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Friday, September 06, 2013

Hell hath no fury

When I was received into The Episcopal Church, back in 1977, I was told about three organizations I should join. I was told that, by virtue of my gender and reception into The Episcopal Church, I was automatically a member of The Episcopal Church Women.

I was also encouraged to join Integrity and The Episcopal Women's Caucus. Which I did. But I was confused. Well, at least about ECW and EWC. I got why it was important to join Integrity. What was the difference between the Episcopal Church Women and the Episcopal Women's Caucus, I asked.

I was given a short history of the ECW - how they initially began as The Women's Auxiliary and was formally established by an act of General Convention in 1821. By 1882, The Episcopal Church - through the primary and generous financial help of the ECW - was supporting twenty-nine missionary bishops - seven foreign and twenty-two domestic.

In 1889, the ECW formally established the United Thank Offering (UTO).  The "Blue Box" ministry, based on the scripture story of The Widow's Mite, collects pennies, nickles, dimes and quarters which encourages a daily ministry of thanksgiving - ordinary, every day Eucharist.

All those coins dropped into the Blue Box in thanksgiving for something ordinary in someone life became manifested in acts of mercy and love and charity all over the globe.  Indeed, The Blue Box is commemorated in a stained glass window at St Matthew's Episcopal Church in Fairbanks. Bishop Gordon's airplane, known throughout Alaska as "The Blue Box" was bought with UTO funds.

It's a regular Gospel miracle. Just ask the people whose lives have been changed because of those little Blue Boxes.

You should also know that the ECW and UTO came into being because women were intentionally and deliberately excluded from ANY leadership in the church. Indeed, it wasn't until 1970 that women could be seated as deputies to General Convention. The ECW and the UTO were the means by which women could join with other women to promote the mission of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I didn't know about them, but I understood the power of "little blue boxes". I had been brought up Roman Catholic. We had "Pagan Babies". Those pennies, nickles,  dimes and quarters all added up. I think, by the time I left the 6th grade, I had "bought" at least a dozen Pagan Babies - all named after my favorite nun OR the one I needed to suck up to.

More importantly, those coins joined with the coins from other kids in my school and Parochial Schools all over the country which turned into millions of dollars to enable the work of mission and ministry in places desperate for food and water and clothing.

The first United Offering in 1889 yielded over $2 thousand, and grew to $107,207.83 by the turn of the twentieth century. Each year, the UTO collects millions of dollars which it distributes in grants, domestic and abroad.

The Episcopal Women's Caucus (ECW), I was told, was a political organization of Episcopal women whose work had brought about the ordination of women and a general improvement in the overall status of women in the church and in the world.

It was pretty clear.  I had to be a member of all three.  And, so it was. It has been ever thus.  Indeed, it was my privilege to serve for 10 years as the National Convener of The Episcopal Women's Caucus.

The "joke" about the two organizations was that, Episcopal Church Women wore white gloves and the members of the Episcopal Women's Caucus wore boxing gloves. 

Well, maybe once - back when there were such things as "Pagan Babies" (who, like women in pristine white gloves and proper pumps, pretty much existed in the imagination and preferential desire of the institutional church) -  but not so much anymore.

In case you haven't heard, there's yet another crisis afoot. I know. What? In The Episcopal Church? How can that be? We've always been ahead of the curve on Reproductive Justice. We have a woman as PB and aren't there lots of women who are clergy and bishops now, right? Oh, and by the way, isn't the President of the House of Deputies a woman? And, isn't the VP a Black man? Haven't we fought the good fight and are on the right side of history in terms of Marriage Equality?

What now?

Let's see: Women + Money + Autonomy = Trouble. Big Trouble. Trouble with a capitol "T" and that rhymes with "P" and that stands for Power.

Got it?

St. Matthew's, Fairbanks, Alaska

You can read a good summary of the development of "The Situation" in the General Convention 2012 "Blue Book" but it began back in 2007 when the Presiding Bishop called for 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.

An "accountability gap" was discovered in terms of the relationship between the UTO and TEC, which led to the formation of an Advisory Committee, appointed by the Presiding Bishop, in 2008.

In the words of the 2012 Blue Book Report: "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."

Like, becoming an independent 501-C-3 organization. 

Whoa! Can't have that! So, a "Working Group" was appointed to further study the situation and to make recommendations to General Convention 2012.  You can also read those in the Blue Book.

Essentially, that working group proposed changes in the bylaws and the development of a Memorandum of Understanding between The Episcopal Church (AKA "Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS)".

These bylaws and MOU would embody the "creative tension" between the "increasing regulatory" function of DFMS and the "visionary, autonomous grassroots" function of UTO/ECW and be both/and: "autonomous but interdependent"? (INC-055 Ad-Hoc Committee on the Study of the United Thank Offering, GC 2012.

But, something got lost in the translation. When the bylaws and MOU were presented to eight members of the Board of the UTO, four members resigned in protest. 

You can read their letter of protest at Mark Harris' blog, Preludium here, with a follow up story here.

You can also read up on the matter at one of my favorite sources of information for all things Episcopal - The Lead at Episcopal Cafe. Go check out What's happening with the UTO?

Ann Fontaine has the bylaws up at her blog What the Tide Brings In. She notes:
While the proposal does offer some helpful ideas about policies and procedures, some things of concern that I see:
Overall it moves total control to the Chief Operating Officer of the Episcopal Church with a small advisory role for the "Board," where is the participation by UTO in the granting process? in communications? in any oversight of monies given to UTO?
It removes references to the main goal of heightening awareness of gratitude in our lives, it no longer has any relationship to the Episcopal Church Women (primary supporters of this ministry), 
It removes the UTO role in development of materials and training local UTO coordinators, though the report to General Convention encouraged a continuing autonomy for UTO with interdependence - this removes all autonomy.
Oh, and she also includes a letter from Charlie Sumner, the husband Robin, of one of the four women who resigned in protest. It is, to be blunt, eye-opening.

Finally,  here's a statement - hot off the presses - from the Presiding Bishop regarding UTO.

Over at the House of Bishops/Deputies Listserv, we are being gently admonished to either "take a breath" and/or "give the parties the time and space they need to work things out and resist
a public debate".

I should note that both writers are male.

You should note that neither Ann nor I are in compliance with those suggestions. Apparently, neither has the Presiding Bishop. Well, I'm breathing just fine, thank you. So's Ann. Neither of us had to bring out our fans or our embroidered handkerchief. Nope, not once. 

Here's another thing you should know:  The UTO 2012-2015 board was made up of twelve women, four of whom had a PhD. degree, four more had Masters degrees, several others had professional degrees. All had held important jobs in business, law, education, healthcare, and accounting. One was a former CEO of a corporation with over 400 employees and a budget over ten million dollars.

I think it is at least fair to say that they know about accountability.

Many questions remain, these two among them:

1. How does the Memorandum of Understanding between DFMS and EWC/UTO embody the "creative tension" between the "increasing regulatory" function of DFMS and the "visionary, autonomous grassroots" function of UTO/ECW and be both/and: "autonomous but interdependent"? (INC-055 Ad-Hoc Committee on the Study of the United Thank Offering, GC 2012. If you haven't read it, please do.)

2. What is contained in that Memorandum which caused 4 women - intelligent, educated women who are passionate about and dedicated to the mission of the Gospel - to resign because they believed that they needed to follow the high calling of being "whistle blowers"?

I agree that speculation holds with it the potential to be non-productive and dangerous. The primary danger, of course, is to those who benefit by not providing evidence.

I am still chilled by the knowledge that the conversations concerning the historic, autonomous, missionary leadership of women (UTO/ECW) becoming more a part of the "increasingly regulatory" body of DFMS had to be had with a group of 4 representatives from DFMS (3 of whom were men) under a signed agreement of confidentiality. And yet, the words "accountability" and "transparency" are being bandied about as somehow meaningful.

I understand. That may be "business as usual," but when you are talking about the historic autonomy of women (which came about because women were excluded from leadership in existing church structures), and removing direct decision making and control over the money they raise, well, it just doesn't bode well - especially in the church.

Speculation can also work for the good, becoming a force for revelation and transparency of evidence.  As speculation fuels controversy, more pressure is put on "the powers that be" for transparency.

That's messy, I know. Unseemly. Chaotic. Producing a crisis. It's also how I know the Spirit moves to bring about creation.

The four women from the UTO board who resigned in protest have been referred to as "whistle blowers". That is, in my perspective, an honorific title, worthy of the historic, prophetic ministry of the UTO. And, wasn't Jesus a whistle blower"?

Transparency is clearly what is called for.  Now. As in right now. Now, now.

The longer we wait for information, the more likely the courage of these four women will be dismissed as 'reactionary' and 'hysterical' and "typical" of women who 'can't abide / are threatened by change'.

The sooner we all see the proposed Memorandum of Understanding and compare that with the goals of the 2012 Ad Hoc Committee, the faster the speculation will subside.

Or, rise, depending on the information we receive.

Until then, I hope we will continue to discuss this issue - which is decidedly NOT about "old, crabby women who are resistant to change" (as one person, dismissing the situation as unimportant, said to me).

Yes, it is about women and power and the institution. Sexism and misogyny are still alive in the church, even though a woman is PB, just as racism is still alive in this country, even though there is a Black man in the White House.

This is also about the "creative tension"  between the "grassroots" - necessarily autonomous - efforts for mission and the "Increasingly regulatory function" of the institutional church.

There are many lessons to be learned that can be very helpful to those of us who are experiencing the same tensions in ministry at local and diocesan levels.

Indeed, the tensions between autonomy and interdependence and independence are central to being Episcopalian and Anglican.

My hope is for information. Sooner, rather than later.

Until then - and I may be in the minority and widely unpopular for saying this, but - let the conversation and speculation continue.

Because, you know what "they" say about women who feel scorned. 


Bateau Master said...

With the Chruch's books in such a mess - read too little income for planned outgo - the best way to kill the UTO is to associate it with anything from 815. There is not a lot of trust out here in the land of the great unwashed and not well connected.

Marthe said...

While I'm not intimately acquainted with all the facts of this matter, I read this and hear "regulatory function" as "reign in your women" as slightly frantically stated by insecure men trying to take control of the funds they can't or won't raise, "traditionalists" under the influence of a tad too much sherry trying to take credit for work they admire but actually have no connection to and will, inevitably misunderstand and drop out of sheer boredom once they have the control they seek. Sad, the desperate need of those who fear their own marginalization to wreck others' work rather than doing the real hard work of creating new channels and collaborations for a deeper understanding of the Word and the Work. Keep it up fellas and you may just find yourselves in a men only splinter group, not the "mainline" you allegedly cherish to the detriment of your own sanctuary.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bateau - I hear you. I don't know if 815 will. What a mess.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Marthe - It's just all so transparently clear, isn't it? I have been sent a copy of the bylaws and I agree with Ann's assessment. The MOU is even more patently clear.

If this weren't part of a pattern, I'd love to be able to dismiss it. But, it is, so I can't.

Makes me furious. And, sad.

Jeremy Bonner said...


Do you really think that what is happening could have got so far without at least the tacit approval of the Presiding Bishop? She is the chief executive officer of the denomination and one who has made her position very clear on many other issues.

Her statement (to which you link) appears to accuse those UTO members who resigned of attributing "inappropriate and unhelpful motives" (so presumably it's their fault). She also notes that UTO has never been a separate corporation. If so, wouldn't it have been better to offer to assist UTO to incorporate as a separate entity, if they still felt concerns about coming under DFMS?

Where does the buck stop in a supposedly hierarchical organization? (Obviously I don't believe that TEC is that, and have documented the evidence for that, but I assume you do.)

Anonymous said...

What can a person in the pew do about this?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jeremy - I do not presume to know the motives of the PB. It appears that she has not been well advised on this matter. Indeed, the folks she appointed to work with the Board of UTO apparently ignored the recommendations of the EC Advisory Group. Whether or not the PB attends to the details of such matters is unknown to me. I suspect, however, that she trusts those she appoints to do a task will carry it out in the spirit of the advice given by members of the EC. They clearly did not do this.

I think the evidence is clear - and has been affirmed by the courts - that TEC is a hierarchical organization. You may disagree and your evidence may even be compelling but the truth is that nothing - NO THING of any canonical substance - happens in TEC without the approval of General Convention. That sounds pretty hierarchical to me.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous - I don't usually allow anonymous comments but since yours is a question - and a good one at that - I will allow it.

First - and I'm not being trite here - pray. Pray, as St. Paul says, without ceasing.

Second - DO NOT STOP PUTTING YOUR COINS IN YOUR LITTLE BLUE BOX. That would be the worst thing to happen. Indeed, I put four quarters in my Blue Box just this morning - one in thanksgiving for each of the four UTO board members who resigned.

Third - send an email to the PB, the POHOD, the VPHOD and the President of the UTO, urging them to honor the "creative tension" between the autonomous nature of mission and the regulatory nature of the institutional church.

I think that's a good start for those of us who sit in the pew, praying for peace in the world, peace in the church and peace in our families.

pat royalty said...

What i do know is follow the money...this is about money and power. very simple. i also know that the coins i put into my 3 uto boxes (for 50+ years) are very personal to me. i follow the grants, and feel intimately connected to these small goodnesses. my message to the PB, COO, and others is 'keep your hands off my blue boxes and my coins'. i feel very strongly about this, and about what is apparently a denigration of lay people and their leadership.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

As I said: Women + Money + Autonomy = Trouble. Big Trouble. Trouble with a capitol "T" and that rhymes with "P" and that stands for Power.

I feel very confident that the protest resignations by 4 UTO Board Members will result in the scrapping of the proposed bylaws and MOU and lead us to a new understanding of how to be "nimble" for mission.

Sandra McPhee said...

I was a member of the INC-055 Task Force from 2009 to 2012. I also served on the study committee that preceded the task force and met in the summer of 2008. At the time I was a member of the Executive Council and chaired the Executive Council’s International Concerns Committee for the 2006-2009 triennium.

I have been aware of and committed to the UTO since I was a very little girl. I remember the blue box on the window sill above the kitchen sink and watching my mother and my father drop coins into the box. The current confusion about the UTO and its role in the life of the Episcopal Church is a matter of great sadness to me and to many many others. Much has been posted on the internet in recent days that is confusing and misleading and does nothing to further the important work that the UTO has performed for 125 years and continues to perform.

Since its founding, the UTO has been an integral part of the life of Episcopal church women and its support has been critical in many parts of the Anglican communion, especially for the support of missionaries. That work must continue.

However, the UTO must comply with legal and accounting requirements for not-for-profits promulgated by the Internal Revenue Service and it must comply with generally accepted accounting principals to protect the contributions that many faithful people have made over the years. In order for an organization to use the tax id number and tax exempt status of another organization, the IRS requires that the organization with the tax id number demonstrate certain elements of control over the organization that is using its tax id number and tax exempt status.

Prior to 2007, the legal relationship between the UTO and the ECW and DFMS was fuzzy at best. As part of the well-documented study undertaken at the behest of the Presiding Bishop, it became necessary to make certain that the UTO complied with IRS regulations and with the regulations and procedures of DFMS. The INC-055 Task Force worked very closely with representatives of the UTO and indeed, Sarita Redd, who was the president of the UTO until her untimely death last January, was a member of the Task Force. Early on in its work, the INC-055 Task Force discussed the option of the UTO forming a separate corporation. That idea was rejected by the INC-055 Task Force and by the UTO Board. The report of INC-055 was never intended to be an end. It was intended as a starting point with the clear understanding that the UTO Bylaws would have to be re-written to comply with current procedures of both the IRS and DFMS. In addition, a formal Memorandum of Understanding would be prepared to set forth the relationship between the UTO and DFMS.

The proposed Bylaws and MOU that have been posted on the internet are just that, they are proposed and not final documents. It seems premature to attribute various motives to the Presiding Bishop and members of the DFMS staff or to the current and resigned members of the UTO Board. What seems appropriate is to let the UTO Board members who remain react to the draft bylaws and MOU and let the Executive Council have an opportunity to review and discuss this issue at its meeting in October.

Sandra McPhee

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you for this perspective, Sandra. I think the issue is that four members of the UTO Board - 4 intelligent, educated, dedicated women who comprised 1/2 the board - resigned IN PROTEST. That's an important distinction. They resigned IN PROTEST of the 'proposed' bylaws and MOUs. Because the committee operated under a signed agreement of confidentiality, it's hard to know just how the 'proposed' documents were presented.

We do know that1/2 the board - who are clearly understanding of (and some experienced with) the IRS regulations - resigned IN PROTEST.

We also now know the content of those proposed documents and they are so far from the tone and content of the advice of EC as to cause concern, in and of themselves.

My question is, with 1/3 of the 12 member Board of UTO remaining, how can they possibly enter into a decision making process for the whole? Ought not time be given for them to get themselves back up to a full compliment of members, especially since they are still grieving the loss of their President who died in January?

My hope is that, in October, the EC puts this entire matter on hold until the UTO board is able to get back on its feet and we study other models - like ER&D - of "autonomy and independence" that the EC recommended.

We have too much recent history of a rush to "restructure" - and a response from GC to do that revisioning and restructuring ourselves. From my perspective, this is another verse in that very sad song.

Jeremy Bonner said...


Do you know why the option of creating a separate corporation for UTO was rejected?

Incidentally, the IRS regulations on group exemptions require an annual submission from the parent body that includes a list of "subordinates" who have "ceased to exist, disaffiliated, or withdrawn their authorization to the
central organization."

That suggests something different from the customary understanding of "control." If you're subordinate, you CAN'T "withdraw authorization."

Matthew said...

Why do we have so much confidentiality in the church in general? Why were the members under a confidentiality agreement at all? I find that vestries go into executive session too often and word always leaks out. Even with personnel searches, and I was involved in a rector search, should be more open. We had to sign the same confidentiality forms. It was stupid because people wanted to know why certain people made the cut. They pledge too. You are serving them. And, people did talk anyway. If a process is healthy, I don't see why there is so much secrecy in all of our operations. Governments manage to make decisions and hire competent people with an open meeting law.

Charlie Sutton said...

My own opinion (for what it is worth) is that the TEC, with its declining revenues, saw the UTO as a cash cow and wanted to bring its money under the parent institution's control.

The sane thing to do would have been to grant the ECW/UTO the umbrella of TEC's tax status, but tell the UTO board, "You all have been doing a wonderful job for well over a century. We trust you; keep it up." And with the quality of the board members that you mention, I have no doubt that the UTO would have done so. They may not have supported the same things that the upper management of the TEC would have chosen, but they would have made wise choices.

If and as word gets out that the UTO is just a collection agency for the TEC, I suspect that donations to the UTO will drop off noticeably. Telling people you do not trust them tends to have negative repercussions.