Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Modest Proposal to Reform ECUSA (II)

In Part I of these posts, I went through the concept of rethinking the Episcopal Church (USA), or ECUSA, in such a way as to restore its pastoral and missional capabilities. The solution was to downsize its grossly overweight administration, by first reducing the number of dioceses from 110 to just ten (or a similar small number, such as 12, or 7), along with the number of diocesan bishops.

The heart of ECUSA is its 7,000+ parishes and missions. That is where the real spiritual work of the Church gets done. As I said in Part I, "[a]ll else is administration or abstraction."

That same observation permeates the rest of my Modest Proposal, as presented in this Part II.

The current administration of ECUSA is topheavy to a stultifying degree. In addition to the offices and staff at 815 (most working for the Presiding Bishop), we have the 38-member Executive Council, the corporate staff of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS), and the officers and staff of General Convention. No one -- not even the Presiding Bishop -- is ultimately in charge. And that is why ECUSA, with over $300 million in trust funds and an annual budget of $30 to $40 million, is run as though it were accountable to no one. (If no one is in charge, then there is no one to hold anyone accountable, except God Himself.)

This, too, is a disgrace that must end. The collective bishops have shown that they are unable, or unwilling, to rein in the waste at 815. The Executive Council spends more time these days fighting to control its own agenda (which 815 also wants to have firmly in hand) than it does minding the store. And the DFMS just writes the checks, while never asking how the money is spent.

A corporation the size of ECUSA would never get away without having a proper management. And neither should ECUSA be cut any slack, just because it is a religious organization. If anything, because those who run ECUSA are ultimately accountable to God, as well as to its 1.8 million pledging members, one should hold them to the very highest of fiduciary standards.

As I say, however, it is impossible to do so given the current disorganization of the organization. So once again, the solution lies in identifying what is needed, and then in ruthlessly eliminating anything that stands in the way.

ECUSA itself is an unincorporated association of member dioceses. That is an appropriate form, given the nature of dioceses, so I do not propose to change it.

But ECUSA also has a corporate arm -- the DFMS (a New York religious corporation). And corporations are an ideal form with which to provide management that is accountable.  DFMS has, for instance, a Chief Executive, a Board of Directors, and other officers such as a Secretary and a Treasurer.

Thus there is no need to reinvent the wheel here. We simply make the DFMS the true manager of ECUSA.

To manage ECUSA properly, the DFMS has to be well and truly independent of it. Currently the Executive Council functions as its Board, and the Presiding Bishop is its chief executive. They both have to go, as do all other ties and connections with 815, or the bishops, or General Convention.

Run the DFMS, I say, with a eleven-member, professional Board that is selected for excellence in management. Let them all be pledging Episcopalians from their respective parishes -- but do not let all of them come from Trinity Wall Street. Let each of the ten dioceses choose their most qualified lay person (clergy may not apply), for a five-year term, with the possibility of being re-elected once.  Finally, let the Episcopal Seminaries (any seminary which prepares Episcopal priests) together elect the eleventh Board member.

The DFMS Board is thus ultimately accountable to the member dioceses (and the seminaries), which is as it should be. But the dioceses (who ultimately control the Church's constitution) could also set up, if they wished, a "Board of Overseers" made up of Episcopal clergy and laity to visit the DFMS from time to time, observe its operations, and make recommendations back to the dioceses for any needed changes.

The DFMS Board is responsible for hiring the Church's officers -- the CEO, the Secretary and the Treasurer; and each officer hires their own staff within the limits of the budget. The qualifications for each office will be the same as those for a Fortune 500 company. Each officer will serve at the pleasure of the Board.

The officers, overseen by the Board, are responsible for running the entire operation of the Church. They establish and budget for the costs of each of the ten dioceses, for the DFMS, and for the Council of Guardians -- based upon the revenues from pledges and from trust fund income. Individual parishes continue to raise and spend their own funds on their own expenses as before; they each send ten percent of their pledge income to the DFMS directly (not to their diocese).

The budget for each diocese includes the salary for a Mission Coordinator, whose sole job is to coordinate (but not direct) the mission efforts of individual parishes in that diocese. The Mission Coordinator acts as a clearing house for mission projects and mission information; all missions themselves originate with, and are overseen by, one or more parishes.

The budget for each diocese also includes a subsidy component for those congregations in that diocese which are not yet self-sustaining. All of those subsidies fall under the jurisdiction of a Vice President for Development, whose main job is to see to it that no congregation stays on perpetual subsidy, but progresses steadily toward self-sustainability. If a parish decides to plant a new congregation, and wants the DFMS to assist it, it coordinates its plans and budget with the Vice President for Development.

The idea here is to divorce all of the Church's financial aspects from the Church's clerical positions, so that the bishops, vicars and rectors can concentrate on being purely pastoral. (There has never been any correlation proven between financial acumen and pastoral ability.) The professional managers will see to it that the Church spends its money wisely, so as to achieve its pastoral and missional goals. (For example, they would never, ever authorize spending $40 million on "litigation to protect properties" -- can you see any major Fortune 500 franchise operation that would allow itself to fall into that trap?)

Now, what about General Convention? Again, my proposal is simple: we abolish it. With the Council of Guardians being responsible for clerical and disciplinary canons and the BCP, and the DFMS being responsible for its own corporate bylaws, there is (on purpose) no official function left for General Convention to perform. (The member dioceses can adopt a procedure for approving changes to the Constitution that does not involve gathering in a convention, but only action at the diocesan level by each member diocese.)

Therefore, if the laity and clergy still want some sort of collective body, let them establish it themselves. Let any such replacement be expressly unofficial -- that is, there is no longer any body which has any authority to speak publicly on behalf of the whole Church. (It is forbidden from using the word "Episcopal" anywhere in its name, because it has no bishops involved -- the canons prohibit any bishop from belonging to any such organization.)

Let it be wholly voluntary, mainly Web-based, and let it, too, be financially self-sustaining through subscriptions and user/participant fees -- no money comes from the DFMS for its activities. If it wants to get together for periodic meetings, it does so completely on its own devices. Its reputation will be entirely what its members make of it -- and that is as it should be.

So that is the full Modest Proposal: downsize drastically, streamline administration and divorce it fully from clerical / pastoral functions. Free the Church up to be more pastoral- and mission-directed; it is already wealthy enough to do good things, if only the wealth can be professionally and disinterestedly managed.

Oh, yes -- and in case the reader hadn't noticed: since the only canons left will be the ones spelling out clergy qualifications and standards for discipline (the current Titles III and IV), there will no longer be any Dennis Canon, and there never can be anything like it again!


  1. So far, your level of dedication to the issue has guided you well in this effort,, to the best of my understanding. This is my first reading, and as you know it takes this age and all my ages before....three readings to comprehend correctly complex writings that may contain two or three points in one sentence. Yours, while succinct in form, at times has even a cubic, three-dimensional aspect that makes the message more interesting. We shall make a brief critique later to-day. Thanks, beforehand for the effort and the excellence.
    El Gringo Viejo

  2. At least one bishop seems to enjoy "reigning" in the waste of 815. None, however, seem to want to rein in the waste.

    1. To clarify: Early this morning when I read the column, the fifth paragraph read "...The collective bishops have shown that they are unable, or unwilling, to reign in the waste at 815......." I assumed that the choice of spelling was that of Bill Gates, not our esteemed advocate. It was too good to pass up, so I posted the above comment. When I checked back a few hours later, the typo was corrected, leaving my comment high and dry. Thus I learn the hazards of commenting on a moving target.

    2. Nelson Harrell, normally when I correct a typo like that I thank the commenter who pointed it out to me. This time I got called away from the computer right after fixing it, and didn't have time to acknowledge your correction. So I gladly do so now. And I appreciated the way you did it -- thank you.

  3. I have always thought that people who enter the priesthood do not do so because they are either qualified to be or desirous of becoming an executive. A structure that lets them be pastors, and leaders at a parish level, but doesn't put them in a position beyond their capabilities or personal goals and you may have a recipe for success.

  4. There's no "Archbishop of America" in the Episcopal Church. I would suggest the bishops just elect one of their own to preside over their annual meetings, and the presiding bishop just operates out of his (that's "H-I-S") home See. Sell off 815 and give the proceeds to the poor.