I've gone through and done a first read of the document. Not only am I interested in it having previously written about TREC here and here, I am also an Alternate Clerical Deputy from the Diocese of Western Michigan (like, fourth alternate, I think, which means that my opinions will likely remain on this blog and not wind up on the floor anytime soon). Nonetheless, this is a really important process and is right up the alley of the sort of church stuff I enjoy, so I offer you my initial reflections. (Confession: I may have skimmed the specific resolutions in pages 53–73, trusting that the summary of the resolutions is accurate).
I would note that I am choosing to offer my reactions below without having read ANYONE's thoughts thus far. So, this is one hundred percent my own thoughts. I reserve the right to read what others say and have my mind changed down the road... I've chosen this way not because I don't value the opinions of others who understand much of this better than I (trust me, I've got a list of blogs I am going to right after I hit publish on this), but because I wanted to try at first to give it a charitable and unbiased first reading. That said...
Generally I find the prolegomena to reports like this a bit... unnecessary. Just tell us what do do! However, in the case of TREC's report, the introductory pieces are all really helpful. They acknowledge that structural change is not enough for the change we need in the church—including at the local level.
|Lego Jesus sends out the Lego 70|
But, seriously, the call to the church at the beginning to (1) follow Jesus together, to go (2) into the neighborhood as agents of God's peacemaking and healing in our local context, and to (3) travel lightly... these are all good points for us to be called to as we consider what structure best makes sense for the church. After all, the way we structure ourselves is the way we choose to organize for doing the ministry of Christ in the world today.
THE THREE IMMEDIATE RESOLUTIONS
A0001 - Restructure for a Spiritual Encounter
By the title this one sounds rather promising. It calls seminaries to collaborate on a process that will create new structures, curricula, agrees, partnerships... etc. It's a bold call and has some clear points on it. It also calls for exploration of clergy compensation, an analysis of the current pension system, and a rather vague "development of a network...." I'll admit, I had to read that last "development of a network" resolve about eight times before I understood it.
I'm still not sure I do.
Thankfully, there are other things in the resolution tot all about.
With regard to seminaries, I think the call for new degrees makes sense. I'm the chair of the Commission on Ministry (COM) for our diocese and we've been working hard on creating a program of formation for deacons that makes sense and forms them into the deacons our bishop and community in the diocese is trying to raise up. I've several times wished there was some basic "deacon degree" that had a set of standards agreed upon across the church that we could use for forming deacons. I think they are correct elsewhere in this section where they note the canonical competencies are woefully insufficient for understanding and articulating what a well-formed deacon or priest might look like.
Sewanee, where I did my S.T.M. and where I am currently finishing my D.Min., has created two new D.Min. degrees, one with a focus on Preaching and one on Liturgy. More movement in that direction would be great. I'd love to see specific foci in Church Planting, or Revitalization, or Ethnic Diversity.
The M.Div., however, is still an idea I generally support. The residential, three-year, Master of Divinity at an Episcopal seminary remains the preferred form of formation in our COM. I am in favor of the idea that there is one generalized degree (that absolutely could be restructured from its current implication), but still one generalized degree that seeks to give people the basic formation needed for priestly ministry.
The fear is that talk of change in formation will result in two possible realities: (1) priests that have not had the rigorous training necessary to serve faithfully and well as a priest and, more importantly, (2) the removal of the "in community" formation fostered by a residential seminary.
But beyond on all that, particularly tricky for this resolution is just how all this is going to be measured. You want to "look beyond competency," but what does that mean? Do we get rid of the academic competencies in the canons that (in theory) are measured by the General Ordination Exams? Do we make more competencies? Is competencies the wrong language?
This Resolution would call on the seminaries to figure all this out, but therein will lie the rub. Because, the real difficulty with the seminary portion of this resolution will be actually getting the seminaries (all of which are independent of each other, usually in competition) to work together on this. It could happen, but it will take convincing.
With regard to Clergy Compensation, I'm an unpopular guy on this one because I think the current paradigm of what we need more of is (a) not new anymore and (b) is very likely a failed experiment.
Everyone has been saying for years that bivocational clergy is the future (in TREC's language, "diverse ways for ordained clergy to make a living inside and outside the Church"). While I do think bivocational clergy (and those in yoked parishes) will continue to be present in the church, I am not convinced this is the best direction for us to continue to go as a church.
TREC, for some reason, seems to expect it as a given (on page 43, when they list the explanation that goes with the resolution, they say very clearly, "Newer clergy cannot assume that they will be able to make a sustainable living in the Church. Instead, they must have many skills they can use in both church and secular environments.")
|Justin Barringer, a friend of mine,|
who was one of the key subjects
of the article—and who has a beard
I can only aspire to emulate someday.
Rather that what they propose, I would argue that what is first needed is an evaluation of whether or not the bivocational and yoked models actually work. We have enough places that have done it in enough areas that a study shouldn't be that hard.
What would we find?
Do churches with bivocational clergy, in general, thrive and grow? Do the clergy find the work fulfilling?
Or, do these models simply enable small insular communities to continue doing things as they always have done them (we got a priest to say mass on Sundays, no need to change anything else about us to bring people in!)? Do these models lead to greater rates of clergy burnout and fatigue since the expectations are always there that, at the end of the day, you are their priest no matter the hours articulated in the Letter of Agreement. I have friends and colleagues who have served and are serving in these situations... their reports on the experience have been far from glowing.
To wit, this is not bold thinking, it is the same tired thinking that has led to continued decline in the Episcopal Church over the past several decades. We don't need more support for this model. We need for the model to be evaluated, perhaps by a task force appointed by Executive Council (EC), and then determined if it can be saved or if it needs to be thrown out.
The Pension Study is fine, but I doubt will lead to many changes. And, as I said, I'm not terribly sure what the Network Development paragraph is even suggesting.
Verdict? Amend the second resolved to evaluate rather than support the system.
A002 – Reimagine Governance Structures
OK, to be honest, this was where I decided I wanted to write something. If nothing else, I wanted to add a resounding "Yay!" to this whole section of the document, particularly the move to a unicameral convention.
|Speaking of better bishops, we|
need to find out why our dioceses
are not electing the clearly called
women who are knocking at the door.
OK, if that's the case, then we need better bishops.
The call to mutual ministry reviews at all levels and especially the call to create a task force on the episcopacy are great ideas that hopefully will help this resolution move forward. I doubt the episcopacy needs to be reimagined. What I find much more likely is that the ancient role of the episkopos needs to be reclaimed and reasserted.
The lowering of the diocesan assessment I am comfortable with only if it will indeed be made canonically mandatory (with means for pastoral exception). This is a long overdue change and also something that will be vigorously fought against some dioceses that are fundamentally opposed to paying more than a meager portion of their assessment.
To those dioceses, I say with all gentleness and love... If you are a part of us, you have to pay what we have all agreed we need everyone to pay to do the ministry we all share as a church.
I hope this goes forward.
The specific way the unicameral house is created is rather clever. It still allows provision for any order to choose to deliberate or vote separately. It only allows bishops in active service to have a voice and vote in GC and "the Order of Bishops." This changes the current system (long unpopular with bishops but favored by deputies who know our retired bishops are much more diverse than our current bishops), of having retired bishops still retain voice and vote. It also enables a continuation of some form of the current House of Bishops, though now renamed as the Order of Bishops or, as described elsewhere in the document, a "Convocation of Bishops."
The Unicameral House will now elect the Presiding Bishop (PB). In the current process, just the bishops electing and the clergy/lay deputies concurring). This is a fantastic change. The PB must be elected by a majority of all orders (the same way a diocesan bishop is elected) and will serve as the co-chair of GC. (More on the PB in the section on canonical changes below.)
The unicameral house will contain less deputies, now three clergy and three laity (instead of four of each). It also enables GC later to decide that two in each order is sufficient through a change in canon rather than requiring another change in constitutions. This is a streamlining move which is wise.
All of these are points I wholeheartedly support and seem to be the way forward.
Verdict? Pass and don't change a thing.
A003 – Restructure Assets in Service of God’s Mission in the Future
This is an interesting resolution to me, not one I saw coming. On first read it strikes you as the sort of thing that is rather small potatoes when compared to what has gone before. But in reality, I think it might have the power for the most "on the ground" change.
We absolutely need to re-understand sacred space and how we use it. There is tremendous possibility for making our space more effective for ministries of justice and healing in our local communities. The meat in this one will be what kind of a resource the task force on this can create. Saying in a resolution that we should do something very rarely goes very far without someone telling us the whys and hows of getting it done.
The final resolved in this section is also long overdue. I actually proposed a resolution at our last Diocesan Convention trying to get a rule created for endowment spending policies. In the end, after feedback from my colleagues, I made a motion to refer it to our Diocesan Council for further work with the language. I do think that we need clearly articulated policies for how endowments can and cannot be spent in this church. Controversy around this only lowers peoples' willingness and sense of call to participate in giving to endowments.
Verdict? Pass it, but don't be surprised if it turns out to anger people when you try to use the buildings for something else or tell a church they're using their endowment wrong.
CHANGES TO CONSTITUTION AND CANONS
This section is also full of great stuff. In particular, the call to "evolve and focus the scope of our Church-wide agenda" and to turn that to a focus on "local faith formation and local mission" sounds fantastic. To wit, less resolutions about climate change and more work helping local churches make decisions that actually would impact climate change. That sort of thing is greatly needed and will clean up much of the extra legislative work of GC.
I already noted the change in the election of the PB. There is also now a "Presiding Deputy" (or PD) elected by the lay and clergy orders (strangely, bishops are not given a role and no reason is given for that). The new PD would now receive a stipend so that a greater number of lay and ordained deputies could serve as viable candidates. This is wise thinking.
Interestingly, the PB and PD would alternate presiding at sessions of GC—excellent way of making it clear that the PD is indeed a presiding person in a presiding role.
The only thing I'm disappointed in about TREC's final report is that they do not suggest that the PB remain the bishop of her or his diocese (or be given a new diocese). Even the Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope have a diocese and it is rather nonsensical to have a Presiding Bishop who is not actually a bishop of any diocese. Clearly both he Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope have some pretty serious expectations as executives and leaders and don't see the need to divorce themselves from a diocesan relationship. What is keeping us from that?
The appointment of four officers (with the concurrence of the PD) in four specific areas is also a good idea. Once more, not a huge change from the current paradigm but a good clarification and one that gives EC authority, by two-thirds vote, to discharge any one of those four officers.
The creation of mutual ministry reviews among the PB, PD, and EC is another good idea that would hopefully create greater communication, transparency, and collegiality in work. In the section on rationale, they make clear that while giving the PB a clear role in directing the church-wide staff, they also do indeed expect a different type of accountability than we have seen in the past.
People will be suspicious and cynical about it being taken seriously, but that doesn't mean it cannot be taken seriously. The people in these roles will have the responsibility for making that decision. Not only do I agree with this but, once more, I think this will hopefully contribute to the likelihood of this passing.
Verdict? Don't freak out! Pass this and trust the Spirit's work in electing a PB!
EC is rather significantly changed by focusing it on its governance role. Over the years EC has at times sought a more operational model with varying degrees of success. I would suggest that when it moves into an operational roles that degree of success is generally rather... low. At the end of a day, a governing board (particularly of that size) simply cannot manage the operations of an organization. By clearly taking that off the EC plate (and clarifying that it is on the PB's plate), they are fixing this problem.
|Unfortunately there was nothing in TREC requiring altars|
used in Eucharist at EC gatherings to first be cleared of
extraneous paper or the random bottle of port...
but one cannot have it all, I suppose.
All of this section would enable Executive Council to function like a healthy board and as a healthy board. At the same time, they are not removing the relationship between EC and the staff at the church-wide office Instead, they are clear that "Church-wide mission staff will be measured and evaluated on specific objectives associated with specific priorities set and agreed to by the Executive Council." They are trying to balance this while still giving clearer roles as to who is responsible for what.
Verdict? Don't freak out! Pass this and know that a smaller EC with a more clearly defined role could actually be a much more powerful EC.
Excursus: The Fly in the Ointment
What's going to get TREC in this section is all the use of business and corporate language. In the appendix were they share the results of their listening process, structure and bureaucracy were highest in the list of things to get rid of. TREC has sought to couch this whole section by saying they are trying to get rid of current bureaucracy in order that we can function more effectively as a church. The business language will bite them in some corners—but it doesn't bother me in the least. I've always been a fan of taking the spoils of Egypt (insights from the business world about how organizations can function effectively, for example) for the use of God's people.
All the Standing Committees would be gone now, except for two: Liturgy & Music and Constitution & Canons. Originally they were only going to keep the ones on Nominations and Budget and Finance... which seemed a little strange to me. Keeping Liturgy & Music and renaming it "Theology, Liturgy, and Music" indicates that TREC has heard that our liturgy is central to our sense of identity (it is far and above the highest rated response in the area of what we should hold onto). I think TREC understands that our liturgy is the sort of thing that cannot merely be handled by a task force but that does indeed require the constant presence of a Standing Committee.
Keeping Constitution and Canons (now renamed "Governance, Constitution, and Canons") makes sense right now—when we are seeking to reimagine our Governance, Constitution, and Canons. The idea that it might need the constant presence and monitoring of a Standing Committee seems likely to me as well.
They are also clear that the elimination of many of the CCABs does not mean everything will now be handled by ad hoc task forces. Indeed, they think one of the problems is an over-reliance on those task forces (including their own, they say in a tone that almost merits a smiley face after the comment). They suggest moving much of that work to the church-wide office, with the hiring of "world-class consultants" instead to address and engage difficult questions.
In theory, this sounds good to me, but I'll be curious how well it will work in practice. It will certainly be a difficult concept to support with those who are sure that all the church-wide office does is throw money away. They will have to demonstrate that the results from consultants instead of task forces does indeed merit the investment. I think it can, myself.
Verdict? Go for it... but be open to the possibility that we made discover that there are Standing Committees we really do need.
None of us knew what we would see in the final TREC report. To be honest, I expected a lot more I would probably disagree with or, at the least, be suspicious of. In the end, I think this is a great report with recommendations I mostly agree with.
I am a bit worried, of course. What people have said all along is that though GC passed the resolution calling for the creation of TREC unanimously... once people see concrete changes proposed, that unanimity will likely fade. We've already seen that in many of the critical (and at times strangely hostile) responses to their work.
The Spirit is blowing... I just hope our General Convention won't close the windows to keep our favorite things from getting moved out of place.
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
N.B. ~ I've started reading other responses and am surprised that this is one where Crusty Old Dean and I have vastly different impressions. The most obvious being that he is feeling very cynical about any of this going forward whereas I am hopeful that this has a chance (maybe because I am young and naive.) Outside of cynicism and his arguments that pieces of it are poorly written (I didn't find it nearly as bad as he did), his fundamental disagreements seem primarily to be with the canonical and constitutional pieces not being properly put together. On that, I trust people with more canonical skills than my own can take these recommended amendments and ensure they effect the goals outlined in the TREC report. The fundamental changes they are trying to make in the report I absolutely still support as outlined above.