Who's on First


Who's on First

The Very Rev. Dean Neal Michell writes about the process of being a deputy at General Convention and serving on a committee. Click on video camera icon to hear his report.


Bud Abbott and Lou Costello once performed a famous comedy routine, "Who's on First?" about a fictitious baseball team with players named such as "Who" (is the first baseman), "What" (at second base), and "I Don't Know" (at third). When Costello asks Abbott, "Who's on First?" Abbott replies, "Who's on first." Costello thinks it's a question and replies, "I don't know" to which Abbott replies, "He's on third." Costello: "Who's on third?" Abbott: "no, Who's on first" and so on.

Such is the plight of the first-time deputy on many committees, as well as even second- and third-time deputies. The organization of the Episcopal Church is so complex; resolutions before the Committee on World Mission are no exception.

One seemingly straightforward resolution that we are dealing with concerns the covenental agreements that we have with a number of diocese or provinces that were once part of TEC but now are not, for example, several Central American dioceses (IARCA"), the Philippines, Brazil, among others. As a part of the process of autonomy from TEC we have made different agreements--covenants--that were agreed to that are aimed at maintaining a relationship between TEC and the other partner in this post-separation relationship.

The resolution at hand calls for affiming these covenental relationships and asking that the covenental partners and TEC give reports to the Standing Commission on World Mission and the Executive Council Standing Committee on World Mission about the status of our individual churches and for TEC to affirm its financial commitments to these partners. This seems simple enough, but what the committee member needs to know to help perfect this legislation is enormous:

  • What kind of reporting did the original covenants call for?
  • How much financial support did the original covenant promise?
  • What is the difference between the Standing Commission on World Mission and the Executive Council Standing Committee on World Mission?
  • Who submitted this resolution, and what problem was this person or group attempting to address?

This is an awful lot of information for the first- or even fifth-time deputy to know and absorb in just a few days. In other words, "Who's on First?" And it can be just as confusing for informed deputies as the fictional baseball players' names were for Lou Costello.

Then, add to this information, the understanding that the task of the deputy on a committee is different from the deputy on the floor of convention. The role of the deputy in committee is to bring forth the best version of the resolution that will adequately bring this issue before the convention and in a form that it can be acted upon if passed.

In the case of the legislation at hand, we had to listen to--and ask questions of--the presenter, the liaison from Church Center ("815"), people on the Standing Comission on World Mission, Standing Committee of Executive Council, persons who were on the actual covenental committees, and members from the partner churches. Of course, several members on the convention World Mission Committee have invaluable knowledge, experience, and memory to bring to this issue. None of this arises out of a vacuum.

Then there is the layer of wording that can be perceived as offensive or disrespectful to persons responsible for carrying out this resolution. Legislation is not very good at managing relationships, but that is what is being asked through this sort of legislation.

At the end of the day, our Anglican Communion is about relationships. (This, of course, is true about life overall.) How does the legislation we present--and aim to pass--foster our relationships?

The scary part? To me, this is a fairly straightforward resolution, not particularly controversial, and will probably pass with little objection. It is nevertheless fraught with great possibilities of both good will and deep misunderstandings. It is the human face of the people testifying on this and other resolutions that I keep before me as I remind myself that we truly are on holy ground. And I should not take my responsibilities lightly but hold them precious and deftly, because this is the Body of Christ in relationship; and when one part suffers, the whole suffers as well.