Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Church, (P)ECUSA and the DFMS

I have been asked to explain the difference between "the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America" and the "Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America." In law, the first is a voluntary unincorporated association of dioceses; the second is a religious corporation, formed under New York law. A little history is in order.

You see, PECUSA originally came together as a common-law voluntary association of individual churches which constituted the successors, in each of the respective States represented, of the established Church of England. Those churches in each State became referred to as "dioceses", by analogy to the Church of England.

However, as a common-law association of dioceses, the Church could not hold title to any property, or receive gifts or bequests. At first this did not matter, because the individual parishes in each diocese held the title to their property, and received gifts and bequests. There was no need for the national Church to have any assets, since it consisted solely of a gathering which met for just ten days or so every three years.

All of this changed when a wealthy New Yorker, Clement C. Moore (of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" fame), offered to make a gift of sixty lots in New York City for the building of a school for the training of Episcopal clergy. For some years previously, the Church had been discussing the founding of such a "theological school", and how to raise funds for such a purpose; a campaign was begun, and a trust established under Connecticut law with which to receive donations. The "Theological Seminary" had opened its doors in New Haven in September 1820 in rented premises, and begun its first year of classes. But with the proffered gift from Clement Moore (whose father had been the second Bishop of New York), there was a substantial incentive to locate the Seminary in New York City, and hence the need to create a corporation under the laws of that State able to receive donations and administer Moore's gift.

General Convention in May 1820 had hastily approved a "Constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Missionary Society", to be governed by a board of twenty-four managers, "twelve of whom shall reside in or near the city of Philadelphia," with the Presiding Bishop as President and the other bishops in the Church as vice presidents. This proved unworkable, as no provision was made for how the bishops would function together with the "managers". The managers made a proposal to the bishops which was not accepted, and the society disbanded soon afterwards.

The need to form a society under New York law became more urgent when in March 1821 it was learned that a Mr. Jacob Sherred of New York City had died and left a bequest amounting to some eighty thousand dollars (approximately $ 1,278,000 in today's terms) conditioned upon the establishment of an Episcopal Seminary in the State of New York under the direction of General Convention. Presiding Bishop William White accordingly called a Special General Convention of the Church to meet in Philadelphia over the period October 30 to November 3, 1821 in order to address how best to meet the terms of the gift. The result was the establishment of a separate entity under New York law to operate the Theological Seminary under the terms of Moore's and Sherred's gifts.

In response to a report from its managers, the Special Convention of 1821 also took up the plight of the stillborn "Missionary Society". With the seminary provided for separately, it was decided to establish a permanent corporation for the mission of the Church on the model of the Church of England's Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. An amended Constitution was approved by both Houses, after further negotiation on the role to be played in its governance by the bishops of the Church, and the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America formally came into being. Its members were designated as all bishops and deputies in General Convention, plus any others who should subscribe at least $3 annually to its mission.

The Society thus formed operated chiefly out of Philadelphia for its first twenty-five years, and went through several revisions to its Constitution. It was finally incorporated in its present form under the laws of New York in 1846.The provisions of its Constitution are incorporated into the Canons of the Episcopal Church (USA) as Canon I.3. Its first two Articles are as follows:

ARTICLE I This organization shall be called The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, and shall be considered as comprehending all persons who are members of the Church.

ARTICLE II The Executive Council, as constituted by Canon, shall be its Board of Directors, and shall adopt By-laws for its government not inconsistent with the Constitution and Canons.
Thus every person who is a member of an Episcopal parish or mission, and every licensed member of the clergy, are in some unspecified way deemed part of the DFMS. However, Canon I.3 does not use the word "member", and the DFMS does not have "voting members" as such. Its affairs are controlled and run by another canonically created body, the Executive Council (which recently itself underwent an "informal" reorganization). The Presiding Bishop is ex officio the President of the DFMS, and the President of the House of Deputies is one of two Vice Presidents of the DFMS; the other Vice President is the person actually hired as the Executive Director of the Society. The Financial Officer and the Secretary of the Executive Council, respectively, are ex officio the Treasurer and the Secretary of the DFMS.

What does the DFMS do? First and foremost, it holds and invests the assets of (P)ECUSA. As explained in the latest edition of the Trust Fund Book [CAUTION: 3.07MB .pdf download], the DFMS is the custodian of over $363 million in accumulated trust funds donated to PECUSA, primarily for missionary purposes, although there are many gifts as well which were unrestricted when made. These funds are all invested, and the Church uses the income to supplement its other sources, such as government grants and voluntary contributions by dioceses. (For more detail about the Trust Funds and their relation to the Church's current litigation expenses, see this earlier post. To obtain copies of the latest budget and audited financial statements of the Church, go to this link. To see the charter of the Audit Committee of the DFMS and Executive Council, click on this link.)

The DFMS also coordinates and organizes the missionary work of the Church that is not carried on at the diocesan or parish level. It does this through the Mission Program Office located at Church headquarters in New York, which is under the authority of the Presiding Bishop.

So this is the way things work in practice. (P)ECUSA itself -- the voluntary association of Dioceses -- is not itself a church; it is a denomination. It also, under its Constitution, has no officers as such: instead, General Convention has its officers, including the Presiding Bishop of the House of Bishops, and the President of the House of Deputies, and so forth. There is, therefore, no "President" or CEO of (P)ECUSA. The Constitution leaves it an unincorporated association, and since its members are all individual dioceses -- who themselves are mostly unincorporated associations -- there are no members who are individuals who could even occupy the position of "President" or "CEO" of (P)ECUSA.

General Convention is the vehicle by which (P)ECUSA's member dioceses come together to work for the common purpose and good of "the Church" -- which is just a handy collective noun for all of the thousands of parishes which make up the member Dioceses. General Convention itself is not "the Church" -- nor could it be, because it comes into existence for just two weeks out of every 156 weeks in a given triennium.

As you can see, this creates a vacuum at the very top of "the Church". The Dioceses could not hold any property or assets of the Church collectively, so they formed the DFMS to do that. As a corporation, DFMS had to have officers, including a President, a Vice President (or two), a Secretary and a Treasurer, and it had to have a Board of Directors. The Church Canons -- not the Constitution -- fill all those positions from the officers of General Convention and the members and officers of the Executive Council, which itself is another canonical (and not constitutional) creation.

Because the Presiding Bishop, the President of the House of Deputies, and the Executive Council have by canon been appointed to manage all of this accumulated property and money that has been donated to the DFMS over the years, they have tended with time to see themselves as the real "officers of the Church." Their high profile in all the news about the Church lends support to that image. But it is well to remember that the real Episcopal Church (USA) is not General Convention, not the DFMS, nor the people at 815. Instead it is the over 7,000 individual parishes and missions who are the real Church; without them, there would be no "Church" as the ordinary person understands that term. The bureaucracy is supposed to work for the parishes and missions, and not the other way around.

And that is why this and other Episcopalian blogs get so exercised when the bureaucracy acts as though they were "the Church."


  1. I thank Mr. Haley for a clear explanation of what I knew about DFMS as well as things that I did not know. I do, however, have three comments, one somewhat picky and the other two more significant:
    1. 'However, Canon I.3 does not use the word "member",' is correct, but I.3 uses, as Mr. Haley quoted it, "members." I seem to be unable to grasp the point that Mr. Haley is making here.
    2. While Mr. Haley may be legally correct in stating that '. (P)ECUSA itself -- the voluntary association of Dioceses -- is not itself a church; it is a denomination.' in the Anglican Communion, it is a Church, one of the member Churches of the Communion.
    3. I agree with Mr. Haley that the Episcopal Church is all of us in our congregations and dioceses - all of us as members of the DFMS. We are the members and the missionaries, but so are the members of the General Convention and the Executive Couincil. So are the Presiding Bishop and the officers of the DFMS. So are the members of the Church Center staff.

  2. Father Weir, there are generally two forms of non-profit corporations: those which have members, and those which do not, but which just have boards (directors or trustees). In the member type of corporation, members join by meeting some qualifications; they usually pay some sort of dues; and then they participate in elections of the officers and directors. In a religious corporation which does not have members, the officers are usually appointed/hired by the board, and the board is elected or appointed by some body with which the corporation is affiliated -- or the board selects its own successors.

    DFMS does not have any provision for "members" who participate in it in the way I have described. Instead, the Constitution, as I quoted it from Canon I.3 above, says only that DFMS "comprehends" (in some mysterious way) all those who are members of [a parish, mission or congregation in] the Church. It does not say that members of the Church are in any way "members" of DFMS, because to do so would mean that members would get to vote for the DFMS Board, to amend the DFMS Constitution, and on other such matters.

    Instead, the Directors of DFMS are the Executive Council, which is chosen by General Convention and the Synods of the nine Provinces, and the officers are mostly people who hold their position by virtue of another position they already have in General Convention or the Executive Council.

    In the sense you are using the word "Church" -- as a Church in the Anglican Communion -- most people would understand it as synonymous with "denomination." For instance, in the complaint it filed when it intervened in the Pittsburgh litigation, ECUSA alleged in the second paragraph: "The Episcopal Church is a hierarchical religious denomination . . .". To call it a "Church" is thus a terminology which I try to avoid when I am speaking of a church which has a place of worship where it holds regular services of worship, and where in particular the sacraments (baptism, confirmation, holy communion, etc.) are celebrated. ECUSA is a "Church" in that sense only when one is really speaking collectively of its 7,000 or so individual parishes, missions and congregations.