Thursday, July 23, 2009

After General Convention: Working Together on Health Care

Well, here I am at home again, recovering from General Convention. I say “recovering” advisedly: while there were breaks for meals, my days frequently began at 6:00 a.m. and before and ended sometime after midnight. Yes, it was worth it, but it was a marathon. I managed to serve as a deputy, including reporting for my diocesan web site; to network on chaplaincy issues on behalf of AEHC; and to write for my own blog and Episcopal Café.

What will I remember about General Convention? Many things. There were wonderful daily Eucharists, with words and music and images from the many cultures within the Episcopal Church. There was the pleasure of meeting colleagues from Episcopal Life and others whose words I have read. There were the Disneyland fireworks, visible every night from the suite where my diocesan deputation gathered for breakfast and lunch. There was that one exorbitant supper that was worth the $60 it cost. And, of course, it wouldn’t be General Convention if there weren’t a protester outside telling us that we’re all destined to Hell.

Others have already written about the two resolutions, D025 on ministry and the Anglican Communion, and C056 on blessings for glbt couples, that got attention from the press. While I certainly have opinions about what we were doing in passing those resolutions, I’ll probably let others take point on those. I will also be writing about the healthcare related resolutions, two of which I had a hand in.

However, as I have done before, I want to focus on something important that I think others will overlook. During General Convention there were a number of events – literally, distinct periods of time – that were emotionally intense. I have already written about three of them: the first hour of listening about D025; the actual debate about D025; and the debate about C056. There was another: the introduction of the Triennial Budget. When it was presented we were confronted with a crisis. Before General Convention the Program, Budget, and Finance Committee had reviewed their expectations of income for the next three years. Between the general crisis in the economy and the specific issues facing dioceses and congregations, they decided to reduce their expectations and to make the consequent changes.

One of the issues they faced was the number of dioceses that do not pay their full assessment each year. One deputy suggested that whenever one of us spoke in the full House we should each begin by announcing the percentage paid by each diocese, up to the full 21%; and that our opinions should be taken seriously in proportion to our diocesan contribution to the national Budget. While we didn’t all do that, some did – including a few who admitted some appallingly low percentages – and it brought home one problem we have as a Church in supporting our ministries. In response the Committee actually lowered the assessment percentages for the next Triennium, in hope that with lower expectations more dioceses might rise to them.

There were some difficult, even tragic decisions. Some thirty-plus positions have been cut – thirty-plus people who will be joining the unemployed. That thought left me somewhat ambivalent: some of the positions represented ministries we would consider important. At the same time, while I’m not happy when anyone loses a job, I’m also aware of how many positions my hospital has cut. We have difficult decisions to make in difficult times, and it would not make moral sense to exclude the Episcopal Church Center.

The statement from Program, Budget, and Finance was that these important ministries would no longer be coordinated from the top. Instead, they could be approached through the peer sharing and the development of networks. There’s a lot to be said for this approach. While good leadership from the top can offer a clearinghouse function and stimulate creativity, poor leadership at the top and laziness in the field can stifle creativity and lose valuable ideas. Decentralized leadership can offer opportunities for experimentation and adaptation to local needs. Sharing those ideas can be valuable for colleagues with similar circumstances.

I believe this is a unique opportunity for the chaplains and others in health care in the Episcopal Church. There are two structures already available to contribute to any networking on health care issues. The first and best established is the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains (AEHC; link to your left). While the organizational title speaks specifically of chaplains, we are actually a broader organization with opportunities for bishops and healthcare administrators to be members. Indeed, our original name as the Assembly of Episcopal Hospitals and Chaplains, and there might be reason to return to that.

The second is the developing network of Episcopal healthcare institutions as a part of the Anglican Health Network. I wrote about the first meeting of this group in the United States in January. Since then connections have been made across the Communion, and the Anglican Health Network has been officially recognized by the Anglican Consultative Council. This new network, with support from a number of Episcopal dioceses and institutions, and with some significant energy behind it, could also contribute to networking within the Episcopal Church.

So, resources are there. We need to begin the communication, the reaching out, that can bring networks together. We can look for some models. There are networks of Christian educators and of ecumenical officers already in place. But we need to begin soon. The business of the Church is mission; and health and healing have a well established place as ministries in that mission. We can do a lot together, with perhaps a little help at the national level in finding each other. We can do a lot together, once we can get together.


Matthew Ellis said...

One other network that can facilitate health care and related discussions is National Episcopal Health Ministries (NEHM). As Executive Director, I've been fortunate to participate in the planning group for the Anglican Health Network mentioned in this post. It's an exciting project, and I'm honored to be involved with it.

One thing NEHM can do to help participate in these discussions is connect people to others in their area who are doing health ministry. In the coming months, NEHM will have a restructured website that will hopefully better facilitate this work.

Thanks for all your work in this area, Marshall. It was good to see you again at GC!

Matthew Ellis

Marshall Scott said...


Of course you are right; which is why I included NEHM in the text of D011 as resources o n issues of futility and care at the end of life. In fact, I was really sorry that the reference to health literacy was removed from the resolution commending NEHM, because I believe that's a need that parish nurses and health ministers supported by NEHM are especially well suited to address. I apologize for not mentioning it in the post.

Good to see you in Anaheim, too. Now, if we can only get the next meeting of the Episcopal Health Network, which is what we might call the local expression of the Anglican Health Network, scheduled....