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Saturday, May 19, 2012

The implementation of a resolution

General Convention 2009 passed a resolution known as A177 which established a Denominational Health Care Plan for The Episcopal Church. It would require "all domestic dioceses, parishes, missions, and other ecclesiastical organizations or bodies subject to the authority of this church, for clergy and lay employees who are scheduled to work a minimum of 1,500 hours annually" to subscribe. 

The point of the resolution was (1) to mandate health care insurance for lay employees, which had always been left up to the discretion and integrity of the church which employed them (it is already mandated by canon for clergy) and (2) reduce the cost of health insurance, over time, by increasing the number of those insured. 

Good deal, right? Of course, right. Justice and parity for lay employees. Lower rates, over time, for health care insurance. I lobbied for it. We voted on it. Done.

Except, the resolution also stated that "each diocese has the right to make decisions and to plan design options offered by the plan administrator, minimum cost-sharing guidelines for parity between clergy and lay employees, domestic partner benefits in accordance with General Convention Resolution 1997-C024 and the participation of schools, day care facilities and other diocesan institutions (that is, other than the diocese itself and its parishes and missions) in The Denominational Health Plan...."  

I was nervous about that last part. I was concerned that the language raised issues that might cause more problems in terms of implementation. 

Turns out, I was right. 

In the diocese of my canonical residence - that would be Newark - there has been a great deal of controversy, specifically in terms of "cost sharing". 

The Bishop's Advisory Commission on Human Resources (BACHR) has proposed a policy which was postponed from our regularly scheduled Diocesan Convention in January and rescheduled as part of a Special Convention which will take place on June 9th. 

Now, ostensibly, the "special" nature of this Special Diocesan Convention is about ..... I'm sure you can guess by now...... of course, it could only be one thing......wait for it..... MISSION. 

We are going to hear from a special Mission Strategy Committee which has been studying "mission". It is within the context of mission that we are going to be asked to consider "cost sharing" as a way for our congregations to be able to afford providing providing the mandated health insurance for the laity - and thus, be more 'nimble' for mission. 

The BACHR presentation is here in downloadable PDF form. It's very thorough. They go through great pains to let us know how A177 will affect the diocese. And, they want to make sure we know that they have been working on this for three whole years.

They want us to know that because, obviously, no one knew they were doing this. They never once consulted anyone who was directly affected by their work or proposals.You know, like clergy or lay employees or the churches that employ them.

If you read their presentation, however, you discover that the problems they raise concerning costs of implementation of A177 only involves three people in three churches in the diocese. Every other church in the diocese is already in compliance.

And, for that, the diocese wants ALL clergy to "cost share" 10% of the premiums for a single health insurance policy. Spouses and children? Well, actually, all the canons require is for clergy to have health insurance. Not families. That would be nice but it's not required.

The Newark Episcopal Clergy Association (NECA) has been on the case.  You can see the timeline of events in terms of how this has all unfolded.  You can see what NECA is asking from the diocese:
At the Special Convention, we seek to: Maintain the current diocesan standards of congregations paying for the necessary level of insurance with following guidelines:
  • All eligible lay employees and clergy should continue to use good judgement about what type of insurance is needed for their situation and opt for coverage elsewhere when possible (coverage for spouse at his/her work, coverage under their policy, etc. According to BACHR research, this is already happening from clergy when possible and there's no reason to expect differently.
  •  Allow 5 years to reach parity in the few places where it's not already in place.
  •  Consider cost sharing within the broader context of the entire HR package and only after a holistic model of clergy compensation related to the present mission and reality.  Cost sharing may be encouraged at this time at the parish level but should not be required before more careful study. 
You'll also see the most recent letter from NECA to the diocese which reveals some pretty shocking facts. For example, NECA has repeatedly tried to communicate to the folks at BACHR:
We have made these points to the Bishop’s Advisory Committee on Human Resources and Benefits on numerous occasions:

     a) At Diocesan Council in November, where we were first invited and then told we were not welcome;
     b) At a meeting between NECA and BACHR when we provided input but were not allowed to take part in the critical  formation of a policy;
     c) In workshops at Diocesan Convention
     d) In a petition circulated by NECA in January 2012 and presented to the Bishop and BACHR which included 73 signatories.
     e) In District meetings when BACHR members were present.
NECA members asked for time for discussion at clergy conference, at a special clergy day, and then by requesting the rescheduling of two of the for BACHR hearings with the Diocese when the Bishop, Canon to the Ordinary, and 25 clergy were on a Diocesan-sponsored trip to Israel.  All of these requests were denied.
So, what's going on here? You tell me. I'm yet to figure it all out. It's like the bishop is getting advice from people who have at least been listening to what the Tea Party Republicans have to say. 

I'm thinking some of the folks on BACHR are really, really pissed about Obamacare and this is their way at being able to do something - anything - about their anger.

A Very Simple Strategy for Mission
I know one thing: This has NOTHING whatsoever to do with mission.

But, doesn't it sound familiar? Haven't we all been hearing about how we all have to be more "nimble" and "restructure" in order to do mission?

I think that's absolutely back-asswards. We need to decide on mission and then build structures that will support our mission.

We may not need to cut anything. Indeed, we may find new or renewed energy that makes us so committed to mission we'll find we need to add, not cut.

Here's the thing: talking about cutting clergy compensation packages and downsizing in the midst of a Special Convention which is ostensibly about "mission" is to talk about apples and spaghetti.

It is setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy for failure.

Mission is always about a theology of gratitude and abundance, not regrets and scarcity.

The energy that drives mission is not money but the pulse of a deeply grateful heart.  Gratitude is part of the transformative power of Eucharist (it's not called "The Great Thanksgiving" for nothing).

Mission always happens when you say "yes" unless there is a good reason to say "no".

In every situation I know where mission is flourishing, the bishop not only supports but models mission. Perhaps that's because s/he understands that if s/he allows parochial models of ministry to go part time (Oh, woe, what else are we to do?), then, pretty soon, episcopal models of ministry will go part time. It's really the next logical step.

An old bit of wisdom I have learned from shepherds is, "If the shepherd doesn't feed the flock, the flock will eat the shepherd."

The issue is not statistics and demographics. It's certainly not about cutting salaries and compensation packages. The issue is engaging and utilizing and applying religious imagination. That means taking some risks. Daring. Dreaming a new church into being.

We're pretty good at singing about it and talking about it but when it comes to doing it, we retreat behind miserly behavior and politics which betray all of our bravado about the abundance promised in the Gospel.

So, I'm wondering what is really going on when the diocese consistently blocks NECA from a full and equal part in the conversation - especially when clergy and their families are most affected by the proposed resolution.

I'm wondering why the BACHR felt it had to push its agenda through a process in the diocese when the bishop and the canon and many, many clergy and laity were out of the country.

I'm wondering why this Special Convention only allows about 1.5 hours for business, which includes hearing from a "Mission Strategy Committee" as well as voting on this resolution concerning clergy compensation packages when, by their own admission, this only affects 3 people in 3 congregations in the entire diocese.

Why hurt many when the diocese could better spend its time working on creative strategies to help a few?

General Convention Resolution A177 does not mandate "cost sharing". Indeed, it simply states that implementation of this resolution will be the responsibility of the diocese.

Besides, we voted at diocesan convention in January - overwhelmingly - to send our deputation to Indianapolis in July to ask clarifying questions about the implementation of A177. Several other dioceses have submitted resolutions which ask to overturn A177, so it may be a moot point after July.

We do not have to pass a policy regarding cost sharing to be in compliance with A177.

So, why is it being rammed through the diocese? At a special convention to talk about "mission"?

This smells like yesterday's fish. 

Anyone else having problems in their diocese concerning A177. What have you done? How have you approached it? I'd love to hear from you.


Frair John said...

Smells indeed. I've noticed that "Mission" is now the shibolith used to cover a lack of planning, pulling a fast one, trying to oull a power play, or just plane old bullying.
Or am I being to cynical?

it's margaret said...

In Virginia, health care costs are about $480 per person. Here in South Dakota, they are more than $1,100 per person, AND the clergy must pay 15% of those costs --in a Diocese where clergy are paid at a rate which is less than 80% of the recommended minimum nationally.

If it was supposed to reduce or level the costs for all --that is just pure crap. It didn't work or wasn't implemented properly.

And don't get me going on the required on-line pharmacy MEDCO... --and don't get me going that the hospital had to shove me out the ER door when I required surgery because the insurance would only pay for it out-patient....

What we have in health insurance might be really good for a few --but it REALLY sucks for the rest of us.

Richard Brewer said...

Well, check out the resolution being brought to General Convention that would essentially allow church institutions to get their insurance anywhere they like, and somewhat take the wind out of the original requirement. Some parishes who weren't in compliance want extra time, or bigger cost sharing, and the idea of cost sharing is very popular with all vestries watching the bottom line.

Matthew said...

I have no specific comments about these resolutions or this particular issue but I continue to wonder why the church is so deathly afraid of transparency. It's endemic. And leads to secrecy. I once suggested on vestry that all vestry meetings be taped, converted to mp3 files and put on the web site. Didn't go over well, sadly. I made the same suggestion regarding diocesan staff meetings and meetings of the standing committee. Too too radical. But state governments manage to hire effective leaders subject to the open meeting law. Some respond by saying that people would not be as frank or forthright. I don't buy it , or rather why people will not say such things publicly in the first place is troubling. And so thte church continues to operate in secret and it leads to gossip and back room deals and it's sick. Sick as your secret. Enough venting for today.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Friar John - not to my ears. I've grown very cynical over the past six years.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Margaret - That is flat out unbelievable. I'm so sorry. And of course, you're absolutely right. It's not only Health Insurance that needs reform - it's the entire Health Care Industry.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Richard - Of course, cost-sharing is popular with Vestries, which is why I think bishops who pander to that sentiment will find themselves, in five years I predict, in straits that are more difficult than they could have ever asked for or imagined.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - even more upsetting than the resolution is the way some members of NECA have been treated. I'm no longer physically resident in the diocese and I have very little to do with most things diocesan but some of my colleagues are actually shunned. From what I'm told, if you disagree with the power, you might as well wear a "Kick Me" sign on your back. It's just awful. It's just not the DioNwk I knew when I first went there in 1991.

Brother David said...

Sorry, to this outsider it seems that folks have confused The Mission; go into all the world... with the current pop psych/soc concept of mission or purpose, by which an organization tries to justify its continued existence.

Jim said...

Meanwhile, in a nearby diocese, the bishops and clergy conference is billed as a focus on (you guessed it!) mission. You know, figuring out that in this day and age, a web site or two, this, face something or other, or maybe a blog, something like that, might help? In fact, the conference turns out to be all about vocation, "we are breaking into small groups to discuss how and when we felt our calls to ministry."

Rearranging the deck chairs did not keep Titanic afloat. Ah but this too was all about 'mission.'


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Br. David - Bingo! I really think all this talk about mission is a cover for anxiety about identity.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JimB - I think the more we say "The emperor with a mission has no clothes" the better we'll all be. Blog. Talk. Get the word out.