House of Deputies president calls for attention to church's governance

September 14, 2009

Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies, plans to appoint a committee on church governance and polity "to examine and explain the history, theology, political structure and practical realities of the ways in which we believe God calls us to govern the [Episcopal] Church."

In a September 14 letter to General Convention deputies and first alternative deputies, Anderson said that after the July 8-17 General Convention meeting "it makes little sense to speak of governance and mission as two different things."

"Our church is able to enlist the energy and talent of every member in building God's kingdom precisely because we make room for the Spirit-seeking wisdom of all orders of ministry in the governance of our church," she said.

Anderson, who was re-elected to a second three-year term during the 76th meeting of convention, also placed the need for such a study group in the context of two other issues. One is the expectation that the Episcopal Church will have to consider an Anglican covenant once a final text is released to the Anglican Communion's 38 member provinces. The second is the effect of budget cuts on the work of the church's committees, commissions, agencies and board (CCABs).

The Anglican Consultative Council in May postponed releasing the Ridley Cambridge draft of the covenant to the communion's provinces for consideration. The council asked that the draft's Section 4, which contains a dispute-resolution process, be given more scrutiny and possibly revised.

A small working group is reviewing Section 4. The members, all of whom served on the original Covenant Design Group, have called for provincial responses by November 13, 2009. The working group will meet November 20-21 in London and report to the Standing Committee meeting December 15-18. (The Standing Committee is a group of elected representatives of the ACC and the Primates Meeting).

In raising the issue of budget cuts and the CCABs, Anderson was reiterating a concern she expressed more than once during the General Convention in Anaheim, California.

"Committees, commissions, agencies and boards are the only place in the large structure where the voices of the clergy and laity are heard during the triennium, unlike the House of Bishops that meets regularly during the triennium," she said during the convention's final media briefing. "We are going to have to find some creative ways to make sure that those voices are heard."

General Convention approved a 2010-2012 budget that is $23 million smaller than the current triennial plan. The $141 million budget asks for less money from dioceses and will mean that approximately 40 staff positions out of 192 in the Episcopal Church’s New York and regional offices will be eliminated.

"We must create ways to continue essential mission initiatives, even without the church center offices that once sustained this work," Anderson said in her letter.

The CCABs carry out work assigned to them by the convention and recommend policy and resolutions for the next meeting of convention. The groups will not be able to meet face-to-face during 2010 because of a nearly $550,000 cut in their budget. They are due to gather in mid-November in Chicago for a joint meeting during which the members will be trained in conducting and participating in online meetings.

"We must determine how our interim bodies … can continue to play a vital role in the governance of the church," Anderson wrote in her September 14 letter.

Anderson noted that she has chosen from among the Episcopalians who applied to serve on the CCABs for the 2010-2012 triennium and those being offered appointments will be sent a letter this week. Clergy and lay people, as well as bishops, serve on those bodies. The rosters are due to be posted here.

Anderson also told deputies that, in response to the church's financial situation, she has reduced the size of her Council of Advice from 14 to eight members, each with a specific project or portfolio and networks of informal advisors whom Anderson said she will call on from time to time.

The canons (I.1.1(b)) of the church authorize a council of advice for the president of the House of Deputies with an unspecified number of members. Rule XXVII of the House of Bishops' Rules of Order call for an advisory council for the Presiding Bishop composed of bishops who are the presidents or vice presidents of each of the church's nine provinces.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.