Blue’s Clues: Church Leadership and Compensation

compensation plan

This is the fourteenth 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.

We’re going to talk about the report from the Task Force on Church Leadership and Compensation. They’ve written a report that you’ll want to read. Before I get to the hotly debated topic of whether or not we should pay the President of the House of Deputies, I begin with a digression.

When I was a parish priest, I used to receive complaints now and then. People sometimes thought the organ was too loud or too soft. People said we had too many activities or not enough activities. Living in community, it is healthy and normal to express concern. Most of the complaints were offered constructively as reasonable concerns. I would talk with the person who was concerned, and sometimes I changed my mind, sometimes the person realized why the situation was in place, and often enough we agreed to disagree.

In some cases though, the complaint was way out of proportion to the issue. I remember someone raising their voice in ire over the color of a candle. At another church, I once witnessed someone renounce their church membership over the location of a parking space. When the anger is disproportionate to the concern, something else is going on. Maybe it’s the latest in a long line of offenses, and this one last thing prompted an explosion. Perhaps there’s unresolved grief sorting itself out. Or the person is angry about one thing but it comes out aimed in the wrong direction. Either way, the disproportionate emotion cues the recipient of such a complaint to pay attention. When this happens, there is often a chance to delve more deeply into the real, pastoral issue. (Or sometimes it’s a strong call to repentance because the person is rightly upset after putting up with something for the nth time.)

Does this seem like a digression? Perhaps. But it seems relevant to this task force and this topic. The Task Force to Study Church Leadership and Compensation was created by resolution 2015-D013 at last convention. That resolution did lots of things, but one of its requests was to create this task force to look at the issue of compensation for the President of the House of Deputies (PHOD), currently a volunteer position.

My intro is relevant because the topic of whether to pay the PHOD provokes very strong reactions. I do not understand the underlying issues, but there clearly are underlying issues.

On one side, I’ve heard someone say that not paying the PHOD is a justice issue, and this injustice is one of the most important issues of our time.

On the other side, I’ve heard someone say that paying the PHOD is a thinly veiled effort to create a Co-Primate. This is obviously the first step in a plan to take away all power from bishops, if not end the episcopacy altogether.

What I haven’t heard much of is rational conversation. Many people seem to be dug into their trenches, and when the topic comes up, temper flare. And of course many others don’t understand why this is such a big deal.

Spoiler alert: I think we should give a stipend of some sort to the PHOD, and I also think it’s time to look at the scope of work for that position (and also at the PB).

Now, I do think justice is something that comes into play in deciding if we should pay the PHOD. But who can rationally claim this is one of the greatest justice issues of our time? I mean, after we solve sexism, racism, homophobia, agism, xenophobia, and a few others, maybe it will be one of the biggest issues. But until then, it’s a real issue, but maybe not of the same calibre.

And on the other side, I’ve been pretty close to the smoky back room of the House of Deputies, well within the bounds where you have to know the secret handshake to prove you don’t have undue sympathies toward bishops, and I’ve never once heard even a hint that anyone wants to banish bishops or make a Co-Primate. Note to the humorless: There isn’t really a smoky back room, and there’s no secret handshake.

So why are people outraged by the idea of paying or not paying the PHOD? I’m starting to develop some theories, but it’s only speculation. Ask me over coffee starting about Day 3 of General Convention, and I’ll tell you. Anyway, it’s not important here. What I want to do is try to provide the fodder for a rational conversation on this topic. We need to have one.

First place to start: read the enabling resolution for this task force. Most other task forces have cited, if not quoted, their enabling resolutions. This one didn’t do that, so go read it. Their summary is fine, but if we’re going to dig into this, have a look at the unabridged version.

That resolution sets out some of the arguments in favor of paying the PHOD. The short version is this: our church asks too much of one person to expect them to volunteer. The duties of the PHOD are spelled out in the report. You should really read and ponder this. Don’t believe what you hear from me or your favorite Angry Church Geek™. Here’s my summary of some of the major duties:

  • The PHOD chairs the House of Deputies when it’s in session. Besides the actual time at General Convention, that’s a LOT of prep time. I used to spend several hours getting ready for annual meeting as a parish priest, so I can’t imagine what the prep is to run a legislative assembly of 800 people. This includes travel to meetings as part of the Joint Planning Committee on Arrangements, plus meeting with the PHOD Council of Advice, which helped the PHOD last triennium come up with the huge changes that did such a good job of streamlining our work last convention.
  • The PHOD has to attend Executive Council meetings and serve as Vice-Chair there. Again, there’s prep time. Plus the Executive Council meetings themselves are 10-12 days per year (I think).
  • The PHOD has to appoint people to zillions of things, and that takes time. Plus the PHOD has to either attend zillions of committees or appoint a delegate from whom the PHOD will want to hear reports before/after meetings. Appointing people to all the many, many, many committees is a huge task. I’ve only had to work on one committee at a time, and balancing many criteria to get the right diversity is hard; doing this for 50 committees is insanely hard. Choosing officers and other leaders is difficult, and it takes conversations with people — and conversations to vet people. It takes weeks and weeks of full-time work, I’m sure.
  • The PHOD serves as a Vice-President of the corporation that the Episcopal Church does business as. That’s going to involve a lot of work to stay on top of details and to exercise faithfully the assigned duties. Among other things, this means maintaining an office at the church center and attending meetings there, regularly.
  • There are plenty more canonical duties, and they all add up.

This is my crude summary of canonical duties. The PHOD has to do the stuff we’ve asked them to do. Beyond that, there are customary duties. The PHOD is a regular speaker at conferences and gatherings. The PHOD attends churchwide events and stays in touch with key Episcopal organizations. The PHOD maintains a pastoral presence with deputies.

So whatever else is true, we need to square what we’ve asked someone to do versus what is reasonable. We can argue about the customary and optional duties, but the required duties alone are considerable. Only a retired person or someone who does not need to work for an income could execute those duties as a volunteer. In a General Convention year, I’m guessing it’s 6-8 months of full-time work plus 1/2 time much of the rest of the year. In a non-Convention year, maybe it’s a 1/2 time job. I have no idea, maybe it’s more, maybe it’s less. But it’s a lot. Is it fair to ask a volunteer to do that much work?

I have heard the argument made that PHOD should not be busy when the House of Deputies isn’t in session. Maybe that worked in 1818, but in 2018, we have created quite a list of todos, even if we take an absolute minimalist approach to the job.

One solution would be to cut back the workload of the PHOD. That would require the kind of systemic thinking about polity that we do not seem equipped to do (Proof: Look at TREC and the 2012 Convention, where we moved and repainted a few deck chairs but steadfastly refused to look at the nearby iceberg).

I should also add that it is somewhat ironic to me to hear people who don’t have to use vacation time to do church work complain about paying the PHOD. Let’s take bishops for example: imagine if bishops had to use vacation time to attend Executive Council meetings, House of Bishops, and General Convention. Would they cheerfully give up six weeks of vacation? Or let’s talk about Executive Council (or the House of Deputies itself, for that matter). Look at the rosters. Very few people serve on Executive Council who are required to use personal vacation time to attend meetings. We’ve set up a system that favors church workers (lay and clergy) and retired people.

This is relevant, because it’s ironic in the extreme to be paid as part of one’s job to attend a church meeting complaining that people want to pay PHOD.

Now, I am sympathetic to the argument that PHOD shouldn’t become a full-time job. There has been a lot of mission creep, both in assigned and customary duties. Have you noticed, though, how few people point out mission creep in other churchwide offices? Do people complain about mission creep with the PB? Are we willing to step back and look at the whole picture? It’s worth noting that nothing in this resolution or in any proposal requires that the PHOD be paid full time. Maybe the job could be 1/2 time or 3/4 time or some other percentage. That, I think, is something to talk about. Is PHOD of necessary a full-time job these days? Is it a part-time job? What would fair compensation look like? If it gives someone heartburn to pay the President of the House of Deputies, can we pay the Vice-President of the Domestic & Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA? (Pro question: Every one of the other officers of the corporation are paid. What does it say that there is so much resistance to paying this one?)

Aside from compensation, the task force looked at some other issues. At present, there are very few canonical requirements for how the PHOD is nominated and elected. There is also no canonical provision for background checks for PHOD. Nor is there provision for removal from office in the event of misconduct and so forth. The task force suggests that internal HOD practices can fix all this. I disagree.

In my view, it is only fair to pay the PHOD a stipend, and that should begin immediately. But it makes sense to clarify roles of  the PHOD (and PB too, why not) over the next triennium. For example, the PHOD should have background checks similar to a PB. There should be a process for removal due to misconduct. And maybe it makes sense to jointly elect PHOD and PB, or at least require mutual concurrence of the other house. Perhaps both offices should have a mandatory retirement age of 72. You get the idea.

As part of that overall examination of the scope of work of the PB and the PHOD, we should consider duties, accountability, and reasonable expectations for compensation and staff support.

Here’s an example of the kinds of things we need to look at for both PHOD and PB. Just now, as I was looking at the PHOD canons, I realized that we still provide for the PHOD to have a Chancellor. The PB still has one too. But at the last convention, we created a new churchwide position, the Chief Legal Officer. I can’t see why our presiding officers would continue to need their own legal representation if there’s an official corporate attorney.

To summarize, I agree that we need to look at the scope of the PHOD position. Perhaps it isn’t a full-time job, but it most certainly cannot be done as a volunteer now, unless we are willing to limit the job to retirees and the independently wealthy. While we are doing this work of reviewing the work and accountability of the PHOD (and PB) over the coming triennium, we should not delay what only seems fair, that is, a stipend for the considerable work we require from the PHOD.

Deputies: In all this, be assured that bishops are not resisting payment of PHOD because they hate anything that supports lay people. Bishops: be assured that those who wish to see PHOD paid are not also hell-bent on taking away your pointy hat.

This is a hotly contested topic, so don’t rely on my summaries. There’s lots in this report, including a listing of every big and little job of the PHOD. Read the whole report. Form your own opinions. When someone turns red in the face telling you why we must or must not pay the PHOD, listen to their reasons. Ponder what you’ve read here. And if you think I’m wrong, feel free to leave a comment here.

There’s just one resolution.

A028: Salary for the President of the House of Deputies. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This resolution makes the case for why PHOD should be paid in a few short resolves. It then quotes the current canons, which actually allow Executive Council to pay the PHOD any time they want, “Except as determined by Convention, the salaries of all officers of the Council and of all agents and employees of the Council and the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society shall be fixed by the Council” (Canon I.4.5(c)). Finally, the resolution ends with the action item, that General Convention “authorize and direct its Executive Council to fix a salary for the President of the House of Deputies as an officer and agent of the Council and as an agent of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.”

After a couple of thousand words above, I won’t restate the case. But I do think this resolution makes sense. I’d also like to see us, probably in separate resolutions, commit to looking at the work we give our PB and PHOD and the support and stipends we give them. We should also look at how we elect the PHOD, including background checks. And we should certainly create a removal process in the event of misconduct. This will take time. Meanwhile, I hope we do the right thing and pay someone for work that goes far beyond what any volunteer should reasonably be asked to do.

Image: Compensation Plan by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images.

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3 Responses

  1. Eric Bonetti says:

    Agree about paying the PHOD, but with one caveat: I hope there is a job description and some sort of measurement/evaluation criteria. Heaven knows we pay for plenty of stuff already with very little to show for it.

    • Scott Gunn says:

      The PHOD’s canonical job description is at least as thorough as the Presiding Bishop’s. I’d like to see mutual ministry review required of both (perhaps with Executive Council?). And of course we need some accountability for both in the form of a removal provision in the event of misconduct. At the moment that doesn’t exist for the PB either.

  2. David Knight says:

    Province IV passed a resolution calling upon a “per diem” for the PHOD, paid whenever she is doing any task specified in the canons. And called upon a study (another one!) of all the duties currently in the canons plus the others that have become part of the job over time. I don’t have the text in front of me but I believe it called for just what you suggest, a review of what is required work for the PB and PHOD and then to pay accordingly.

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