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Life on the Ground in Minnesota: Gary Johnson Resigns from the Trustees of the Diocese

Tuesday, November 27, 2007 • 12:31 pm

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.


[received via email]

An open letter from a member of the Trustees of the Diocese.

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.


Regards
Gary M. Johnson

Cc:

Diocesan Council Members
Standing Committee Members
BCMS Steering Committee
Region Deans

 

 


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Comments:

I believe that demanding charity and regulating stewardship is a spiritually bankrupt way to approach laity

So true.

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.

I particularly like this formulation. I am called to support the poor (and otherwise needed)... and certainly we as a body are called to do so as well… but whenever I give money (or time or talent) to a proxy/“middle man” (whether church or charity), I have a stewardship obligation to satisfy myself that they are also good stewards of what is not my money (of course it is the Lord’s).

A bit off-topic, but to take it a step farther… it is not “christian charity” to vote for someone who will take someone else’s money and give it to the needy. In fact… in many ways it makes it worse - because you’ve robbed her of the opportunity to give from the heart.

[1] Posted by Positive Phototaxis on 11-27-2007 at 02:00 PM • top

It is not too much to ask for transparency with regard to diocesan funds, restricted and non-restricted. It is a trust for a reason.

[2] Posted by southernvirginia1 on 11-27-2007 at 02:10 PM • top

Yet again, TEC proves itself un-Trust-worthy.

[3] Posted by st. anonymous on 11-27-2007 at 02:14 PM • top

I find it interesting and somewhat surprising that this letter echoes many of the same issues the Diocese of Pennsylvania Standing Committee has with the now inhibited Bishop Bennison.

[4] Posted by Randy Muller on 11-27-2007 at 02:36 PM • top

As far as I know Mr Johnson sent this “open letter” to members of Region VII in the Diocese of Minnesota. I am not sure that it was his intention that it get into the blogosphere, or how helpful it is that that has happened.

From my own perspective, the issues touched upon in the letter relate to the “leadership” style of Jim Jelinek and others in the diocesan headquarters. How this may or may not be related to their “theology” is an open question.

Perhaps it is true, however, that the crisis in the Episcopal Church at present is as much one of leadership and vision as it is one of theology or morality.

[5] Posted by notworthyofthename on 11-27-2007 at 02:47 PM • top

Wow!
What about the transparency that has repeatedly been asked for TEC to reveal where the money is coming from for the litigations?  I would be fascinated to know how much is going into David Booth Beers pockets as well as its sources.

[6] Posted by Petra on 11-27-2007 at 02:52 PM • top

Regarding Jelinek’s “leadership” style:

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

Jelinek may have a problem looming ahead with his leadership style given that the BCMS report calls 13 times for the empowerment of folks.

[7] Posted by Chazaq on 11-27-2007 at 03:02 PM • top

Chazaq:
That empowerment has already begun, with the rejection of Jelinek’s plan for the appointment of his successor at the last diocesan convention—a rejection that drew a far greater majority among the lay delegates than among the clergy.

[8] Posted by notworthyofthename on 11-27-2007 at 03:08 PM • top

Well said, Mr. Johnson.  The bishop sets a terrible example and probably uses this money in trust as his own, not money in trust. Why would the bishop risk accusations of “breach of fiduciary duty”?  Doesn’t the bishop have a duty of good stewardship, too?

[9] Posted by RoyIII on 11-27-2007 at 03:08 PM • top

I certainly hope all trustees and board members have a large “Acts and Ommission” insurance policy.  They can be held liable for any illegal activity on their watch, even if they resign.  In some states the treasurer or the one writting checks can be made to pay back any funds dispursed illegally.  Also, the IRS brings down grief.  I’ve seen it happen on a couple of occassions.  It is serious business to be in and official capacity.

[10] Posted by PROPHET MICAIAH on 11-27-2007 at 03:38 PM • top

You Americans love democracy. This is what TEC says is different about it than all other members of the Anglican Communion, but is democracy really practiced by TEC? The answer seems to be: NO !

[11] Posted by Sir Highmoor on 11-27-2007 at 03:46 PM • top

“We all know where you put your money reveals where your heart is.”

I can’t speak to what the Diocese of Minnesota has used its trust funds for, but the National Church certainly reveals its “heart” by spending huge sums of money on lawsuits against parishes and their volunteer leadership. Interestingly, we can’t get the National Church to give its proper accounting either, can we? How anyone could continue to contribute or bequeath any funds to an increasingly corrupt, secretive, authoritarian, and apostate pseudo-religious cult like the TEC is beyond my comprehension. Lord have mercy.

[12] Posted by irishanglican on 11-27-2007 at 04:06 PM • top

Sadly, lack of transparency and accountability is an ever present problem among all stripes of theological persuasion.  IMO, an immediate and crying need is for an alternative American province with openness in decision making and finance worked into its charter and practice.  Sunshine is the best disinfectant.  (I think Justice Brandeis said that.)

[13] Posted by Judith L on 11-27-2007 at 04:09 PM • top

Thinking out loud, a noisy withdrawal from a fiduciary responsibility should cause great concern.  Others in authority likely have a duty to inquire.

Peace to ALL,

[14] Posted by miserable sinner on 11-27-2007 at 04:16 PM • top

Positive Phototaxis wrote [emphasis in original]:

…it is not “christian charity” to vote for someone who will take someone else’s money and give it to the needy. In fact… in many ways it makes it worse—because you’ve robbed her of the opportunity to give from the heart.

To this observation I would only add that it violates that one of our baptismal vows which includes [emphasis added]:

…to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being.

From which violation of a freely taken vow I would infer that, although it may be charity, it is explicitly NOT Christian! It violates the dignity of your fellow citizen by compelling fulfillment of the priorities that you perceive as important (whether self-generated or given by the Holy Spirit), at the expense of depriving your fellow citizen of responding to those priorities they perceive as important (however received). Does God give you resources and then compel you to use those resources in specific ways? I suggest that He does not, but rather that He lays specific burdens on your heart by means of the Holy Spirit, with respect to which He gives you the freedom to respond or ignore. To use the police power of the state to compel my neighbor to act charitably on the priorities that I believe require a giving response is arrogating to myself a prerogative which even God chooses not to exercise.

Blessings and regards,
Martial Artist

[15] Posted by Militaris Artifex on 11-27-2007 at 04:33 PM • top

Martial Artist says it well.  Another example of this forced type of “taxation” is the mandating of parishes to provide a financial support to 815 rather than to a mission need of their own choosing.

[16] Posted by Dante on 11-27-2007 at 04:46 PM • top

Yes, YES, YES!!!!!! This letter describes exactly how things were when I served a term as Diocesan Trustee in Minnesota a few years ago.  It seems that there is always one poor soul who ends up bucking the crowd, asking for information, blocking inappropriate allocations of funds, and so forth.  It is generally exhausting, thankless work (trust me on this one. grin ) So—David:  THANK YOU for carrying the burden for two years.  Thank you for putting it down in such a helpful way. May this be one more thread in God’s marvelous reweaving of the church in this place!

[17] Posted by Anglicat on 11-27-2007 at 04:55 PM • top

This is a somewhat scary situation.  A lawyer resigning from a trustee’s position because he apparently cannot fulfill his fiduciary responsibility.

Mr. Johnson homed in on what I believe is a big problem, the lack of clergy and bishops wanting any effective lay leadership.  I am not a congregationalist by any means, but my experience with Anglicanism has been that the clergy and bishops rule with very little regard for the laity who pay their salaries, and do not really desire any strong lay leadership, especially when it is in conflict with what they want to do.  And just to make it perfectly clear, I am talking about lay leadership with sound biblical knowledge, orthodox theology and the ability to apply this knowledge to church situations. To summarize, there is a dearth of mutual accountability and “speaking the truth in love.”

Can anyone tell me if there are any Anglican bodies that have a healthy regard for a balance between clerical and lay leadership?  And another thing that is woefully lacking in almost every church I have seen is a robust, biblical process for identifying and resolving conflict - between laity, between laity and clergy, and between clergy; before it gets out of control.

[18] Posted by Daniel on 11-27-2007 at 05:01 PM • top

The report calls for transparency (11.2).  But from the tone in this letter, it doesn’t look like -Jelineck (or his staff) are willing to make things truly transparent.  And, if they take their management cues from the likes of -KJS, they aren’t likely to follow the directions from those below them in the “hierarchical” structure.  Those at the top are more educated and smarter anyway…right?  They know better how to use the money than those who gave it…right?  Just shut up and write the check is what they are telling the good people of MN.

Having served on a diocesan investment committee in this same province, (where Midwest - extremely practical people have extremely high expectations of how their stewardship is managed and used - no matter how small or large), this letter is going to DECIMATE giving to the Diocese of MN, particularly the giving of funds/property/etc. to endowment funds and long-range giving (called for in the Mission Strategy report 11.2.1, 11.4.2 and 11.4.3).  It might have even farther reaching impact at the parish level where people refuse to give to the parish knowing that the diocese is going to get part of it.

People here aren’t looking for a simple way to get a tax deduction when they give.  And, they won’t give to entities who arrogantly refuse to provide results transparent to everyone.  So, why is there no transparency?  Probably so -Jelinek can fund pet projects.  Float building for the MN “Pride” parade anyone?

[19] Posted by midwestnorwegian on 11-27-2007 at 05:16 PM • top

I am glad he resigned his position as trustee.  Making decisions based on lack of information could open him to lawsuits down the road by people who find out that trust funds were being misused by the diocese.  Being kept in the dark about matters you have responsibility over is down right scary and I would not long suffer such a situation.

[20] Posted by David+ on 11-27-2007 at 05:39 PM • top

Prophet Micaiah, Generally church insurance policies include “E & O” as part of the total package (Errors & Omissions Coverage.)  Possibly, Mr. Johnson’s open letter could be construed as putting into place the means of defending against any E & O claim. Documentation is everthing.

[21] Posted by loonpond on 11-27-2007 at 08:18 PM • top

I have seen non-profit boards think they were covered by E&O;only to find later that the administration “neglected” to purchase it in the insurance package to save money.  Trust but verify…. as well as document out the Kazoooo.A

[22] Posted by PROPHET MICAIAH on 11-27-2007 at 10:45 PM • top

Speaking of trust funds, VOL has an interesting interview with Bishop Wantland, retired bishop of Oklahoma on his site.  According to the bishop the Episcopal Church has at least 200,000,000.00 dollars tucked away. Such a huge number makes the cost of litigation seem like a drop in the bucket for them…...makes the congregations vs. TEC look like a modern day David and Goliath event.
Bishop Wantland is one of those bishops who has asked for transparency relative to the TEC’s litigation spending.

[23] Posted by Petra on 11-28-2007 at 07:23 AM • top

There is only one reason not to be transparent - if you are hiding something.  We must demand transparency from the church.  Period.  Otherwise there is too much temptation.

[24] Posted by B. Hunter on 12-03-2007 at 03:44 PM • top

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