Contrary to the growing mainstream opinion, I am an advocate of full-time, residential seminary education for priests. I understand that it is costly for student and seminary alike. I’m a witness of the strain it puts on family systems. I can even sort of get how giving out Master’s Degrees can create a culture of clericalism. Still, I think the benefits far outweigh the costs. My primary reason for saying that comes from the well-worn mantra of seminary faculties, Commissions on Ministry, and ordination coaches, “Trust the process.” The key benefit of seminary isn’t what you learn in the classroom, it isn’t what you read in the library, it isn’t living in community with dozens of people who are just as strange as you are. The real benefit of the seminary experience is figuring out how to prioritize. Seminary makes you live out Steven Covey’s retread of the Eisenhower Decision Matrix: forcing you to determine what is actually important and urgent: requiring your immediate attention.
Several things have been both important and urgent in my life as of late: Getting my DMin thesis proposal turned in and Preparing for the We Dream… Report to be presented at Diocesan Convention chief among them. On top of that, I have a wife and children who I should probably pay attention to and a congregation full of people that are deserving of my time and energy. As such, some other things, even things I’m interested in, had to suffer. Which is why the first Study Paper from the Task Force for Re-Imagining The Episcopal Church (TREC) on Networks passed by without comment. Thankfully, it was almost universally panned, so I didn’t have to pile on (if you’re interested, you can read the thoughts of the Crusty Old Dean or Acts8 Guru Adam Trambley).
With Candidacy achieved and the We Dream stuff on the back burner, I’m now free to get back to some level of normalcy. Conveniently, TREC published their second Study Paper yesterday with a focus on Governance and Administration. This one seems to be getting a better reception, but only Scott Gunn seems to have published a blog on it as of this post. (Side note – the Acts8 BLOGFORCE is getting up and running, you’ll notice the cool logo on the right margin, but sure to checkout what other Acts8’ers have to say on this subject).
This stated purpose of this blog is to be “a blog about the Bible,” so you’ll have to bear with me as I know I’ve been a bit heavy on the politics stuff as of late. There will be much smarter people who will have very interesting things to say about the specific suggestions listed in the report, so I won’t deal with them here, other than to say 1) I’m glad we are finally getting to some real suggestions for change and 2) I’m partial to most of their proposed changes to General Convention, Alternative I for Executive Council, and anything that limits the number and size of standing committees and commissions that ostensibly have to make up their own work every three years.
What I’d prefer to spend time looking at are the three caveats of the Paper.
“From our first meeting, members of the Task Force for Re-imagining the Episcopal Church have been conscious of at least three often competing impulses inherent in our mandate.
- First, it has been clear for some time to many in the church that we need to undertake large-scale, adaptive changes in order to most faithfully and effectively proclaim the gospel of Christ and participate in God’s mission in our contemporary cultural context.
- Second, there are many redundant, inefficient, and simply unclear aspects of our current governance and administrative structures.
- Third, and perhaps most importantly, structural reform will not save the church or do the work of reaching out to the world in new ways with the transforming good news of the gospel. The church wide structures can, however, help to foster the kind of innovation and adaptation that many understand as critical to the future of The Episcopal Church, and which are already being explored and implemented in many places and at all levels of the church.”
Large-Scale, Adaptive Change
Hotels.com has a new ad campaign based on a character named, Captain Obvious.
I think he could do commercials for TREC as well. It doesn’t take a degree in theology, divinity, or sociology to see that the Church (Episcopal or otherwise) has become increasingly irrelevant in the larger society since the 1960s. There have been upticks along the way, most notably in the early 80s and late 90s, but by and large, the Church has had a difficult time keeping up. In The Episcopal Church, our response to declining market share has been the watering down of the message to the point that in the early 2000s, it became difficult to differentiate us from the Rotary Club or United Way. Our structures of governance has exacerbated this problem by encouraging the taking of political stands over and above encouraging the sharing of the saving love of Jesus. Which leads me to point three.
Governance Won’t Save Us
While it is true that governance in and of itself won’t save the Church, it can certainly inflict damage through self-inflicted wounds. I’m doubtful that we can stop the bleeding under the current system that sees dioceses encouraging the election of deputies with political agendas to General Convention. This leads us to situations like 2009, where a quality candidate gets elected as Presiding Bishop and all we can say about it is, “thank God she’s a woman.” In the same way, the current model of governance has led to the budget nightmares of both the 2009 and 2012 General Conventions as Standing Committees, Commissions, Staff, and Political lobbies have fought to maintain control of a ship that is clearly sinking. Which takes us back to point two.
Cleaning Up the System
The way to change the system is to a) shake up the make up of General Convention and Executive Council and b) totally rethink the way we spend our money. Instead of paying for insiders to get together and talk about insider stuff, let’s funnel money downward, encouraging Dioceses and Congregations to do the work of ministry in their local communities. This will require a national staff, equipped to empower local leaders and offer counsel and advice, but please God, let us get rid of all the committees.
I’m encouraged by what I’ve read in this most recent Study Paper, but I’m sure that there are plenty of people who will bow up at the faintest idea of real change, the most miniscule threat to their perceived power. I was there last weekend, and I fully expect to be there again in Salt Lake City in June/July 2015. In the meantime, the urgent and important thing for me to do is to be an agent of change on the ground, preaching the Gospel and sharing the love of God here in Foley.