The Relational Cost of Organizational Life in the Episcopal Church

The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church

A Note from the Vice-President of the House of Deputies of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (i.e. me):

Decision making processes matter within any organizational and community relationship. Hierarchical decision making may be expedient to meeting the operational needs of an institution and that institution’s top-tier leadership. Hierarchical decision making is always a legitimate option within an organization so composed. In contrast, decision making within a representative/democratic process is a viable model within institutions so composed for such a model of governance. The Episcopal Church uses both hierarchical decision making processes AND representative/democratic decision making processes, while making a distinction between what bodies are responsible for management and what bodies are responsible for oversight.

In the governance and operations of the church, decision making models bump up against management and oversight roles, with the Executive Council as a quasi board entity responsible for oversight while the executive officers/staff are responsible for management of the corporation. Unlike other corporations, however, the church states a commitment to Beloved Community – which includes everyone in any given room where decisions are being made.

The values upon which the model of Beloved Community is based are antithetical to both decision making models operant in the church, in that Beloved Community is not cultivated through either hierarchical or representative/democratic decision making but rather in the nurturing and empowerment of every voice and every person. The only currency of any authority that has value within the Beloved Community is healthy relationship as characterized by emotional safety, spiritual authenticity, and equally-weighted voices that eschew personal power in favor of decisions made for the greatest benefit of relationships. Healthy ways of relating/communicating are the greatest treasure of organizational life. I believe that much organizational/relational treasure was spent in the collision of a pre-determined hierarchical decision made by executive officers seeking justification through the democratic decision making process of Executive Council.

Additionally, I believe that the final vote reflects the harm done to relationships between the executive officers and members of council. I am concerned that much community/relational currency was expended by leadership to achieve this result, Beloved Community currency that will take some intentional time to replenish in our organizational life. That said, if the Presiding Bishop had made the determination to use his executive function and simply appoint a COO (well within his authority to do), that would have caused far greater relational damage within a context of growing partnership with the Executive Council. The way forward will call everyone to the deeper authenticity of Beloved Community.

As Vice-President of the House of Deputies, I have no vote within the Executive Council democracy, and I have no authority within the hierarchy. I am committed to supporting people, and will support the COO in whatever ways are open to me , as I am equally committed in my support of the Presiding Bishop, the President of the House of Deputies, and members of Executive Council. The new COO does not trouble me. However, the compromised decision-making process does trouble me. I need a Beloved Community in which all members are committed to healthy ways of relating and communicating – without manipulation of powers, people, and circumstance. We must not seek to sit at the tables that Jesus overturned. Our treasure is one another.

From the Living Church article covering the vote:

“In one sense, it wasn’t a close call. The resolution was approved 26 to 13, meaning 67 percent voted in favor — a lopsided landslide in a secular election. But virtually all Executive Council resolutions are passed unanimously, or nearly so. No other resolution in years has been opposed by anything close to a third of the council.”