The Episcopal Church Center has a workplace culture marked by “fear, mistrust and resentment,” according to staff and directors who answered a survey in the wake of a misconduct scandal and two high-level firings.
In the survey, released Sept. 15 at the House of Bishops meeting in Detroit, employees said they face expectations to avoid confrontation, withhold input, and strive to make good impressions, rather than do what’s right. Another theme: staff find it difficult to maintain personal integrity while working for the national church.
“I’m not sure I found a sadder finding, except for the score on people not feeling that they were well-respected,” said the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies.
Consultants from Human Synergistics, a human resources firm, shared the results with bishops gathered for their fall meeting and with members of the House of Deputies, who tuned in via webcast. Presenters laid bare how the workplace culture at 815 Second Avenue in New York City is exactly opposite of the collaborative, constructive one the employees say they want.
“This is tough stuff,” said Tim Kuppler, director of culture and organization development at the consultancy. “These are the things standing in the way of accomplishing what we’re talking about with the Jesus Movement.”
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry brought in Human Synergistics after an independent, four-month investigation found misconduct by two senior administrators, Sam McDonald and Alex Baumgarten, had gone unaddressed before Bishop Curry took office on Nov. 1, 2015. McDonald and Baumgarten were fired in April, and the nature of the misconduct has not been disclosed.
In announcing the firings, Curry said the work ahead “is not primarily organizational and structural, but deeply cultural and spiritual.” The survey begins a retraining process that will include every employee of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.
Survey results pointed to dynamics in which misconduct and other misbehavior could fester. Staff said, for instance, that when they have concerns, they’re expected to keep those to themselves and not speak up.
For his part, Curry sought to reassure bishops and deputies that their church’s staff problems do not make it an outlier.
“The Episcopal Church is no different than any other church, all right? — so don’t get depressed,” Curry said. “Christianity is dysfunctional. That’s just the name of the game. I mean, it’s called being human. How do we get from where we are to where Jesus the Christ is actually calling us to be?”
Consultants also reassured church leaders that an organization’s culture can change. Staff, supervisors, and executives will be encouraged to adopt behaviors that show respect and help achieve the culture they say they want.
Resolving to do better has already begun. President Jennings said the officers — Curry, Jennings, General Convention Executive Secretary Michael Barlowe, and Treasurer Kurt Barnes — along with three canons to the presiding bishop have made a series of commitments to one another. Among the pledges: to make decisions by consensus.
“We have committed to one another and to those with whom we work to find healthy, productive, frankly non-threatening ways to deal with those times when we are in conflict or disagree with one another,” Jennings said. “Disagreement is one of the ways that we can experience resurrection and new life.”
Last spring, an independent audit found the Episcopal Church needs new policies and procedures in order to protect whistleblowers. In Thursday’s two-hour session, none of the speakers mentioned misconduct or how a reformed culture might include new whistleblowing safeguards.