Monday, October 25, 2010

Is the Presiding Bishop looking to do a "Juan Williams" on the Executive Council?

There have been a number of posts concerning the finances and leadership of the Episcopal Church. As the chair of the finance committee and a member of the audit committee, I want to address what I understand to be the key issues and the steps we are taking to address them.

The first issue is the money we have borrowed to pay for the renovations to the Church Center and the purchase of a parking lot as a future site for the national archives.

When those needs arose, the staff and Executive Council chose to borrow a combined $47 million dollars from our $50 million line of credit. The terms allowed us to pay as much or little principal as we chose - and we have made primarily interest payments and only about $500,000 in principal payments over the past six year. I and other members of finance and audit committees as well as previous members of those committees with extensive financial expertise whom we have asked to advise us, believe that a loan of that amount should not be made with a line of credit. It is not a standard financial practice to use a line of credit for major capital expenditures. The purpose of a line of credit is to cover cash shortfalls for small amounts of time and is normally repaid as soon as possible (generally within a year).

In retrospect, this loan was undertaken at the time when banks encouraged all of us, individual homeowners and organizations, to over-extend ourselves and to take on loans that were not adequately secured. I believe that is what happened to us. But now the time has come for us to put our financial house in order.

It was entirely appropriate and necessary for us to do the renovations at Church Center and some of the costs were a result of the need for asbestos abatement and not optional. Concerning the proposed future site of the Archives in Texas, (the parking lot) some of us were convinced that the availability of the parking lot was a good purchase at the time, especially since the Archives had been asked to vacate the space to the Seminary of the Southwest, the current home of the Archives. The parking lot is a functioning enterprise and its income is sufficient (at the currently low interest rates) to make interest and some principal payment. If interest rates increase, as well they may, this situation would change. In any case, we need a new site for the Archives and the current parking lot is one option for that.

I and others believe we now need to obtain mortgages or private financing, using the properties as collateral, just as most of us use our homes as collateral for our mortgages. With interest rates at record low levels, we believe we should secure loans and make both interest and principal payment to service our debt - preferably paying principal at an accelerated rate, so less of the church's funds goes towards interest payments and we can again be debt-free.

Several posts have suggested a conflict between the Treasurer, Kurt Barnes, and me. That assessment diminishes the importance of the issues before us undermines the commitment both Kurt and I feel for this Church. We simply have a difference of opinion as to how we should address these questions. Kurt, and others, including members of the staff, want to have the maximum amount of flexibility so if there is a shortfall in income from the dioceses, they can use more of the line of credit to fund the operations of the church and Church Center programs and pay less or no principle. That is understandable - the staff of an organization normally wants this kind of flexibility to do the work they have been given to do.

On the other hand, I believe that we should pay our debt first and make whatever cost reductions are necessary to allow us to do so. That is also understandable - the role of the finance committee is to look at the big picture and the long view.

Another recent thread that has been on the HoB/D list is reflections on the decline in members. I share these concerns. If we project the decline in members and income into the future, it is clear that we can not maintain the size of the operations we currently have. We have lost about 1/3 of our members in the last 50 years - but we have a structure that has stayed pretty much the same. We need to "right-size" our structures and reduce about 1/3 of our costs. That includes General Convention, Committees/Commissions as well as Church Center programs. And it probably also will mean combining dioceses, reducing the number of bishops and committees, on the diocesan and parish levels as well. I believe these are the points Bishop Jefferts Schori was making in her comments to Executive Council.

If we begin to make those structural and organizational changes expeditiously now and focus whatever savings we can generate on our true "mission" of building the church (by which I mean, making disciples for Christ), we can turn this matter around. I keep a copy of Claude Paine's book, "Reclaiming the Great Commission" on my desk to remind me of our mission. (after all, my wife is a priest!)

If we all continue to focus on our dwindling resources, we will simply continue down an unhealthy slope. While the most current manifestations of this have focused on declining membership and finances, it is, at the end, really about vision. The system we are now in is producing what it is designed to produce. I believe we need to challenge what we are doing, change direction and ultimately change the system. That will need the hard work of many, so I hope others will do their part.

I expect these comments will generate resistance - especially from those who now have the most power and resources in the system. I hope they and we all can stop, listen to what God is saying to us and refocus on what our Book of Common Prayer says so well about God's church (i.e., God's people) existing to be the arena by which God restores all people to God and each other in Christ. If we are not about doing that, we have truly lost our way!

Del Glover,
Chair of the Finance Committee of Executive Council

WED UPDATE: ANGLICAN CURMUDGEON has another excellent analysis on Executive Council here called "Cracks at the Top."  In his post he writes:
We find out that in approving a reduced budget for 2011, the Council approved the Church taking out a new loan of up to $60,000,000, and securing its note by mortgaging its headquarters at 815 Second Avenue, as well as by pledging unrestricted endowment funds.

The new loan is necessary because the Church has already borrowed $46.1 million, the note for which falls due at the end of this year. Of that amount, nearly $10 million was used to acquire land for a new site for the Episcopal Archives in Austin, Texas, and the balance was used for improvements at 815 Second Avenue -- a good part of which has now been rented out to third-party tenants.

The Church has bought raw land when it does not yet possess the additional money required to construct a building on it, and the raw land itself is not financeable -- that is, since it is non-revenue producing, it cannot be used to secure a loan. Other income-producing assets of the Church must be pledged in its place. The $10 million property will just sit there, incapable of being developed for the time being, because, according to the last resolution adopted by the Executive Council on the subject,
A diversity of individual gifts is needed for the next phase of oversight and effective completion of the many tasks that lie ahead for the successful raising of funds; relations with development partners, neighborhood businesses, governmental agencies; finalizing design; and, the selection of appropriate consultants and construction contractors. The number of members is not as critical as the skills available; individual members may possess several of the desired skills.
The $37 million spent to refurbish the headquarters on Second Avenue obviously will not finance all of the new borrowing the Church now needs to make as a result of the past decisions made by its leadership. It is left to Mr. Kurt Barnes, the Church's Treasurer, to (a) decide how much he can borrow on behalf of the DFMS (the Church's corporate arm), up to $60 million; and (b) how much of that amount he can finance with a mortgage on the building at 815, and how much additional the DFMS can put up in unrestricted trust funds.
Curmudgeon goes on to review what has happened since Katharine Jefferts Schori assumed the Presiding Bishop's role:

Look at what has happened, due to threats of and resorts to litigation, just in the space of a few years on Jefferts Schori's watch:
  • For the first time in its 221-year history, the Church has mortgaged its prime property to help pay for lawsuits;
  • Church leadership (and the lack thereof) has caused the DFMS and its treasurer to play fast and loose with the stated purposes for drawing on donor trust funds to finance diocesan litigation;
  • The Church has loaned more than a million dollars of its sorely needed funds to groups with no ability to repay such amounts, even if they finally prevail in the pending lawsuits;
  • The Church has gone to inordinate lengths to prop up groups as Potemkin dioceses, just so they can serve as plaintiffs in the lawsuits, while having little potential to remain viable on their own;
  • General Convention, 815 and the Executive Council are all running in different directions, with no regard for the limits imposed by the Constitution and Canons; and, last but not least,
  • The Church is in a deadly, downward spiral of declining membership, declining revenues and greatly increased debt.
Prolonged litigation is one of the most toxic forms of stress to which humans can subject themselves. The constant worry of what future decisions by distant and poorly informed judges will bring eats away to the raw nerves, while the outlays required leave no resources for survival in tough times. It is time to remember the words of St. Paul:
6:5 I say this to your shame! Is there no one among you wise enough to settle disputes between fellow Christians? 6:6 Instead, does a Christian sue a Christian, and do this before unbelievers? 6:7 The fact that you have lawsuits among yourselves demonstrates that you have already been defeated.
The rest of his post is a must-read - and I might add a prayerful must-read.  It is fascinating that it is taking women leaders to confront Bishop Schori (at least publicly) with the exception of Bishop Lawrence of South Carolina.  I am not so sure this is as much about gender (though that does seem to be playing a role) as to the tensions between the ordained and the laity.  What it does seem reveal however is the real tension between the hired "clergy" and the laity who financially support the whole operation.


MONDAY UPDATE FROM ENS: Here is the report of today's work from the Executive Council meeting - click here.  What is rather fascinating is the difference between the ENS report and the official "message" from the Executive Council.  It doesn't even sound like the same meetings.  It sounds like all sunshine and light reading the Executive Council "message," but here is what ENS is reporting:
During the course of the discussion during the FFM committee sessions on Oct. 24, Episcopal Church Treasurer Kurt Barnes reported that the Mission Funding Office, created by General Convention in 2003 and chartered by Executive Council in February 2005, has received $355,000 in "actual cash through the door." Its initial fund-raising goal was $250 million and has grown to nearly $375 million as other projects were assigned to the office, according to conversations during the committee's sessions. The General Convention-adopted budget for 2010-2012 allocated the office (in lines 185-196 here) $1.5 million in operating expenses.
The approved 2011 budget also includes payments of $1.1 million in interest and $1.2 million in principal towards a $37 million loan used for Church Center renovations authorized by council in 2004 and completed in 2007.
By way of a related resolution proposed by FFM, the council approved borrowing of up to $60 million to refinance $46.1 million in debt that comes due at the end of this year. The $37 million renovation loan makes up the bulk of that amount. In addition, close to $10 million was spent on property in Austin, Texas, as a potential site for relocating the Archives of the Episcopal Church. The resolution said that the borrowing authority is also meant "to provide continuing working capital and liquidity."
The resolution requires that any refinancing agreements include a mandatory repayment schedule for the $37 million at a fixed interest rate. FFM chair Del Glover told his committee earlier in the meeting that because of past budget decisions, only about $500,000 of the principal has been paid off.
"To the extent that we are not paying debt, we are borrowing money to do the ministry of the church," he said.
The resolution calls for mortgaging the Episcopal Church Center in Manhattan and securing the rest of the borrowing with unrestricted endowment assets. The current debt is in the form of a line of credit.
Finances for Ministry initially discussed the borrowing authority during an Oct. 23 session that grew somewhat heated when Barnes objected to Glover having appointed a subcommittee to look into the refinancing possibilities and the borrowing philosophies behind them. Barnes said he was told that the subcommittee was to be a council of advice for him, but said "the council of advice never invited my opinion, so I don't feel it's a council of advice.
He said that the subcommittee's report did not take into account the work that he and Margareth Crosnier de Bellaistre, the church's director of investment management and banking, had been doing for many months to explore refinancing options and solicit proposals from lenders. "It acts as if we've been asleep," Barnes said of the report.
"The way it was approached, my staff and I absolutely felt that our intelligence or ability was always being challenged," Barnes said. "We give 10 hours a day to this church and then we have other people who say, 'but you don't know what you're doing.' That's our problem and if we have misread it, then I am sorry.
Glover said that the finance office staff had misread the subcommittee's intent. He said the group, made up of former members of the Joint Audit Committee of Executive Council and the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and those with expertise in the area, was in fact offering advice and contacts, not implementing policy. He said the need for the subcommittee grew out of the audit committee's concern about the level of debt the church has and about the payment coming due at the end of the year.

Read the rest here - it isn't pretty. Bishop Schori points to something wrong in the system but doesn't seem able to take responsibility for her own lack of leadership.  Now they are going to mortgage 815.  And still we don't know how much is being spent on litigation.

In an interesting development, the Executive Council is suddenly abandoning the embryonic shadow diocese being created in the Diocese of South Carolina.  Instead, Jim Simons is going to take Mark Lawrence to lunch and swap stories over old times, metaphorically speaking.  "There are canonical limits to how her (the Presiding Bishop) office and the Executive Council can intervene.  So much for more lawsuits - fascinating!  In fact, Bishop Schori told Jim Simons that "the more bridges we can build, the better." 

TUESDAY UPDATE: The Anglican Curmudgeon comments on the development of the The Executive Council punting the request of the embryonic SC shadow diocese to launch an investigation and thus get the ball rolling as Schori has in other dioceses that aren't marching to the NPR Tune.  Curmudgeon writes:
 do not assume that the complaint by the Episcopal Forum has been "denied" -- the Executive Council has nothing to do with any such complaints. The Presiding Bishop may have decided to refer it to the Title IV Review Committee, or she may have not. If she didn't refer it, it will end there. But if she did -- and look with whom we are dealing -- then all the proceedings will remain under wraps until that Committee decides whether or not to bring a presentment, or to charge Bishop Lawrence with "abandonment of communion." 
If it does the latter, then Bishop Jefferts Schori is required by Canon IV.9 to obtain the consent of the three most senior bishops in the Church before she declares him "inhibited" -- but she ignored that requirement twice before, in the cases of Bishops Cox and Duncan. However, Bishop Lawrence will not, I predict, stand idly by and allow the PB to ignore the Canons. We should know by January or February just how far this is going.

Guess Jim+ and +Mark won't just be swapping old stories and singing Dylan tunes after all.

In addition - without comment - the Executive Council "Adopt a revised whistleblower policy for DFMS employees (GAM008)."  What's up with that?  What is the story here?  What exactly is going on?  And why release the sunshine and roses "message" that seems to bear no connection to what actually took place at the Executive Council.  From that message we are lead to believe they spent most of the time eating and looking at the Utah foliage.

EARLIER:


Anglican Curmudgeon digs deep and asks some good questions in his post today.  The Executive Council of The Episcopal Church is meeting in Salt Lake City and the Presiding Bishop's remarks were indeed - at best - peculiar.  Just exactly who or what is she talking about?  Is she indeed talking about the Executive Council itself - it does seem as though she is calling into question the role of The Executive Council.  ENS reports:
[The Presiding Bishop] urged the council to claim its "rightful function" to help the whole church focus on the "big-picture, long-distance view, not just bean-counting."

"The budget needs to be managed, personnel need to be treated justly; that's not our primary focus, those are vehicles for mission," she said. "We do have the capacity to think bigger and more strategically for life in the future."
But is it not the focus of the Executive Council to provide oversight to the budget and be the governing authority of General Convention between conventions?   What is this phrase of "committing suicide by governance" she is throwing in the direction of the very body that is charged with oversight?  Is she attempting to distract the Executive Council away from their duties and charge?  ENS writes:
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori challenged the Episcopal Church's Executive Council Oct. 24 to avoid "committing suicide by governance."

Jefferts Schori said that the council and the church face a "life-or-death decision," describing life as "a renewed and continually renewing focus on mission" and death as "an appeal to old ways and to internal focus" which devotes ever-greater resources to the institution and its internal conflicts.
ENS also writes:
"However, I think we're in some danger of committing suicide by governance by focusing internally rather than externally," she said. "Dying organisms pay most attention to survival. Our Haiti initiative is a positive counter-force to that. It's an example of what's possible when we turn outward rather than inward."
But isn't that the responsibility of the Executive Council - to provide oversight to the internal workings of the church?  What is happening inward - especially with the call of major cuts in the budget, so much so that the budget cuts of General Convention 2009 (which were saved for last and were intensely painful to the staff) are not enough and more cuts will be done. There is a call to raise money for Haiti (how does $10 million sound?) as if to be a diversion to what appears to be serious issues in the internal governing of The Episcopal Church.

And who is raising concerns that would cause such language as "committing suicide by governance?"

ENS reports:
Jefferts Schori said, there is what she called "a sometimes rather adversarial attitude" in the council that is the result of "confusion about roles."
"Sometimes committees try to do the work of staff," she said. "Council sometimes forgets that its job is about policy-making and accountability, and we live with the challenge of having 40 people challenged to make decisions together. There's a reason why Jesus called 12 disciples, it's a manageable group for conversation."
One did not know that governing councils need to be small enough so that they can be managed. Managed by whom?

The Audit committee also met in executive session and discussed the retention of a law firm to deal with issues raised by the audit. A report should be made at this council now underway. But what are the results of the audit? And what issues are so severe that that a law firm (and its costs) is being retained?

ENS reports that the Executive Council:
met in executive session to receive an audit committee report. At their June 16-18 meeting, the council also met in executive session and later approved a request (via Resolution FFM022) from the Joint Audit Committee of Executive Council and the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society to retention McDermott Will & Emery as outside legal counsel to assist in the evaluation of employment and personnel practices and provide an update to council at this meeting.
What issues would warrant the retention of yet another law firm?

And speaking of legal costs - why do we still not have an official accounting of all the costs associated with pursuing a litigation strategy against dissent, as opposed to allowing individual dioceses to pursue less expensive and less draconian methods of negotiation? Anglican Curmudgeon estimates that the legal costs are $21.65 million so far - enough to take care of Haiti two times over with some cash to spare.

Read more of Curmudgeon's analysis here. As we also attempted to decipher the Presiding Bishop's remarks, it does seem clear that that she is questioning some kind of internal dissent within Executive Council (and not just of course within the ranks of what are now the Anglican Church in North America dioceses and parishes), but within the Executive Council.  Is she looking for a more "manageable" group of people (say, like the so-called Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion which has also lost substantial members for it's attempts at "managing conversation")?  What of a public accountability to the litigation costs - one does wonder whether these questions are finally being raised within Executive Council itself as they face cutting the budget even more than was done at General Convention?  What of the Presiding Bishop's remarks about "bean counting," when such oversight is the distinct responsibility of Executive Council?  Who will count the beans if they don't?

It is not wise to rock a boat when it's name may be the Titanic.

Does this not seem like a strategic game (euphemistically called "mission") where outwardly a manageable group projects to the outside world that all is well and no one is afraid?  Does this sound familiar?  What if internal questions are indeed being raised and individuals serving on the Executive Council do admit to serious concern that the current trajectory of this particular denomination is in a spiral downwards?  Why the silence on the mounting litigation costs?

Is there not a concern that one will be shown the door one way or the other if such questions are raised - and hence the odd remarks from the Presiding Bishop - (that they are unmanageable, that they are committing "governance suicide") and in doing so will they not too as be shown - one way or the other - the door as one particular journalist was this past week at NPR?

Read the Anglican Curmudgeon here and the ENS report here and here.

46 comments:

Alexi said...

I am just glad that the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina's request is being denied. For several years they have been saying 'The Diocese is leaving, The Diocese is leaving" as if they are Chicken Little and the sky is falling. Now, they have assurance from our convention, our Bishop that the Diocese is NOT leaving. I am glad that the Executive Council ia aware of Canonical limitations of the PB and her office and have stated plainly that they can not undertake the "investigation" that the Forum desires.
Yep the rest is a pretty sad commentary on the state of financial disaster in which TECUSA finds itself.

As for the "suicide by governance" I am not quite sure what she means but is known that cells can kill themselves according to expression of certain genes in their DNA ( ie part of their "governing documents"). Sort of a poison pill in the genome. Once expressed these genes setup the destruction of the cell. Perhaps she means that the governance of the church (such as it is) is leading to an automatic destructive response to recent events ??? And if this course of events continues, it will lead (is leading to) the death/suicide of the TECUSA.

Jeff said...

For what it's worth, as president of one non-profit and board member of a couple others, everyone is being required to pass a revised whistleblower policy. Another federal mandate growing out of the sticky ball that is Sarbanes-Oxley.

The rest is disturbing enough, but the whistleblower thing means nothing.

Steven in Falls Church said...

What a hoot! Encumbering property (815) with a mortgage in order to raise money so that lawyers can be paid to sue people in order to seize . . . property. Does anyone in TEC's orbit have any awareness of the clown parade the place has become?

BabyBlue said...

Jeff, is that why 815 is retaining a law firm (and it's expenses)? Is that typical as well?

bb

Anonymous said...

BB - re Jeff's comment: Sarbanes Oxley and assorted similar "reforms", whatever their merits based on recent events in the business world, have been an absolute boon for law firms and just one more burdensome expense for organizations of all sorts. This isn't something peculiar to TEC.

Scout

Daniel Weir said...

I continue to be intrigued by the notion that spending money to defend the canons of the church is foolish. The PB has an obligation to defend the Denis Canon, even if it costs money to do so. There is something strange about clergy who have promised to conform to the discipline of the Episcopal Church and now are violating the Denis Canon.

BabyBlue said...

It just came up in the audit that there were some staff issues. We do know that there were some very serious issues at the start of this year when the long-time unionized domestic staff at 815 was suddenly let go on New Years Eve and replaced by non-union domestic staff.

bb

Anonymous said...

Weir,

If canons are so important, why weren't they followed when "deposing" sitting Bishops?

Always hobbits said...

But Daniel, "defending the canons of the Church" and "conforming to the discipline of the Church" has to be more than bureaucratic integrity. There is a larger story here, a "metanarrative" if you will, that has more to do with fidelity to the meaning of faith, with its commitment to Scripture as the authoritative revelation of God and the historic creeds as historic embodiments of belief about God, the human condition, and history. Otherwise all this is only a social club with ecclesiastical trappings. Smells and bells perhaps, but is that enough? Years ago I came to the conclusion that TEC was best described this way: sympathetic to transcendence, but not believing in truth. Do you really, heart of hearts, see it differently?

Daniel Weir said...

I do see the Episcopal Church differently, and not, as some here seem to, as apostate.

Was the deposing of clergy done in strict compliance with the canons? Perhaps not in some cases. But had those clergy left the Episcopal Church and was some canonical action to recognize that appropriate? Yes. Would violations of the canons by the PB justify violation of the Denis Canon? No.

Anonymous said...

If we can just hit that iceburg with a little more speed, our ship will survive...

Anonymous said...

Weir,
Please take a deep breath. The way you are spinning is making us all dizzy.
Regards,
Carolyn

Anonymous said...

So there are canons and then there are canons. A la Animal Farm, apparently not all canons are created equal, said without a hint a chagrin...

Rob+

Anonymous said...

Fr. Weir,

The Presiding Bishop does not have an obligation to enforce Dennis Canon. In 2006, Bishop MacPherson reported that Presiding Bishop Griswold said that whether the Dennis Canon should be asserted against a disaffiliating parish was an internal matter for each diocese.

This is common sense too. Party A may have recourse to sue party B for breach of contract, though party A may judge that for a variety of prudential reasons (e.g., lack of money, bad publicity, etc) that it is better not to exercise those rights. If you leave a medical practice where your initial contract included a no-compete clause, your former employer is not obligated to enforce it.

Your conditional language about "compliance with the canons" ("Perhaps", "in some cases", "strict compliance") is beneath you. It was non-compliance, and it reduced the due process protections for clergy and bishops.

Always hobbits said...

At the end of the day.... Reading the last comments, including Daniel Weir again, I find myself wondering what the point is? Why on earth does absolute fidelity to the hermeneutic of Katherine Schiori's reading of the Dennis Canon matter, when there has been wholesale disregard for twenty centuries of the Church's teaching about mere christianity? TEC, as an organization, has chosen to walk away from the mainstream of historic orthodoxy, what Christians have believed in every time and place. Why no scandal and askance over that, Daniel? There are molehills and there are mountains, and you have chosen to see one and not the other. Am I wrong about that? Do you really think so?

Anonymous said...

I would think the unifying principle would be creedal. I don't sense that TEC or any of the other Anglican elements have turned their backs on the creeds. They provide a good foundation for continued unity.

Scout

rwk said...

Scout,

I used to think that too, but then it really does matter what we think the creeds mean - not just that we mouth the same words. I am not doubting you and I likely agree on them, but I can't say that is the case for important parts of the Episcopal Church.

Anonymous said...

It's easy to say that someone recites the creeds without truly believing them or believing them "whole-heartedly." But unless we know that that is the case (and we can't really know the quality of another's recitation) one assumes that they are recited in good faith. They provide the unity of not just the Anglican churches (of which TEC is one), but also the Christian community (of which TEC is a part). The tendency of humans toward schism and placing themselves in judgment has always been a threat to the church. One sees it clearly in the later books of the New Testament. The creeds establish an anchoring rock which holds us together against the individual sin of pride and the misplaced human tendency to assess the quality of others' commitments to Christ, something that really can only be assessed bilaterally between the believer and God.

Scout

Always hobbits said...

Yes, Scout, I agree with the perspective you set forth, knowing as I do the human tendency (first known painfully in my own heart) to be judgmental, and to schism. But this is "watching Rome burn while the fiddlers play." Or to switch metaphors: you will know the tree by its fruit. The TEC you write about no longer exists, and hasn't for at least a generation. You don't have a House of Bishops give blessing to Pike, to Spong, to Schiori (and many others)-- all who deny mere christianity --and then with intellectual and moral seriousness claim that the creeds are taken seriously within TEC. The schools and seminaries of TEC fundamentally reject the Bible and the creeds as authentic and authoritative accounts of God, the human condition, and history. I will stick by my assessment: TEC is sympathetic to transcendence, but has given up on truth. This is not just after-dinner banter. What we are talking about matters, for life and for death, here and for eternity.

Anonymous said...

I have been in the Church for many decades and have never heard the church "fundamentally reject the Bible and the creeds as authentic and authoritative accounts of God, the human condition, and history." I can't swear it has never happened, but I think I would have noticed it if it had. I have noticed individuals (Bishop Pike is one, although I think he is in a class by himself for many reasons) go off on ludicrous flyers, but I never felt that they determined or even influenced core doctrine. I have noticed other individuals who seem to require of their fellows a literal acceptance of ancient texts as a test of faith, not allowing for the possibility that the Bible can be robustly received as "authentic and authoritative" without being enslaved to the errors, contradictions, translation gaffes of mortals. I know of no one in my circles of worship who has abandoned Truth. Unless you have some way of measuring the sincerity of the professions of faith contained in the creeds, I would submit that they define our unity as Anglicans and as Christians. If the TEC or any other church undertakes to renounce them as doctrinally valid, then I'll start thinking we have a fundamental problem. Right now, I think we have a bunch of squabblers. If St. Paul were around, he'd be furiously dictating a stiff epistle and telling us all to settle down and get back to basics.

Scout

Anonymous said...

According to California courts docket:http://appellatecases.courtinfo.ca.gov/search/case/dockets.cfm?dist=5&doc_id=1917651&doc_no=F05829, Mr. Haley (and his firm) are counsel to +Schofield in his appeal of the decision rendered by the Fresno trial court. The case was argued on Oct. 21st. Mr. Haley has been very vocal about TEC's expenditure in lawsuits. However, I have been unable to determine if he is engaged in this work for +Schofield et al. pro bono? He has also asserted over an over again that TEC's expenditures, refinancing etc. are made for the purpose of supporting the lawsuits. Does he have evidence supporting this theory? If so, can he offer it? In addition, from the above, it appears that he is suggesting that the expenditures and refinancing are for the sole purpose of supporting the lawsuits, vs., for example, Haitian relief. Can he offer evidence in support of the inference he has made? TBL

Anonymous said...

On checking Mr. Haley's website, I read his thread on the oral argument held on 21st Oct. He quotes from coverage by the Bee and adds his own reflections on the proceedings, however, at no point does he mention that he, in fact, was the attorney arguing the case for +Schofield. In the interest of transparency, that would seem appropriate. I am assuming that the reporter was Ms. Nowicki. I would not be surprised if Mr. Haley was her source. TBL

Andy said...

Some years ago when this storm broke, I shared the belief on this page that the TEC's (then ECUSA's) quest to pursue and punish those standing on orthodoxy would only result in a Phyrrhic victory. I believe that today we're witnessing the fruits of that coming into season.
Its clear too, that in becoming like Melville's Ahab, the PB will soon take down the entire ship in her quest.

Daniel Weir said...

This is a discussion that has gone on for a long time and I am fairly sure that no one has budged an inch from their positions. If, as has been suggested, Mr. Haley is in fact working for Bp Schofield, his comments about the legal expenses of the other side seem absurd. Whatever the case, from my reading of Mr. Haley over the past year or so it seems clear that he believes in diocesan sovereignty and, given his opinion about the Denis Canon, perhaps congregational sovereignty.

I do find it interesting that Bp Griswold's opinion about enforcement of the Denis Canon is being cited as somehow authoritative.

I am sorry if this sounds like spin to some. It is, IMV, simply a restatement of a position I have taken for a very long time.

Anonymous said...

I would recommend to the individual questioning A.S. Haley to venture to his blog site and ask these very questions of him. It would be very interesting to see his answers. I am not sure that Anonymous would be happy with the answers he/she receives, but I would love to see them!

Anonymous said...

There is no question that Mr. Haley IS counsel to +Schofield. Verification is available in the link I provided above. You may be obliged to register with the Court for access to the docket.

Anonymous said...

For Fr. Weir. If, in fact, Mr. Haley and his firm have been working pro bono for +Schofield and have been so working from the outset, his comments would seem credible, by contrast, if either he or his partners weren't, I would agree with you. He apparently bills at $300/hr. TBL

Daniel Weir said...

Mr. Haley's might seem credible, but legally irrelevant. I doubt that Mr. Haley is genuinely concerned about the Episcopal Church's financial situation, but is using the legal fees as another weapon against an institution that he appears to hate. I stopped reading his blog after many months of following it, convinced that all I would find there are attacks on the Episcopal Church and its leaders.

Daniel Weir said...

One further comment about the Denis Canon: it seems to me that since congregational property is held in trust for the Episcopal Church and the diocese, there is nothing wrong with the former defending property rights, either in partnership with the diocese or, if the diocese is unable or unwilling to mount a defense, on its own.

Alexi said...

Not in this state. Nope. The Denis Canon NEVER WAS according to the SC Supreme Court. So why has not TEC gone ahead and sued St. Andrews in Mt. Pleasant?
If it can do so, why not go ahead with litigation since the Diocese of SC is not planning to do it ? Perhaps because some one at 815 realizes that suing here in SC would be a futile waste of money ?

I agree with Always HobbitsSaid, Paying attention to molehills and ignoring a mountain is what you, Fr. Weir, are all about.

Wilf said...

Scout,
Evidence for denial (aka "reinterpreting") of the creeds are too abundant not to see.

Recently Mark Harris has revealed that he agrees with Bishop Spong on the creeds - http://anglicanfuture.blogspot.com/2010/10/anglican-covenant-and-smoking-gun-of.html - and he was elected to Executive Council.

I know you were "unconvinced" by the article on Jefferts-Schori, but you failed to find her any back door to step out of - you could have at least found a flaw in the argumentation. To add to that, she openly admits that Marcus Borg has been her most important influence on her interpretation of Scriptures - see here - meaning the "truth" of what we recite in the creeds is not in what we are saying, but something else - most likely simply a set of ethical affirmations, since we have little to pad out this notion of "the sacred" he uses which actually, I think he is rather unsure of himself, and uses the term since it sounds nice (there are very good reasons for not using the word "the sacred" for a divinity, this smacks more of sociology of religion a la Mircea Eliade - who is brilliant - but not a foundation for theology).

It is one thing to have moments of doubt about things like Christ's resurrections. It's quite another to teach that the resurrection itself does not matter, but that it points to some kind of "higher truth."

Borg continues to use the "sacred vocabulary." But this is all susceptible to reinterpretation - it's about this thing he calls "the sacred" which could be some sort of spiritual force (if it is, it is entirely different from God as revealed in Scriptures and is thoroughly non-Trinitarian) - or it could just be a set of ethical standards and attitudes. Borg never really tells us, as far as I know.

Church Publishing has gone so far as to create a Marcus Borg-based instructional video with accompanying study guide, which it's been promoting quite a lot. Please realize: this is the track TEC's leadership is going down. If you do care about the creeds, it would be better to do something rather than to remain in denial. You will only feel worse, the longer you remain in denial.

Steven in Falls Church said...

Fr. Weir -- I should take a moment to congratulate you on your recent retirement back home to Massachusetts, which I read on your blog (http://frdanweir.blogspot.com/). Your commentary here has always been patient in the face of heated rhetoric, regretfully from me at times I fear. Grace and peace to you.

Steven

Daniel Weir said...

I am sorry that there are some on this forum who, on the basis of a handful of posts, have concluded that they know what I am all about. Now, that seems delusional to me.

I would agree that only the US Supreme Court could make the Denis Canon enforceable in SC, which makes litigation there less attractive than in California.

Anonymous said...

Weir,

I am glad that you have retired! You go, boy!

I have seen most of your posts on a few forums from the orthodox perspective, and you are always about doing what would be right for the liberal agenda.

You are not innocent in this grapple. Peace!

Anonymous said...

Wilf - you seem to associate anything from Marcus Borg with apostasy. I am not steeped in Borg, but I know enough about him to think that his textual scholarship is not inconsistent with the conclusion that God and man are profoundly interlinked. One can be spiritually enriched by textual scholarship and still be faithful to the letter and spirit of the Creeds. I would be very unnerved to have as a priest or Bishop someone unfamiliar with Borg's work.

Scout

Anonymous said...

I'm much more unnerved by priests, bishops and presiding bishops who appear to be unfamiliar with God's work.

Daniel Weir said...

None of us is innocent in this grapple. We all understand the Good News through lenses that are darkened. My lenses are, admittedly, liberal or progressive, others have different lenses. What I find frustrating in some discussions is the assumption that some understand the Good News perfectly and that their interpretations are the only faithful ones. One of the blessings of being in the Church now is that we are hearing voices from many places, voices that weren't heard a generation ago. Now it isn't only the voices of white male Europeans and North Americans that are being heard, but of Christians in Asia, Africa and South America, and not only male voices. My most recent book purchase was "Hope Abundant: Third World and Indigenous Women's Theology" edited by my friend Kwok Pui Lan.

A comment about the Nicene Creed: the philosophical categories that were used in formulating the Creed no longer work. The Truth that the Creed points hasn't changed, but the Creed is no longer as helpful as it once was. I am not suggesting that we stop using it, but that we recognize that there are other faithful ways to speak about the Good News. Questioning the philosophical language of the Creed is not, I think, apostasy, as some seem to think. It is faith seeking understanding.

Daniel Weir said...

I have written a bit more about the Nicene Creed at my blog, The Thin Tradition - http://frdanweir.blogspot.com/2010/10/nicene-creed.html

Anonymous said...

There is a marvellous thread over at Stand Firm on the Nicene Creed and its relationship to the Filioque clause. I highly recommend taking the time to read all the way through both segments of it, including the comments.

Scout

Daniel Weir said...

One additional thought about Mr. Haley's "concern" about the legal expenses of the Episcopal Church in the property litigation: is it possible that Mr. Haley hopes that he can erode support among Episcopalians for the legal strategy of the PB and increase the chances that his clients will win? Who benefits if the Episcopal Church abandons these cases?

Anonymous said...

Well, sure, Father Dan. If TEC weren't defending these properties, they'd save a lot of money, and a lot of departing groups would have fallen into some very valuable holdings. I'm always surprised the amount of attention that this issue gets. People all over the country are asserting property claims against the Church. Guess what? It costs a lot to defend these things. However, I doubt very much that TEC is spending significantly more or less on legal fees than are the departing groups. The problem for TEC, of course, is that it has no choice but to be a good steward in all of these actions all around the country, whereas any particular group hoping to take control of a building on departure from TEC only has to deal with that one property. All of TEC's expenditures are very visible in one lump or line item, whereas the opponents' fees are dispersed over a lot of geography and a large number of departees. Alas, all the money is sunk, on both sides. In the end, of course, the Church will at least have the value of the properties in most cases. The departing groups will never recoup their costs. It is all a terrific monument to human weakness, pride, arrogance, and folly. A tremendous, deplorable, avoidable waste.

Scout

Daniel Weir said...

Scout,

I agree that a lot of money is sunk. I have great admiration for the two colleagues who simply walked away from the Episcopal Church buildings and found new buildings. I drive by one of these each Sunday on my way to church and that Anglican congregation appears to be thriving, which is no surprise to any of us who know the rector.

Daniel

Anonymous said...

Hats off to your Anglican (I still consider TEC "Anglican", but the shortcomings of labels is another pet peeve of mine these days) friends and fellow Christians. I have no doubt that my friends who left would have prospered under strong leadership if they had simply departed. I might even have stayed with them. But the seizure of property from those who chose not to leave offends me as does the absence of a credible legal and ethical theories to justify the seizure.

Scout

Daniel Weir said...

Scout,
The theory is that dioceses are sovereign, unless, of course, it's the parish's leadership that wants to leave, and then it appears that the parish is sovereign. I find neither theory credible, especially when both are embraced by the same person. Talk about situation ethics!
Daniel

Anonymous said...

If a bunch of people leave a diocese or a parish, I would think that the diocese or parish continue to exist, albeit with a reduced complement. I confess to not being an authority on TEC canon law (I know just about enough to get me through a vestry meeting), but I am completely unaware of any mechanism or procedure under Episcopal instruments of governance by which either a diocese or a parish detach themselves, let alone separate with property in tow.

Scout

Wilf said...

Scout, you write: "I am not steeped in Borg, but I know enough about him to think that his textual scholarship is not inconsistent with the conclusion that God and man are profoundly interlinked. One can be spiritually enriched by textual scholarship and still be faithful to the letter and spirit of the Creeds. I would be very unnerved to have as a priest or Bishop someone unfamiliar with Borg's work."

Borg does believe that God and man are profoundly interlinked - though from reading him, I'm not so sure what "God" is for him - e.g., "God" might be little more than a word for that which he considers to be good - i.e., "God" might have as its proper referent, Marcus Borg's ethics. I would have to examine more of Borg to make a good call on this one.

No, I don't take everything associated with Borg as "apostasy." However, I do take teaching people that Christ didn't rise from the dead, or that this is unimportant, to be highly problematic.

Yes, one certainly can study Borg and be informed and inspired; I have myself. The same can be said about reading Nietzsche, Marx, Dawkins, etc. etc.. We end up getting in trouble when we bring this into the church as gospel, however. One may fruitfully hold courses on Nietzsche in churches; one may not however commend Nietzsche to belief in place of the Gospel.

I don't think Borg is as significant as you find him, since you'd be concerned if your bishop or priest were uninformed about Borg. I doubt I've ever had a priest who was very informed about Borg; this has never bothered me. Borg does not, as far as I know, have anything to say which is significantly new, and also worthy of serious consideration, unless one is a "historical Jesus quest" scholar. Most of what I have read is simply a new hodgepodge of rather old ideas. My last TEC priest hadn't even read the four gospels through in English; we can't expect of our priests to have read too much.