In the second of a series of viewpoint essays, Deputy Steve Pankey of Central Gulf Coast and Alternate Deputy Jared C. Cramer of Western Michigan debate whether the presiding bishop or an executive director should be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the church. Cramer is in favor of the changes proposed by the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church in Resolutions A004 and A005; Pankey is opposed to those resolutions and in favor of Resolution D010.
Ever since I entered the Episcopal Church around ten years ago, I have been a bit confused by the systemic anxiety surrounding bishops. As I studied our church’s history, it has slowly made more sense, but it still seems rather strange most days. Why are so many in our church afraid of the episkopoi? Have a few bad apples soured our perception of the whole order?
One of the most controversial parts of Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) was the section on the Presiding Bishop (PB). Indeed, when TREC’s recommendations were published, The Lead reported that TREC recommended a “powerful Presiding Bishop” with “few checks on his or her executive powers.”
Strangely enough, despite the hand wringing that TREC was centralizing power in our church, this is clearly not the case. The only significant difference under TREC is found in one sentence. They recommend that the PB have primary responsibility for “the execution of the program and policies adopted by the General Convention and the coordination, development, and implementation of the ministry and mission of the Church.” This is a change from the former Canon 4 (Of the Executive Council), which gave EC responsibility to “carry out the program and policies adopted by the General Convention” and “charge of the coordination, development, and implementation of the ministry and mission of the Church.”
Furthermore, under TREC, the PB can only initiate new initiatives with the approval of the Executive Committee, a new and important check. TREC’s new Canon 4 also gives EC a clear oversight role, including oversight of the PB and the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS). TREC gives EC authority to fire several positions, including the “Church General Manager,” their language for the current COO. In the TREC model, this person, along with several others, would be nominated by the Presiding Officers but appointed by EC. The current canons say the PB oversees the work of EC (I.4.3,(a)). TREC’s proposal actually flips that relationship.
An earlier model under consideration called for a General Secretary accountable to Executive Council. The only difference between TREC’s proposal and that of the General Secretary model is that EC cannot fire the PB if they are dissatisfied with that person’s work and the PB (instead of either EC or a General Secretary) has the responsibility for ensuring the mission and ministry of this church happens in a way that is effective and coordinated.
But what are the implications of this approach?
First, it is essential first to consider what a bishop is supposed to be, at least according to our Book of Common Prayer. The catechism says bishops have a fundamentally apostolic ministry—they are the successors of the apostles who led the early church. Bishops are called to to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the church, to teach, to proclaim the gospel, and to reconcile the world and build up the church of God.
I oppose the General Secretary model because I believe it would centralize power by vesting leadership in someone who is elected by (and accountable to) only a small group of people. I feel much more comfortable with that leadership resting in the hands of someone elected by the whole church. And I do agree with TREC that the PB should be elected by all orders at General Convention, not only by bishops.
But even more importantly, I want the person who leads our church to do so through an apostolic lens. I don’t want a bureaucrat selected by a board. I want a bishop in which the church has discerned gifts for apostolic ministry and upon whom we have called the Holy Spirit. I want the person who leads our church to know, as a bishop, that her or his fundamental job is guarding the faith, unity, and discipline of our church, proclaiming the good news of God in Christ, and building up the church for God’s ministry of reconciliation.
We are, after all, a church. We are community called together by the Holy Spirit to worship God, make disciples of Christ, and reconcile a broken world. And as long as our theology of the episcopate is what our prayer book says, I support a bishop, called by the whole church and collaborating with clergy and laity, to lead us in that work.
The Very Rev. Jared C. Cramer serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, MI, and as dean of the Lakeshore Deanery of the Diocese of Western Michigan. He is a Clergy Alternate to General Convention and previously served the Episcopal Church as a representative to the Faith & Order Commission of the National Council of Churches. His writings can be found at: carewiththecure.blogspot.com
The debate over the structure and polity of the Episcopal Church has gone on in fits and starts over much of the last two triennia. The noise grew louder each time the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church (TREC) put out a study paper or letter, until their final report was issued in mid-December 2014. Since that time, the conversation has steadily become more intense as the 78th General Convention has crept ever closer. It seems natural, as the House of Bishops prepares to elect a new presiding bishop, part of the talk would be about the roles and responsibilities of not just the PB, but of both presiding officers, the Executive Council, and members of the executive staff. Key words that seemed to come up again and again were authority and accountability.
As the writers of the proposals at EpiscopalResurrection.org gathered at Bexley Hall in April, 2015, these key words were of utmost importance. Our main question in what would become D010 “Clarify Officers of The Episcopal Church” was “How can we create a model of governance, within our Episcopal polity that allows for clear lines of authority and accountability at every level?” In the current model, the presiding bishop, as chief executive officer of the Executive Council (Canon I.4.3a) is elected by only one house to serve a nine year term with no real method of accountability for the “implementation of the ministry and mission of the Church” set forth by the General Convention. Adding a further layer of complication, the PB has the responsibility to appoint an executive director to serve as chief operating officer who serves entirely at the PB’s pleasure (Canon I.4.3d). As the canons currently stand, there is no accountability to the Executive Council for the top two employees of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS).
There seemed to be two solutions. If the presiding bishop was to remain the chief executive officer, in order for some real accountability to be built in, that position would have to be elected every three years by both houses. Otherwise, there would be a need to create an executive director position directly accountable to the Executive Council for the implementation of policies and procedures aimed at fulfilling the strategic mission of the church as discerned by the Executive Council, under the leadership of the presiding bishop in accordance with the will and priorities set by the General Convention. The latter option is what D010 proposes.
We believe that this change will accomplish two very important goals. First, it will create the clear lines of authority and accountability so desperately needed in our church in order to be good stewards of the significant financial and human resources with which we are blessed. Second, and more important, allowing the executive director to deal with day-to-day operations frees up the Presiding Bishop to more fully engage the episcopal office: serving as chief pastor for the House of Bishops, speaking as the public voice of the church, fulfilling the critical role of visionary leader for a church of more than 1.8 million communicants, finding the best people to fill the various volunteer positions on commission, committee, boards and task forces, and simply having the time and space to show up and be present to those within and beyond the church’s walls who are seeking to come to know the saving love of God. As has been a popular saying of late, “The cathedral is no longer a chair in a large sanctuary, but the front seat of the bishop’s car.” In the case of the presiding bishop, perhaps it is Seat 5B on a flight to Port Au Prince, Los Angeles, or Mobile.
The authors of D010 are convinced that the move to an executive director model of leadership allows the presiding bishop to be a bishop, allows an executive director to more closely manage the day-to-day operations of the DFMS, and allows the Executive Council to serve as a true board of directors for this wonderful non-profit, a vibrant and vital part of the Kingdom of God that we all love so much.
The Rev. Steve Pankey is Associate Rector at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Foley, Alabama. He is a clergy deputy to General Convention and a candidate for Executive Council.