Monday, February 10, 2014

On Bishops Being Bishops (Presiding & Otherwise)

As the Episcopal Church lumbers on toward the next General Convention in the summer of 2015, the atmosphere is thick with confusion and questioning about structure and governance. Just last week, the Executive Council met and considered a controversial revised oversight structure for what is arguably one of the most successful ministries in the history of TEC--the United Thank Offering (UTO). Questions have been raised in various parts of the blogsphere about just who the staff at '815' and its various satellites is accountable to. Is it the Presiding Bishop through her appointed Chief Operating Officer (Bishop Stacy Sauls)? Or it is the Executive Council, which is a steward of the authority of General Convention when the whole body is not in session?

Meanwhile, in the background--but not too far in the background--the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) is revved up in anticipation of its 2015 General Convention deadline. This is the group created by GC in 2012 and charged with the impossible task (and meager resources with which to accomplish it) of coming up with an outside-the-box proposal for reconfiguring the governance structures of the church in view of several ominous indicators of (terminal?) institutional decline.

To add interest to the mix, we'll also be electing a Presiding Bishop. Speculation abounds about whether the current occupant of that office will be among those nominated for the next nine-year term, and whether she will be elected if nominated, but ... we won't know until we know.

So it seems a propitious moment to suggest that a sensible way forward invites us to take a step "back to the future." Until the 1940s, the Presiding Bishop was simply the senior active member of the House of Bishops. Upon assuming the office, he held onto his day job as the actual bishop of an actual diocese. He wasn't in any substantial way a figurehead and CEO. That is no longer permissible under the canons as they are presently written. But we can change that. At the last convention, the House of Deputies bravely tried to do so, but the proposal was defeated in the House of Bishops (over the dissenting vote of the Bishop of Springfield, as is sadly so often the case).

It's time to revive the idea. I'm not suggesting we go back to making the senior active bishop the PB. But it would be healthy on many levels if we could elect a Presiding Bishop without requiring that person to resign his or her see in order to take up the new position. Of course, we would need to re-write the canonical job description to make this practically feasible. Removing the requirement that the PB visit every diocese during a nine-year term would be the major component of this revision. Removing the expectation that the Presiding Bishop serve as chief consecrator every time we ordain a new bishop would be another big piece. It would probably also be necessary to come up with a way of aiding the diocese whose bishop is elected in calling a suffragan or assisting bishop to take up some of the load. And we may want to think about creating a new position called something like General Secretary, someone to mind the store and take care of the daily operations of ... whatever we end up having that still has daily operations. Lots of other Anglican provinces have an arrangement like this.

The advantage would be that we have a Presiding Bishop and Primate who is actually the bishop of something. A bishop is by nature and definition a pastor, not an executive or a figurehead. Our Primate is not an Archbishop (we've had that "discussion" more than once and rejected the idea), and has no metropolitical authority. So the person occupying the office is effectively churchless. And a bishop without a church is like a ... well, you get the idea.

Lest you think this is a bizarre suggestion: Out of the 38 Anglican provinces, only two--the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada--have "dedicated" Primates, that is, unattached to a diocese. Even the Primate of All England and visible face of the worldwide Anglican Communion is the bishop of a diocese, and makes regular parish visitations in the Diocese of Canterbury. For that matter, a man who lives in Rome and goes by the name of Francis claims the title Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church only because he first holds the title Bishop of Rome, elected to that position by the senior clergy ("cardinal rectors," as they might be called in TEC) of the diocese. Our practice is an anomaly, and theologically incoherent.

This proposal is also consonant with what TREC seems to be aiming at: a structure that is more networked than hierarchical, more nimble and less bureaucratic, more driven by theology (formed by scripture and tradition) than by the models of post-WWII American corporations. We can do this.

22 comments:

David Bailey said...

Excellent posting Bishop! I hope OTHERS read, mark, learn and inwardly digest!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Bishop Dan, we have agreed on a few things in the past. This is another one. Does this mean the parousia is immanent?

Dale Matson said...

Bishop Dan,
Gee, these changes would mean that you would qualify for the office of the Presiding Bishop. Wouldn't that be a kick in the pants!

Eric Funston said...

While I can see some value in "keeping the day job," the reality in many provinces is that the diocesan "day job" gets turned over to a deputy of some sort (a suffragan?) so that the primate (by whatever title) can focus on the provincial and communion obligation of the office. With what we seem to expect our primate to do, I'm not sure he/she can be expected to also be chief pastor of a diocese. We'll have to see what TREC comes up with as a suggestion, I suppose.

George William Pursley said...

Well said Bishop. I kind of like the idea of the senior Diocesan. It may not be the most efficient business model, but do we really need an efficient national church. Centralization often has led to loss of many things in just about every type of organization. With all the talk about common ministry and local options, this could make real sense.

Creighton+ said...

Dear Bishop,

I pray that GC2015 will also revisit Canon IV and change it back to the way it was prior to what it was in 2006. As it stands now, there is no due process for clergy and the PB and Bishop have too much power in the process. I also hope they do as your article says regarding the new PB.

Thomas B. Woodward said...

+Dan, I am so glad to see that the pressures of the daily work of a bishop have not diminished your courage and insight. Springfield knew what it was doing!

Barrington Bates said...

While we're at it, why not eliminate the between-General Convention gatherings of the House of Bishops? There is no canonical authority for this, and it perverts our bicameral legislative structure. The HOB is one of two houses of our General Convention, not an entity that should exist between conventions.

Christopher Hart said...

Some excellent food for thought here Bishop Dan. I wonder whether, in conjunction with such a change, we might also further reduce the length of the Presiding Bishop's term. It seems to me that might add additional flexibility, especially if the PB remains a diocesan.

George Werner said...

Thank you +Dan I would love to see this discussed at all levels. As I said often during my time as PHOD, if we tried to draw an organizational chart of the responsibilities and authority of PB & PHOD it would look like a Picasso Painting. George Werner

Jesse Zink said...

One thing to consider in relation to this idea is the strengthening of the church's internal provinces. Right now, it's not clear what it means to me to be a member of, for instance, Province IV. If we introduced additional archbishops and/or metropolitans (maybe we wouldn't have to call them that—let's just call them convener bishops for a province), they could handle some of the episcopal consecrations on a regional basis.

You're right to note that the U.S. and Canada share the peculiarity of a primate with no jurisdiction (except, technically, in the case of the U.S. PB, Europe). But Canada has strong internal provinces. So does Nigeria, for that matter.

And I think a strong suffragan does matter. In Canterbury, it is the (suffragan) bishop of Dover who does all the work there.

Jesse

Daniel Martins said...

Jesse, under previous PB's, the President Bishop of the province often served as chief consecrator. KJS has chosen not to follow this model. And with regard to Canterbury--yes, the Bishop of Dover is critical. But he doesn't do all the work: Justin has a parish visit about every third Sunday.

Jesse Zink said...

Useful bit of history, thanks. Didn't know that.

Tobias Haller said...

Well said, Bishop Dan. We need to revisit ideas that may have been good in the 1950s but which do not meet the needs of the church in our own day.

Tom Hudson said...

A small correction to your history: The PB has been elected (not simply "the senior acting bishop") since John Gardner Murray of Maryland in 1926. Henry St George Tucker of Virginia was the first to resign his diocesan office on Jan 1, 1938.

Rev Thomas J Hudson
St Peter's Church
Lonaconing, MD (birthplace of Bishop Murray)

Jim said...

Well, a fair number of progressives agree with you, among them me. I think your proposals are entirely on point.

How about doing away with the fiction that the PB is ordinary for Europe and permitting the Europeans the same convention authority we have here? I suspect they are quite competent.

FWIW
jimB

The Rev. Thomas C. Jackson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ian T. Douglas said...

Thanks for this Dan. Just one small clarification, the canons were changed to allow for an elected Presiding Bishop in 1919, but the first elected PB was not until Bishop Ethelbert Talbot in 1925. Presiding Bishops maintained their sees until the canon requiring the PB to resign his (sic) see was passed in 1943 and came into effect with Presiding Bishop Henry Knox Sherrill in 1947. My proposed resolution at the last General Convention, B013 Deleting Canon 1.2.3.a.b would have simply removed the requirement that the next PB resign her/his see. It was not compulsory, but was intended to give us flexibility (dare I say nimbleness.) Ian T. Douglas

Malcolm+ said...

Our last diocesan synod passed a motion that the Primate of Canada should continue as a diocesan bishop as well, with the background material noting that only TEC and ACC currently have nondiocesan primates. Someone pointed out that there is a third - I don't remember who offhand, but I think it was either Southern Africa or the Philippines (the person who brought it up having connections to both).

Andrew Pearson said...

Something to commit to prayer. A wonderful and oft thought of idea, but not currently present in the public square.

Fred Schwartz said...

Since the question of rewriting the canons has been broached by Bishop Martins I would make the following suggestion. Permit Bishop Dan to do the re-writing. He did the rewriting of the canons in the diocese of San Joaquin up to and including the motion to remove the diocese of San Joaquin from the Episcopal Church. Good luck!

Ren Aguila said...

Malcolm+:

I sense that he might have referred to the Philippines, which actually created a small "see" for its primate that consisted of an enclave where the seminary, the main Episcopal-founded hospital, and a college were located. The see was abolished not long after, leaving the primate without anything.

I believe I may know the person in question, by the way.