For background and context for the following post, see the Episcopal News Service’s article here and ongoing commentary on the subject at Episcopal Café here. Bishop Stacy Sauls, the newly appointed Chief Operating Officer of The Episcopal Church, made a PowerPoint presentation on structuring/restructuring the church as well as provided a model resolution for diocesan conventions to consider, and they may be found here [opens a PowerPoint document]. The following post is my response to the fact that Bishop Sauls made his presentation to the House of Bishops first without any prior notice to the Executive Council, which is The Episcopal Church’s governing body in the trienniums between General Conventions when both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops meet to consider legislation to govern the church.
I find it ironic that in a church where our Catechism defines the mission of the Church is “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” that Bishop Sauls, presumably in his capacity as the Chief Operating Officer, has made a presentation on structure/restructure to the House of Bishops prior to meeting the interim governing body of the church, the Executive Council, in person for the first time. That first in-person meeting will not take place until Council meets in Salt Lake City October 21-24.
We are a church that believes in the importance of relationship in the Body of Christ, and yet, we continue to impair our necessary working relationships by placing ideas, proposals and time pressures over and above respecting relationships with timely and collegial communications. Actions trump thoughts and words in exemplifying our beliefs.
Perhaps approaching the House of Bishops first might be blamed on the fact that Bishop Sauls has, in fact, not yet met Council, but has a long-term collegial relationship with other bishops in the House of Bishops and seized an opportunity to share some ideas with his sister and brother bishops due to the timing of the bishops’ meeting.
I have observed and heard from colleagues in other dioceses that there is a similar pattern in diocesan life, that is, that some bishops communicate things to the clergy cadre often in advance of communicating with their Standing Committees who share diocesan governance with them, leaving the Standing Committee members to learn these things from secondary and tertiary sources. So, from my point of view, this practice does not stand in isolation, and it smacks of disrespect for both the persons and the positions, however unintended.
Bishop Sauls’ presentation to the bishops first may also be a reflection of the reality that diocesan bishops respond more readily to recommendations from among themselves to commit their dioceses to study a specific subject than they do to recommendations that come from either General Convention or Executive Council.
I am experienced enough in organizational life to wonder if there was something intentionally strategic about presentation to the bishops first. Could this be an example of apologize later rather than notify first? It is also true in organizational life that she/he who speaks first and frames an issue often then has set the direction for the ensuing discussion.
How people feel about the circumstances surrounding the work that they have to do significantly impacts how they think about the substance of that work. Having said all of the above, my hope and prayer is that we will be able to move forward together in an attitude of unity as sisters and brothers in The Episcopal Church who want to engage our missional work with charity, clarity and truly shared decision-making across all the ministers of the church – laity, priests, bishops and deacons.