Collegiality Prevails Despite COO Drama

Two council members were accompanied by legislative assistants, both of whom addressed the council at random times. At left is Louisa McKellaston of the Diocese of Chicago, with her daughter Max; at right is Sarah Stonesifer Boylan of the Diocese of Washington and her son "Red," whose full name is too long to fit in a caption. Both little ones are about four months old, with Red being the elder by a couple of weeks. | Kirk Petersen photo

By Kirk Petersen

The Executive Council concluded a four-day meeting in San Francisco on February 12 after members of the legislative body made it clear that they intend to play a newly active role in the governance of the Episcopal Church.

Jane Cisluycis

As previously reported, the council voted 26 to 13 on its first day to affirm the appointment of Jane Cisluycis as acting chief operating officer. It was the first time in memory that anything close to a third of the council dissented on any vote.

Before the vote was announced, Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry reminded the council members that “this is not the House of Representatives,” and urged them to maintain collegiality and “stay in sacred space.” The meeting continued without any hint of acrimony.

“I actually think it’s a sign of tremendous health in the body that we had a non-unanimous vote,” said Liza Anderson, council member from the Diocese of Minnesota. “We’ve had a tendency to approve most things unanimously on Executive Council, and most decisions are rarely truly unanimous, but people in the minority don’t feel like their voice will make a difference. … I think it’s actually a sign of our trust in one another and the strength of the relationships that we can say what we truly think, and disagree about something, and trust that our relationships will withstand that.” She declined to say which way she had voted.

Because it involves a personnel matter, the resolution was debated behind closed doors before the vote was taken by electronic means in open session. Most of the council members approached were unwilling to discuss the debate, but two members said the opposition centered on a belief that Cisluycis is not sufficiently qualified for the $200,000 job.

A news release announcing the appointment addressed the issue of qualifications briefly: “In addition to decades of operations and facilities experience at the diocesan level, Cisluycis served from 2018-2022 as chair of Executive Council’s Joint Standing Committee for Governance and Operations, which involved, among many other challenges, navigating the churchwide implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Cisluycis is canon to the ordinary for operations (essentially the chief of staff) for the Diocese of Northern Michigan, one of the smallest dioceses in the church. She has worked for the diocese since 1996.  As chair of Governance and Operations, she worked closely with the two people who selected her for her new role: Curry and President of the House of Deputies Julia Ayala Harris.

Curry, Ayala Harris, and Cisluycis all declined to comment, according to Public Affairs Officer Amanda Skofstad. She said a starting date for the position has not been determined.

The chief operating officer oversees communications, human resources, information technology, property management, and general operations — about 20 to 25 people, according to the staff directory on the church website. He or she is an ex officio member of the Executive Council.

The Rev. Deacon Geoffrey Smith, who retired as chief operating officer in 2022, was hired in 2016 after serving as director of risk management for one of the largest privately held corporations in the country, C&S Wholesale Grocers, based in Keene, New Hampshire. He has an MBA in finance from DePaul University. Cisluycis has a bachelor’s in communications from Northern Michigan University.

Aside from the COO drama, it was a largely uneventful four-day meeting, and included team-building exercises and discussions of ongoing priorities, including racial justice, climate change, and sexual abuse.

The council established a committee to “develop prayers and liturgies of healing transformation for those who were sexually abused, or have been traumatized by misuse of power, in Episcopal churches and institutions.” The recommendation came from the committee on Mission Within the Episcopal Church, and committee chair Sarah Stonesifer Boylan of the Diocese of Washington said it was “a much-needed next step in addressing our historic silence on power imbalances and misconduct.”

On recommendation from the Finance committee, the council authorized $125,000 toward the hiring of an additional employee for the office of pastoral development. Finance chair Andrea McKellar of the Diocese of South Carolina said that office has multiple responsibilities that are not necessarily in harmony with each other. The office, headed by Bishop Todd Ousley, oversees bishop searches and is responsible for pastoral care for bishops as well as Title IV disciplinary actions. McKellar said the request had been made for $250,000, but the committee said that any funding beyond $125,000 (which is sufficient only for a part-time position) should come from cuts made elsewhere in the presiding bishop’s budget.

LGBTQ Forced Migration

Sarah Shipman, director of operations for Episcopal Migration Ministries, briefed a council committee on EMM’s efforts to assess the special needs and challenges of forced migrants who identify as LGBTQ, in response to Resolution D045 at the 2022 General Convention.

“There are at least 67 UN member nations member states that criminalize same-sex relations. Five of those actually impose the death penalty,” she said. LGBTQ persons who flee their homes because of persecution “have problems seeking asylum when they get to the United States, in part because they have spent so much time having to hide their identity, that it is difficult for them to establish their persecution for that identity.”

EMM is seeking to establish partnerships with 10 to 20 interested congregations, dioceses, or other organizations, and has launched a Rainbow Initiative to bring visibility to the issue. An online survey related to the initiative will be open until February 20.

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