Given all the challenges before The Episcopal Church, is restructuring important?
Leaders of the Episcopal Church are fond of using initials, hence “PECUSA” which became “ECUSA” which is now “TEC.” The powerful fiscal committee of the Church is Program, Budget and Finance which is almost always referred to as “PB&F” which I always thought sounded like a sandwich you would order for lunch. The latest set of initials is TREC or The Taskforce to Reimagine the Episcopal Church. This high level taskforce with many capable leaders was established at the last General Convention to come up with recommendations to enhance the structures and mechanism of the Church for the more effective accomplishment of the Church’s Mission. While this seems to imply a whole re-thinking and re-visioning of the Church, this is not exactly what is now before us. In their initial reports, clearly the taskforce members have given some thought to the challenge of doing this, but their recommendations point more toward the issue of restructuring the Church, I think that is because the essentially the driving force for this work comes from three different dynamics.
First is the long standing lack of clarity about the relationship of the Presiding Bishop’s Office, the Staff of 815, the President of the House of Deputies and the relationship of all these to the Executive Council along with the Council’s relationship to the General Convention. Second is the immense cost and continued complexity of General Convention with its extensive committee structure and the overwhelming number of resolutions generated each three years. Lastly there is the unfolding challenge of funding the budget and establishing priorities given the shrinking number of members and congregations.
The Taskforce set out to do its work deliberately and with much energy. The Taskforce’s very existence along with its interim reports have been meet with much discussion, debate, criticism, resistance, and some outright cynicism. The Taskforce members seem enthusiastic about their work and have clearly done some in depth reflection and strategic thinking. Their latest report shows that they are taking seriously the work of restructuring the church to make it more efficient, to clarify relationships among important groups, and to give increased power to both the office of Presiding Bishop and the Executive Council which is consistent with the greater centralization of the Church in the past several decades. The suggested move toward a more centralize role for the Executive Council (reduced in size) and greater clarification of the role of the PB as chief executive of the Church are not surprising and reflect the long historic development of the PB’s office. In recent years, the on-going tension and power struggle between the current PB and the President of the House of Deputies have accentuated the need for clearer lines of authority and accountability.
I do not intent to comment much in this blog on the merits of the individual recommendations. Essentially, I believe that such restructuring and clarification have been badly needed and in summary I believe the Taskforce has done a credible job. I personally would agree with the reduction in Executive Council members, but would prefer Provincial representation rather than election at large. I also applaud their recommendations about the reduction in the time of General Convention, the elimination of most join Committees, and as a consequence the reduction in the huge number of resolutions. The Taskforce is rightfully trying to make the main thing the main work of General Convention.
As I read the criticism and cynicism regarding their work, I note two general themes. The cynicism is rooted in an essential truth, namely, restructuring is not the same as re-visioning or revitalization. While it is right to point out that restructuring will not lead to the kind of re-vitalization that our declining community needs, I believe it is unfair to lay this at the Taskforce’s feet. Renewal, Revival, Re-vitalization, Re-visioning, and even Resurrection is clearly the work of the Holy Spirit and greatly dependent on our need for a new generation of visionary leaders. When such movements do occur in the Church they almost never come from the center of power and decision making, but rather on the fringes of the Church and among creative (and often controversial) outliers. Yet, as the Taskforce rightfully points out by the example of the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus then commands them to “unbind him” and the work of the Taskforce is an energetic effort to unbind the long outworn structures of a once larger Church and morass of committees and commissions that were extensions of creations of an 18th century community.
Does TEC need revitalization? Only those totally caught up in institutional denial would think it does not. Unfortunately, we have a goodly number of such people including the current PB still in elected and appointed offices. I am not saying that all is wrong with our community. I see much creativity, experimentation, and a willingness to try new methods and model to carry out our understanding of God’s Mission. Yet as a whole, we are clearly a declining community still living in the after math of a substantial conflict and subsequent divide. What I am saying is that one significant part of this is creating a Church with a structure that serves our members, congregations, and dioceses in efficient and effective ways. I pray that TREC’s work succeeds in this necessary work.
The other issue the Taskforce faces is a predictable resistance to the changes by those who currently are most vested in the status quo. Who are these people? First are the Senior Deputies who control so much of the mechanisms of General Convention. Second is every Deputy who sits on these joint committees and commissions. The resistance is highly predictable; when has any legislative body voted to reduce its perceived power and influence? I note with interest that on the internet it is often Senior Deputies and long-standing Church functionaries who are warning of the centralization of power and the elimination of vital participation. I think we should call this what it is, the knee jerk reaction of those in power.
In summary then, I think the work of TREC is important, worthwhile and should be received and acted upon by the wider Church. Will it fix all that is wrong? No it will not. Will it address the core issues that are really at stake in “reimagining” the Church and its mission? Not directly though it is a start. In addition to the example of the raising of Lazarus, let me offer another Biblical example.
When David set out to take on Goliath, Saul offered David his armor to wear. David refused and the usually understand is that the armor was too large and bulky for the young David. Perhaps a more insightful understanding is that the young charismatic future leader of Israel understood that one cannot fight the battles of today with the already defeated tools of the past. This may be the greatest insight that the Taskforce has placed before the whole Church. I pray that this is a word that we are prepared to hear.
Note: The Task Force to Reimagine the Episcopal Church (TREC) will convene a church wide meeting on October 2 at 7:30 pm Eastern time (6:30 pm Central/5:30 pm Mountain/4:30 pm Pacific/3:30 pm Alaska/1:30 pm Hawaii).