Committee 3: Governance & Structure

governance

Our rocketship tour through well over 200 resolutions begins with Committee 3: Governance & Structure. As a reminder, when I write “Likely vote” below, these indicate how I am likely to vote based on the information I had available when I was writing this. I will of course keep an open mind as I learn more or as the resolutions are edited during the legislative process.

A002 Site for the 83rd General Convention. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This resolution says we will create a short list of potential sites for General Convention in 2030 to be in one of the following cities: Kansas City, Missouri; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Portland, Oregon; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. I trust the team who devised this list has done thorough work, and I will trust them to select the winner. For those who may not know, General Convention in 2027 is set to be in Phoenix. In the summer. But don’t worry, it’s a dry heat.

I also want to take note of the fact that we claim to be an international church and yet General Convention has never been held outside the borders of the US (to the best of my knowledge). If we’re going to self-identify as an international church, let’s get busy and plan a convention for one of the other 16 or so nations in which our members worship.

 

A020 Establish a Standing Commission on Care of Creation and Environmental Racism. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

If this resolution passes, it will accomplish what the title says: we will create a Standing Commission on Care of Creation and Environmental Racism. I believe climate change and environmental destruction constitute the greatest threat to human well-being in our time. Racism is clearly embedded in a great deal of the way many developed nations set environmental policies and manage the risks of climate change. As a church, we have a moral imperative to respond.

So why don’t I support the creation of this committee? I worry that a new committee will simply create feel-good projects that do not engage our church in the work that we must do. Instead of a new committee, for instance, let’s add a canon that mandates carbon neutrality for all church organizations by, say, 2030. Let’s see our church’s leaders at all levels teach our members about the ethics of consumption in our time. While this new committee would have laudable aims (as specified in the resolution) for a noble purpose, we can do these things without another committee that will, itself, consume precious resources. In other words, let’s do this important work and stop talking. But let’s suppose you disagree with me, and you think we need an identified set of leaders to take responsibility for all this happening; you may be right about that, I freely concede. Perhaps the committee would get us to do work that will not come to fruition without it. The final seemingly insurmountable challenge is that this resolution sets a price tag of $1.4 million in a budget without that much space and in a church that is likely to cut the funding to churchwide structures significantly. We just don’t have the money for this, unless we can find $1.4 million to cut elsewhere.

 

A041 Create a Task Force on The Episcopal Church-Anglican Communion Relationships. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

If you believe we need a task force to study relationships between the Episcopal Church and other Anglican Communion churches, and to recommend steps to improve these relationships, vote for this. If you are like me and you believe that we don’t need to create 19 new task forces, vote against creating more task forces. In this case, our Presiding Bishop is also our primate and attends Primates Meetings with his peers. We send lay people, bishops, and other clergy to the Anglican Consultative Council. Most of our bishops attend the decennial Lambeth Conferences. Lots of our dioceses have partner relationships with other dioceses across the Anglican Communion. We have a rich tapestry of relationships. Our polity provides leadership in this arena to our Presiding Bishop and our delegates to the Anglican Consultative Council. I just don’t see that the benefits of the task force proposed here are worth either the costs or the confusion in our existing structures.

 

A060 Amend Canon I.1.2.n.1.vi: Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons. Full text. Likely vote: YES, but the language may need further clarification.

This is a canon change to clarify the work of the existing Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons. Essentially, it clarifies that the SCSGCC has oversight of committees and certain other institutions of the Episcopal Church. In the past, we used terms Boards and Agencies. The explanation here rightly points out the Agency is not defined in the canons. If we want a new group which would fall under their purview, or if an existing group wants to change its affiliation, the matter would be referred to SCSGCC for review. I’m summarizing here, and you should read the precise language in the actual resolution — and make sure to read the explanation.  I’m not an attorney, but I’m not sure that it’s crystal clear what it means to say a “body for which The Episcopal Church may be legally responsible.” Would a separate 501(c)3 with its own insurance and so on pass on “responsibility”? When might this be triggered by a loosely or partially or customarily affiliated organization? If attorneys are all clear on what this means, then great! Once the language is clarified as to scope, I fully support this. It makes sense to say that an official interim body would have right of review if, say, Church Pension Group or the United Thank Offering wanted to somehow realign or reaffiliate.

DISCLOSURE: I serve at Forward Movement, an agency of the Episcopal Church. I for one welcome our new SCSGCC overlords! (I will seek the President’s leave to abstain from voting on this matter when it comes before the House of Deputies, as I have what may be perceived as a conflict of interest with this matter.)

 

A062 Amend Canon I.4.2.j Mutual Ministry Review. Full text. Likely vote: YES, but only if modified.

This resolution modifies an existing requirement for a regular mutual ministry review with the officers of the Domestic & Foreign Missionary Society (think Presiding Bishop, Treasurer, and so on) and the officers of Executive Council (add the President of the House of Deputies), and six members of Executive Council. I’m a huge fan of mutual minstry reviews, so I’m glad we require them. This resolution changes the frequency from once every 18 months to once every triennium (a year before each General Convention). First, I’d like to see an annual mutual ministry review, perhaps in January. Yes, we will sometimes be reviewing brand-new officers, but that just provides an occasion for a conversation on how things are going so far. It would help get things going on a good footing. I don’t think once a triennium is often enough for these conversations to be helpful. Second, we need clarity on how this is “mutual.” In a typical parish review, it’s among the vestry and rector, so both the vestry as a whole and the rector are participants in learning from one another. I understand that the Executive Council is so large that a mutual ministry review would yield an unwieldy conversation (note: rant about the size of EC another time), but with just six members, are they conducting the review on behalf of all? Can the officers provide feedback to the whole Council through this smaller group? Or is this not really a mutual review, but a one-way review between six chosen members and the officers. Clarity is important here. Finally, I’d like to see a requirement to publish a summary of the findings from the review. It shows effective leadership and provides solid accountability if the whole church can get some (edited) visibility into how these conversations are going.

 

A073 A Standing Commission for Human Health and Wellness. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

I’m 100% in favor of human health and wellness, but we do not need a committee to help us do this. Church leaders can encourage those in their charge to be healthy in mind, body, and spirit without a committee to come up with ideas. The internet is full of Christian approaches to health & wellness. This is a time to sharpen our focus as a church and reduce mission creep, not to take on every challenge faced by anyone.

 

A094 Communion Across Difference. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

If approved, this resolution continues for a third triennium (or biennium, but you get the point) a Task Force on Communion Across Difference. As you know by now, I’m firmly against the proliferation of task forces and other committees. But this is a continuation of existing conversation, and I think we are at a moment when the witness of finding ways to remain in communion across substantial differences is particularly powerful. This group must be constituted of folks who do not agree, and they are also charged with conversation with other churches across the theological spectrum (which could help with the aims of A041 above). If we were starting from scratch, I would be harder to persuade, but I think we need to keep these conversations going; they have already yielded important understanding and concrete proposals to stay together as siblings in Christ across our disagreements and differences.

By the way, you should go read this task force’s Blue Book report. It’s a good example of how a group of faithful folks can have solid conversations with productive outcomes in the form of usable resolutions.

 

B006 Include the Episcopal Church in Micronesia in the Diocese of Hawai’i. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

Today, Episcopalians in Guam and Saipan fall under the Episcopal Church in Micronesia, whose canonical status is “murky” according to the explanation and who are supervised by the Bishop of Hawai’i. This would clarify canonical status and celebrate an already-close relationship. Both the Episcopalians in Micronesia and in Hawai’i support this, so I hope the General Convention will endorse this deeper connection. As an aside, I was set to visit Hawai’i, Guam, and Saipan on a personal vacation back in 2021, but my flight from Honolulu to Guam was canceled at the last minute due to COVID. I hope to visit all these lovely places soon, but now as one diocese!

 

C004 The Episcopal Church Diocesan Assessment. Full text. Likely vote: YES, but only if amended.

This resolution immediately cuts the rate dioceses pay for their churchwide assessment to 13.5% from the current rate of 15%. It also asks for the rate to be cut over a few years to 10% by 2030. I love the intent here, and I fully agree with the specific goal of getting us to a 10% assessment. My concern is that cutting immediately is not setting our next Presiding Bishop up for success at a critical moment in the life of the church. I’d like to see a tempered version of what is proposed here, perhaps cutting by .5% every year starting in 2026 until we reach 10%. Or maybe even cutting by 1% per year starting next triennium. That gives our next PB some runway to start new programs and end current programs and potentially staff positions with grace and generosity.

As the explanation points out, many organizations of all kinds are retooling to be less top-heavy and to keep resource allocation closer to the grassroots. Makes sense to me! Dioceses know what they need, and in many cases can organically organize to accomplish things that would have required programmatic development from a churchwide office two or three decades ago. This reduction will put tremendous pressure on churchwide leaders to use resources with care and precision, focusing only on essentials, and that is a good thing. We have plenty of potential cuts to make in governance, administration, finance, and legal, so core programs and functions need not be curtailed. If we set our clear intention now, but give ourselves just a little bit of room to pivot, we can accomplish the important goal in a strategic and careful way, rather than immediately taking a scalpel to vital programs.

 

C005 Conversations Concerning the Relationships Between Dioceses and their Province. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

If passed, this would ask that “each Diocese (bishops, clergy, and laity) discuss the ways it will be in relationship and support the identified ministries of the Province of which they are a part.” Who is going to lead these conversations? To what end? Is the expectation that every single clergy person and lay person in a diocese is having this conversation for some unspecified purpose? And the next sentence adds, “Dioceses will offer this support to the Province through the Provincial Council/Executive Committee meetings prior to the 2027 General Convention.” What support? How will it be offered? I have to believe there are good intentions behind this resolution, but it makes no sense to me. The presupposition, contained within the explanation, is that people in dioceses may not understand provincial purpose or mission. A person might conclude that this could be because provinces are a 19th century layer of polity that makes no sense in today’s church. But I digress. I can’t support a resolution that has a vague purpose with no accountability and no clear aim. It strikes me as an effort to prop up provinces themselves when more and more people are asking why we maintain this layer of polity that seems increasingly out of step with the needs of today’s church.

 

C006 Conversations Concerning the Relationship Between The Episcopal Church and Provinces. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution is similar to C005 (above), but between “The Episcopal Church and Provinces” instead of “Dioceses and Their Province.” All my critiques to that resolution apply here, too.

 

C007 Support for the Provinces as Part of The Episcopal Church Structure. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Province VI was busy writing resolutions! This resolution adds additional funding to provinces from an allocation at the churchwide level. Provinces are generally funded by assessments to their member dioceses. But this resolution would add to that an additional sum to come from the General Convention churchwide budget. It seems to me that if there is additional work to be done at the provincial level, provinces should make their case in their synods to the dioceses who will benefit from the additional work. We do not need to prop up provinces through more spending.

Provinces were created at a time when travel was prohibitively expensive and over a century before video communication. In today’s church, we can work organically with willing partners. Ten dioceses, or 20 dioceses, or whatever can partner for ministry. We don’t need to continue an expensive and complicated layer in our polity. Now is a time for simplicity and clarity, not complexity and confusion.

 

C008 Review Diocesan Assessments. Full text. Likely vote: YES, if amended.

See commentary on C004 (above). This resolution seeks to cut the diocese’s churchwide assessment from its current 15% to 10%. I support the aim, but we need a strategic and careful plan to get there.

 

C009 Petition of the Episcopal Church In Navajoland to become a Missionary Diocese. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

The Episcopalians in Navajoland want to change their status from Area Mission to Missionary Diocese. Among other things, this grants them the right to elect their own bishop. They have asked for this, and they have been in conversation with the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution, and Canons. This continues work begun with resolution 2022-D080, so this has been going on a while. All seems in order, and it makes good sense.

 

C019 Adjusting Diocesan Assessments to the Wider Church. Full text. Likely vote: YES, but only if amended.

This repeats C004. See commentary there.

 

C024 Diocesan Assessments to the Wider Church. Full text. Likely vote: YES, but only if amended.

This is quite similar to C004, though tweaked a little. See commentary there.

 

C025 Juncture of The Episcopal Dioceses of Eastern and Western Michigan. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

The dioceses of Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan wish to merge so they become the new Diocese of the Great Lakes. This requires General Convention approval, which I very much hope we give.

 

C028 Adjusting Assessments for Mission. Full text. Likely vote: YES, but only if amended.

This repeats C004. See commentary there.

 

C033 Adjusting Diocesan assessments to the Wider Church. Full text. Likely vote: YES, but only if amended.

This repeats C004. See commentary there.

 

C034 Support for the Provinces as Part of TEC Structure. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This repeats C007. See commentary there.

 

D020 A Task Force on AI in The Episcopal Church. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Someone who has read through more resolutions than I have tells me there are proposals for 19 (!) new task forces. We’re out of control. Speaking of out of control, AI is a super important thing for us to learn about and to ponder. No doubt there are good uses for AI in the church, and the church would do well to have something to say about AI. However, we can do all that without forming a task force. Interested Episcopalians can just, you know, get together and talk about AI and make a podcast or something. An author could pitch a book to Church Publishing. Someone can put together webinars or discussion groups. The point is: we have many options to discuss AI and its role in the world and the church without creating another task force.

 

D048 Length of Future General Conventions. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution, if approved, would set the minimum number of legislative days at ten, plus four days of committee meetings before that. This is a reaction to pandemic-era shorter conventions and the adoption of video conference technology to allow legislative committees to do some of their work prior to gathering in person for General Convention. If this resolution were adopted, many people would need to be present at the convention site for two and a half weeks or more. The primary people with this kind of time are the very wealthy and those who have retired.

In the explanation, the proposers suggest that online committee meetings are for the privileged, denying participation to the “less privileged.” This seems backward to me. I think they have forgotten that not everyone has the ability to get away from home for almost three weeks. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Episcopalians have access to computers to join Zoom calls, or they can get access from a nearby public place. To be sure, in 2022 and this time, we are learning how to do work online, and I know there is room for improvement. But surely it makes sense to continue doing some work online — where nearly everyone in the church can see it and participate — instead of limiting committees to meeting in expensive hotel conference rooms where only those with three weeks of discretionary travel time can take part. It seems to me we will benefit from having both online and in-person committee work.

This resolution goes the wrong way. We need to modernize and streamline General Convention, not return to a mythical time in the “good old days” that weren’t really that good in the first place. Of course, we also need to improve the recent innovations in our work from 2022 and 2024, but we can get that done with careful attention to feedback about what has worked well and what needs to be fixed.

 

D051 The Reunion of the Diocese of Wisconsin. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This resolution approves the reunion of the Dioceses of Eau Claire, Fond du Lac, and Milwaukee into a new Diocese of Wisconsin. I commend the folks in Wisconsin for their vision, and I hope the General Convention approves their reunion.

2 Responses

  1. Jonathan says:

    I confess, I doubt AI has any particular use in the church. We don’t need reams of auto-generated text to resolve any church difficulty I’m aware of, and we mostly don’t seem to need to spend much time categorizing text or images. It might be helpful to have some sort of QA bot driven by AI to answer questions about what we Episcopalians believe, but that’s about the only corner where AI looks to me to be useful for the church.

  2. Liza says:

    Two more task forces proposed today, so I think we’re at at least 21!

    In most cases I would just vote no on new interim bodies, full stop. In other cases, it seems like we could very reasonably expand the mandate of an existing Standing Commission. (For example, expand the mandate of the Standing Commission on World Mission to explicitly include Anglican Communion relations, and then if any resolutions come up relating to the Anglican Communion, they can be referred there…)

    There may be some good exceptions, but in MOST cases I think we should only form a new task force when we already have actual resolutions to send to it, and not when we think something is important and therefore want a group of people to….write resolutions…that General Convention can then send to them….

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