Blogging “Blue”: Constitution and Canons

This is a seventh in a series of posts on the “Blue” Book for General Convention 2012. Previously, I blogged about Communication and Information Technology. Next up is Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations. Please see my index of General Convention 2012 resolutions, with a summary of the 7WD position on them.

canonsThis is another commission in the they-do-what-their-name-says line of groups. The full report in the “Blue” Book makes for interesting reading, but only if you are a hard-core church geek. Seriously, there are some pretty interesting, if arcane, issues that they’ve dealt with. If time permits (which it probably won’t) I will come back to their full report.

For now, I want to note just one of the issues they dealt with in this past triennium. Resolution 2009-B008 was referred to this group. If passed, it would have required a congregation to get the permission of the bishop and standing committee before spending down an endowment. I am simplifying, but that’s the gist. This is a good idea, and we should create this canon.

The commission decided that they didn’t need to do anything, because various canons and rules already force congregations to disclose their spending. True enough. But there is nothing that stops a congregation from spending itself into oblivion. So we need a canon with some teeth, so that bishops and standing committees can get involved before it’s too late. Since the commission decided to punt, perhaps some deputies or bishops will propose this canon again, so we can approve it right away.

Too many of our congregations are slowly headed toward demise. Unless they are willing to make bold and significant changes, they have no long-term future. Some of these congregations have endowments, and most of them have other assets. Rather than either change or willingly close, most congregations in this part of the life-cycle choose to expend every available asset gasping for life. When they close, it’s because creditors were starting to call.

From the perspective of the wider church, this is terrible stewardship. Take three dying churches and combine their assets, and you might have enough for a church plant. But we can’t do that, because resources are poured down the drain without a strategic reason. Requiring permission to spend down an endowment would force some congregations to confront reality sooner rather than later, and that’s A Good Thing. If some congregation comes up with a brilliant plan to remake itself through the necessary changes, they can always get permission from the bishop and standing committee. Otherwise, when those creditors start to call, there is still money in the bank that can be reinvested in growth.

Death should not be scary for Christians, because we know what comes next. Let us confront sure and certain mortality in some of our congregations so that we can have resurrection. Let’s get that canon fixed soon. Time and money are a-wasting.

On to the resolutions.

A028. Amend Constitution Article I, Section 2. Likely vote: NO.
The Crusty Old Dean calls this one “ridiculous” and worse. He’s right. This half-baked compromise allows retired bishops to take part in the House of Bishops, unless the matter under discussion involves spending. In that case, retired bishops would be ineligible to vote. Bah.

If the bishops want to invite retired members to their number for meetings during the triennium, more power to them. But retired bishops should have neither seat nor vote in the House of Bishops as it sits for General Convention. Yes, once a bishop always a bishop. But that does not mean that one should sit in General Convention. (For consistency, I am also fine applying age 72 as a consistent mandatory retirement age for the House of Deputies, as it now is for clergy.)

A029. Amend Canon I.15.10. Likely vote: YES.
This one basically allows overseas convocations (e.g. Europe) to have a process for clergy discipline that balances local context with churchwide consistency. Seems reasonable.

A030: Amend Canons: Canon III.7.8–10; Canon III.9.8–11; Canon III.12.7(a)–(c); Canon IV.16. Likely vote: YES.
We’ve had quite a few clergy in the last few years depart the Episcopal Church for other Anglican and pseudo-Anglican groups. One problem is that, in many situations, our canons only allow these clergy to be removed from our church by a “renunciation” of orders. That word has a stigma, and the process is rightly perceived as cruel. This resolution would soften the wording and allow a more gracious exit for those who feel called to leave. I will enthusiastically vote yes for this and for any other measures that allow a more gracious relationship with those from whom we are estranged.

A031: Amend Canon III.11.4(a). Likely vote: YES.
Another cleanup resolution, this one requires certification of medical and psych exam results before a bishop is ordained. If passed, things will be consistent with the rules for deacons and presbyters. Maybe the absence of this requirement explains all the crazy bishops. Just kidding!

A032: Amend Canon 12.5(b)(3). Likely vote: YES.
As far as I can tell, this one fixes a mistake in the canons from a previous revision where a stray sentence fragment got thrown in. Does no one check this stuff? No, because General Convention deals with hundreds of pieces of legislation in ten days. There’s no time. This one is evidence for why we need to change how things are done. We should be looking at a few dozen resolutions, not a few hundred.

A033: Amend Canons: Canon IV.2; Canon IV.5.3(i); Canon IV.6.7; Canon IV.11.5. Likely vote: YES.
Here is more cleanup, this time of the ill-conceived and hastily passed Title IV revisions from 2009. I’ll vote for this, because I want our clergy discipline canons to be clear and effective. However, I still think we should have taken the time to get better clergy discipline in place. Under the current canons, for example, I am obligated to file a complaint nearly every Sunday when I see rubric violations in worship. In fact, for not filing these charges, I am liable to discipline. Sigh.

A034: Amend Canon V.2. Likely vote: YES.
More clarification. In the canons, “Church” means “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States in America” unless we say otherwise.

(Skipping some numbers to get to some “Second Reading” resolutions.)

A156: Amend Constitution Article I.4 [Second Reading]. Likely vote: YES.
Renames the Convocation of American Churches in Europe to the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. Unless Bishop Whalon tells me otherwise, this makes sense.

A157: Amend Constitution Article II.2 [Second Reading]. Likely vote: YES.
Gets rid of the rule which says that bishop elections within 120 days of General Convention are confirmed at Convention, instead of in the manner as all other elections, by bishops with jurisdiction and by standing committees. Makes sense to have things be consistent, and it gets a few things off General Convention’s plate.

A158: Amend Article VIII of the Constitution [Second Reading]. Likely vote: YES.
When we entered into full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, they agreed that pastors would be ordained by bishops (who were magically given apostolic succession by this agreement). Some pastors have been ordained by other pastors, and this makes these non-bishopy pastors ineligible for licensure in Episcopal congregations. I think. It’s a bit murky, and my brain is resolutioned out. If I’ve messed this up, please educate me in the comments. Anyway, if I’ve got it right, this makes sense.

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3 Responses

  1. Bill Dilworth says:

    Please, A156 makes absolutely no sense at all, but is a further bit trying to act as if we were the ONLY Episcopal (or episcopal) Church on the planet, just as the ridiculous capitalized-definite-article version of our name is. Really, a little corporate humility on our part wouldn’t kill us.

  2. Scott Gunn says:

    Well, we’re not the only American church doing business in Europe either. Your beef is with Article I of the constitution of the Episcopal Church. Get some deputies or bishops to propose a change. Would PECUSA work better for you?

  3. Bill Dilworth says:

    Don’t you mean The Episcopal Church? And, Anglo-Catholic though I may be, I actually like using PECUSA just to keep people honest, which is my secret code for annoying others. But ECUSA works just as well. Maybe European Convocation of Parishes of the Episcopal Church in the USA would do for across the pond.

    I am deeply suspicious of efforts to rebrand us as some sort of international uberchurch, and if I were in Province 9 I’d be even more suspicious of our intentions. In the past we’ve supported work in other countries with the goal of making them self-supporting and autonomous, like Mexico and the Philippines. If we’re now so international that we can’t even call ourselves the “national church” or use ECUSA, what does that mean for foreign dioceses’ future? Is Province 9 really no different than Province 1? Is Venuzuela bound to ECUSA as inseparably as San Joaquin or Fort Worth?