Committee 2: Constitution & Canons

“And also with blue” continues with everyone’s favorite committee, Constitution & Canons! For various reasons, including a potential conflict of interest identified herein, I asked a friend to be a guest blogger. Please enjoy this expert commentary on these resolutions, each of which proposes changes to our church’s Constitution & Canons. Speaking of which, you can find the current 2018 version online as a PDF for your reading pleasure.

I happen to think we should nuke our canons and start over fresh, but perhaps they can be fixed. All of these resolutions would be good progress in improving the hairball of contradiction & confusion that we fondly know as our Constitution & Canons.

And now, here’s our guest blogger.

I’m thrilled that Scott asked me to give a brief overview (albeit from the inky shadows) of the magical world of Constitution & Canons.

Constitution & Canons can seem technical and boring, but they’re important – they are the agreed way in which we operate as a church, codifying the authority of the various structures, ministries, and ministers of the church, providing for discipline where warranted, and providing the structure that supports our life together outside of worship. The Book of Common Prayer, of course, is our “Canons” for worship.

You’ll find constitutional and canonical amendments throughout the committees of General Convention – a choice that we should think more about for the future. Why? Because the canons are sort of like a Jenga tower – all the pieces fit together, and often, a change in one place can lead to instability in another – without a legislative committee even realizing it.

When the Jenga tower falls, or looks like it might fall, resolutions often wind up in the Constitution & Canons committee for fixing. We could streamline our legislative process and avoid extra “technical fix” resolutions in a couple of ways:

  • Make sure the presiding officers appoint at least two people who really know the canons on each legislative committee. Sadly, there aren’t as many of these folks in the church as you’d think. But a deep knowledge of the canons – or at the very least knowing to whom to address a canonical question and reliably seeking that input – can make the final product better, and less subject to revision.
  • At Convention, actually use the Constitution & Canons Committee as just that – send all resolutions changing the constitution or canons to that committee. Considering both resolutions and canonical changes at the same time is a lot. This year, we have almost all resolutions changing Title IV going to Committee #03 on Title IV Disciplinary Canons – and this is wise! In the future, it could make sense to do the same for all canonical changes – perhaps creating a committee on the Constitution and Titles I and II, one on Title III, and one on Title IV. Or at the least, perhaps we can make sure the that the legislation flows through Constitution & Canons before it hits the floor.
  • The best solution? Create an interim body with a long-term mandate to fully review and revise the canons. Our Standing Committee on Structure, Governance, Constitution & Canons has a huge mandate, both to revise Constitution & Canons as issues appear, and to look to the long term. Every so often, it is good to review everything, and think about how the pieces all fit together. We last did this with Title IV around 2006 and 2008, resulting in a complete overhaul. I can’t remember when Title I and Title III got comprehensive review and overhaul. It’s time for us to think about it. I should note that the goal of such a group need not be changing our structures of governance – but rather to get compact, tight, and consistent language throughout our Constitution & Canons.

With that rant ended, let’s get to it.

A032 Amend Canon III.11.9.b to Correct an Oversight in a 2018 Canonical Amendment. Full text.
Likely vote: YES.

The 79th General Convention accidentally deleted the requirement that the whole church consent to a Diocese moving to the election of a Bishop Suffragan. We’ve done that for a long time, and restoring it is the right call.


A033 Amend Canon I.1.2.n.1.iii to Revise the Title of Executive Council’s By-laws. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

Currently Canon I.1 gives the Standing Committee on Structure, Governance, Constitution & Canons (henceforth “Law & Order” – DUM DUM) the mandate to review the bylaws of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, the New York State corporate entity for our church’s church-wide ministry. The Executive Council is the board of DFMS, so it makes sense to give Law & Order the mandate not only the corporate entity’s by-laws, but also the by-laws of its board.


A034 Clarify the Standing Commission’s Mandate. Full text. Likely vote: NO, unless Referred to Law & Order.

Wonder why Scott isn’t commenting on Canons? Probably this one. It would pose a conflict of interest for him as the Executive Director of Forward Movement, which is an agency of The Episcopal Church.  This resolution, proposed by Law & Order (DUM DUM) would amend the canons to give Law & Order (DUM DUM) the ability to review the operation not only of the Commissions and Boards of General Convention, but also of church agencies.

Here’s the problem – agencies are a hazy no-man’s land. Most of them are not codified in the Canons of the Episcopal Church. Episcopal Relief and Development, Forward Movement, General Seminary, Episcopal Migration Ministries – all these are agencies. And each of them may have their own corporate organization that provide for their governance. Some may give General Convention authority over their governance in some way (like General Seminary does). Others may not.

We need to seriously consider the limits of the General Convention’s power. While General Convention may have chartered an agency, if all that it has done is give its imprimatur and blessing to agency’s mission, then it may not ultimately have the power to change its corporate structure, governance, and function. To try to do so would be to attempt what is known in legal circles as an ultra vires act – an act beyond its powers.

There’s a way to give Law & Order (DUM DUM) an ability to coordinate among the agencies and to offer its services for governance review – but adding it as a required mandate isn’t it. These needs more work and should probably go back to SCGSCC.


A035 Allow Lay Persons Who Become Ordained and Priests Who Become Bishops to Serve Out Their Terms on Standing Commissions. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Standing Commission members have terms that span more than one General Convention. This resolution proposes to allow lay people who are ordained deacon or priest, or priests who have been ordained bishops, to retain their place on Standing Commissions.

This is a hard no. Our polity is a delicate balance between lay people, clergy, and bishops. Passing this canonical change would disturb that balance – and more importantly, it would also deny the opportunity for new participants of the appropriate order in the work of the church.

In the past, the Presiding Officers have enabled people who change orders to continue as consultants to a standing commission, with voice and without vote. This enables work to continue, doesn’t throw away expertise, but respects the balance of our polity.

That’s the way it should remain.


A038 Shorten Period for Notification of Interim Body Appointments. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

I’m in favor of getting to work as quickly as possible after General Convention. But unless we significantly ramp down the number of interim bodies we create, we’re setting a trap for our presiding officers that they likely wouldn’t be able to meet.

It takes time after General Convention for the General Convention Office to figure out every interim body that’s been created, the membership requirements for that body, and to pass it along to the Presiding Officers. They then must consider volunteers from across the church and see who works best where. Sometimes they make asks and people say no.

As much as I love the spirit of the resolution, right now it’s not feasible.

We should have fewer interim bodies, in which case this change would be achievable. But the current 90 days for appointments and 120 days for notification to appointees is the best we can do right now. Reduce the count of interim bodies, and I’m a yes. In the meantime, let’s not create canonically actionable trip wires for our Presiding Officers.


A039 Use More Precise Language in Canon III.11.3.c as Amended by Resolution 2018-A282. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This is a technical fix to a clause in Canon III.11 concerning testimonials in episcopal elections; the clause shouldn’t refer to all of Title III but only to Title III, Canon 11. The clause itself is redundant; there’s already a General Provisions Concerning Ordination canon earlier in the title. But sometimes redundancy serves to be a reminder of how things need to be done – and if there’s anything that needs to be airtight, it is an episcopal election.


A040 Specify Electronic Transmission of Certain Documents and Records. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

It is the Year of Our Lord 2022. We should be able to send certified electronic documents. Certified and Registered Mail is so 1979.


A042 Permitting Sending Required Notices and Other Papers by Electronic Means. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This allows electronic serving of Title IV notices, with a caveat for due process – to be consider duly served, those served need to confirm receipt. We should be able to work electronically, but when people’s lives and vocations are at stake, due process says we should be doubly sure they receive it.


A043 Striking Outdated Reference to Provincial Court of Review. Full text. Likely vote: NO, but there’s no way this makes it to the floor.

Law & Order (DUM DUM) wants to strike a reference to Provincial Courts of Review, which we replaced in 2018. They do it in one part of a Canon I.15.10… and then inexplicably… leave in another reference to the Provincial Courts a sentence later.

Kill this one with fire. This is really, really, really sloppy work.

A115 does the same thing. Pass that one.


A045 Amend Canon I.19.2.b to Update a Word. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

Changes the word “archives” to “records” in reference to where a Title IV Accord is filed. Simple enough.


A074 Amending Canon III.11.8.a Provision for Written Objections to the election of a Bishop Diocesan. Full text. Likely vote: YES, but there might be a conflict with D052!

Here, the Court of Review would like to remind you that there are no provincial courts of review to review a Title III, Canon 11 challenge to an Episcopal Election (as is currently happening in Florida). They are not wrong. Remove the reference to provinces, and you simply refer to the Court of Review. Neat, easy, clean, correct.

However, the Ministry Committee is considering D052 on the Same Canon. These should probably be moved so a single committee is dealing with this issue.


A111 Amend Canon I.2.1.a on Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This cleans up the overly verbose canon on who serves on the Nominating Committee for Presiding Bishop.  The changes are construction, not content. Same number of members, same appointer or elector of members. Just better and more compact construction.


A112 Amend Canon I.2.2 on Eligibility and Term of Office of the Presiding Bishop. Full text. Likely vote: NO, unless amended.

This is a reasonable proposal in light of COVID-19 allowing the PB to remain in office if General Convention is delayed. Most of the proposal is well written.

However, Section 5 as proposed is out of order, as it makes an exception that allows the Presiding Bishop to remain in office beyond page 72. Mandatory Retirement for Bishops is in the Constitution, and we can’t make an end-run around the constitution by adopting a new canon.

The right way to fix this? Amend the constitution. Unless sub-subsection 5 is stricken, the change is out of order. Refer this one to Law & Order (DUM DUM) to clean it up.


A113 Amend Canon I.4.3 on Term of Office of the Audit Committee. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This seeks to make sure the Audit Committee remains constituted if General Convention is delayed due to, say, a worldwide pandemic. It’s well thought out, extending the terms until the next regular meeting of General Convention, rather than a date certain. Well done!


A114 Amend Canon I.8.2 on Term of Office for Board the Church Pension Fund. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

I will eat my hat if the Church Pension Fund didn’t tell this poor legislative committee both that (a) it’s okay with this change, while also (b) pitching a fit that General Convention shouldn’t make this change without giving it enough time to review it under Canon I.8.9, which allows the Trustees of CPF to be heard about changes to Canon I.8.

Anyway, this should be passed. It’s a commonsense revision changing terms to conform to when Convention is actually held in light of COVID-19, much like A113.


A115 Amend Canon I.15.10.a to Remove Outdated Reference on Congregations outside the United States. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

The Provincial Courts of Review rear their ugly head again. And are this time appropriately removed, unlike A043.


A146 Amend Constitution Articles VI and VIII [Regarding Full Communion–Second Reading]. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This is the second reading of a constitutional amendment, changing “communion” to “full communion” in the constitution.

C&C Lesson time: It’s extremely important that we keep language consistent throughout the Constitution & Canons for consistent interpretation. So while it doesn’t seem like this is a major change, any time we read “communion” it could be interpreted differently from “full communion.” Is that a reasonable interpretation? Not really. Would it also be technically justifiable? Yes.

In the canons, we refer to “full communion” with other churches. We need the constitution to reflect the same wording.


A148 Amend Constitution Article I.2 [House of Bishops–Second Reading]. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

Like in A146, consistent language matters! This changes “Suffragan Bishop” to “Bishop Suffragan,” because the latter is the term used throughout the Canons.


A149 Amend Constitution Article II.4-8 [Bishops Suffragan–Second Reading]. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

Suffragan Bishop to Bishop Suffragan once again. Yes.


A150 Amend Constitution Article III [Bishops Consecrated for Foreign Lands–Second Reading]. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

Did you know we have more than one Canon? True story: we do.

So we shouldn’t refer in the Constitution to the privileges given in “the Canon” to a Bishop in Foreign Lands.  (I’m curious, at present, which Canon is it? I think it’s Title II, Canon 1.)


A151 Amend Constitution Article IV [Standing Committees–Second Reading]. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

Suffragan Bishop to Bishop Suffragan a third time. Still a Yes.

Unless I decide to do a chaos vote. (I won’t.)


A152 Amend Constitution Article 5.1 [Admission of New Dioceses–Second Reading]. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

Our Constitution doesn’t allow for Dioceses to merge unless there is a sitting Bishop. Perhaps the very best time for dioceses to merge is when there isn’t a sitting Bishop, as the details of salaries, retirements, and privileges doesn’t have to be sorted. This is an easy and enthusiastic yes.


A157 Amend Article I Sec. 7. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

The Committee itself wrote this resolution, allowing for the regular triennial meeting of General Convention to be delayed in the event of, say, a worldwide pandemic.

As currently written, the Constitution doesn’t allow for the triennial meeting to be pushed beyond 3 years. But we already have canons that allow for the change of date in convention if the Planning Committee, Presiding Officers, and Executive Council all agree it’s the right call. So strictly speaking, right now, we could move a convention legally to an earlier date, but not to a later date.

This makes a lot of sense, and I’m glad the Committee took the initiative to be sure when everyone agrees a delay is needed, it can be done within the scope of our Constitution & Canons.


A159 Amend Constitution Article II.7 [Bishop Suffragan for Armed Forces–Second Reading]. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This is clarifying the role of the Bishop Suffragan for the Armed Forces to also encompass other agencies as specified by the Presiding Bishop, conforming the language of “Suffragan Bishop” to “Bishop Suffragan” and removing redundant language that says this Bishop can be elected Diocesan or Coadjutor or Suffragan in another Diocese. (Our existing Constitution & Canons already allow for this – no need to repeat).


C002 Episcopal Church Canon Concerning Financial Affairs – Title I, Canon 7.1.f. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution would change the canons to allow a diocese to undergo an annual CPA review, with a full CPA audit every three years. A review is still conducted by a CPA, but to a lesser standard of rigor.

This comes from the Diocese of Idaho – a diocese that doesn’t have the resources of some of our larger, deeply endowed dioceses on the East and West Coasts. Audits are admittedly very expensive and time consuming.

I’m very sympathetic to this canonical change, but it needs more work and consideration. We need to consider how well the existing audits have (or have not) been done before we open a door to lower financial scrutiny of our dioceses.

Diocesan finances can often be clouded in mystery. Some dioceses don’t publish their audits every year except to key leaders; other don’t post their financial statements regularly or even given them to their convention. Before we lift a CPA audit requirement, we must create standards for financial disclosure that every diocese must meet. We truly could create a perfect storm of non-transparency if audit standards are relaxed while no requirements for public disclosure are put into place.


D056 Amend Canon III.11.9.a to correct cross-reference. Full text. Likely vote: NO, because it should be referred.

This comes from a Deputy seeking to correct a cross-reference in Title III, Canon 11. This may well be correct, however, because of the many ways the canons interact with one another, we need multiple eyes on this change before it is made. This late in the game, it should be referred to Law & Order (DUM DUM) or deferred to the next convention.


D057 Amend Canon III.5.2 to delete duplicated language. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution removes a clause from the General Provisions Respecting Ordination concerning Standing Committee Testimonials. In the explanation, the resolution author indicates that the only testimonials in Title III are those in Bishop Elections.

However, as any Standing Committee member can tell you, this is incorrect. A standing committee testimonial is signed before any ordination to any order. The resolution should be rejected.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

2 Responses

  1. panamc05 says:

    And the guest blogger is………

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