Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Things Yet to Come

[Important -- after reading the post, see the UPDATE below.]

The Executive Council of the General Convention, which is also the Board of Directors of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, begins one of its three-day, thrice-yearly meetings tomorrow. The meeting will take place at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, just outside of Baltimore, Maryland. Depending on what has happened, and on how much the Council is informed at the session, it could turn out to be quite a significant milepost in the annals of ECUSA's membership in the Anglican Communion.

A report by the well-informed Rev. George Conger has the Anglican blogworld abuzz (emphasis added):

The Archbishop of Canterbury has asked Provinces who have violated the Communion’s moratoria on gay bishops and blessings, along with those who cross provincial borders in response to these actions, to withdraw their representatives from the Communion’s official ecumenical bodies and from the newly formed Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (UFO).

“Some public marks of distance,” or discipline of those who defy the wider Church, “are unavoidable if our Communion bodies are not to be stripped of credibility and effectiveness,” Dr Rowan Williams said.

In a letter dated May 28, the Archbishop stated that the participation of representatives from the Episcopal Church and other offenders created an “obvious problem” by having those “consciously at odds with what the Communion has formally requested or stipulated” serve as representatives of the Communion.

Dr Williams’ Pentecost letter entitled “Renewal in the Spirit” represents a shift in the Archbishop’s agenda, as it calls for a return of a regime of substantive meetings to address the issues dividing the Church. . . .

The Archbishop’s Pentecost letter is the public half of a campaign to rein in the Episcopal Church, The Church of England Newspaper has learned, and follows a private letter delivered to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori asking her to consider withdrawing from active participation on the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.

A letter from the Archbishop is believed to have been given to Bishop Jefferts Schori at the April 17 consecration of the Bishop of Connecticut, Dr Ian Douglas. Neva Rae Fox, a spokesman for the Presiding Bishop said she could not comment as she was not present at the Connecticut consecration. Dr Williams’ office would neither confirm nor deny the story, citing its policy of not commenting on the Archbishop’s private correspondence.
If correct, this report makes what will happen at the meeting of the Executive Council over the next three days very, very significant. For as I related in this earlier post, and then this one, the Rev. Canon Mark Harris, who is a well-informed member of the Executive Council, has detailed the plans that are afoot to manipulate the Bylaws of the Anglican Consultative Council so as to enable the Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas to remain a member of its Standing Committee, notwithstanding his recent consecration as an Episcopal bishop. To do so, the Executive Council first has to declare the term of its previous episcopal delegate to the ACC, the Rt. Rev. Catherine Roskam, to have ended before the start of the ACC's next meeting in the spring of 2012, which is when it would normally terminate in accordance with the ACC's Bylaws. Then, having arranged for her position to be "vacant", it would elect Bishop Douglas as her replacement. (The election would still be contrary to the ACC's Bylaws, but when did ECUSA ever let a little Bylaw stop it from doing something it wants to do?)

But if the Archbishop of Canterbury has already privately asked ECUSA's Presiding Bishop to step down from her role on the Standing Committee, imagine what a dilemma this creates for 815. For if on June 18 they appoint Bishop Douglas to that Committee, then (again, assuming the correctness of Father Conger's report) one of three things must follow:

(1) The Executive Council was not informed at its meeting of the Archbishop of Canterbury's private letter, and acted in a vacuum according to its pre-programmed agenda; or

(2) The Executive Council was not informed at its meeting of the Archbishop of Canterbury's private letter, but the Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas was, and he, in solidarity with his Presiding Bishop, have decided to defy the Archbishop of Canterbury by placing two ECUSA bishops on the Standing Committee; or

(3) The Executive Council was fully informed of the Archbishop of Canterbury's private letter, and decided to thumb its collective nose at his request.

A fourth possibility, of course, is that Fr. Conger's report is incorrect, and no such request to the Presiding Bishop has yet been made. In that case, the Executive Council's action in electing Bishop Douglas, if that occurs, will constitute business as usual for ECUSA. And it will furnish yet one more reason for such a request to be made, once the Archbishop has consulted with his fellow primates.

The possible scenarios of the next three days will unfold against a backdrop of which most Episcopalians are largely unaware. To put the anticipated events of this meeting into context, it is best to review some past minutes of the Executive Council.

The minutes of the meetings of the Executive Council are posted on ECUSA's website, but only after they have been approved by the Council. Thus the minutes of its first meeting earlier this year, which will be on the agenda for approval tomorrow at the start of its next meeting, are currently unavailable; the most recent minutes are of its meeting held October 2009 in Memphis, Tennessee. Even though they are now some nine months old, the minutes tell a story somewhat akin to what must have taken place in the first hour or two after Titanic hit an iceberg:

The Presiding Bishop gave Opening Remarks. She asked for a moratorium on use of “National Church” and enumerated the countries in which The Episcopal Church [hereafter, TEC] works. She spoke of the thirty-eight provinces of the Anglican Communion and partnerships with the ELCA, the Moravian Church, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church in the USA. She said the biggest question before the Council was, Where will we spend our energy? She reminded Council of the recent General Convention at which the call to mission was sounded. She enumerated the Five Marks of Mission: proclaiming the Good News; teaching, baptizing new members; relieving suffering; transforming injustice; and care for the earth. She called to Council’s attention the budget priorities of the General Convention and opined that the realities of the budget offered opportunities. She commented on the many visitors to General Convention from overseas provinces, who learned about how TEC makes decisions. 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 [sic] of crisis: the choice was resurrection or tomb . . . .
"[N]o diocese had left the church, only individuals. . . [T]he choice was resurrection or tomb." Well, that has it correct, at least. The Presiding Bishop and her Chancellor are committed to the mantra that "people may leave ECUSA, but dioceses cannot." But there are currently pending before the courts in California and Texas two lawsuits which should resolve that question, and the odds do not favor the official version (because in each case, the court in question agreed to review an interim decision of the trial court, without waiting for it to become final, as happens in over 97% of such cases). If ECUSA loses one or both of those decisions, it will have limited further options to appeal, and the result may well be akin to the slow sealing of a tomb (or the gradual filling up of a hold with water).

Contrast the Presiding Bishop's opening remarks with those of the President of the House of Deputies:
The President of the House of Deputies, Canon Bonnie Anderson, gave opening remarks. She said the importance of the meeting is not what is before Council, but how? She said the Council is new as a body with twenty-one new members. She reminded Council that Committees, Commission, Agencies and Boards (hereafter, CCABs) are participatory with lay persons, deacons, priests and bishops with all voices heard. She reminded Council that it was an elected body: a call affirmed by the church. She asked each member to assess what he/she brings as a gift to Council’s work: e.g., imagination, creativity, insight. She referenced “The Magician’s Elephant,” a book she had read during the summer. In it a magician tries to conjure an elephant and succeeds. The book asks the questions, What is possible? What if? She asked, What if Council were a Christian community, based on an understanding of one another’s gifts. What if diversity makes unity? What if differences are what we need most? What if Council prayed and discerned its role, then did it?
(Note: if this is the book mentioned, it is written for Grades 4-6.) Indeed: what if the "Council were a Christian community"? Would all of the lawsuits it is supporting against other Christians then be settled? Not very likely, according to these further extracts from the October 2009 minutes:
The Presiding Bishop introduced her Chancellor, David Beers, Esq., who introduced the Chancellor to the President of the House of Deputies, Sally Johnson, Esq. Ms Johnson presented a PowerPoint on the structure of the church with particular attention to the work of Council. [The PowerPoint is posted on the Extranet.] Mr Beers and Ms Johnson fielded questions. . . .

Mr Beers gave a report on the church’s litigation. . . .

Dr Glover moved FFM001 – Loans for Reorganizing Dioceses.
FFM 001
TO: Executive Council
FROM: Standing Committee on Administration & Finance
DATE: October 8, 2009
RE: Loans for Reorganizing Dioceses

Resolved, That the Executive Council is grateful for the work of reorganization by the following dioceses: The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth; the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh; the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy; and the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin; and be it further

Resolved, That the Executive Council supports these dioceses in 2010 by making loans available in an amount not to exceed $125,000 per diocese, the terms of such loan to be determined in consultation between the Diocese and the following officers of the Domestic & Foreign Missionary Society: the Treasurer or the COO, and either of the President of the House of Deputies or the Presiding Bishop or the Chief Operating Officer, which shall be reported to the Council not later than its February 2010 meeting.

The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society wishes to support the continuing work of reorganizing dioceses but is not in a financial position to make further unrestricted grants to these dioceses. The DFMS may access various sources (e.g., cash reserves, its own line of credit) to fund these loans to dioceses.

A precedent for such loans was established by Executive Council in April 2009 (AF-095) when it approved a loan to the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin of up to $500,000 to support that diocese’s protection of property.

DFMS staff and leaders of the four dioceses have discussed and agreed the general terms of such loans, including:

Interest payable monthly at an annual rate of 4.75% (adjusted upwards if interest rates rise)

Repayable at the earlier of December 31, 2012 or the final release of certain property and funds claimed by the diocese.

The resolution carried unanimously.
It is the last of the terms for the loans which is most telling. They are "[r]epayable at the earlier of December 31, 2012 or the final release of certain property and funds claimed by the diocese." This makes it crystal clear, of course, that the object of the current lawsuits against the former dioceses (for which no Dennis Canon applies, remember) is solely to recover the monies in their possession. With that money, the plaintiffs will have to repay ECUSA first, and only if there is anything left will they be able to prop up their infrastructure for a while, until they go through all the money.

This is not a healthy picture. Lawsuits are being financed by an entity which admits it has no more resources to make "unrestricted grants" to the plaintiffs so chosen, so it has to loan the money to them. The objects of the lawsuits are certain pots of money now frozen in various bank and brokerage accounts, at ECUSA's request. There is no consideration by the Executive Council, please note, as to whether the size of the potential recoveries will in each case be adequate to justify the amounts lent. They simply listen to the Chancellor -- whose own law firm will receive millions from the Church for assisting in the lawsuits -- and vote to loan the money.

There is much more to be gleaned about the sick state of ECUSA (due to all its litigation) from a perusal of the minutes -- including a most interesting spat (led by Dr. Katie Sherrod of Ft. Worth and Deacon Joyce Hardy, of Little Rock) over United Thank Offering funds (italics added for emphasis):
The Chair asked Dr Douglas to present an interim report of the INC055 Task Force on the United Thank Offering [hereafter UTO]. Dr Douglas named the members of the Task Force and reported its timeline. Deacon Hardy reported that at a meeting of Province VII concern was raised about why TEC would take UTO funds. The perception, she said, was of a takeover of UTO. Dr Douglas reminded Council of the larger issues of the relationship of the Episcopal Church Women to TEC and of the Triennial to the General Convention. Katie Sherrod informed Council that the delegation from the Diocese of Fort Worth to Triennial had found Dr Douglas’ presentation to the Episcopal Church Women difficult. The former UTO board reported of having been blindsided by the Task Force. The Triennial had petitioned the Presiding Officers for additional representation on the Task Force by an additional member of the UTO board and two members of the Episcopal Church Women board. Dr Douglas likened the situation with UTO to Easter: death and resurrection. Deacon Hardy observed it depended on who was pronouncing death. Ms Anne Watkins wondered how much of the difficulty were due to the women’s movement: career vs. home? Dr Douglas also noted a generational component.
This was, of course, the Rev. Douglas's last meeting -- because of his election to the episcopate, he resigned his seat on the Executive Council at the end of the meeting. It sounds as though, for some people, his resignation could come none too soon.

Beneath the current of the Executive Council minutes, therefore, runs a deeper strain of constant worries about where the next dollars will come from. The people running the litigation are there to hold everyone's hands and provide reassurance that "all will soon be well." (No doubt the report at tomorrow's meeting will be all about the "grand success" received in the Supreme Court of Virginia -- where the Church has been given the opportunity to spend yet more millions on trying to achieve its objective.) Monies are budgeted to be repaid when success is achieved. Themes of "tomb" and "resurrection" alternate, but are perceived differently by different observers. And all are living on borrowed time, as well as on borrowed funds.

Watch what happens, therefore, at the Executive Council meeting over the next three days. (No doubt there will be reports by ENS.) The tenor of what occurs could provide some further clues to expected confrontations yet to occur within the Anglican Communion.

[UPDATE 06/15/2010: The plot thickens. The fact that Canon Kearon -- the Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion -- is coming to the Executive Council meeting means several things. First, there has to have been communication going on between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop -- without her having been invited, as far as we know, for tea at Lambeth Palace. Canon Kearon would not show up uninvited, and as chair of the Executive Council, the Presiding Bishop invites the guests.

Second, there is now no way that if the Archbishop wrote the Presiding Bishop a private request that she step down from the Standing Committee, that fact will remain unknown to the members of the Executive Council -- they could simply ask Canon Kearon, who probably has a copy. This ensures that the first two of my hypothetical scenarios given above can no longer take place.

Third, it now appears that if there is a request that the Presiding Bishop absent herself from the Standing Committee, then the same will apply to any move to "elect" Bishop Douglas to the ACC so that he could continue to serve on that Committee. Canon Kearon will tell the Executive Council that it may try to elect Bishop Douglas, but that he will be asked immediately to stand down as well. It is theoretically possible, of course, that a deal has been struck whereby Bishop Douglas would be seated in exchange for the Presiding Bishop's agreement to step down, but I seriously doubt it. The reason, as I explained in this earlier post, is that since assuming his diocesan office, Bishop Douglas has become just as big a transgressor of the Windsor moritoria as the Presiding Bishop has been: he has continued in place his predecessor's allowance of blessings for same-sex unions in churches of the Diocese of Connecticut. It would be ludicrous to sanction the Presiding Bishop for her personal violations, and then allow Bishop Douglas to escape the consequences of his own.

That leaves now only two possible outcomes: a new one, whereby the Executive Council will accede (wonderful word!) to the Archbishop's request, and instruct its representatives to the ACC to withdraw from participation; or the one sketched above, whereby the Executive Council takes a stand in solidarity with its representatives, and defies the Archbishop to do his worst.

Either way, it should make for a momentous meeting -- if there is a request to stand down.]


  1. "What if diversity makes unity?" asks the President of the House of Deputies. That is one of the dumbest questions I have ever heard. Diversity never makes unity. If you have a group of people who are united on one thing (Celtics fans, to use a very current illustration, united in their desire to see a championship flag), you will find that there will be a vast diversity in other aspects of their lives - but they will all want to see Boston win. In fact, if some so-called Celtics fans wanted to see the Lakers win, they would not be Celtics fans, and so could not be part of the group, by definition.

    Progressives talk about "reason," but they seldom use it.

    Very interesting about the UTO, the ECW, and TEC. It sounds like there is a great hunger for dollars, and not much compunction over how they are gotten. Progressives do not seem to use reason very well, but they are past-masters at rationalizing.

  2. Thank you for volunteering for the task of wading through and deciphering the EC minutes. The terms of the loan to the Potemkin diocese really do show that TEC is the proverbial dog in the manger, as you earlier noted.

    Speaking of the dog in the manger, and apologies for going a bit off-topic, but in researching for the eventual Falls Church/VA Supreme Court decision follow-up, I thought it would be helpful to check the ultimate fate of the church property of the former St. Bartholomew Episcopal in Tonawanda, NY, which until it departed for ACNA in late 2008 was the Diocese of Western New York's largest parish by attendance. The congregation left voluntarily, but certainly they would have been subject to a lawsuit if they had tried to keep the property. (The congregation is now St. Bartholomew Anglican, a vibrant ACNA congregation in a converted Jewish temple.) Sarah Hey blogged about subsequent events involving the formar St. Bartholomew's property (http://www.standfirminfaith.com/?/sf/page/25221), that a chuch named Holy Apostles was started with the remnant congregation under a young woman priest who was in over her head, and less than a year later that project was terminated by the bishop as hopeless. As it turns out, the former St. Bartholomew-Holy Apostles property is now occupied by a canine training business.


    Talk about literally going to the dogs.

  3. Sounds like it could be an interesting meeting indeed.