EpiscoGeeks let out a collective sigh of relief on the morning of December 15, 2014 when the Task Force for Re-Imagining The Episcopal Church (TREC) published their final report, complete with General Convention Resolutions and proposed Canonical changes. For those who maybe don’t know, TREC was founded out of Resolution C095 at the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church whose purpose was “to present the 78th General Convention with a plan for reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and administration.”
We asked TREC to give us change, and boy have they delivered. It took less than two hours before the sigh of relief turned into the very visceral response of rending of garments and bowls of tears to drink. Having served on a Diocesan re-imagining task force that presented its report in February of 2014, I could have predicted most of the responses on Social Media. The Conventionistas and Status Quo folks will be upset that TREC dared to change anything. Those who are genuinely interested in change will be upset that their particular version of change was not put forward. Only a very small number of people, all of whom serve on TREC, will be happy with the proposal. All of those responses are OK because what is most important part the TREC report is that the report exists at all. The report isn’t perfect (more on that in a moment), but it is a beginning of a conversation, a chance for the Church (ekklesia – the community gathered) to weigh in and think about how we can better serve the world and build the Kingdom of God. I look forward to the next six months of conversation, dueling blog posts, competing resolutions and debate because I think that is the sign of a healthy Church; one that is able to live in tension and prayerful discern the best way forward. The TREC Report gives us the opportunity to model for the world healthy disagreement, and I hope we live up to the challenge.
That being said, I’ll take this opportunity to give you my initial thoughts on the actual content of the TREC Report, and as you might expect, I like some parts and I don’t like others. Let’s start with the good news first.
What I like:
- TREC has said this before, but I’m glad that on Page 1 they reiterated the fact that “structural and technical changes, by themselves, will not be sufficient for reimaging the Church in the midst of a changing world…” These are the initial changes that need to be made in order to free up “time, energy, and financial resources for innovation and adaptation.” The Church will not save itself through structure. The Church will be saved through a commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ: loving God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. If our structures are crushing our ability to live into that commitment, either through bureaucratic red tape or undue financial stresses, changes must be made in order to renew our commitment to the Gospel.
- The word experimentation. In my upcoming DMin thesis, to be written in 2015, God willing, I’ll posit that 13 time General Convention Deputy, William Reed Huntington (1838-1909)and Non-Denominational Pastor and Emerging Christianity author, Brian McLaren (1956-) are correct in their assessment that The Episcopal Church is best suited to meet the needs of a changing nation: post-Civil War or post-Christendom. Both of them have argued for The Episcopal Church to find a way to be more flexible in its liturgy, theology, and organization in order to more quickly adapt to the changing world. I’m glad to see the word experimentation in this report because inherent in it is a spirit of flexibility and a willingness to learn from failure.
- A shout out to the Acts 8 Moment (full disclosure – I serve on the Steering Committee for the Acts 8 Moment) as an example of grassroots networks doing “extraordinary and innovative work, and… catalyzing the kinds of necessary changes at all levels of the Church.” I commend to you the work of the Acts 8 Moment: the BLOGFORCE (of which this post is a part), #Acts8TC tweechats, and especially the Collect Call podcast (available on iTunes). The Acts 8 Moment’s mission is to Proclaim Resurrection in The Episcopal Church, a mission that I think TREC is aiming for as well and I’m glad to know that TREC was looking to groups like it for input throughout their process.
- A nod to subsidiarity. On Page 6, under the heading “An Urgent Agenda of Reimagination” come these words: “We believe that to adapt to today’s needs and to strengthen its ability to serve God’s mission as Luke described, The Episcopal Church must address how we ‘do the work we have been given to do’ at every level – congregational, diocesan, and Church-wide.” This is, I hope, a veiled reference to the subsidiarity conversation that I’ve been arguing for since 2012. If The Episcopal Church is going to have any hope for the future, this conversation has to happen sooner rather than later. If we don’t first figure out at what level mission, ministry, and administration are best done, we’ll continue to waste resources at every level: resources that are in scarce supply as it is. I call it “a nod to subsidiarity” because I don’t believe that in its 3 resolutions, TREC has actually addressed these issues, but I’m hopeful that the conversation can begin in earnest now that their report is published.
- A002: Reimagine Dioceses, Bishops, and General Convention – Third and Fourth Resolves. The process by which Bishops are elected is in need of major revision, and I applaud the move toward discerning a new model that deals honestly with gifts assessment and expertise. I’m happy with the size and makeup of the Task Force for study and I will pray fervently for their work. I currently serve in a Diocese that is engaged in the search for a new Bishop and I think collaborating with our neighbors in Mississippi and Alabama makes a whole lot of sense.
- The canonical change that moves us from four deputies in each order to three. The Central Gulf Coast cannot afford to send any alternates to General Convention. That means those of us who are elected as deputies are putting in 15 hour days the entire 10 days of General Convention. Three deputies in each order would free up money to send an alternate and, I would argue, allow for greater diversity and representation as alternates could now get “on the floor” experience at one Convention in order to move up to full deputy status in the future. I’m all for this move, but I know that this will be a huge bone of contention with the conventionistas and the “justice” minded crowd.
- A nod to discipleship. Again we have nods to things, but not the thing itself. On page 11, TREC suggests the need to “focus more deeply on local missions and community building.” Included in that section is a nod to discipleship as TREC states the Church must prioritize “forming Christian community.” That’s the work of discipleship, I think, but again, I’d like to see some concrete suggestions toward that end at every level of the Church.
- Making the PHoD, newly dubbed the Presiding Deputy, as a paid position. This just makes sense given the way the office has changed over the years. It is impossible for most to serve this position in its current incarnation.
- The ability of Executive Council to, by a 2/3rds majority, discharge the four main Officers of the DMFMS.
- Mutual Ministry Review at all levels of the Church. Accountability does seem to exist the higher one goes in the Church, and I would argue that it is more needed there than anywhere.
What I’m not sure about:
- A002: Reimagine Dioceses, Bishops, and General Convention – First Resolve. My initial reaction was to hate the suggestion of a unicameral General Convention. I’m a fan of the checks and balances inherent in a bicameral legislature. However, the more I think about it, the more I’m thinking that perhaps there is some merit to a unicameral house that is able to deliberate separately, when needed. The raising up of “historical and current tensions between the HoB and HoD” (pg. 47) needs to be fleshed out some for me. As I’m keen to say, the plural of anecdote is not data.
- General Convention as a “Church-wide mission convocation.” I’m not sure what that look like.
What I don’t like:
- The TREC Report is 73 pages long. This is 100% insider baseball for Bishops and Deputies to General Convention. In light of a 700+ page “Blue” Book, we probably got off easy, but there must be, in short order, some distillation of this report for consumption by the masses. If TREC fails to do this work on their own, then the myriad bloggers, each with their own perspective on the issues at hand, will do it, and the average parishioner will be at the mercy of who they read rather than hearing the official word of those who spent the last three years crafting these thoughts.
- Resolution A001: Restructure for Spiritual Encounter. The name doesn’t seem to match the content of this resolution. A focus on bi-vocational ministry and new ways of educating clergy is certainly a part of what is needed to meet the needs of a changing world, but restructuring for Spiritual Encounter, in my opinion, is all about subsidiarity. As I said in the “What I like” section above, we need to take honest stock of what is best done at which level of the Church: local, Diocesan, or Church-wide; and then restructure and reallocate resources to better enable that work.
- Resolution A003: Restructure Assets in Service of God’s Mission in the Future. In the explanation on page 49, it sounds like TREC is advocating for the renting out of Naves and Sanctuaries for secular use. While I agree that “we should be incredulous that our building are often empty” and that we should “tap our Anglican understanding of incarnation…” I just can’t wrap my mind around sacred space being rented out to the highest bidder.
- Shrinking Executive Council by half (full disclosure, I’m a nominee for Executive Council in 2015, so this might just be me not wanting to lose my chance to serve). I had the honor of serving on a similarly enormous board at Virginia Theological Seminary. Good leadership by Bishop Lee and a strong and active committee structure meant that a ton of good work was done by those 40+ members outside of the Board Room, work that couldn’t have been accomplished by a group of only 20. If we’re going to eliminate all but two Standing Commissions, then let some of that work be done by a 42 member Executive Council with quality committees.
- A partnership with ChurchNext that started today (Dec 16, 2014) a full six months before the opening gavel of General Convention. This just felt icky to me given that members of TREC would be teaching courses. Icky, I say.
- The word nimble. It is on page 60 and I know everyone who was at the 77th General Convention noticed it.
There is much to digest in this report. No doubt dozens of self-described “experts” will weigh in. Some, will actually be experts. Some, like me, will be merely interested observers. Some will be yahoos who shouldn’t be allowed to post in the web, but do as often as humanly possible. No matter what, I’m grateful for TREC’s hard work on an unenviable task and excited for the conversation it has and will continue to foster going forward.
It’ll be an excited few months leading up to the 78th General Convention in Salt Lake City. As we approach that time, I implore you to pray for the Church and for those who will take counsel for it. If you can’t find the words to pray, I offer you the Prayer for a Church Convention or Meeting which can be found on page 818 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and understanding, be present with those who take counsel for the renewal and mission of your Church. Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.