Dear Bishop Katherine,
Thank you for the invitation to meet with you and the leadership of The Episcopal Church on July 15, 2013. We, as a Board, are honored by the invitation.
We have spent some time preparing for this meeting. We are enclosing a document here that we hope can start a conversation about how the relationship between the United Thank Offering and The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society might work. We wanted our thoughts to be heard before this meeting, in hopes that the meeting itself might move us more rapidly down that road of trust and understanding that we know needs to exist between us.
Our entire board has contributed to the thinking expressed in this document. We hope this issue of attorneys can be dispatched quickly, as we think our explanation of the relationship of our board with Larry Grable is far more innocent than it is perceived. We mention this because the document enclosed here was created by our board with no input from an attorney—and it is not meant to be a legal document but rather a blueprint of a structure that might work to start a conversation to solidify a relationship of great importance.
The 2012-2015 Board has embraced the INC-055 Ad-Hoc Committee Report as a blue print for moving into this 21st Century with strength. We are sending this report to all those invited to attend the July 15 meeting because as we look at those to be gathered at this table, many have arrived after the completion of the Study Committee work. The study is contained in the "Salmon Blue Book" from the 2012 General Convention, but unless you have a reason to read that book cover to cover, it is probably not likely that most people have read it, and certainly not with the desire to make it a road map for the future in the way The United Thank Offering Board has embraced it. A conversation with the United Thank Offering Board as a whole or individually will reveal how important this document is to our current development. Thus, our desire to make it easily accessible to those gathering to talk with us.
The United Thank Offering will celebrate its 125th Year in 2014. For all this time, this movement has persisted through surviving constant transition. Those serving the United Thank Offering have done it for what amounts to a short period of a person's life; leadership and membership are changing regularly, yet the goal of maintaining the focus on Mission remains the beacon of purpose. Those of us on the Board now rejoice that we are honored to be the messengers of this 125th year milestone in the life of this entity called The United Thank Offering. We celebrate this especially as we have a Presiding Bishop who embraces as the heart of the Gospel the charge to Mission.; who urges us to "Show up. Listen. Tell the truth."
We offer this document to you as a response to your invitation, and your significant point regarding trust and understanding. We are sending it to you, and hope you will share it with The Rev. Gay Jennings, The Rt. Rev. Stacy Sauls, and others who will be attending whom you think should have it. However, we thought that sharing it or not should be your call. We offer this with Joy, Hope and Grace and with a deep desire for Peace—for trust and understanding.
In the Service of Our Lord Christ,
United Thank Offering Board
For the entire 2012-2015 Board
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?
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