RESPONSE TO THE CONTROVERSY OVER TO RELEASE OR NOT TO RELEASE THE CONSTITUTION AND CANONS REPORT ON THE PROPOSED ANGLICAN COVENANT AND REFLECTIONS ON OPENNESS AND ACCESS TO EXECUTIVE COUNCIL
I have not remained purposefully silent through the public debate that has ensued since the Executive Council’s Chair for its Standing Committee on World Mission, Rosalie Simmonds Ballentine, remarked in her report to Council last Friday, June 17, 2011, that her committee would not – yet – release the report it requested and received from the General Convention’s Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons on the proposed Anglican Covenant.
I did not return home until 2:00 AM Saturday morning after the close of the 3-day Executive Council meeting on Friday afternoon and have been engaged over the weekend in supporting my husband’s self-employed consulting, from which we derive our family’s livelihood. I now have the time to write a response, which I feel called to do, because I do take seriously the honor, privilege and responsibility given to me when I was elected to serve as the lay representative to Executive Council from Province VI. Whether or not anyone agrees with me is of minor import compared to the right of the members of the church to have access to its elected leaders and their thinking.
The Constitution and Canons report on the proposed Anglican Covenant was dated February 15, 2011, and posted to the Executive Council’s Extranet (online community) that evening. The Executive Council meeting was held on February 16 through 18 in Fort Worth. The Standing Committee on World Mission did – not – report on the proposed Anglican Covenant or any reports associated with it in plenary session at that Executive Council meeting.
(Much of the work of Executive Council and certainly most of the detailed discussion about that work takes place within the five standing committees of Council, which meet simultaneously during allotted committee time, which has recently been running about 50% of the time allotted for the entire 3-day Council meetings. Budget considerations after General Convention 2009 have necessitated a reduction from 4-day to 3-day Council meetings. Occasionally two or more of the standing committees may meet jointly over a specific topic for a specified time period.)
An excerpt from the approved Minutes of the Standing Committee on World Mission for the February 16 through 18, 2011, meeting reveals:
“D020 TF [T]here is nothing to report because responses are not due until Easter but the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons has sent a report on how adopting the covenant will affect the constitution and canons. There has been conversation about whether these responses will be posted. All the committee was doing was creating framework for EC’s response.”
It is my understanding as a Council member that the D020 Task Force will be working throughout the summer to prepare a report for Executive Council on the proposed Anglican Covenant, taking into account all the feedback that it has requested and received from throughout The Episcopal Church. World Mission Chair Ballentine indicated that the Constitution and Canons report – would be appended – to the report to Executive Council and – released with the final approved report.
Both the Constitution and Canons report and all the various feedback from the members of The Episcopal Church are – ingredients – that will contribute to that final approved report from the D020 Task Force, but none of them are – in and of themselves – the report – nor do they stand alone without context. Thus, I do support Chair Ballentine and the Standing Committee on World Mission in their judgment and process for carrying out their oversight of the D020 Task Force’s work in moving towards producing a final report for Executive Council’s consideration at its October 21 through 24, 2011, meeting in Salt Lake City. The Standing Committee on World Mission does have a plan to release the Constitution and Canons report as part of the final approved D020 Task Force report.
As a reminder, here is the then-current timeline for response from The Episcopal Church to the proposed Anglican Covenant, as cited in the D020 Task Force June 2010 Study Guide:
• June 2010: a study guide with questions will go out to deputations and dioceses for use with the goal of receiving responses back from them by Easter 2011 (24 April)
• October 2010: the task force will remind deputations of engaging with the study questions and the Easter deadline
• 24 April 2011: deputations return their responses to the D020 Task Force
• June 2011: the task force submits a draft report with accompanying resolutions to Executive Council for input
• October 2011: the task force submits a final draft with resolutions to Executive Council for acceptance
• December 2011: the task force submits its report for inclusion in the Blue Book.”
The issue of openness to and access of the entire Episcopal Church with regard to Executive Council is one that is taken seriously by members of Council. In the current environment of reduced resources and heightened anxiety about the future of our beloved church, I have observed repeatedly at instances of private conversation or executive session some one or two of our members raising her or his hand to question the chair as to the necessity of being in private conversation or executive session. Council members do share and raise concerns about openness and access.
The reasons for private conversation and executive session have been legitimate ones: discussions of personnel issues, lawsuits and potential lawsuits, and potential for physical harm to members of the church. No actions, i.e., votes, are taken in private conversation or executive session.
It is my personal observation that 3-day meetings to do the work set before Executive Council three times a year produce “killer” meetings which do not allow adequate time to read, reflect, discuss, pray, discern and digest our work. I am, however, not advocating for a return to 4-day meetings, because our budget concerns are real, and there are adjustments that can be made in how we approach our work. Council members make many personal sacrifices to serve on Council, and I do not find the sacrifices associated with a 3-day meeting unreasonable.
At the Council meeting of last week, there was no dinner away with the local diocese and only three reports from non-members of Council, because Council had previously requested more written and fewer in-person reports, whenever appropriate, to effect better use of limited time. This resulted in no whole-Council evening meetings and allowed for a few sub-committees to utilize that evening time for their work.
The newly adopted Rules of Order appended to the newly adopted revised Bylaws of Executive Council now require all reports and other written materials to be reviewed as part of the work of the next Council meeting to be submitted to the Secretariat 30 days prior to that meeting to facilitate translation. That 30-day period will allow all Council members the opportunity to read, reflect and ask questions about those reports and written materials in advance of each Council meeting, making Council members more uniformly prepared by the time we meet in person.
A piece of wisdom generated by staff, specifically the Rev. Margaret Rose, “Assume positive intent,” is slowly working its way into the psyche of Council and staff, as we live into our interdependence. Council and staff are comprised of very dedicated, conscientious, gifted, caring, strong-willed and unique individuals who are also profoundly human in all of our quirks and foibles. So, too, are all the members of The Episcopal Church who observe and participate in our life together as leaders, staff and members. Thus, I want to point out that I do not find personal attacks on the character, ethics or work ethos of Council members to be an appropriate addition to the sacrifices that Council members willingly and gladly make to serve on Council. Likewise, I do not experience any Council member bearing any attitude of superiority to the members of The Episcopal Church whatsoever.
It is not easy to work and live in a fishbowl, and that is and always has been the life of elected leaders and staff in this and every other organization. One large difference in the life of the church is that each and every one of us is intrinsically bound to our church in ways that transcend our reason and our emotions because of our call to be members of the Body of Christ and our love of our Lord and His Earthly Spouse, the Church.
We are not easy on each other, because we care deeply. But perhaps we could stop when we reach the brink of blaming, name calling and shaming.
We work hard, but sometimes not hard enough by either our own or others’ standards. And perhaps those are the times when we need to rely on prayer for the realities and sensibilities of others and to ask for patience, peace and understanding that follows the example of the Peace of God that we exchange with one another in every Eucharistic celebration.
When we each speak our own truth, I truly believe that the act of that speaking does have the ability to lift up the entire Body and call us to our better selves, to do better, to speak better, to be better. Would that our speaking of our truths also be spoken in such loving kindness that the words and the truths soothe our souls, enlarge our energy and capacities, and cause the love within us for each other to blossom forth to overflowing.
I believe that I speak for my fellow Council members when I say that we do welcome the thoughts of the members of The Episcopal Church, because we learn and grow from what each of us brings to the table and we are propelled to do better.
God’s Peace to each of us,
Member, Executive Council,
Lay Representative from Province VI,
and Lay Deputy, Diocese of Colorado
(cross-posted to the HoB/D - House of Bishops/Deputies - list)