September 12, 2013
In the last several days, many people in the church have expressed interest and concern about the United Thank Offering (UTO). I wanted to write directly to you to give you my perspective and ask for your thoughts.
First, some background as I understand it: Beginning this summer, a group of UTO board members and four people representing the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS), including a member of Executive Council, have been working to update UTO’s bylaws and memorandum of understanding (MOU) with DFMS and put standard business practices in place. This work builds on the work of a task force created by Executive Council in 2008 to strengthen the UTO for ministry in the 21st century (INC-055 Ad-Hoc Committee).
Like many of you, I was surprised and saddened to learn last week that four members of the existing UTO board have resigned their positions, at least in part because they were unhappy with the current version of the draft bylaws and MOU. It is clear from the statements and documents that have subsequently been released by both sides in the conflict that the situation is badly in need of reconciliation.
I believe that the original intent of this work was not to take authority or grantmaking decisions away from the UTO board, but rather to ensure that the United Thank Offering will continue its invaluable mission for years to come. Reasonable people can debate exactly how the balance of control over UTO funds should be shared among the volunteer UTO board, the Executive Council and the staff of the DFMS, but we all agree that UTO funds should be used only for their intended purpose: to make grants for mission work. However, as an officer of the DFMS who bears fiduciary responsibility for these funds, I believe that it is important to put some better business practices in place and delineate more clearly what powers both the UTO board and the DFMS possess and how they can best work together for the mission of the UTO.
Last Friday afternoon, Bishop Katharine released a statement about the ongoing conversations with the UTO, and I commend her statement to you. I agree with her assessment of the situation, and especially her reminder that, “The goal of all of this long work is to the continued existence and thriving of the ministry of the United Thank Offering.” I continue to be grateful for the strong working relationship that the Presiding Bishop and I have built, both on this issue and many others.
Unfortunately, both an unattributed summary of the situation and private correspondence between UTO board members and DFMS employees were also released on Friday. I had no prior knowledge of the planned release of these documents and I received them at the same time as the rest of the church. Had I been consulted, I would have voiced strenuous objection both to the tone and content of the unattributed summary and to the release of private correspondence without the consent of everyone involved. I am dismayed to be associated with this action by virtue of being mentioned in the unattributed summary.
What now? Some of the remaining members of the UTO board and those representing DFMS have resumed working on the draft bylaws and MOU, and it appears to be a positive engagement. Next month at Executive Council, the elected leaders of the church will be briefed, and depending on the status of these discussions, Council may need to consider additional ways forward to foster healing and reconciliation and to ensure that UTO is strengthened for the next 125 years of service. At that meeting, I will advocate for reconciliation and for a respectful, transparent outcome that is shaped and supported by the UTO board and Executive Council to ensure the continued vitality of the United Thank Offering.
I am also making a personal gift to the United Thank Offering today in gratitude for its 125 years of ministry and for the unstinting service of the laywomen who founded it and continue to lead it today. I invite you to join me by mailing your check to:
United Thank Offering
DFMS – Protestant Episcopal Church US
P.O. Box 958983
St. Louis, MO 63195-8983
Please also encourage congregations in your diocese to order United Thank Offering Blue Boxes online and hold ingatherings this fall and next spring.
Most of all, please pray for everyone struggling to discern the right path in this situation. As Episcopal Church Women President Nancy Crawford wrote last week, “I ask your prayers for those who administer to the needs of our church, and most especially for all the women of our church who strive daily to do the work God calls us to do in mission and ministry in the world, that we may shine forth the joy and wonder we share in God’s holy name.”
I hope that you will stay in touch with me as this situation unfolds and join me in praying for reconciliation and healing.
Gay Clark Jennings
President, House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church