The resolution creates a special task force of up to 24 people who will gather ideas in the next two years from all levels of the church about possible reforms to its structures, governance and administration. Their work will culminate in a special gathering of people from every diocese to hear what recommendations the task force plans to make to the 78th General Convention. Its final report is due by November 2014.
The resolution passed the House of Deputies unanimously and sailed through the House of Bishops.
When Tom Ely, the bishop of Vermont, asked who was going to pay for these gatherings, several bishops responded, "Vermont". Once they stopped laughing at their own joke, and Bishop Ely started breathing again, it was reported that structural reform had been allocated $200,000 in the budget.
So, our answer to changing the structure of the church was to create another structure and to fund it at approximately $67K per year. General Convention also voted to return to a 10 day schedule for the 78th Convention, verses the 8 day structure we worked with at the 77th Convention. Oh, and we voted to look at relocating our national headquarters at 815 Second Ave, including the possibility of selling off that piece of property.
said that the committee: “is so thoroughly convinced of the process of the Spirit, that it will be blessed. We believe $200,000 may become half a million, like the loaves and fishes that the Lord will provide. Don’t let the money stop you right now."
On one hand, that's a thoroughly predictable episcopal response: Got an issue? Create a task force and throw money at it. On the other hand, if the Spirit is, in fact, moving over the face of The Episcopal Church, we need to put all of our best resources - including people and money - into making certain that nothing impedes the working of the Spirit.
As I read the resolution, the committee is charged with "gathering ideas from all levels of the church about possible reforms to its structures, governance and administration". They will then make "recommendations", three years from now, to the 78th General Convention.
The composition of that task force has not yet been revealed, but we do know that more than 750 people nominated themselves or were nominated for 150 positions in the church. I'm thinking that a large part of those volunteers wanted to work on that task force.
The purpose, of course, is - ostensibly, at least - is so that we can become more "nimble" for mission.
As my friend, Byron Rushing likes to say, "The church doesn't have a mission. God has a mission and a church to help realize that mission."
Think about that for one red hot second. What I hear him saying is that God’s expansive love and extravagant grace are so much bigger than the agendas or mission statements of any one group, religious or otherwise.
As I've been talking with groups of folk, lay and ordained and some not involved at all in the church, much less The Episcopal Church, I've gotten some interesting insights about the way the institutional church works - or, at least, is perceived to do the work of - the gospel.
I've listened to both clergy and laity register deep disappointment with the leadership of their bishops. They hear bishops calling for a "missional church," whilst encouraging clergy to be "entrepreneurs" and "bivocational", and asking everyone to live a "sacrificial life" (often translated to mean: work full time for part time pay and increase your pledge to the diocese).
Meanwhile, there is not a shred of evidence that the bishop is acting to make the diocese more "missional" - diocesan staffs stay in the same configuration, with salary increases - and the bishop is not considering becoming an "entrepreneur", much less "bivocational". any time soon. Many often note that the budget lines for the bishop's salary, expense and travel continues to increase.
One lay woman, who used to be very active in her church but fell away after the "politics got to me" and now works in an amazing community-based organization that helps the unemployed find work, said, "What we need to be a more missional church is the one thing a structure task force - or any church structure - can't give us: COURAGE."
She continued, "Sometimes, when I see church leaders - especially bishops - walking around the church in their finery or driving cars that I've never been able to afford, all I can think of is the Cowardly Lion. They puff themselves up in their finery and roar from their pulpits or their chairs about mission, and maybe they go, once a year, on a "mission trip", but they aren't living it. They talk about it, but they aren't doing it."
Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman: Courage!
Cowardly Lion: You can say that again!The consistent theme in all the remarks I'm hearing seems to be "If we want to be a more missional church, we need more missional bishops who will fill their dioceses with missional priests - both of whom are so passionate about the work of mission that they do it themselves and call others to work with them."
That may sound like a top-down strategy that is doomed to fail, but, you know, I think we have to face facts: Like it or not, we are a hierarchical church. It's going to take more than 24 people, $200K and two years to change that.
Indeed, if you read the canons of our church, the underlying assumption in all of them is that the bishop is the "Chief Missioner" and "Church Planter". One of the reasons that, after a rector leaves a church - resignation or retirement -during the interim period, the bishop is the rector. Or, in a church which does not have parish status, the priest is either the Vicar or the Priest-In-Charge. Unless otherwise noted in the diocesan canons, the bishop is the rector of all "mission churches".
How many bishops support their clergy who are taking the risks of the gospel - even when the congregation objects so strongly they want to rid themselves of "this meddlesome priest"? How many bishops spend time in their congregations - sleeves rolled up - doing the work of mission side-by-side with the people, inspiring them and encouraging them to "go and do likewise"?
Seems to me, that's what Jesus did. What's stopping us? Is it that my friend is right? Do we lack the courage of our convictions? Do we need to spend less time "talking the talk" and more time "walking the walk"?
Do we have the courage to restructure the office of the episcopacy as well as the priesthood to make us better able to do the work of the Gospel?
I hope one of the things the Structure Task Force considers is how it is that a hierarchical church structures itself for mission. What role do bishops and priests play as leaders in this movement? From whence will the institutional leadership arise to inspire the institutional, hierarchical church to do the work of the Gospel? What will that require of us as a people who are members of that institution?
As the institutional church lumbers its way through selecting 24 people who will structure themselves around the question of the structure of the church, I thought I'd ask a few questions for your consideration and ask that you leave your comments here.
1. What in the structure of TEC is preventing it from being a more meaningful witness to the Gospel as we interpret it in our particular work?For my part, I will take your responses - anonymously, of course, unless you indicate otherwise - and send them on to a group with whom I'm working which has access to some of the leadership of the structure committee. If you'd rather send them to me privately, leave me a note and a way to get hold of you and I'll send you my email address. Or, message me on FaceBook.
2. What does it mean to Progressives to change structure? Might Progressives and Conservatives be operating under different assumptions about what it means to be a "missional church" and how church structures support or impede mission? Are the two assumptions reconcilable?
3. What are you doing - in your church, in your place of work, in your life - that is remarkable in terms of providing what you consider to be a meaningful witness to the Gospel?
If we're ever going to put on our ruby slippers, step out on the Yellow Brick Road and get to "The Emerald City" of the vision of the Church, I think we need to know that we already have what we need: A heart, a brain, and "da noive".
And, an awareness that there really is "no place like home".
Everything else - including how we structure ourselves - is just details.