Committee 15: Ministry
As you can see, I’m not going through the legislative committees in order. For various & sundry reasons, I decided to start with this legislative committee, which focuses broadly on “ministry.” The committee a broad scope, but the primary focus can be seen in the areas covered by Title III of the Canons of the Episcopal Church, which primarily relate to ordained ministry. (Another time, I would love to highlight the important ways that Title III also covers ministry of the whole church, and share my frustration that we ignore these provisions.)
A019 Theological Education and Formation in Languages other than English. Full text. Likely vote: NO, unless amended.
This resolution recognizes the lack of theological education resources in languages other than English. As a reminder, the Episcopal Church is in 17 (?) countries around the world, and we speak and worship in a vast array of languages. Our church’s official languages are English, Spanish, and French, by the way, though that is observed in the breach rather than the norm. I fully agree that we need to encourage the creation of more materials in languages other than English. I fully agree with this resolution’s text in urging Spanish-speaking dioceses to work together and with Anglican siblings outside the Episcopal Church.
However, this resolution has no teeth. It celebrates, urges, and encourages. It will doubtless be recommended for adoption by the committee, and it will appear on the consent calendar, so the benefits of awareness will not apply. I would gladly support a resolution that offered requirements, reporting, standards, or accountability. I cannot vote for a resolution that will make us feel like we’ve done something when we, in fact, will have changed nothing. I want us to address the problem identified here, and this resolution will not do that.
A029 Support for Military Chaplains. Full text. Likely vote: NO, unless amended.
This resolution seeks to offer support and encouragement to military chaplains, who must surely toil under the most challenging conditions. It also seeks engagement with chaplains to learn from their work in a pluralistic, ecumenical context. Finally, the resolution affirms a 2001 document.
Again, I value the work of military chaplains, and I hope we can support them as well as possible. But I can’t see that this resolution will help at all, since it has no requirements or teeth.
While I have your attention, my understand is that US military branches are eager for recruits from mainline Protestant traditions. Many Christian chaplains come from more conservative traditions, and the armed services want to offer a balanced group of chaplains. If you’re an Episcopalian reading this and you have interest in military chaplaincy, I hope you’ll consider speaking with folks about a possible call. They need you.
A068 Amend Canon 1.17 – Safe Church Training. Full text. Likely vote: NO.
The resolution is short, so I will quote it fully: “All members of this Church shall take and complete the course of Safe Church Training provided by the Church and the Church Pension Group so that all members can participate fully in creating and maintaining safe environments for all people throughout the Church.”
It’s a laudable aim, and I do hope our church becomes safer. There are a lot of things we need to do to ensure that happens. We could, for example, put better accountability standards in place for our bishops, who are chiefly responsible for safety in their dioceses. We could offer high-quality, engaging training that is scaled to the needs of the person receiving training. We could practice transparency about our safety failures, offer more compassionate support to victims, and hold lay leaders and clergy accountable.
The problem with this resolution is that it’s entirely unrealistic. Do we think all members of the church are going to do anything? Something like two-thirds of our members never come to church, so it seems unlikely they’ll complete a training. And the training we have does not “scale down” very well. It makes sense that a clergy person or an adult who works with children or vulnerable adults should be required to take a day-long training regularly. Should someone who has access to a church key be required to spend a full day at training? Will they? And what about someone who comes to church on Christmas and Easter? Will they come for an all-day training?
So, yes, I want our church to be a safe place for everyone. But this resolution charts an unrealistic and untenable plan to do that. We can come up with solid measures that will make a difference, and I hope that’s where we focus.
A071 Amend Canons III.6.5, III.8.5, and III.10.1. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
This resolution requires training in “Stewardship and the Church’s theology of money” for those to be ordained deacon or priest. Ordinarily I might chafe that yet another requirement to a process that is already Byzantine, but our canons and rubrics already require clergy, especially priests, to teach those in their charge about stewardship.
The resolution contemplates the creation of training resources that would be available to all members of the church, and that is excellent. There is no funding or mechanism for creating this training (or trainings), but there are several entities who could get this done without funding: Church Publishing, TENS, ECF, and my employer, Forward Movement, to name a few.
A079 Amend Canon III.11.1 regarding Screening of Nominees for Episcopal Elections. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
I urge you to read the explanation for this important resolution. Basically, it standardizes the process for bishop election background checks and how that information is handled. At present there are no clear standards for when to conduct the background checks and who has access to the information. This resolution pushes things to the dioceses, who will have to deal with any problems that come to light during a bishop’s tenure. The diocese would conduct background checks, and the president of the Standing Committee would receive the reports, along with the Presiding Bishop. After the election, the diocese would transmit the records to the archives for permanent storage, and other copies would be destroyed, except for one permanent copy in the diocesan records.
This resolution does need some language cleanup for clarity, and I’m sure the committee will fix that. They also need to specify who has access to the information once it’s in the archives, unless there is already a standard policy to cover this. Presumably the records should remain completely sealed until 75 or 99 years after they are deposited.
One other wrinkle is that the resolution requires that all background information be complete before a person becomes a nominee, whether through the standard process or the petition process. In the case of the petition process, dioceses will need to plan two months or so after the time of receiving petitions to allow time for the background checks to be complete. Another option would be to announce the names, “pending background checks” and do the checks after the names are announced. But that creates potential embarrassment if a person must be removed from the slate due to an issue with the background check.
A080 Amend Canon III.11.3 and 4 reducing time for Consents to Bishop Elections from 120 to 90 days. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
When a person is elected to be the bishop of a diocese, each diocesan bishop and Standing Committee is asked to consent to the election. A majority of diocesan bishops and Standing Committees must consent in order for the election to take place. Back in the day, when we sent things by US mail, we needed lots of time for the consent process for the election of bishops. Currently this is set at 120 days. Now that we transmit and receive consents electronically, we can shorten the time. I personally would have shortened it to 60 days, but 90 days is better than 120.
A081 Amend Canon III.11.1a regarding Standing Committee’s Role in Episcopal Elections. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
This resolution conforms the canons to our usual current practice: Standing Committees oversee the bishop search process and election.
A082 Amend Various Canons Regarding Preparation of Medical and Psychological Evaluation in the Ordination, Episcopal Election, and Reception Processes. Full text. Likely vote: YES, but only if amended.
Currently the forms for medical and psychological evaluations for those to be ordained are created by the Church Pension Group, for interesting but no longer relevant historical reasons. This resolution proposes that the newly-created Standing Commission on Ministry and Formation create and maintain these forms. It makes good sense to move the forms away from CPG’s purview, and the resolution’s explanation tells us that CPG agrees. However, I don’t think it’s a good idea to hand this off to a group of volunteers who meet briefly once or twice a year. Rather, I think the forms should be created and maintained either by the Presiding Bishop’s office or by the Office of Pastoral Development, though that office seems to be over-burdened at present. If we don’t trust the staff to do this, I would say we need to deal with our trust problem, but in the meantime, we could have some committee or other review the staff’s work if needed.
A083 Amend Various Canons Regarding Screening Prior to Ordination or Reception. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
This broadens and standardizes the background check process for those to be ordained priest or deacon, or to be received into the Episcopal Church. Specifically, it adds substance abuse and addictive behavior screening.
A116 Amend Canon III.10.2 to Correct Inadvertent Omission on Clergy Ordained in Churches in Full Communion. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
Basically this fixes a typo in a previous canonical resolution.
A117 Amend Canons III.10, III.12.1, III.12.5.b.3, and III.13.1 to Clarify Language on the Reception of Bishops. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
This makes consistent the process of receiving bishops from other parts of the Anglican Communion into our church.
A143 Resolution to Fund Staff Position for Office of Pastoral Development. Full text. Likely vote: NO.
The Office of Pastoral Development (OPD) has several functions: it provides pastoral care to bishops, serves as liaison to dioceses in transition toward a new bishop, and oversees the disciplinary process for bishops accused of misconduct. The problem is that OPD has a conflicting mission: both to provide pastoral care and to be the adjudicator of discipline. It seems to be the case that pastoral care is prioritized over discipline. If you want an example, go read this memorial from the Diocese of Eastern Michigan and the Diocese of Western Michigan.
If the problem were simply a lack of resources, adding staff would make sense. But it seems there’s a more fundamental problem with lack of clarity around mission, role, and function. We need to sort these problems out as soon as possible. Our bishops need effective support, and when they commit offenses, they must be held to account quickly and justly. This resolution does not address the fundamental challenge of OPD.
C008 Freedom to Call, Freedom to Elect. Full text. Likely vote: NO.
Clergy currently have a mandatory retirement age of 72. After that, there are provisions for deacons, priests, and bishops to continue working, but it involves regular conversation with the relevant bishop. This resolution seeks to get around the retirement age by allowing an Episcopal entity to sign an agreement for a fixed amount of time for someone who would otherwise be forced to retire. A diocese could, for example, sign a ten year agreement with a bishop who was 70, who would then serve until they are 80.
It’s understandable to want to provide ways to keep energetic persons employed, regardless of age. And, indeed, our current system allows this — but through a series of one-year extensions (and sometimes involving the pension fund if the person has collected retirement). At the same time, reports suggest there are younger generations of clergy who cannot secure gainful employment in the church. Allowing leaders who hang onto their positions for 10 or more additional years will worsen rather than improve clergy morale and just employment.
Perhaps our current system needs to be tweaked, or perhaps we need to measure outcomes. Perhaps there are bishops who are reluctant to use these provisions, and those bishops might need to be urged to consider them. However, we need to provide positions for those clergy who are of younger generations, and our church will be healthier with more diversity of generations in our leadership.
I am not against older clergy! But I am for a church in which clergy in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s can answer God’s call in a way that strengthens the body of Christ.
C070 Amend Canon III.9.5.d. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
This corrects an error in which a canon referred incorrectly to the wrong place.
D029 Affirming Non-Binary Access and Leadership. Full text. Likely vote: NO, but I am open to hearing something I missed.
Some years ago, we added “gender identity and expression” to the list of protected categories in our canons, along with race, sex, immigration status, and so on. My understanding was that this would include people have all genders and gender identities, including both binary and non-binary people. The explanation says that some people have maintained this does not apply to non-binary people, who have then faced discrimination. The explanation also says that some people who have come out as, for example, transgender during the ordination process have been made to start over. Clearly both of these examples are awful, and they would both seem, to me, to indicate a failure to uphold the canons. Those responsible should be held accountable.
If there is a problem with the clarity of the canonical language, and I believe the proposer that there is, then we need to fix and clarify the canonical language. I do not believe an obscure General Convention resolution will help Commissions on Ministry and bishops know what our standards are, nor does this create a standard for accountability. If people don’t understand the meaning of “gender identity and expression” I hope we will add additional language in the canons to clarify what this means.
Let me be clear: I support the intent of this resolution to create a safe space in our church for binary and non-binary people, and, indeed, all gender identities and expressions. I just don’t think this will change what needs to change.
D052 Amending Canon III.11.8 regarding Objections to Episcopal Elections. Full text. Likely vote: YES.
There is a provision for electors in a diocese to object to an election of a bishop, if they believe there was a failure to hold a fair election according to agree-upon rules, canons, and applicable laws. We’ve seen this most recently in the Diocese of Florida. This resolution does several things: it removes an outdated reference to provincial courts of review, which no longer exist; it lengthens the time for an investigation by the court of review from 30 to 45 days; and it clarifies that the 120 (or 90) day consent process for an election starts only after the court of review has issued its report.
This all makes perfect sense. 30 days may not be enough time if there are complex issues and if people must travel in order to conduct an investigation into the circumstances of an election.
D084 Resolution to Amend Canon III.9, Sec. 8. Full text. Likely vote: NO.
This resolution changes the retirement age for deacons, priests, and bishops to 75 from its current 72. We need more generational diversity among our leaders, not less. We have provisions for clergy to serve after they turn 72, so I do not support this resolution.
D087 Delete Canon III.15 Of the General Board of Examining Chaplains. Full text. Likely vote: NO.
Priests who are to be ordained must demonstrate proficiency in six canonical areas. The usual way to determine proficiency is through the General Ordination Exam (GOE), a week-long written exam that is typically administered in the third year of one’s seminary training (or another time, if trained outside seminary). I will be the first to admit that the GOE is not perfect, nor is it always the best way to determine proficiency. However, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, “Indeed it has been said that the GOE is the worst form of proficiency assessment except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…”
The explanation offers that the GOE is stressful. Well, yes. But if one is going to be stressed out writing GOEs, one will also be stressed out writing two funeral sermons in the same week as a newsletter article is due, and so on. The scope of material covered is not meant to be taxing to a well-prepared student, and the workload is not severe compared with a moderate week of parish ministry.
Surely there are students who have differing learning or communication styles and needs. At least in the diocese where I currently serve, we have been able to offer accommodation where needed, and it has not been difficult to do so.
The explanation tells us that completing a seminary or local training program should be sufficient. That would be ideal, if true. But we know that getting through seminary or a training program does not equate with having retained information, with the ability to synthesize material, or with the ability to write coherent, succinct responses. Too often the temptation in diocesan ordination processes is to let relationship trump objectivity, and people are passed along. The GOE is one of the only “external” ways to raise a red flag that bishops and Commissions on Ministry can respond to.
In short, the GOE, while imperfect, is better than the alternative, which, if we took this proposal, would place our full reliance on the determination of a seminary or local training program. This is also a problematic measure, and relying on it as a standard would not help us ascertain whether someone who went to a Roman Catholic, Baptist, or Methodist seminary is ready for ordination in the Episcopal Church. The GOE covers the six canonical areas, and could help us have more confidence in the readiness of an ordinand.
D093 Broad Representation in Discernment Processes. Full text. Likely vote: NO.
This resolution seeks to help our church do a better job of raising up leaders who bring “racial and ethnic diversity” to our church. Dioceses would be urged to ensure that “Candidates for discernment processes have access to an advocate within the discernment process who represents the Candidate[‘s] racial and ethnic diversity or background.”
I completely agree with the intent of this resolution. I myself have seen the ordination process work well for persons of color, and I have seen it go spectacularly badly for persons of color. Our church has a deep racism problem, and we have much for which to repent.
Similar to my concern over D029, I’m not sure that much will change if this resolution passes. Perhaps we need to require racial diversity in our Commissions on Ministry, and further require the assignment of mentors or shepherds in the process as contemplated in this resolution. If we pass this, I worry that nothing will change, but we’ll feel like we did something. That seems worse than doing nothing. Let’s either live with the pain of our problem or, better yet, make a canonical fix to address the problem. My experience suggests that CoMs read the canons; they will not read a General Convention resolution.
D097 Resolution Concerning the Episcopal Election of the Rev. Charlie Holt. Full text. Likely vote: NO.
Frankly, this resolution should be ruled out of order. It is a misuse of the legislative process to advocate for a particular outcome in the consent process of an episcopal election.
For those who do not know, the Rev’d Charles (“Charlie”) Holt was elected to be the next bishop of the Diocese of Florida a few weeks ago. As I mentioned above, some electors in that diocese have filed an objection based on what they say are irregularities with the election process and the certification of quorum. Having read the full objection, I too am concerned about the legitimacy of this election.
Moreover, in his time with the diocese, Fr. Holt made public statements that have concerned people about his capacity to lead the church on issues of racial justice and his willingness to abide by the canons and polity of the church to include LGBTQ+ people in the sacramental life of the church. I myself am concerned about what I heard, and I hope for clarification from Fr. Holt.
As a member of a Standing Committee, I will soon be asked to consent to this election, or not, and I would have trouble voting yes if there are procedural problems with the election or substantial concerns about the bishop-elect’s willingness to abide by the provisions of resolution 2018-B012 and our canons which forbid discrimination. (To be clear: I have gladly consented to other conservative bishops’ elections when it was clear that they would comply with the polity of our church. When it comes to consent, it’s about polity not personal belief in my view.)
I mention all this to say that I share some concerns and I’m eager to learn more. However, the General Convention has no business telling bishops and Standing Committees how to vote; it is a violation of our fundamental polity.
Images: Baptismal font at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle.