RIP: Board of Governors

Until today, I was a Governor of sorts. That is, I was a member of the Board of Governors of Episcopal Life. That glamorous life — really just a glamorous name — was swept away today by Executive Council, meeting in Omaha.

For several years, the Board of Governors had suffered from an identity crisis. I’ve written about the Board several times on this blog. Among other problems, we carried a fancy title (“Governor”) without any actual authority to govern. The group had been created by Executive Council about 20 years ago mostly as an advisory committee.

As staff at 815 changed over the years, the Board was called upon with greater or lesser frequency to weigh in on key decisions. In the past couple of years, there had been several major disconnects between the Board, readers of Episcopal Life, and church center staff. I was chastised by piles of email, for example, because of a staff decision several months ago. I was unable to convince people that I could bear no responsibility for “letting this happen” because I had no authority as a so-called Governor. (By the way, I agreed with this particular decision.)

The resolution that Executive Council passed today reconstitutes the Board of Governors with the much less impressive name of Episcopal News Service Advisory Committee. The name stinks, but the resolution is good. I don’t see it online anywhere yet, but I have received the text by email:

Resolved, That the Executive Council, meeting in Omaha, Nebraska from February 19-22, 2010, directs that the name of the Board of Governors of Episcopal Life be changed to Episcopal News Service Advisory Committee, and be it further

Resolved, that this committee of Executive Council will be comprised of members appointed for six year staggered terms from each of the nine provinces by the respective provincial governing body and up to three at-large members will be appointed by the presiding officers to enhance diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, expertise, language, sexual orientation; and be it further

Resolved, that its mandate shall  be revised to read: “This advisory council shall consult and advise on news gathering, distribution and publishing efforts and ventures of the communications staff at the Church Center engaged in news gathering and dissemination with the goal of insuring that all publication[s] regardless of the means of dissemination effectively serve the needs of the church at all levels, i.e., national, diocesan, parish — to keep the voice of the whole church in a prominent place in the operation of any news gathering entity of the Church” and be it further

Resolved, that the committee shall report annually to the Executive Council through its Joint Standing Committee on Governance and Administration for Mission, and provincial members shall maintain regular communication with their respective provinces, and be it further

Resolved, that this committee and its budget will be overseen and administered by the Executive Council.

So basically we exist to give advice on news gathering and distribution. That makes sense. Everyone should be on the same page now. The membership is expanded a bit so that we can ensure adequate diversity, which is otherwise impossible when nine different entities are appointing people.

I am concerned that there is no assurance that this group will ever have the resources to meet. I’m as tech-savvy as the next person, but video conferences and phone calls really work only after people have forged relationships through in-person contact. At least one meeting per triennium would have been a good use of resources, I believe. The fruit of that expense would be an effective team of people to ensure that church communication is done well.

Someone emailed me to ask if this was a surprise. No, it wasn’t. This is an example of the church working very well. As many will know, there was some tension between the Board and the Church Center staff during General Convention this summer. It was obvious that, among other things, we were coming into our work with differing assumptions on several levels.

We had a meeting (in person, I hasten to emphasize) in Chicago this past fall. The Board was there, along with the Director of Communication of the Episcopal Church. Katie Sherrod from Executive Council came too. We had frank — and positive — discussions about our hopes and expectations. We got into the same chapter, if not quite on the same page. Then over the past couple of weeks, we emailed around some draft language to ensure that we could agree on a mandate.

The final text, if my emailed version is accurate, is very close to what we discussed. The message? When differences come up, it’s important to communicate. Most of the time, everyone is behaving based on their interests or perceived interests. If you can come to agreement on shared interest and understand different points of view, the rest gets easy.

I am not sure if I’m not on this new committee or not. I had about three more years as a Governor, so I’ll wait to hear if we’ve all been ejected or if we’re carried over under a new name. I’d like to continue to serve out my term, but I’d also understand if someone wanted to hit “reset” with new people.

Either way, I’m going to have to get new business cards printed with my title as “The Reverend” instead of “The Reverend and The Honorable”. Sigh.

P.S. I suppose it’s inevitable with a bunch of editors that the language about us would be critcized, and I can’t resist pointing out my pet peeve. As people usually do, this resolution uses “comprise” incorrectly. It should say “will be composed of” or “will comprise”. The latter would be preferable, and the former would be tolerable. The form as it is in the resolution is just plain wrong. Double sigh.

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13 Responses

  1. Joel says:

    “The Reverend and The Advisor” just doesn’t have the same panache, but on the bright side think if the savings in printing costs.

  2. Looks like you’ll need to change your “About” page, where you’re still “the Province I representative to the Board of Governors.” Cheers!

  3. Jim Goodson says:

    the word “insure” is used incorrectly in the Executive Council text; correctly in your blog: “ensure.”

    “insure” means just that: to use insurance.

    jg

  4. Scott Gunn says:

    Thanks, Jim. Let the floodgates of editing be opened!

    Torey, I have made the correction. Thanks.

    Joel, you are absolutely right.

  5. Scott Gunn says:

    Oh, dear. I didn’t realize until I re-read my post that I used the word “ensure” so many times. That’s its own kind of offense. Mea culpa.

  6. Bob Kinney says:

    Thanks, Jim, for pointing out the difference between ensure and insure.
    Sure the church center does not need Governors to point that out?
    Bob Kinney
    Austin

    ps … Hey, Torey

  7. Lisa Fox says:

    Scott, I wish I could feel as much optimism as you express here. Personally, I see Linda Watt and other executives trying still more fervently to concentrate their power at 815. Do you not see it? They are steadily cutting people out of the decision-making structure.

    I know they’ve cut the Board of Governors out of the process. But now I am doubly disappointed.

    Eventually, TEC will make itself fully into the image of Linda Watt. And, eventually, that idol will collapse into rubble.

  8. Scott Gunn says:

    Lisa, I think there are several problems with governance in the Episcopal Church. Increased centralization is one of my concerns, though I’m not sure I’d lay all the blame at the feet of Linda Watt. (My own limited experience with her suggests that she’s good-hearted and competent. The latter trait is often unappreciated in churches.)

    I wouldn’t worry about the Board of Governors being cut out of anything. We were never really “in” the process, which is kind of my point. The name was always out of sync with our advisory capacity. This new mandate is more realistic.

    I agree that we have some very real challenges. We might differ on whether there is a diabolical conspiracy under it all.

    Keep blogging though! The church (especially bishops!) always needs the people to keep it honest. That’s one of the reasons I sometimes write cranky things here on 7WD. (I consider cranky often to be a good thing.)

    SG

  9. Lisa Fox says:

    Wake up, Scott! Just look at the heartless, brutal soundbytes Watt & Co. offered to the NY press after the union debacle … and that’s enough to make clear that they have not the First Clue about what real communications should be. You may not be a professional journalist, Scott. But you have a pastor’s heart, and you have a sense of how to communicate with the church. That’s more than the “communicators” at 815 now have.

  10. Funny, I always thought Ensure was a drink often consumed by people who prefer print journalism to online media.

  11. Leonardo Ricardo says:

    ¨…Linda Watt and other executives trying still more fervently to concentrate their power at 815. Do you not see it? They are steadily cutting people out of the decision-making structure.¨ Lisa Fox

    EXACTLY! From the beginning this tasteless reign (worse yet, very little real marketing and business savvy, pazzaz or common sense…it´s a ego-trip that ought be merchandized in Trade Publications).

  12. Scott, I used your Akinola (facecovering photo) again yesterday at my blog…hope it´s O.K.

    Mil Gracias
    Leonardo

  13. Scott Gunn says:

    Leonardo, you’re always welcome to use any photo on my flickr pages. All I ask is attribution, which you were kind enough to have done. Great blog, btw.