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Deputies say presiding bishop may retain diocesan seat

The House of Deputies on Saturday took another step toward changing the church’s status quo when it adopted a resolution that permits the next presiding bishop, who will be elected in 2015, to remain a diocesan bishop. Canons currently require the presiding bishop to resign her or his seat upon assuming office.

Debate on resolution B013 centered on whether this action should take place now or wait for a larger discussion about restructuring that is being dealt with by the Committee on Structure.

In his blog, Deputy Drew Cauthorn from the Diocese of West Texas noted that “In and of itself, the resolution is not significant, but the debate was indeed significant.  Arguments that General Convention (GC) is too large a group to make significant decisions without further study, that the subject is too complicated for action at this GC, that GC should wait for three years to consider changes and that to take action before we knew what the future structure would look like is putting the cart before the horse were all loudly voted down. This House of Deputies wants change and it wants change now. I think that the only thing to temper the deputies desire for change, almost any change, will be the House of Bishops.”

What the resolution did, says Cauthorn, is merely remove the canonical requirement (Title I, Canon 2, Section 3(a) & (b))  that a presiding bishop must relinquish his or her diocesan jurisdiction upon assuming the office of presiding bishop.

The resolution’s explanation says this model of the presiding bishop relinquishing his or her diocesan office dates from the General Convention of 1947. “Deleting the canon that requires the presiding bishop to resign his or her diocese allows for the Joint Nominating Committee to imagine other models for the presiding bishop as part of the ongoing discussions of restructuring of the church.” Deleting the canon, notes the resolution explanation, does not mean that the next presiding bishop must remain in his or her diocese, but allows for that option.

The resolution now goes to the House of Bishops for their consideration.

The House of Deputies on Saturday also adopted other resolutions on a variety of topics:

D037 — asking the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance to consider restoring nearly $3 million in funding for Christian formation and youth ministry, which had been cut in draft versions of the budget;

D042 — recommitting the church to protecting victims of human trafficking;

A114 — calling for increased funding for world missions;

A107 — designating the secretary of General Convention as the Convention’s official registrar;

A026 — directing the church’s chief operating officer to develop an information technology strategic plan for the staff of the Episcopal Church Center;

A035 — reaffirming the church’s commitment to interreligious engagement at all levels;

B017 — calling on the church to support the Diocese of Jerusalem’s Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza with fundraising and advocacy after the United Nations Relief and Works Agency cut its financial aid, slashing the hospital’s budget nearly in half.

Based on a report by Melodie Woerman for Episcopal News Service

 

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Deputies vote to sell church center

by Melodie Woerman for Episcopal News Service

The House of Deputies voted on Friday to direct the church’s Executive Council to sell the Episcopal Church Center at 815 Second Avenue in New York City, where most of the church’s administrative staff offices are located. The action came through a resolution proposed by the Joint Legislative Committee on Structure.

In the House of Deputies

The resolution now goes to the House of Bishops for its consideration.

Deputies on the floor removed a requirement from resolution D016 that the sale take place before the 2015 General Convention, to give the Executive Council greater flexibility to sell at the best price possible.

The Rev. Gay Jennings, the deputies’ chair of the Structure Committee, said the issue of selling the property has been studied several times in the past, and committee members decided that now was the time to do it.

The Rev. Frank Hubbard, deputy from New Jersey, urged deputies to agree. He said, “815 Second Avenue is the relic of our delusions of being an established church from an imperial era. Constantine has left the building. Unfortunately, Constantine has left us the building.”

Deputy Karen Phillips Smith of Southeast Florida said this was not the time to force a sale, given that the building’s tenants are paying only $35 a square foot in rent. Noting her background in international real estate development she said. “There’s no way I could sell that to anybody.” She added, “I’m not saying not sell it, I’m just saying, not now.”

The resolution’s explanation noted that the building will cost more than $11 million to operate over the next three years. Debt service amounts to $8.7 million, with facilities management nearly $6.5 million. Rental income offsets those expenses by just over $4 million, for a net cost of $11,093,156.

Melodie Woerman is a member of the Episcopal News Service team at General Convention.

Health Plan to move forward

General Convention’s Committee on the Church Pension Fund voted July 6 to affirm most of the terms of the mandatory Denominational Health Plan that must be implemented by January 1, 2013. However, the committee set as December 31, 2015, the date by which lay employees must be given the same options in health insurance that are provided to clergy.

This resolution affirms the one passed by the 76th General Convention in 2009 — resolution A177  — which called for a Denominational Health Plan (DHP) that guarantees access to equal coverage by clergy and lay employees who work at least  30 hours per week.

The DHP requires that all domestic dioceses, congregations, other ecclesiastical organizations or bodies subject to the authority of the Church, and institutions so designated by a particular diocese, must participate in the plan through the Episcopal Church Medical Trust.

A177 states that dioceses have autonomy in deciding which health plan options to offer, what the minimum coverage will be, cost-sharing requirements, the offering of health coverage to domestic partners, and whether or not institutions such as schools would be included.  The Diocese of West Texas decided early on in the process that schools and other institutions will not be included in the mandate under the DHP, but will have the ability to participate if they so choose.

Passage of A177 in 2009 was driven by two factors:  a projected savings in premium costs by a widening pool of persons covered, and the justice aspects of providing health coverage for lay employees that is equal to that provided for clergy. Some cost containment has already been achieved and more is expected when DHP is fully implemented.

Since 2009, many dioceses have  raised objections to A177, saying that the cost of the plan will be untenable, and congregations may begin to reduce full-time lay employees to part-time status  (fewer than 30 hours per week) to avoid the eligibility threshold. That dilemma is now pushed back to 2015 with the Committee on Church Pension Fund’s new recommendation.

In response to rates across the country, the Medical Trust has been working over the past several years looking for ways to “share” the health benefit burden across the country. In 2009, there were 14 different pricing bands that are based on geographic and demographic costs of health care in the various regions of the United States. By 2012, these bands were compressed to ten bands, and the hope is to have seven bands by January 2013.

In the Diocese of West Texas, says Canon to the Ordinary Kirk Mason, the insurance committee has been meeting regularly and has been preparing congregations for the DHP requirements.  In West Texas, congregations are currently required to pay 100 percent of the health insurance costs for clergy and their families, and health insurance plans must be through the Church Medical Trust. There has not been a similar requirement for lay employees.

The Committee on the Church Pension Fund will now hold hearings on its recommendations, likely on Monday, July 9.

Structure Committee drafts new resolution

General Convention’s Committee on Structure formed a subcommittee July 6 to draft a resolution to substitute for a plethora of existing ones calling for structural change in the Episcopal Church.

The action came the morning after an evening hearing during which bishops, deputies and visitors told the committee that the church was in the middle of what some of them called an emergency that prevents it from doing the mission work of spreading the gospel in the world.

Read the full story from Episcopal News Service here:

http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2012/07/06/structure-committee-begins-to-synthesize-resolutions/

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Structural change called for

In what seems to be emerging as a top issue for the 77th General Convention, some 54 resolutions have been submitted calling for some form of structural change for The Episcopal Church. This includes resolutions from 45 of the church’s 110 dioceses.

Many, as in the Diocese of West Texas resolution C051, call for a special commission to be appointed within 30 days of General Convention’s adjournment that would be charged with presenting a plan to the Church for “reforming its structures, governance, administration, and staff” in order to focus on mission and ministry “in a way that maximizes the resources available for that mission at all levels of this church.”

A number of other ways have been suggested to approach work on structural change including a call for a constitutional convention.

At a Committee on Structure – one of the church’s standing committees –  hearing on the subject on the evening of July 5, 40 or more persons signed up to address the issue, many saying that the call for structural reform is a grassroots movement.  “Something needs to change,” said the Rev. Adam Trambley, deputy from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. “We need to look at different ways to engage.” Daniel Land from the Diocese of Wyoming said that “there are signs that everything is not OK in The Episcopal Church, and it is important for this church to take a new and radical look at its structure.”

Speaking in support of the Diocese of West Texas resolution, Alternate Deputy Kelley Kimble said that she has asked when the last time was that the Church looked at its structure, and “no one seems to know the answer.

Kelley Kimble addresses Structure Committee hearing.

 

“There is no question that our church has changed,” said Kimble. “There is no question that to model the Kingdom of God in today’s world, we must be flexible and agile.”

Kimble said that her day job is as a family law judge, an area of law that has undergone a tremendous change of circumstances in the last 30 years. “We are no longer a nuclear family with the father as breadwinner and mother as caregiver. In order to care for our children and raise healthy young adults we have had to dramatically change our approach to the structure of a family. I suggest that the same concepts apply [to The Episcopal Church].

“A healthy system,” said Kimble, “would not reflect our current statistics. The future of our church depends on us as a healthy and changing organism. We must promote financial health, spiritual health and emotional health.”

The Committee will continue to consider the many resolutions before it before sending on one or more to the House of Deputies later this week.