Friday, February 28, 2014

Reimagining Structure and Equipping Mission, or, This Could Be Bigger Than You Think

The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) has released it's second study paper, this one on "Reforms to Church Wide Governance and Administration." It is much more substantive than the last paper and is already garnering some excellent responses (see Steve Pankey, Scott Gunn, and, of course, Crusty Old Dean.)

Though Care with the Cure rarely comments on the ongoings of Episcopal Church politics (which is odd, since this was the bread and butter of a lot of my old blog), this is one I do want to say a few words on. One reason is because I am an alternate to General Convention for the Diocese of Western Michigan (fourth alternate, if I'm not mistaken, which makes me almost entirely useless—perhaps a safe reality!). The other, larger reason is because governance and administration is one of the areas where I have particular interest.

Seriously, I was at a Lily gathering for new clergy a couple years ago and one of the opening mixers had people go to different areas of the room for the area of ministry which they enjoyed most. Over a hundred people scattered to areas for Mission, Preaching, Liturgy, Teaching... and I wound up with about five other people in the area for Administration.


Though this paper is quick to point out that changes to governance will not save the Episcopal Church (good to know), I think that the way in which a body chooses to govern itself and administer its business can say a tremendous amount about what it believes. Furthermore, inept or inefficient governance and administration can cripple the energy level and work of any organization.

I say this with the deepest humility, knowing full well that my first couple years as a rector were a steeper learning curve than I could have imagined. I know exist, administer, and lead in a remarkably different way than I used to... but I know with deep pain the way in which failings in wise governance and administration can quickly lead to such a focus on issues of governance and administration everything else goes out the window.

One more thing before I get to the meat of the TREC paper. One of the most fascinating things I learned from the late Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon was in a gathering with my fellow residents where we were talking about having worship or Bible Study at the beginning of an otherwise administrative-based meeting. She cautioned that this practice could lead to people thinking that the worship and spiritual stuff just happened at the beginning, before we got to administration. Instead, the whole meeting should be seen as a spiritual exercise. Worship before a meeting should clarify that reality—not obscure it.

So, governance and administration is spiritual work.

OK, that out of the way, let's talk about the paper itself.

First off, as COD has noted, the emphasis on the paper reveals the preconceptions and priorities of the working group. This is not necessarily bad or good—it just is. However...

Executive Council and Church Center Administration 
There is an immensely complex (for the average Episcopalian) three option approach given to the organization of Executive Council and the Presiding Bishop. All of the angst of who the Presiding Bishop is and should be, along with the role of Executive Council, is clearly poured into these options. The paper does an admirable job of acknowledging that TREC is not of one mind and trying to chart three possibilities—but the underlying agendas and claims of power-grabbing that resulted in these three options is a reality that needs to be grasped seriously.

This is particularly important because, in my experience, angst and anxiety ridden hand-wringing over the role of Executive Council and the Presiding Bishop is primarily the game of long-time GC deputies or people that have had a hand in leadership for some time... a lot of it simply boggles the mind of the average Episcopalian who rather likes our Presiding Bishop and wants the Executive Council to keep things moving in a healthy way.

Don't get me wrong, we've got to find a healthy and efficient structure for this work, but we might need to find ways to deflate some of the anxiety and invite less invested people into the conversation who could have fresh eyes. I'd be curious what a church wide poll of these three (or some other) options might reveal about the mind of our church on this question.

Option one (the longest in explanation) is a strong Executive Council and weakened Presiding Bishop's office, they suggest much of it is status quo, but it also creates a new CEO position that would take many of the current PB duties. Option two is a strengthened Presiding Bishop. Option three makes the Presiding Bishop once more a diocesan bishop with presidency and leadership (the way it used to be) and creates a new General Secretary, hired by Executive Council, who functions as the CEO.

What structure do I prefer? Option two. Hands down. Our church's historic fear of episcopal leadership (an ironic reality given that we are the Episcopal church) has confused me ever since I first walked in the doors ten years ago. Option one seems like a mess, it's too close to the overlapping jurisdictions and turf battles that currently characterize the state of things, but it gives even more authority to a board which would, I fear, muck it up even more. Option three seems like option two, only with us not having to have the General Secretary also be our Presiding Bishop.

What do we believe is the ministry of bishops, after all? In the catechism, it says,
The ministry of a bishop is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as apostle, chief priest, and pastor of a diocese; to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church; to proclaim the Word of God; to act in Christ’s name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church; and to ordain others to continue Christ’s ministry.
Bishops have a particular ministry of teaching. They are called to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the church. They are called to proclaim the gospel and to act in ways that will reconcile the world and build up the church of God. They are called to ordain.

All of those seem to be the duties we would want to have in a "CEO" or a  "General Secretary"... that is, assuming that as an organization we are committed to proclaiming the Gospel, strengthening the ministry of the baptized, and carrying on Christ's ministry of reconciliation.

If we believe that bishops have these gifts, if we believe that these gifts are strengthened and enabled by a particularly grace of the Holy Spirit given at ordination... then why wouldn't we want the Presiding Bishop to be the person who leads the organization of our church? Perhaps that would clarify that the organization actually is a church.

I do think, however, that the Presiding Bishop should be elected by the totality of General Convention instead of just the House of Bishops. This would, hopefully, further ensure that this person is truly called and empowered to be the Chief Pastor and Primate of the whole church.

Having dealt with part two first, now, with my cards laid on the table, it will be easier to talk about parts one and three.

General Convention Reforms 
In part one, the paper suggests several reforms to General Convention. Almost without fail I think every single one is a good idea. Yes, please limit resolutions so that the body of Convention is doing what the body needs to do for the rest of the church to do its work. Yes, make the focus a missionary convocation (just don't think that a legislative body cannot, by nature, be that).

Also, don't think that training and equipping three or four priests and lay people from every diocese will naturally result in training and equipping the rest of the priests and laity of a diocese. How much training at General Convention would actually trickle down into the life of the actual diocese? Not as much as we might hope.

Perhaps that means that we should re-think the missionary convocation nature of Convention. Have diocese send voting delegates and alternates (yes, do cut down on the size, as recommended). But also invite dioceses to send people who have calling and interests in the specific workshops and opportunities for training that could be offered at Convention.

Heck, keep the current size your heading towards, but reorganize it. Each diocese voting delegation consists of the diocesan bishop, two priests, two deacons, and two lay people, with an equal amount of alternates elected. Make the Convention unicameral (a suggestion that is notably absent from this paper though popular in many quarters of the church, particularly if voting by orders is maintained and expanded by having all four orders recognized in votes: laity, deacons, priests, and bishops). Elect as deputies leaders who can do well the legislative work of Convention, who have an eye for mission and the patience required for good parliamentary work.

But then, use what remains from the budget you used to have for sending people to send more lay people and clergy to Convention to learn, to grow, to be equipped for ministry.

Let's make it one big, frickin', ministry bazaar, where the best of Christian ministry in the Anglican tradition is available for those who want to learn and grow and be more effective.

Oh, and on the whole idea of diocesan giving: if you diocese doesn't give at the level decided on by the broader body of General Convention, and has not been given a specific exemption for real good reasons by Executive Council, then you lose your voting rights. The paper suggests we need to "develop a sensible means of holding dioceses accountable for paying their assessments." I say it needs to be sensible and have actual teeth. 

And please, please, stop using the language of "the biblical tithe." It looks ridiculous for us to insist upon a biblical tithe when we say that language of "biblical marriage" has no standing in actual biblical scholarship. The level should be the level it is needed to be to enable the ministry of the church at the national level, not tied to a biblical symbol for dependence upon God. Tithing is important—but if you only look at a biblical tithe as the responsibility of giving, you have neglected Jesus' invitation in these past couple weeks of lectionary readings to have a righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees. 

Reforms to Commissions, Committees, Agencies, and Boards 
In part three, the paper takes on the questions of Commissions, Committees, Agencies, and Boards (CCABs). It gets rid of almost all Standing Commissions (though I'm not sure of the governing ideal that determines which stay and which go—absent that, this is unlikely to get very far). It has the Presiding Officers creating task forces and working groups... which might work, assuming there is a good blend of carryover from previous similar task forces to the new ones.

However, once more, it assumes the separation of a bicameral house, encouraging these task forces and working groups to have greater "collaboration with any House of Bishops committees and working groups." However, if General Convention was a unicameral house, then the task forces could be integrated from the beginning.

If the Episcopal Church is to thrive in the twenty-first century, it will not be because this group or that group one their culture, turf, or political battle with another. It will be because these battles were overcome by the reconciling love of Christ. It will be because we empowered bishops to be bishops, priests to be priests, deacons to be deacons, and lay people to be lay people. It will be because we found ways to work together collaboratively, because we created avenues for those who are hungry to do good ministry to be trained to do good ministry.

TREC is absolutely on the right track... I just don't think they are yet thinking big enough.

Caveat emptor: The three people I mentioned at the beginning, along with many others, have greater wisdom and experience in this than I do. My strong views here are not because I think I have the total picture, they simply reflect the passion of a young priest who thinks this picture is bigger than some may suspect.

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