committee on Finances for Mission (and also a member of the Audit Committee), Dr. Delbert Glover, ran into a conflict with the Treasurer, according to the report from ENS:
FFM chair Del Glover told his committee earlier in the meeting that because of past budget decisions, only about $500,000 of the principal [on the $46-million-dollar loan due later this year] has been paid off.

"To the extent that we are not paying debt, we are borrowing money to do the ministry of the church," he said.

The resolution calls for mortgaging the Episcopal Church Center in Manhattan and securing the rest of the borrowing with unrestricted endowment assets. The current debt is in the form of a line of credit.

Finances for Ministry initially discussed the borrowing authority during an Oct. 23 session that grew somewhat heated when [Treasurer Kurt] Barnes objected to Glover having appointed a subcommittee to look into the refinancing possibilities and the borrowing philosophies behind them. Barnes said he was told that the subcommittee was to be a council of advice for him, but said "the council of advice never invited my opinion, so I don't feel it's a council of advice."
ENS's report details more of the Treasurer's complaint, and Dr. Glover's response:
He said that the subcommittee's report did not take into account the work that he and Margareth Crosnier de Bellaistre, the church's director of investment management and banking, had been doing for many months to explore refinancing options and solicit proposals from lenders. "It acts as if we've been asleep," Barnes said of the report.

"The way it was approached, my staff and I absolutely felt that our intelligence or ability was always being challenged," Barnes said. "We give 10 hours a day to this church and then we have other people who say, 'but you don't know what you're doing.' That's our problem and if we have misread it, then I am sorry."

Glover said that the finance office staff had misread the subcommittee's intent. He said the group, made up of former members of the Joint Audit Committee of Executive Council and the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and those with expertise in the area, was in fact offering advice and contacts, not implementing policy. He said the need for the subcommittee grew out of the audit committee's concern about the level of debt the church has and about the payment coming due at the end of the year.
The Presiding Bishop was not exactly forgiving in her response:
"The job of Executive Council is to set policy, not to implement it and that's where the rub has come," she said.

"It denigrates the staff, that's not helpful," she said of the creation of the subcommittee, adding that "it overreaches the authority of this committee."

"I think people have gotten past the anger and the insult," she told Glover, "but let's not have it happen again."
Notice -- she says "people" have gotten over their anger, she thinks: she does not include her own feelings about the matter. At the same time, she is pointedly, but indirectly, telling the Council to keep its collective nose out of her areas of authority -- such as lawsuits against former Episcopalians.

At least we now know what was the occasion for the Presiding Bishop's remarks reported here last Monday, complaining about "a sometimes rather adversarial attitude in Council", and a "confusion [of] roles . . . [in which] committees try to do the work of staff."

Still, this explanation does not apply to the Presiding Bishop's opening remarks to the Council, in which she warned against the Church's committing "suicide by governance." Those remarks came before the flare-up between Mr. Barnes and Dr. Glover.

Instead, after looking at all of the reports of the meeting, I surmise that what occasioned the latter remarks was the Presiding Bishop's ongoing frustration with the difficulty of dealing with recent events in the Diocese of South Carolina, as discussed in the first post of this series. ENS reports that she had the Council authorize a response to the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, which explained that "there are canonical limits to how her office and the Executive Council can intervene" in the situation there.

This has to be the first time in her term thus far that the Presiding Bishop has publicly admitted that there are any "canonical limits" to her office. Note that the report from ENS does not say anything about whether the Presiding Bishop referred the Forum's letter to the Title IV Review Committee, because if she had done so, she would be obliged to keep the referral confidential until that Committee decided either to bring a presentment, or charge Bishop Lawrence with "abandonment of communion." Although she is reported as having welcomed the Rev. Jim Simons' offer to meet with Bishop Lawrence, I am afraid that based on her past conduct, especially in connection with Bishops Cox and Duncan, she cannot be trusted. Only time will tell what further steps she is taking against Bishop Lawrence.

Thus the "suicide by governance" remark, and the warning against any "appeal to old ways and to [an] internal focus", has to be seen as an expression of regret that any clergy or laity in the Church should declare any resistance to moving forward with the new changes to Title IV of the Canons, which go into effect next July. As documented in the post mentioned earlier, the new changes will give the Presiding Bishop a whole host of metropolitical powers over her colleagues which are nowhere authorized by the Constitution. The changes are utterly void, as General Convention cannot override the Constitution with any Canon. But the Presiding Bishop has refused to declare that she will refrain from asserting the powers thus illegally conferred upon her. For her to acknowledge "canonical limits" at this time on her office, therefore, serves simply to underscore that refusal: "I can't do anything about South Carolina now," she is saying, "but just you wait until next July . . .".

In the process of making her remarks about how she wishes not to be held back by any qualms over such things as the new metropolitical powers given to her, or by anyone's wishes that "things remain as they have been in former times" (see the bizarre reference to the old ministry desk in this previous post), the Presiding Bishop managed to step on the toes of her Vice Chairman, the President of the House of Deputies, and those members of the Council who serve in that House. She actually had the gall to imply that "deputies are elected to represent the interests of their dioceses."

One could almost hear the objections of "Heresy!" all the way out here, in California. For in saying so, the Presiding Bishop had committed an offense far worse than contradicting Holy Scripture: she had dared to contradict the Holy Ghost, who alone guides the consciences of the individual deputies in their votes. That deputies should "represent" their own dioceses? -- what utter blasphemy, what poppycock!

And here we see the unique dynamics of having a woman serve as Presiding Bishop: no male within hearing of her remark even thought of correcting her. That function could be undertaken only by another woman, in this instance one of the deputies from the pseudo-diocese of Fort Worth:
Council member Katie Sherrod, Diocese of Fort Worth, asked for time on the agenda and told Jefferts Schori that "while you did not question the need for a House of Deputies, I fear your remarks that bishops' vocation is 'their ability to do big-picture work, care for the whole flock, to invite others into the big-picture, long-term conversation while deputies are elected to represent the interests of their dioceses' will increase those tensions, not relieve them."
Imagine a male bishop (other than Bishop Lawrence) talking like that to the Presiding Bishop -- especially after they all have stood meekly by while she continued to assert power after power not given to her anywhere in the Constitution and Canons. But one false step about how the deputies "represent" their dioceses, and the females in the room are all over her. Moreover, this false step unleashed a torrent of fears about bishops supposedly planning how they could "eliminate" the House of Deputies, and govern the Church by themselves:
Sherrod said that she believes that "most deputies do indeed approach their work with a big-picture view of the church and a concern for all the people as much as, if not more than, many bishops do."

She said that her "deeper concern" is a "growing sense" that "some bishops are dangerously close to saying to the clergy and deputies, 'We have no need of you.'"
Those words harkened back to earlier tensions between the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies, which were visible to a certain extent in their respective remarks made to General Convention 2009. Now, faced with Sherrod's rebuke, the Presiding Bishop had to backtrack quickly, and eat humble pie:
Jefferts Schori said that she was not aware of bishops who want to do away with the House of Deputies, adding that she was "sorry to hear that."

She said she was trying to point to the tension between bishops "who ideally in vocation are called to care for the whole and deputies who are elected by individual dioceses who represent the interests of those dioceses." When a murmuring of "no" arose, the presiding bishop said "just a minute, let me finish," explaining that she meant that dioceses elect deputies from out of the context of the diocese's stance on the issues facing the church.

"I'm not impugning the understanding of individual deputies that they are called to serve the whole church," she said. "What I am simply saying is that deputies in their election are called by particular dioceses. That's not a perfect distinction, but generally it's a tension and I hope I was careful to say that I don't think we should resolve that tension."
Not resolve a point of tension? Why not? Who wants tension between people who are supposed to work together? Notice the Presiding Bishop's obfuscation in response, followed by the common sense of another female Council member:
"If we resolve the tension, we have failed. That tension should be energizing and keep us talking to each other and honoring the gifts of different vocations."

Council member Gay Jennings, Diocese of Ohio, suggested that the councils of advice to the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies ought to meet together to consider the perceptions discussed during the council meeting.

"As we approach [the 2012 meeting of General Convention in] Indianapolis, I would hate to see this kind of tension become exacerbated," Jennings said.
Seeing all this sparring on the distaff side, two males on the Council reacted in predictable fashion. One tried to use soothing words, while the other complained about all the in-fighting going on:
Diocese of Michigan Bishop Wendell Gibbs told his council colleagues that "the body cannot afford to have any member say to another 'we don't need you.'"

He added that the members of the church must "trust not just in one another but trust our God."

"We're an incredible gift to the world given by God," Gibbs said of the Episcopal Church. "I come into this gathering trusting that every one of you is here for God's purpose and we have to go from that."

Council member Mark Harris, Diocese of [Delaware], said that there are times that he values the discussion about how to be more nimble in the future, but sometimes feels "worn down and oppressed by the concern about organization rather than the concern about mission."
Which remarks provided the occasion for the Presiding Bishop, Deputy Sherrod and President Anderson to pull in their claws and make peace:
At the end of the discussion, Jefferts Schori thanked Sherrod for voicing her concerns.

"I intended to be provocative; I think that's part of my job," she told the council. "I am absolutely rejoicing that we can have a conversation like this. I don't think we could have had a conversation like this a year ago. We have grown in our ability to do this kind of work."

During her closing remarks to council, House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson said that after eight terms as a deputy she still "marvel[s] at the democratic way in which our church governs itself and the way in which our authority is shared among all the baptized."

Anderson expanded on her view of the Episcopal Church's democratic governance. She told the council that "the Holy Spirit dwells among us, it dwells and presides in the councils of the church. What a council seeks to understand by its debates and votes is not the mind of the majority of its church members. We seek to understand the mind of the Holy Spirit."

She said people are attracted to the Episcopal Church for many reasons, including "by the way the authority shared for accomplishing God's mission."

"Our energy as a church, our ability to do much with few members, comes from a sense of ownership and investment that Episcopalians feel in the mission of their church," she said.
To read the Council's own message to the Church about its accomplishments at the meeting, the discussion with the Presiding Bishop was full of sweetness and light. Such messages never disclose who wrote them, but in the past Deputy Sherrod has participated in doing so. Somehow I think she helped write this latest one as well, because it includes this otherwise pointless quote from a sermon given by the Bishop-elect of Utah (I have added the emphasis):
Bishop-elect Hayashi said that moments of clarity and understanding, of self-knowledge, are important for those called to be leaders in our church, that the first task of a leader is to come to an understanding of who he or she is – and to lead from there. We have to know we are caught up short by our own image of our leadership abilities -- and then let that go, for it is only by opening our arms and gathering in all that God has to give us can we then turn and offer it to others.
Based on her latest remarks to the Council, and what she told them a year ago, I think the Council's members are entitled to be very confused and very concerned about just what kind of "clarity and . . . self-knowledge" prevail in the Presiding Bishop's "understanding of who she is". In October 2009, Jefferts Schori told the Council:
She reminded Council that no diocese had left the church, only individuals. She reported that the reorganizing dioceses are experiencing pains and liberty. She reported that the staff at the Episcopal Church Center (hereafter, ECC) was working in new ways and beginning to experience resurrection. TEC, she said, was discovering opportunities borne of crisis: the choice was resurrection or tomb . . .
And this October, she told the Council that the option was between choosing "leeks and watermelons and the fleshpots of Egypt", or "wandering in the wilderness for a while because we haven't done it before."

I think the strain is showing in ECUSA's leadership, and that there are cracks at the top. After all, just look at what strain the litigation has caused to the dioceses -- on both sides. (Even the Presiding Bishop admits that the groups she has put up to suing their former bishops are experiencing a bizarre combination of "pains and liberty[?!]", while at the same time she says they are suffering from "governance handcuffs". It must be one of those "both-and" concepts which the followers of fuzzy logic so love.)

Look at what has happened, due to threats of and resorts to litigation, just in the space of a few years on Jefferts Schori's watch:
  • For the first time in its 221-year history, the Church has consented to mortgage its prime property to help pay for lawsuits;
  • Church leadership (and the lack thereof) has caused the DFMS and its treasurer to play fast and loose with the stated purposes for drawing on donor trust funds to finance diocesan litigation;
  • The Church has loaned more than a million dollars of its sorely needed funds to groups with no ability to repay such amounts, even if they finally prevail in the pending lawsuits;
  • The Church has gone to inordinate lengths to prop up groups as Potemkin dioceses, just so they can serve as plaintiffs in the lawsuits, while having little potential to remain viable on their own;
  • General Convention, 815 and the Executive Council are all running in different directions, with no regard for the limits imposed by the Constitution and Canons; and, last but not least,
  • The Church is in a deadly, downward spiral of declining membership, declining revenues and greatly increased debt.
Prolonged litigation is one of the most toxic forms of stress to which humans can subject themselves. The constant worry of what future decisions by distant and poorly informed judges will bring eats away to the raw nerves, while the outlays required leave no resources for survival in tough times. It is time to remember the words of St. Paul:
6:5 I say this to your shame! Is there no one among you wise enough to settle disputes between fellow Christians? 6:6 Instead, does a Christian sue a Christian, and do this before unbelievers? 6:7 The fact that you have lawsuits among yourselves demonstrates that you have already been defeated.


  1. Jim Simons calling on his 25 years of friendship with Bp Mark Lawrence as having any standing is nothing less than amazing. Sadly Jim has cashed in the huge standing he had among conservatives by his fawning acceptance of the policies of KJS and her minions.

  2. Re. "Anderson expanded on her view of the Episcopal Church's democratic governance. She told the council that 'the Holy Spirit dwells among us, it dwells and presides in the councils of the church. What a council seeks to understand by its debates and votes is not the mind of the majority of its church members. We seek to understand the mind of the Holy Spirit.'"

    Since the Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, He should be referred to as "He," not "it."

  3. You've heard of "growing pains."

    This EC meeting report sounds more like our last vestry meeting, or what is known as "shrinking pains."

  4. "What a council seeks to understand by its debates and votes is not the mind of the majority of its church members. We seek to understand the mind of the Holy Spirit."

    Interesting but as a whole the PB and her ilk are no longer interested in scripture where one is likely to encounter the Holy Spirit.

    Sometimes, a group comes together to do just that- seek the opinion/mind of the majority of its members. What is wrong with that ?? I must be missing some fundamental understanding in these remarks.

  5. Re Episcopal Archives – first, how did something like this end up Texas? One would think that this would fit in better somewhere in the far north east bastion of
    Progressives and liberals or perhaps in San Francisco. Second, I can see it now, the main attraction at this “archives” – the life-size reproduction of an actual court room.