Presiding Bishop updates staff on independent investigation

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop and Primate Michael Curry today addressed the staff of The Episcopal Church and provided the following update about the independent investigation he called for after placing three members of senior management on administrative leave in December.


As you know on December 9, 2015 I placed Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer, Mr. Sam McDonald, Deputy Chief Operating Officer and Director of Mission, and Mr. Alex Baumgarten, Director of Public Engagement and Mission Communications, on Administrative Leave pending an investigation into formal complaints and allegations of potential violations of personnel policies of the DFMS, received from multiple members of the staff of the Presiding Bishop.

At my request, the firm of Curley, Hessinger & Johnsrud conducted an independent investigation into these complaints and allegations. In calling for an independent, external investigation, I presumed neither guilt nor innocence, but committed only to a search for the truth. That search for the truth required a thorough and comprehensive investigation. The investigators met with or had phone conversations with over 40 different persons, including the three individuals named in the complaints, and reviewed thousands of pages of documents. The Episcopal Church offered no constraints nor influence on the investigation, and the confidences shared with the in-dependent investigators have been safeguarded.

The actions that I am taking are based on the facts determined and findings reached by that independent investigation.

Findings and Action

Our task as staff is to serve The Episcopal Church in such a way that it can serve the world in the Name and in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. We are therefore all called to strive for and adhere to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct embodying the love of God and reflecting the teachings and the way of Jesus.

I am saddened that the investigation has concluded that two staff members violated these standards. Specifically, Sam McDonald and Alex Baumgarten were found to have violated established workplace policies and to have failed to live up to the Church’s standards of personal conduct in their relationships with employees, which contributed to a workplace environment often inconsistent with the values and expectations of The Episcopal Church. Both are therefore immediately terminated.

The investigation concluded that Bishop Stacy Sauls did not violate workplace policy, was unaware of the policy violations of the two staff members reporting to him, and operated within the scope of his office. No further investigation is warranted. Nevertheless, given the needs for staff leadership in light of my priorities for the direction of the Church, Bishop Sauls will not continue as Chief Operating Officer of the DFMS. Conversations are underway to implement this decision.

Going Forward

With the independent investigation behind us, I want to say something about how we will go forward from here.

We have healing to do. Trust must be rebuilt. Unhelpful patterns of behavior need to be replaced with new ways of working together. This will not happen overnight. Nonetheless, it will be rewarding. We will all need to be open to feedback – myself included. We will all need to imagine a better working environment and be willing to change to make things better.

a. HR audit and procedural review of all safeguards systems

Going forward, I am committed to ensuring that concerns about workplace misconduct and other kinds of complaints or conflicts are addressed effectively, early, efficiently and on the lowest level possible. To that end, I am in the process of engaging an expert in this field to conduct an independent Human Resources audit and procedural review of all of our workplace system safeguards and functions, with a particular attention to providing and maintaining a safe and healthy workplace environment for all. At the conclusion of this audit and review, we will conduct substantive retraining for the entire Episcopal Church staff.

We have been and will continue to pray for all those impacted by this situation, and we are providing or will provide direct pastoral support to those individuals who desire it.

b. Work toward a healthy culture

It is clear to me that the real and more important work we must do together going forward is not primarily organizational and structural, but deeply cultural and spiritual. Toward that end we have retained a firm named Human Synergistics. They come highly recommended by people whose wisdom and judgment I have great confidence in, and they bring extensive experience and the capacity to help us address concerns about the culture of the staff and our system that have now come to the fore in part because of this situation. They have done great work helping the Diocese of Chicago and many other organizations understand their culture and move quickly into healthier cultural patterns. In the near future, every member of staff will be asked to participate in a series of surveys about the culture we have now and how, together, we can move it in a healthier direction. I ask for your courage as we do this. We will need to work together to recognize and change old patterns of behavior which are not helpful, to imagine new possibilities for our work environment, and ultimately to claim the high calling of serving God by serving the people of God known as The Episcopal Church in the work of serving and witnessing to the way of Jesus of Nazareth which is the way of the very love of God.

c. Operations in the meantime

In practical terms, we will continue in the structure we have used since early December as we adapt into ever more effective structures to meet the needs of the church in the future.

The leadership team will continue to include myself, Chief Financial Officer Kurt Barnes, and Canons Charles “Chuck” Robertson, Michael Hunn and Stephanie Spellers. We will be working with you on creating a responsive and collaborative leadership environment. We will give you more information about what will happen with the canonically described COO position in due course.

The Mission Department team leaders will continue to meet weekly with the Canons to coordinate the ministry of that department. I will join those meetings every 4 to 6 weeks so I can be more closely connected to those ministries.

Canon Robertson, with the help of the Reverend Mark Stevenson, will continue to guide the Office of Government Relations and its work of public policy advocacy for a more just and humane national and global community. We will be working on determining the shape of leadership needed for the long term.

Canon Hunn will continue to guide the Communications Department while we reimagine how the communications department can help the church do evangelism by telling the good news through every medium from Twitter to print to YouTube. Ultimately we will hire a new Director of Communications once we determine the kind of person we need to lead us into the future.

Canon Spellers will continue to guide and partner with leaders on Evangelism, Reconciliation, Church Planting, and Ethnic Ministries. We will work together to reimagine how that work is best structured and how evangelism and communications are seamlessly connected.

Conclusion

In spite of the stress and difficulty of the last few months you have continued to do our work faithfully. I am so deeply thankful for that and honored and blessed to serve our Lord with you.

Our task as staff is to serve The Episcopal Church in such a way that it can serve the world in the Name and in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Our commitment to taking our place as part of the Jesus Movement in the world, our commitment to the work of evangelism, our commitment to the work of racial reconciliation is directly tied to this. And I am unswerving in my commitment to that.

While I did not anticipate this situation as the first major challenge of my tenure as Presiding Bishop, I am likewise unswerving in my commitment to each of you that we will work together to have a workplace that reflects the love of God and the teachings of Jesus. We will work together to have a workplace that really does look something like the dream that God intends for us all and the whole world.

God love you. God bless you.

+Michael

The Most Rev. Michael Curry
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Comments

  1. Victoria T. Hatch(The Rev'd Canon) says:

    Thank you Bp Curry for your leadership in this difficult process.

  2. susan zimmerman says:

    …the reason for their termination?

    …the paraphrase re Syngistics? “… They have done great work helping the Diocese of Chicago and many other organizations understand their culture and move quickly into healthier cultural patterns…” This scared me…the Chicago Diocese (some have said Bishop Lee) has voted people out of their church, with no reason given. At age 65, looking back 40 years I recall my very good friend Canon Henri Stines, Trinity Church, telling me, “…Chicago only has one agenda…and stay away from the Diocesan center…” Guess the agenda?

  3. Walter Bryan says:

    Stay the course Bp Curry and the blessings of God will always be with you.

  4. Christina Thom says:

    It is a good feeling to have a national church that is willing to stand up and walk the walk. The church as a whole needs to know that going to the leadership of the church will mean something will happen. I will pray for other people who have to relearn how to interact with each other.

  5. Vicki Gray says:

    Thank you, Michael, for clearing the air and breathing in the Spirit, We look forward to moving forward with you and all our brothers and sisters in the Jesus Movement.

  6. I give thanks for Your Grace’s leadership and commitment. We will continue to pray for your work and trust in bringing the love of Christ to a fractured world.

  7. Good for you, sounds like a sane and healthy response, and it also sounds like you’re making sure you don’t get your own leadership sucked down into the mire of a negative situation. I’d be curious about the resources you use to examine the culture and spirituality of the workplace — as the Church is changing so extensively, we could probably all use a second look at that. Finally I’m excited about the new direction for Communications, and look forward very much to ECUSA’s leadership, training and resourcing on new forms of evangelism and creating online communities.

  8. Julie Dean Larsen says:

    Thank you Most Reverend Curry, for seeing where most would not look, for acting when many would avoid a decision, and for your care and wisdom throughout. Your leadership is a model for us all. My prayer is for the healing you have invoked.

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