Sunday, June 27, 2010

Behind the News: an Enormous Gamble

The recent meeting of ECUSA's Executive Council in Maryland has garnered a lot of media attention because of the impromptu visit to it by the Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion, the Rev. Canon Kenneth G. Kearon. Canon Kearon was on vacation at the time he was prevailed upon to attend a question-and-answer session, with all-too-predictable results. The members of the Executive Council asked him questions, but they did not like the answers, and soon stopped listening -- as is evident from all the snide and insulting reports they have since blogged about the encounter, to which I shall not link here.

(Was it worth it, Canon Kearon? Welcome to the club.)

For a look at what really went on at the meeting of the Executive Council, we can take the official press accounts only as a point of departure, and then fill in the gaps. When one takes the effort to do this, the picture that emerges is very different indeed from the one ENS tries to sell you.

Here is the ENS account of what took place on the opening day of the meeting (June 16):
The Episcopal Church's Executive Council began its three-day meeting here June 16 by hearing about the efforts to rebuild two dioceses: Haiti and San Joaquin. . . .
And now, for some reality: as the largest of all of the dioceses affiliated with ECUSA, Haiti serves to point up why San Joaquin is not a diocese, either in canon law or in fact. According to ECUSA's latest available statistics, the average Sunday attendance (ASA) for Haiti went from 15,807 in 2007 to 16,631 in 2008; in contrast, San Joaquin went from 3,965 in 2007 to just 896 in 2008. In other words, it would take almost 20 "San Joaquins" to equal just one Haiti. San Joaquin is on a par with Eau Claire (892 ASA in 2008), Northern Michigan (653), Quincy (935), North Dakota (804), and Western Kansas (801) -- all dioceses which are struggling to survive.

Back to the ENS story:
Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies and council vice president, yielded the majority of her time for opening remarks to Diocese of San Joaquin Provisional Bishop Jerry Lamb who updated the council on the work to rebuild the central California diocese since the group met there in January 2009.
"I want to tell you clearly and loudly that the clergy and laity of the Diocese of San Joaquin are committed to the Episcopal Church and to the Episcopal sense of what it is to be God's people," he said.

He said that the Episcopalians who remained after the former leadership and a majority of its members joined in December 2007 the Argentina-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone have tried to reconcile, revive, renew and rebuild. Lamb said that efforts to reconcile with those who left "bore very, very little fruit" . . .
Let me see, now -- why might that be, Bishop Lamb? Could it be your arbitrary and uncanonical deposition of sixty-one San Joaquin clergy? No? Oh, I know -- it's your systematic campaign of lawsuits filed against now five of the largest incorporated parishes. Yes, that would certainly make "reconciliation" very, very difficult. . .
. . . but that 21 worshipping communities have reformed and 18 of them have shown "significant but slow growth."

"They are becoming much, much stronger," Lamb said.
"Much, much stronger," Bishop Lamb? Then why did you come to the Executive Council Meeting -- just to tell them this? It wasn't to ask them for more money, was it?
He said he has recently experienced "a palpable shift" of attitude in many congregations from survival mode to how to be active in mission and ministry in their wider communities. "We truly are a missionary diocese in San Joaquin," he said.
Whoops -- "a missionary diocese": wrong choice of words, Bishop Lamb. Very bad for ECUSA's litigation strategy. For example, take a look at what ECUSA recently alleged in its lawsuit against the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth (emphasis added):
26. The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is not a Missionary Diocese. The Constitution and canons of the Church do not provide for or permit the release, withdrawal, or transfer of any diocese that is not a Missionary Diocese.
No, you definitely want to stay away from the concept of a "missionary diocese", Bishop Lamb. Missionary Dioceses are permitted under the canons to join another Province of the Anglican Communion (and many revisionists use that point as an argument from silence -- a very weak silence, to be sure -- to contend why regular dioceses may not do so).
The diocese had to be rebuilt from "nothing but a commitment to remain in the Episcopal Church," Lamb said. Much work needed to be done and still needs to be done to teach the basics of the Episcopal expression of the Christian faith as well as its polity and tradition, and leadership skills in general, he said.
Yes, all that litigation you initiated can be very distracting from the main goals, can't it -- unless the "main goals" of your outfit are to sue every Anglican church in sight to get their buildings and bank accounts. And we shall see more about your "main goals" as this story unfolds.
The diocese has created an equality commission to look at ways to incorporate women, gays and lesbians and people of color into the church and "to renew that sense of the church as a wide tent," he said.
Whenever possible, turn something as basic as equality over to a commission to produce a report, which can be filed away. That's the American way.
Property litigation "has been enormous and extremely lengthy" and even though the state courts have consistently ruled in favor of the diocese and with the wider church, "yet we are quite a bit behind where we thought we would be" in the effort to regain property, he told the council.
Quite a bit behind where you thought you would be, Bishop Lamb? Could that be because the "state courts" in San Joaquin have not exactly "consistently ruled in favor of the diocese," as you say, Bishop Lamb? Given that to date, there has been only one such decision in your favor, by a trial court in Fresno -- whose decision is even now under review by the Fifth District Court of Appeals? Aren't you stretching things a bit, Bishop Lamb?
Lamb also said that he had recently asked the diocese and Jefferts Schori to begin a search for a second provisional bishop. He said he realized earlier this year that "I was wearing out and I needed a break." Lamb has been the diocese's provisional bishop since March 2008. He said he has only had a few months off since he retired from the Diocese of Northern California in January 2007.
All those depositions, and all those lawsuits on the burner certainly can wear one out. And what better time to pull out, before anything has been decided against you? That way, your successor will have to deal with any consequences of all the lawsuits you have filed. But meanwhile -- there is that little matter of money, isn't there? Because, as you hinted above, litigation can be enormously expensive and lengthy. However, the ENS story about San Joaquin ends at this point, and we have to look elsewhere to see what happened at the Executive Council Meeting.

Let's go to this report by ENS of all the actions approved by the Executive Council over its three-day session. There we find, buried in a long list of measures adopted, that the Council:
Supported the Diocese of San Joaquin in its protection of diocesan properties and continuing operations by making available for loan $500,000 for legal actions, drawable at any time through 2012; and $350,000 for operations, drawable during calendar year 2011 (loan terms, which may include deferral of interest payments, to be determined in consultation between the diocese and DFMS treasurer, the presiding officers and the chief operating officer) (FFM024). (DFMS refers to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church, the legal name of the church in the United States.) [Bold emphasis added.]
Now let's do some math. According to those statistics quoted earlier, San Joaquin had just 2,246 members in 2008, of which an average of just 896 went to church each Sunday. And what Bishop Lamb just did for them, as his parting act, was to commit them to repayment of a further $850,000 in loans, in order to finance litigation and the operations needed to be carried on while the litigation is making its way through the courts. And that is on top of $125,000 previously borrowed from the DFMS, and $420,000 previously received from the DFMS -- the latter apparently as a "grant", which perhaps means it will not have to be repaid.

Add those numbers up: the total comes to one million, three hundred and ninety-five thousand dollars in grants and loans to a diocese of just 2,246 people: that is over $620 for every man, woman and youth in the diocese (or nearly $1,600 for just those coming to church). That is a humongous subsidy for such a small part of ECUSA; on a per capita basis, it dwarfs the amounts paid by ECUSA to subsidize any other diocese. (Nor does this take into account the other ways in which ECUSA uses its trust funds to prop up its Potemkin diocese, as we shall examine in the next part of this post.)

Of course, looked at the other way, that is an enormous debt with which to saddle any group in the Church -- with zero results to show after Bishop Lamb's more than two years in office, and in the face of the many shortcomings and inadequacies to which Bishop Lamb admitted. In a second installment of this post, I shall examine the religious and social dimensions of such a huge gamble, and what it entails for persons like Bishop Lamb and groups like the Executive Council, who should be acting as fiduciaries to the people who elected them.

1 comment:

  1. Lamb is gambling. He thinks he will be able to gamble with borrowed money, and he thinks he will be able to pay back the loan shark with his winnings. Is that the type of leadership skills he should be teaching to the pewsitters in San Joaquin?

    The real laugher was this,

    "Much work needed to be done and still needs to be done to teach the basics of the Episcopal expression of the Christian faith as well as its polity and tradition, and leadership skills in general, he said."