Friday, September 06, 2013

UTO: another letter

UPDATE 2: Tobias Haller comments at his blog In a Godward Direction
UPDATE: Mark Harris comments at his blog, Preludium.

In my last blog post there was an update from the Presiding Bishop's Office with links to an exchange of letters between the now resigned members of the UTO Board and Bishop Sauls (the Chief Operation Office) and others.  I was surprised that the Church leadership would release some pieces of this correspondence without the permission of the authors but it did shed light on the perceptions of the Presiding Bishop's staff and some of their replies to the events of the summer. These letters that the Presiding Bishop published with her letter to the Church show the developing issues. However, they neglected to include this letter from former UTO Board member, Robin Sumners to the Presiding Bishop (published with permission). See my thoughts following the letter:

Letter to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church September 2, 2013

Dear Bishop Jefferts Schori,
In November of 2012, you gave a series of presentations at the Seminary of the Southwest during the celebration of the 60th Anniversary of that institution.  In one of those presentations, you were asked a question regarding how you tell others about faith.  Your answer was:  First you Show Up; Second you Listen; Third you Tell the Truth.
As a lifetime Episcopalian, I have a profound respect for the Office of the Presiding Bishop.  I have also been one of your supporters.  I have kept you in my prayers, urged others to pray for you, felt hurt when you have been treated with disrespect, read your written work, and believed you were called by God to be where you are, imagining it must at times be very uncomfortable.  You have inspired me to show up, to listen and to keep telling the truth—and somewhere in the midst of my truth and your truth there is the truth of the Gospel—that truth is that God loves us and that we live our lives with the gifts of Joy, Hope and Grace always available in our lives.

So returning to your three points, I will speak for myself, only myself, but myself as a Board Member of UTO and a Board member with significant responsibly, related to the present situation regarding the relationship between UTO and DFMS.

Show Up:  On July 15, as a result over conflict and misunderstanding regarding a document titled the INC-055 Study Committee Report, every member of the current United Thank Offering Board who could possibly clear their schedule came a meeting that you requested at the Church Center in New York. I was one of those members.  I came; the others came; we SHOWED UP.

As another act of  “showing up,” prior to this meeting the United Thank Offering Board drafted a possible Memorandum of Understanding, which we as whole approved and sent to you.  The bylaws created for the UTO Board as part of the INC-055 study were made available to you, as was the report itself. The INC-055 report contains this statement: We believe that the United Thank Offering must continue to be autonomous but interdependent as regards the corporate entity that constitutes The Episcopal Church.  I came to New York believing that there were some major misunderstandings that needed to be cleared up, but that the power of the statement in the study report talking about the United Thank Offering was what everyone around the table believed.

Listen:  For the entire working day on July 15, 2013 we listened and then we talked.  While we listened, or thought we did; I listened or thought I did; I did not hear, and we did not hear the real issue on the table.  I think we did not hear or understand the real issue, because neither I, not any other Board member had ever thought for one moment about the real issue.  We learned later that the real issue was that the leadership of The Episcopal Church—meaning you (the Presiding Bishop), Bishop Stacy Sauls, The Rev. Gay Jennings—believed the United Thank Offering Board was making a move to leave the Episcopal Church.  Unimaginable!

What I heard was that there was misunderstanding regarding roles and responsibilities regarding the relationship between UTO and DFMS, and that the solution lay in creating new documents that define the relationship and that these documents needed to be jointly created.  You specifically stated that Paul Nix wanted to revise the UTO Board bylaws.  We told the group that we had some changes to our bylaws that we had been working on. You requested the creation of a working group to create these documents. You stated you did not want this group to be too big; you asked our President to select some people from our Board that number was four.  I was one of them. You selected Bishop Sauls, Paul Nix, Heather Melton and a person not present, Steve Hutchinson. That working group met briefly that afternoon to try to coordinate calendars. I have not ceased to wonder why now?  Why is there a need for new documents now?  Where is the input of the INC-055?

The date of August 1 was selected as meeting date; on July 29, the four members our board preparing to travel to 815 received an email message from Bishop Sauls.  I found this message very encouraging.  He suggested that rather than begin with the documents, that we brainstorm regarding the common desires about the relationship between UTO and DFMS before we entered into development of the documents. He stated, “I strongly believe we need to spend some time first on the principles themselves and then judge our drafting work based on a common agreement on the principles.”  I went to New York hopeful. At the meeting itself, I told Bishop Sauls that I had prayed that this meeting would be cancelled and that his change in focus seemed an answer to my prayer.  Interestingly, your numbers in the working group had increased to five; we still had our four

Tell The Truth:
Telling the truth gets complicated.  Each of us has a truth.  In this letter to you, I am only going to tell my truth, and the truth as I have experienced it.  
At the end of this meeting, Bishop Sauls asked our group if he could appoint me to work with Paul Nix to create the needed documents.  Our existing bylaws were in your hands; the Memorandum of Understanding was in your hands.  We had put forth our ideas; we were waiting for yours.  We believed, in good faith, that both voices were to be reflected in the final documents.

On August 29, I received an email from Paul Nix that stated the following:

Attached is our revisions to the MOU and Bylaws for the UTO Board’s review. We have given this project significant time and thought and believe that these revisions best embrace the reality of the UTO Board being an integral and very important part of DFMS and a CCAB of The Episcopal Church. We also believe that these revisions will work to maximum the viability of the UTO Board for many years to come.
When these documents arrived, my truth is that reading them made me sick at my stomach; I have felt betrayed, manipulated and treated with profound dishonesty.  I feel my naive trust of the leaders in my church being truthful put me at a distinct disadvantage.  I simply was not prepared for being disenfranchised by the church I think I have faithfully served. I own those feelings.  I called our President and talked with her.  She had the same reaction. Shock. I have her permission to tell you this. We did not immediately send these documents to anyone.  We needed time to process what had just happened. Why did anyone at all spend the time and money on a three year study only to toss it aside and proceed down a diametrically opposed path?  Why?  I do not understand?

Ultimately, here are my questions:  I have showed up: I have tried to listen: I am trying to tell my truth; where is the correlation on the other side?

First, there is the statement from Mr. Nix that says: "We also believe that these revisions will work to maximum the viability of the UTO Board for many years to come." This does not sound like an invitation to discussion.  These are meant to be a done deal.  As I read these draft bylaws, the only thing left for the UTO Board to do is to be an advisory board to recommend some grants to Executive Council.  Am I correct about this?

These bylaws effectively eviscerate the United Thank Offering Board.  This Board has represents the diligent work of the women of the church; women who worked to allow women like you to become ordained.  Women who themselves would not even live long enough to see the fruits of their labor.  For 125 years, the women of the church have been its servant leaders. This draft document includes nothing that honors that history nor does it empower the future of others who would carry on this work. This document is specifically designed to remove the women from the work of the United Thank Offering rather than asking of them, what ideas do you have?  Having been told in the meeting we had that some of our ideas were innovative, the pathway for creativity and innovation from the women who have served and are serving now is bulldozed over. Do I read them incorrectly?

As I have read them over and over, this document strips the organization entirely of its historic relationship to the Episcopal Church Women.  The United Thank Offering Board, as it presently exists, having been elected by the Women of the Church, will be immediately replaced by a Board elected through the Provinces and Synods of the Episcopal Church.  This seems to mean that those of us on the Board will no longer serve once these bylaws are passed, and that is expected in late October ---is that true?

Under these bylaws the following appears true: the United Thank Offering Board no longer has the autonomous ability to make grants, communicate its story and its history, develop and control its budget, oversee its training activities, develop its educational materials, speak publically about its work, and plan its meetings.  Am I correct in my understanding of this?  

If so, then the process you invited me to be part of is not what you led me to believe.  You  asked for dialogue, I thought.  Yet the documents we received came with the very clear statement that these are done and not really available for discussion; our input may have been received, but it was certainly not included—and a few blue lines in the MOU doesn’t cut it.  Is this our punishment for you having been afraid of something that was not even on the radar? What happened to “We believe that the United Thank Offering must continue to be autonomous but interdependent as regards the corporate entity that constitutes The Episcopal Church.”?

I cannot find vestiges of our historic loving care, our commitment and our devotion celebrated in these documents anywhere.  As I read them, what I see is the creation of a new United Thank Offering, and it is called DFMS.   Am I correct?

More Truth:

After discussion of the documents we received with the Executive Committee of the present Board, and the additional members of the working group that participated in the August 1 meeting, I was asked to create a document to try to use in our own defense. I drafted the “Barbarians at the Gate.” I wonder if you are familiar with the source of my title? It has powerful roots in history. That title came to me as I wept at the sadness of where this process had taken me and my Board member friends and companions.

“Barbarians” as you and Bishop Sauls called it is, a draft of a document created to try to put words in place, with in put from several others, trying to communicate to myself something incomprehensible.  It will likely never ever be used; none of us really has the spiritual energy to conduct a “campaign.”  And none of us would ever want to hurt the church we love. It got to Michael Barlowe by accident, and it was my error, but I think it was a God thing.  I am not sorry you received it.  I am sorry if you were hurt by it; I have prayed that you would not have much more pain in your position, for from the outside, your daily work must be demanding at best, and you do it tirelessly.  But surely you can understand how I feel, and not dismiss it as some poor attempt at humor.

I admit to being devastated and to feeling betrayed.  Am I supposed to embrace a set of documents that to me seems to destroy 125 years of faithful service that has and still does include my entire family of faithful women, servants all, as well as myself?  That seems a big thing to expect.  I hurt at having been referred to you by Bishop Sauls; when I received his email, I really thought he would call and talk to me—that there would be an explanation.  I guess I expected someone else to Show Up, Listen and Tell the Truth. Oh, well.

Please tell me that I have radically misunderstood where we are.  Please tell me I have completely misunderstood the intent of these documents.  

I remain hopeful. I remain in His Service and yours, as the titular head of my church (as The Very Reverend John Hines described himself when in your position),

Robin Woods Sumners

Was all of this happening because the Presiding Bishop and the Chief Operating Officer believed they had to act to pre-empt their belief that UTO was planning to leave The Episcopal Church? I do remember when that rumor was being discussed but who took it seriously? I guess they did.

I continue to pray that this situation can bring forth some grace. I believe that all want the best for The Episcopal Church. Can people sit down now and listen to one another and hear what is on each one's heart? I look to the Executive Council to hear from everyone and open the path to healing and reconciliation.


Ann said...

From Robin Woods Sumner:
This story unfolding is not about me, or the other three board members who resigned in protest. It is not about the current leadership of the Church at 815. It is not about any of us. This story is about the United Thank Offering of the Women of the Church. The United Thank Offering does not belong to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society as represented by the the Church Center. The United Thank Offering is owned by the People of the Church. The ownership of the United Thank Offering spreads across the church in every pew. The United Thank Offering was begun by lay women who wished to serve the mission arm of the church, and began a movement that has continued to serve this mission for almost 125 years (anniversary is 2014). It is still the women who collect pennies, nickels, dimes and then give it all away. The structure, governance and functioning of the United Thank Offering for these 125 years is a shining example of the church so many people are searching for. It is nimble; it is constantly in transition; it does not encourage the development of individual power but it does encourage the development of leadership; it's message is simple--as phrased by our President who just resigned--"our change changes lives." Every decision of the UnitedThank Offering Board, no matter who is sitting at the table in any Triennium, is made with that statement in mind: how will our decisions change lives? How will our decisions move forward the Great Commission--go out and tell the story--for every act of granting, the primary focus of the United Thank Offering is telling the story and inviting everyone to come to the table, and to share the Good News.

To defend the autonomy and mission of the United Thank Offering, I and three of my dedicated companions on this journey, made the decision that the only way we could find to fight, when the process in which we thought we had participating appeared to us to be non-existent, was to not be part of it. We were bound by a rule of confidentiality that required each board member not to discuss board business outside the board. I guess we are in some ways, whistle blowers. If we were not part of the board we could tell the whole church what we saw happening. We had no idea if anyone would really care; it appears a small story, but we think the story must be told. We have known from the beginning that we would lose. It is very difficult for a small body of faith servant volunteers, unpaid with nothing personal to gain, who chose to go up against the establishment to actually win a battle like this one.
Robin Woods Sumners

Go after a life of love as if your life depended upon it because it does!
(Eugene Peterson: The Message)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Re: "Rumors" of a private separation. We may have heard it as such, but here's what the Blue Book says

In 2007 the offices of The Presiding Bishop began a comprehensive study of all agencies of The Episcopal Church that fell under the auspices of The Executive Council as to their governance, fiscal and liability responsibilities. The policies and procedures of The United Thank Offering Committee were included in this broad based study of agencies related to
The Executive Council. The study discovered the accountability gap that had developed with the loss of a liaison from The Executive Council and the UTO Committee. To address this governance question, an Advisory Committee on the United Thank Offering was appointed by Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori in 2008.

At its October 2008 meeting the Executive Council received a preliminary report from the Presiding Bishop’s Advisory Committee on the United Thank Offering. Some of the recommendations of the preliminary report of the Advisory Council were not well received by the UTO Committee and so the Committee began to pursue other options.
The UTO Committee approached the Council’s Standing Committee on International Concerns seeking approval to incorporate The United Thank Offering as a wholly independent not-for-profit organization with separate tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status.

Believing that such a momentous organizational change as this would seriously undercut the church’s connection to the United Thank Offering, the Executive Council responded by calling for “a serious and extensive study of the current and future of the United Thank Offering as to its roles, purposes, function, operational procedures and vision for faithfulness to God’s mission in the 21st century.” (See resolution INC-055, attached.) In response to resolution INC-055, The Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies appointed a Working Group to make recommendations to the 2012 General Convention as to how the United Thank Offering can go forward in this new century as a dynamic and reinvigorated response of The Episcopal Church to God’s mission in the world.

I also encourage everyone to read the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) which was released by the PB's office as part of the attachments to her letter. It's pretty clear that the proposed By-laws and MOU are contrary in every way to what was proposed by the Ad Hoc Committee