As one of the Co-Convenor’s of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus, I spent some time this weekend working with the Board to craft a statement regarding the controversy between the Episcopal Church Women/UTO and staff at the Episcopal Church Center, often referred to as 815 (as in 815 2nd Avenue, NYC). Then, below you will find a link to the UTO blog 125 which contains many links and articles offering background.
Statement from the Episcopal Women’s Caucus regarding the present difficulties concerning the United Thank Offering (UTO):
We live as members of the Body of Christ in a time of low trust and excessive speculation where even those of good will find themselves too frequently at odds. In the current resignation of four UTO Board members to protest the process of establishing new bylaws and a changed relationship with The Episcopal Church office (DFMS), we once again see these factors at work, undermining the Church’s witness to God’s transforming love. The gap between the story each side tells of how the stalemate came to be is itself evidence of the general failure of relationships within the Body of Christ.
As members of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus Board, we have long been advocates for the work of women, both lay and ordained, within the Body of Christ. It is therefore with great sadness that we watch this controversy unfold — a controversy which is subverting the important work of God’s mission. Those ubiquitous, little Blue UTO Boxes have been the means by which the laity (primarily women but also men and children) have participated in a powerful eucharistic act of transforming ordinary thanksgivings into tangible relief from suffering and for the work of mission.
It is our most fervent prayer that those in positions of leadership within the formal structures of The Episcopal Church will rise to the challenge of working to restore relationships which have been broken, regardless of where blame may lie for misunderstanding. We appreciate that changing secular legal climates — as well as the need for the Church to adapt its structures to continue proclaiming the Good News in a rapidly-changing world — may necessitate changes in how relationships are structured and memorialized.
We also see the incontrovertible evidence of the work UTO has done, of its own ability to adapt to a variety of changes in its 125-year history. The women who have voluntarily undertaken and shepherded this work are capable of continuing to do so to the Glory of God and to the benefit of those who receive their grants in the 21st century, as they have in the preceding centuries. We are particularly mindful and concerned that this situation seems to represent one more instance in which the formal structures supporting ministry by and for women are in danger of being undermined.
A Church flexible for mission in the 21st century is a Church that is not wedded to formal structures or weighed down by centralized bureaucracies. It is a Church which fosters and collaborates with emerging structures, empowering indigenous leaders to use their gifts in new and creative ways. The Episcopal Church Women and members of the UTO Board have both demonstrated their wisdom and capacity for indigenous, creative leadership. Good faith collaboration in shaping the contours of a mutually-interdependent relationship requires a responsive awareness of power differences. To be credible and to foster the level of trust that bears fruit in ministry, those with formal institutional power may need to accept the wisdom and experience of those without formal institutional power. The alternative risks the institution they serve becoming increasingly irrelevant and unable to participate meaningfully in God’s ongoing work of reconciliation.
Here is a link to the UTO blog with many more articles. The most recent post is an invitation to sign a petition. I have not signed it because, while I support a reconciliation to this controversy that enables UTO to continue leading this ministry, I do not support all of the “demands” made in the petition. For example, calling back the Board Members who resigned in protest is probably not the best idea. Although I trust they were good leaders it seems that conflict of this nature requires new leadership to navigate the road to reconciliation.