[received via email]
I don’t think I need to say it again, but when you resign from a commission, a vestry, a parish, a board, a Standing Committee, or anything else in the Episcopal church . . . please take the trouble to put your thoughts and reasons into words and please email it to any Episcopalians you know.
I don’t know Mr. Johnson—someone in the diocese passed this letter on—but I tip my hat to your courage, whoever you are.
Gary M. Johnson
2126 Carter Ave
St Paul, MN 55108
An Open Letter
November 19, 2007
Dear Fellow Trustees:
It is with sadness that I submit my resignation as Trustee of the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota. In two short years my enthusiasm for serving our diocese has greatly diminished. So I am doing what regrettably many other potential lay leaders of this diocese have chosen to do: “sit on the sidelines” and put my energy into my parish where I get renewed and excited.
Next year I have agreed to serve my parish of St. Matthew’s in St Paul as Senior Warden. I believe the Holy Spirit is alive in our parish community and I am energized by giving of my time and resources to the mission of our parish community (which extends far beyond the confines of our building though the mission outreach of many members of our parish).
I personally find this juxtaposition of waning enthusiasm for Diocesan service and continued enthusiasm for the ministry at the parish level to be striking in light of the BCMS report. So much of the BCMS report resonates with my experience.
Because I care about our Diocese, I will take the time to express one more time my cumulative concerns over the last two years that have led to my decision to resign as a Trustee. Because I was elected by Diocesan convention, I plan to make this letter public throughout the Diocese because I believe that there is very little transparency for the people of the Diocese to see what goes on within this nonprofit entity know officially as the Trustees of the Diocese of Minnesota. Nor do I believe that our Bishop and the trustees have a coherent, consistent view of the proper role of the Trustees. I also hope these observations might begin to generate the kind of lively, healthy discussion that ought to result from taking a hard look at the structural changes that are needed to live into the spirit and intent of the BCMS report. I wish I could say I see a resolve and excitement among the Trustees to get involved in the ramifications of the BCMS report, but I have not seen that. I hope and pray that in the coming months you will show the laity and clergy of our Diocese that I am totally wrong in this observation.
The finances of the Trustees have never been transparent to me, and they certainly have not been to the laity and clergy of this diocese for whom we hold assets in trust. I recognize progress is being made, but it is unclear to me that there is a clear resolve to elevate this to the priority I believe it deserves. I truly hope this Board will follow through on its decision recently to present at the 2008 Diocesan convention a clear financial picture to the people of this diocese of the funds and property for which we have responsibilities—and a clear picture of how monies from each restricted fund is being used each year and in what amounts, consistent with the purposes of each fund!
Over the past several years neither Diocesan Council nor the Trustees have been candid and forthright, in my opinion, with the laity and clergy of this diocese of the extent to which Diocesan programs are being financed by going into reserves held by the Trustees. As I brought up at our recent meeting, Stacy Abena and Malcolm McDonald, our respective chairs of Diocese Council and Trustees led the delegates at our recent Diocesan convention to believe that we are operating on a balanced budget when we are not. Prior to convention, delegates were assured by representatives of the Bishop’s staff and Council that funds were available to pay the costs of a Bishop Coadjutor from restricted funds and/or the sale of the diocesan headquarters. This was not just a possible identification of funds but assurances that funds would be available. Yet the Bishop’s staff knew that this had never been discussed with the Trustees and we Trustees knew there were no such funds available. I consider this irresponsible conduct, but also symptomatic of a continuing organizational problem that is not being effectively addressed.
It is alarming to me to continue to hear our Bishop’s views on the roles of the Diocesan Council and Trustees that I continue to believe are seriously at odds with the legal responsibilities we have as Trustees. The trustees have had two lawyers (Harry Haynsworth and me) who were asked to serve on this board, in part because of our legal background. We presented, along with Malcolm, a lengthy memo to this Board more than a year ago outlining our concerns about the proper legal oversight role by the Trustees over funds held by us for the benefit of the diocese. Yet our Bishop has never entered into the kind of thoughtful discussion over this that we requested (and the Board has never heard from our Chancellor regarding the specific points we raised in our letter to this Board). Under these circumstances, I cannot in good faith continue to serve on this Board.
As trustees, we hold funds that are restricted in amount or purposes for use within the Diocese. Yet, we are not given information how much is being taken from each fund each year and how it is being used by the diocese consistent with the donor’s intention. I have asked repeatedly during my first two years for this information, but have not received it. As I have stated several times, I cannot fulfill even the minimal obligations I believe I have as a Trustee without this information. Malcolm has always assured me it will be done. At our recent meeting I was pleased that there appears to be some renewed resolve to actually do this. I have simply grown tired of asking for things like this, being assured it will be done, but then only to see that it is not done.
I am not comfortable serving a diocese where our Bishop, his staff and consequently many committees spend so much of their time “regulating” parishes. I believe that demanding charity and regulating stewardship is a spiritually bankrupt way to approach laity of this diocese and is doomed to fail in igniting heartfelt, enthusiastic support for the efforts of our diocese.
I have observed with some of you that our structure in our diocese can cause dispersion or diffusion of decision-making among laity and clergy. Often I sense elected lay and clergy leaders not feeling empowered to give direction and leadership because no one committee feels it is their responsibility (or authority) to make a decision with all of the considerations before them. When you couple this diocesan structure with our Bishop who has an authoritative style of leadership, too much of decision making by laity and clergy, in my judgment, is in response to what is put before us by the Bishop and his staff. Our decisions become more reactive (or worse, rubber stamping) and the process does not encourage more collaborative strategic planning with our Bishop.
We all know that where you put your money reveals where your heart is. This is true for individuals as well organizations. As we all know, this Diocese could benefit greatly from a much larger endowment. The money is there among the Episcopalians in this Diocese. But the “hearts” of so many people in this diocese haven’t been excited by where the priorities for time and money are being placed by our Bishop and the Diocesan staff.
Finally, I am not comfortable serving any more on the Trustees under our Bishop’s style of leadership (that emanates down through his staff and some committees). This is not a style that I find to be truly collaborative. Nor is it a style that I find seeks to empower strong, visionary lay and clergy leadership in the manner I find so invigorating and inspiring at the parish level.
I apologize if you were take my words in this letter as being harsh. They are not meant to be so, but rather to be pointedly direct and helpfully candid. I also recognize that reasonable people can differ and that many of my views have not been shared by all of you as my fellow Trustees. I believe, however, that I am not alone in having these concerns.
I will keep you all in my prayers. Thank you for the time I have had in serving with you on the Trustees. I hope you will embrace seriously the changes being called for in the BCMS report and that our Bishop, Diocesan Council, the Standing Committee and the Trustees will provide the important visionary leadership without which I believe the BCMS recommendations will suffer the same fate as other past diocesan efforts to effect healthy change.
Gary M. Johnson
Diocesan Council Members
Standing Committee Members
BCMS Steering Committee