Blue’s Clues: Task Force on the Episcopacy
This is the twelfth post in Blue’s Clues, a series on the resolutions and reports of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention. The index of posts is here, and my index of resolutions and likely votes is here.
This is our second post on all things bishop. Yesterday, we looked at the report of folks looking to improve the Presiding Bishop election process. Today, we are looking more broadly at issues around the discernment, election, transition, and deployment of bishops. Blue is going to have a purple nose by the end of all this clue-looking among bishopy reports!
I’m pleased to share a happy coincidence. This task force (created because of 2015-D004) generated 34 resolutions. That’s a lot of writing for your author and a lot of reading for you. Fortunately, this task force also offered an exceedingly well-written and compelling report. Normally in these posts, I try to summarize the most important or interesting bits in a report, hoping that this will help you as you wade through the Blue Book. But this time, I’m going to say very little about the report. They cover important stuff, and they do it very well. You really need to make yourself a cup of tea (or coffee, but it should be tea, because bishops) and curl up to read the whole thing.
They’ve addressed several issues. First, our House of Bishops is about as un-diverse as it could be. It’s 90% men and 90% white. The task force proposes some ways to understand how this is happening and what we can do about it. Second, our canons are inconsistent. There are major issues left out (such as consistent background checks) and plenty of places where details in the process need to be filled in. Also, there’s flat-out discrepancy. Which is it, Bishop Suffragan or Suffragan Bishop? The task force endeavors to sort out these and many other issues.
If you were looking for a quick fix for our monochromatic dudefest in the HOB, you won’t find it here. This is more of a long-term systematic approach. Maybe that’s the right approach. But I do want to be clear, we could, if we wanted to, implement immediate fixes.
- We could say we’re not going to allow men to be on bishop slates until the HOB is ___% women.
- We could require diversity of particular kinds on slates. And we could require diversity training for electing conventions.
- We could switch (permanently or for a time) to an appointment process, instead of elections. I’m not the only one who noticed that almost immediately after the Church of England approved women bishops, their HOB become more diverse in terms of sex than our HOB, though we had a 20 year head start.
- We could establish a centralized discernment system for those who are called to be bishops (a kind of churchwide COM for episcopal elections) and that group could give dioceses slates of qualified and diverse candidates. Being centralized, one could carefully measure along suitable criteria for non-discrimation and diversity provision.
There are other options. The point is, we shouldn’t be saying, “We can’t do anything now.” We can do something, if we choose to.
I have other thoughts on the episcopate, but I want to get right to the 34 resolutions. After I make it through the Blue Book, I hope to get back to this topic. It’s important. We have lots of work to do, and plenty of repentance is in order.
As you read about the next 34 resolutions, I hope you’ll join me in hoping that — before next General Convention — someone clarifies that there’s no prize for the committee with the most resolutions.
With that said, you really want to go ahead and read the task force’s report. Now, on to the many, many, many resolutions.
A138: Transmission of Demographic Data from Episcopal Elections. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
This resolution would require the collection of demographic information (“the name, age, race and ethnicity, gender, number of years since ordination, diocese of canonical residence and … other demographic data or other information”). There is a separate resolution which would require the publication of the information. We need to collect information like this, so that we can understand at which point(s) we are failing to honor the diversity of people who might be called as bishops. Is it in the nomination phase? The search phase? The election? Let’s get the info so we know.
A139: Analysis of Data from Episcopal Elections. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
This resolution takes the data from A138 and calls for “one or more experts in data analysis to analyze the demographic and other data received from the electing dioceses, and when a sufficient number of electing dioceses have reported, but at least triennially, report the results of the analysis, in such form as the Board shall deem appropriate, to the Executive Council and triennially to the General Convention, the reports to be made public promptly after review by the Executive Council.” Yes, yes, yes. Let’s get the facts out there for all to see.
A140: Diversity Guidelines for Episcopal Elections. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
This would require “Section III (Diversity) of the Blue Book Report of the Task Force on the Episcopacy be provided to dioceses at the beginning of their search process along with … other information with respect to diversity…” We need Standing Committees, search committees, and electors to understand the issues at stake. Let’s get them the info.
A141: Training of Transition Consultants. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
In bishop search processes, most dioceses engage search consultants. This resolution encourages dioceses to engage consultants who have been fully trained on diversity issues. It makes perfect sense.
A142: Adoption of Episcopal Election Procedures by Dioceses. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
This resolution “recommends that each diocese adopt policies and procedures and, where appropriate, canons, for the election of bishops that are consistent with the principles and values presented in the Task Force’s Blue Book report, to foster diversity across the Church’s leadership, including its bishops.” I’d prefer to see REQUIRES instead of RECOMMENDS, but we don’t live in that church. So I hope this passes as a way of changing the culture to make better practices the norm.
A143: Study Career Development of Female and Minority Clergy. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
This is a short resolution with a mighty purpose, “That the issue of how dioceses and the Church can better invest in the career development of women and racial/ethnic minority clergy be assigned to an appropriate interim body for study and consideration, with an analysis and recommendations to be reported back to the 80th General Convention.” This will need committee work to phrase the resolution into proper language to create a task force, but it needs to happen.
Our church’s entrenched sexism and racism is both astonishing and sinful. Let’s have the courage to look into the mirror, as a church, and see where we need to repent. Spoiler alert: we have a lot of work to do. This report will surely report pay discrimination, job placement discrimination, and workplace harassment. Lord, have mercy.
A144: Diocesan Missional Review. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
First of all, I don’t like the word “missional” but I’m willing to own that as my issue. Otherwise, I like this resolution. It would require, before elections, that dioceses take a hard look at themselves for health, vitality, and sustainability. Those are my words, not the words of the resolution. One would hope that this would happen anyway in the course of a bishop search process, but perhaps not to the extent this resolution envisions. There’s no downside to this work, only upside. It makes sense to me.
A145: Urging Adoption of Local Canons Relating to Episcopal Elections. Full text. Likely vote: NO.
This resolution asks that dioceses pass canons to clarify and improve the process of electing bishops. A set of topics is listed, but there are no model canons. More to the point, if we want to enforce a consistent election process across dioceses, let’s fix it at the churchwide level. I don’t see, without specific examples and without a firm requirement, how this resolution will accomplish anything.
Now, that said, I do agree that dioceses should have a consistent, transparent, and clear (as in, clarified) election process, and that is not always the case. So next time around, maybe we can address this at the churchwide level with canons that govern how dioceses elect their bishops.
A146: Revisions to The Raising Up of Episcopal Leadership – A Manual for Dioceses in Transition. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
Just before I left the Diocese of Rhode Island, we were embarking on the front end of a bishop election process. I remember the diocesan council meeting where a representative from 815 came to meet with us. He plunked down a giant three-ring binder on the table and said, “This is how you’ll elect your next bishop.”
So, on the one hand, yay? The binder (the inside of which I’ve never seen) apparently governs all the details of how to elect a bishop. But the process there was created by folks without any churchwide accountability and it imposes rules that are made up. “You have to have a discernment retreat of short-listed candidates to decide who is on your slate” or whatever. There’s no canonical mandate for most of it. And most dioceses feel that they must do as their told on this front.
So I’m in favor of this resolution for a number of reasons. It proposes an update to that giant binder. The process of updating the contents will be done with some churchwide accountability. The contents of the binder will, I hope, become public. And it needs to be updated with current and potentially new ways of running search and election processes.
I hope the new process document also makes clear that is required and what is suggested. Anyway, it’s time for an update, so I’ll gladly vote for this. (Note to the legislative committee: make sure you assign accountability here. To whom is this revision to be given?)
A147: Pilot Board for Episcopal Transitions. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
This resolution creates a “pilot Board for Episcopal Transitions.” Among other things, it’s the body that would receive and publish the data in resolutions A138 and A139. This board would also look at the whole process, including many of the issues enumerate in the manual revision of A146.
I think I’d prefer to have this group constituted as a task force, with a clear goal to recommend improvements to the process at the next General Convention. Then, if they see a need for an ongoing group, it can be continued. If we think we need a permanent group to be created immediately, and it would not be hard to convince me this is true, then I’d like to see it called a Standing Commission. I think “Board” comes with connotations of independence from other churchwide structures that can be confusing. Example: the former deployment board.
I do agree we need a group of people focused on our episcopal election situation in this triennium, and perhaps beyond. I’m glad to vote for this, whatever the group is called.
A148: Amend Canons III.11.1, III.11.3 and III.11.9(c). Full text. Likely vote: YES.
This resolution gets very specific about requiring thorough background checks of all nominees for bishop, including checks for substance abuse. It governs the retention of data and so forth. This is a good idea, and I hope it passes.
I should note that all of this comes from a reaction to the Heather Cook incident. Here’s the thing. We have identified culpability in Heather Cook. We have identified culpability in our failure to have an adequate background check process. We have, however, failed to acknowledge culpability in the systems of our church. Cook’s substance abuse problem and arrest record were known to authorities in the diocese and the Episcopal Church. We have not held anyone other than Cook (or a generic failure to have a thorough background check) accountable. Until we, as a church, are willing to face our broader complicity here and other times, we will continue to have problems.
Think we learned from Cook? A little over a year ago, I was at a major church-wide conference. There was a reception that had been advertised featuring local beers (probably against guidelines we passed in 2015). At the reception, I asked for a glass of water. “We only have beer.” So much for equally attractive non-alcoholic options. And, yes, I spoke with organizers of the event. My point is, we have a bigger problem than this resolution addresses.
But I will gladly vote for this. It’s a start.
A149: Reorganize the Board of Directors of The College for Bishops. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
The formation of bishops is overseen and led by the College for Bishops. Long story here, but it’s an organization run by bishops for bishops. This resolution would ask the College for Bishops to change their bylaws to make their board of directs not just bishops, but also presbyters, deacons, and lay people. The idea is this bishops are being formed for the whole church, and so their college should have accountability not just to bishops, but to the other orders and to lay people. I wish the resolution “required” instead of “urged.” Glad to vote for this one.
A150: Amend Article I.2 of the Constitution. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
This just cleans up language (Bishop Suffragan instead of Suffragan Bishop) and clarified what it means to say that a bishop has jurisdiction. “Bishops who exercise or have jurisdiction are those who exercise ecclesiastical authority in a diocese or other jurisdiction of this Church.” This is the first in a long series of resolutions with clarify language in our constitution and canons. I’ll be voting yes to these.
As an aside, our constitution and canons are a mess. There are probably 100 resolutions at this convention to fix mistakes and tighten stuff up in our canons. What really needs to happen is a fresh start from a blank page. But, for now, let’s fix what we can.
A151: Amend Article II.4-8 of the Constitution. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
More language clean-up and clarification here. Also, there’s the invention of a new category of bishop, “Bishop Diocesan Pro Tempore.” This is for when a Bishop Suffragan becomes temporary head honcho if a Bishop Diocesan leaves. Seems a bit silly to me, but whatever. Given the silly hats bishops wear, no one can possibly object to silly titles.
A152: Amend Article III of the Constitution. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
This literally fixes a typo. Canon->Canons. Whatevs.
A153: Amend Article IV of the Constitution. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
You say suffragan bishop, I say bishop suffragan. Tomato, tomato, potato, potato.
A154: Amend Canon I.13.3(a). Full text. Likely vote: YES.
Someone realized that “Diocesan Authority” isn’t a thing. So the change removes the phrase and replaces it with “the Convention of the Diocese.”
A155: Amend Canon III.5.1 (c). Full text. Likely vote: YES.
More language clarification.
A156: Amend Canon III.11.1. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
From the explanation, “The Canons currently provide that, prior to holding an election for a Bishop Coadjutor or a Bishop Suffragan, a diocese must receive the consent of the bishops and Standing Committees; this amendment extends that requirement to other episcopal elections [suffragan, assistant, etc.].” Fine by me. When the dust settles from all these canon changes, if they pass, the current practice of bishops appointing “assisting bishops” will go by the wayside, I believe. Seems fine to me. Let’s have a standardized, transparent process for all bishops assuming leadership position.
A157: Amend Canon III.11.2. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
Fixing typos and such.
A158: Amend Canon III.11.3(a)(1). Full text. Likely vote: YES.
Under this canon, if a person elected as bishop is currently a priest, that priest must be in good standing. Makes sense.
A159: Amend Canon III.11.3(a) (third paragraph) and Canon III.11.4. Full text. Likely vote: YES, but hoping for an amendment.
When a diocese elects a bishop, other bishops and standing committees must consent to the election. This resolution changes the time limit from 120 days to 60 days. We live in the age of email, not the age of horse-drawn wagons. Makes sense to me.
Maybe the canons committee is fixing this (I haven’t looked yet), but I’d like to see them also explicitly permit electronic consents and so on.
A160: Amend Canon III.11.9(a). Full text. Likely vote: YES.
Eliminates redundant language.
A161: Amend Canon III.11.9(b). Full text. Likely vote: YES.
Eliminates redundant language.
A162: Amend Canons III.II.9(c)(1) and III.11.9(c)(4). Full text. Likely vote: YES.
This resolution “clarifies the processes for election a Missionary Bishop, including the need to comply with the consent and missional review process” proposed by the task force.
A163: Amend Canon III.11 to add Canon III.11.10. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
This resolution temporarily adds language to the canons clarifying what it means to say a bishop has jurisdiction; this will eventually be obviated by the constitution change of A150.
A164: Amend Canon III.12.2. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
At the moment, bishops are required to take advantage of continuing education. This resolution adds a bit of accountability, “Each Bishop shall report all continuing education taken during the calendar year to the Secretary of the House of Bishops, who shall keep a record of the continuing education taken by Bishops.” However, there are no apparent consequences for failing to do so, nor are their provisions for public reporting. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.
A165: Amend Canon III.12.3 to add Section 3(f). Full text. Likely vote: YES.
This one creates another new category of bishops called Supply Bishops, resigned bishops who can help out a bit. (Basically this is the same thing as “Assisting Bishops” do now.) If we’re going to keep creating categories of bishops, I hope we’ll also add one called Bishop McBishopface. I’m not sure what that would mean, but I would LOVE to see it listed in service leaflets.
A166: Amend Canon III.12.4(c) and add Canon III.12.4(d). Full text. Likely vote: YES.
When is an episcopal see vacant? Now we know.
A167: Amend Canon III.12.5. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
Assistant bishops would have to be elected rather than appointed, and if they’re coming from other provinces of the Anglican Communion, they have to know stuff about the Episcopal Church. It all makes sense.
A168: Amend Canon III.12.9(a). Full text. Likely vote: YES.
Retired means retired. When bishops reach age 72, they can’t exercise jurisdiction, even if they say “pretty please, with a cherry on top.”
A169: Amend Canon III.12.9(l) and Canon III.12.9(m). Full text. Likely vote: YES.
More language clarification, in coherence with A167 and A168. Makes sense to me.
A170: Amend Canon III.12.12(a). Full text. Likely vote: YES.
If a diocese and its bishop are going through a pastoral dissolution process, the bishop being ousted now will get a copy of notice. Duh.
A171: Amend Canon III.13. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
From the explanation, “Some dioceses have had the Suffragan or other Bishop act [as temporary bishop with jurisdiction] and this amendment provides a Canonical process for these options.” Makes sense.
Congratulations, you made it through a marathon of 34 (!) resolutions.
Photo by yours truly, from Sé Catedral, Lisbon.