Why the Diocese? An #Acts8 BLOGFORCE Challenge

As you might recall from a few week’s ago, the Acts 8 Moment, a group of Episcopalians seeking to Proclaim Resurrection in The Episcopal Church, has taken on a three-round BLOGFORCE Challenge on subsidiarity.  Question one dealt with congregations, asking “What is the mission of the congregation?”  You can read my response here and the round up of all posts here.  This week’s question bumps us one level higher to what church types like to call the mid-level judicatory, or in The Episcopal Church, the diocese.  Again there are two questions to answer: What is the mission of the Diocese?  How should it be structured to serve its mission?  Here goes.

On Saturday, February 21st at Trinity Episcopal Church in Mobile, Alabama, the 44th Annual Convention of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast elected the Rev. James Russell Kendrick as its 4th Bishop.  In the months leading up to that election, we were invited, as a diocese, to pray the Collect for the Election of a Bishop found on page 818 of the Book of Common Prayer.

Almighty God, giver of every good gift: Look graciously on your Church, and so guide the minds of those who shall choose a bishop for this Diocese, that we may receive a faithful pastor, who will care for your people and equip us for our ministries; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It seems to me that this prayer sums up not just the ministry of a Bishop as chief pastor, but also makes a bold statement about the mission of the diocese.  To me, the mission of the diocese is quite simply, to equip us for our ministries.  Certainly there a few ministries that are best done at the diocesan level, but to my mind that list is very, very small.  As the hub from which congregations radiate, the diocese should serve to facilitate the ministries of each member congregation.  It should serve as a hub of communication, of best practices sharing, of training, and of support.

I live and work in a diocese that has a very small staff.  With 5.6 full-time equivalent employees, the structure of the Central Gulf Coast is almost entirely focused on administration.  The Bishop’s Secretary, the Financial Secretary, the Diocesan Secretary, and the Diocesan Administrator all work, for the most, to keep the system running.  A 0.1 FTE Canon to the Ordinary and a half-time Diocesan Youth Coordinator are the two positions that exist in order to equip us for our ministries, while the Bishop does his best to keep the myriad plates spinning, all the while changing hats as often as he checks his email.  A three person communications team works as contract employees for the Diocese in order to help tell our stories, but they are grossly underfunded to do that work.

Realizing that this structure does not facilitate congregations in their ministry, my suggestion has been and would be to re-prioritize the paltry staff budget so that at least 50% of the time and money spent in the diocesan budget is used for equipping and engaging in ministry.  In my diocese, for example, this would look like

  • The Bishop – a 50/50 ministry/administration office (1 FTE)
  • A Canon to the Ordinary- Ministry (1 FTE)
  • A Diocesan Administrator/Financial Officer – Admin (1 FTE)
  • Executive Assistant serving the Bishop and Canon – 50/50 (1 FTE)
  • Communications Administrative Assistant – 50/50 (1 FTE)
  • Youth Ministry Coordinator – Ministry (.5 FTE)

This means that 3 FTE are focused on ministry and 2.5 FTE are focused on administration.  We can’t eliminate administration, but it shouldn’t be the overwhelming mission of the diocese.  Equipping congregations for ministry and serving as a facilitator of communication, dioceses can help their congregations flourish and help us move away from being a lose confederation of congregationalists toward once again being The Episcopal Church in a geographic region, serving to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.


Resurrection Requires Death – Some Specific Thoughts on TREC’s Open Letter

At 5:08 every evening my iPhone buzzes and “Pray for the Church” flashes on the screen. It is a leftover of an early attempt at an Acts 8 Cycle of Prayer. While the prayer list has not been kept up as we had hoped, the Google Calendar still exists, reminding me everyday of the importance of praying for the Church, capital C. And so I pray using the words of our Book of Common Prayer and a collect appointed for Ash Wednesday and Ordinations.

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world know that things that were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“Things which were cast down are being raised up and things which had grown old are being made new.” The purpose of the Acts 8 Moment is “to preach resurrection in The Episcopal Church.” The first step in resurrection is rather unpleasant: death. Something must die in order to be raised from the dead. I have no problem admitting that Mainline Christianity, of which The Episcopal Church was an integral part, is dead. And so I read with great hope the opening scripture quote in last week’s Open Letter to The Episcopal Church from The Task Force for Re-Imagining The Episcopal Church (TREC).

Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  (John 11:43–44)

Finally, someone in a position of authority in the Church had admitted what many of us have known for quite some time. We’ve died. Some have argued that the Lazarus metaphor isn’t a good one – that Lazarus was recucitated rather than resurrected, but I disagree. John gives us two details to make sure we know Lazarus is really, really dead. He’s been that way four days, one day longer than the Hebrew mythology thought the soul hung around, and he stinketh. Lazarus was really dead and needed Jesus to resurrect him.

Note the lady unbinding Lazarus. He stinketh!

The Episcopal Church is really dead, and only Jesus can bring us back to life.  Thankfully the good people who make up TREC have realized this.  Before I go on to critique one specific point in their work, I want to make it clear that I’m supportive of their overall goals, I pray for their success, and I’m thankful that they have been communicative and are actively seeking feedback.  Their task is unenviable, and the vitriolic reaction from some of the entrenched leadership is as unhelpful as it is unsurprising and boring.  I am hugely in favor of TREC’s focus on mission, church planting, and the need for transparency at all levels of the Church.  In fact, I was so excited that we’ve finally decided to admit that we’re dead that I let the fact that the “specific examples” of the Church as catalyst, connector, capability builder, and covnenor are neither specific, nor really even examples.

I was stopped short, however, in the section dealing with the role of the executive structure.  Specifically, their suggestion to retain the Presiding Bishop as “the CEO of the Church, Chair of the Executive Council, and President of DFMS, with managerial responsibility for all DFMS staff.”  After all that talk of death and resurrection, they’ve hung on to a model of episcopacy that should have died long ago: Bishop as CEO.  The Episcopal Church is an episcopal church.  As such, we readily acknowledge the importance of the historic episcopate both in the Apostolic Succession of the actual laying on of hands and in the Apostolic Succession of committed obedience to the tradition of the Apostles as the original witnesses and messengers of the Gospel (Kung, “Signposts for the Future” p. 95).  Unfortunately, with the growth of the corporate world, the office of Bishop has taken on more and more of the business functions, while struggling to maintain the spiritual essence of the office.  As such, we have bishops who are too busy running a staff, signing off on legal documents, and flying off here, there, and everywhere to serve on committees, non-profit boards, and to act as chaplains at Diocesan Conventions to reasonably serve the real needs of people of their dioceses.  This, in turn, leaves dioceses feeling disconnected from their Bishop, their episcopoi, and clergy without a chief pastor, which drives us further and further into Congregationalism.

At the top level, the Presiding Bishop as CEO exacerbates these confused roles.  Is the PB the Presiding Officer in the House of Bishops, a primus inter pares (first among equals) or is the PB the CEO of the Church?  These are two very different jobs, both of which would easily make up at least one full-time job.  As I read the TREC letter, it became clear to me that in order for us to be resurrected, in order to move past the power struggles between Church-wide staff, the Executive Council, General Convention, the PHoD, and the PB, we have to admit that Bishop as CEO is dead, and if it isn’t, we have to kill it.

Instead of the PB as CEO, I would argue that something closer to Alternative III in TREC’s Study Paper on Governance and Administration needs to be adopted.  While I do think that the PB would need to resign his or her diocesan position to fulfill the obligations of the office, limiting the Presiding Bishop’s role to that of Presiding Officer, Chief Consecrator and Pastor, and mouthpiece of the Church seems a prudent move in order to highlight the importance of such functions within the whole House of Bishops.  Allowing the Executive Council, of a similar size and composition of the current Council, to work as a true Board of Directors: taking the work of General Convention to heart in creating a strategic vision and seeking out an Executive Director/CEO who will lead the church-wide staff in implementing that vision for the good of the whole Church, should then create a way for the Church to move forward together and eliminate the undue power of the CCABs, many of which seem to exist only to keep themselves going and are run by a few voices and their pet projects.  This model, it seems to me, would allow for a full representation of the Church, a closer tie to our understanding of the historic episcopate, and allow closer connections to be made at all levels: congregational, regional, diocesan, provincial (if such a thing needs to exist) and church-wide.

At 5:08 this afternoon, I will pray, as I do everyday, for the Church.  My specific prayer today will be that The Episcopal Church, as one part of Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, will do its part in helping the whole world see that God’s kingdom continues to unfold through cycles of death and resurrection.  I hope and pray that TREC, as they finish their work, and later the 78th General Convention will see the need to accept death as the precursor to new life.  I hope we can let go of those things which are old and cast down and allow Jesus to raise us up and make us new.  As Lazarus could surely attest, dying isn’t a whole lot of fun, but eating dinner with your family four days later has to be one heavenly banquet.

Top 10 Signs of Resurrection in The Episcopal Church

This week’s Acts 8 BLOGFORCE challenge is a timely one.  In the midst of Holy Week, as we’re harried, frazzled, and surrounded by conflict and death, what signs of resurrection are there in The Episcopal Church?

Top 10 Signs of Resurrection in The Episcopal Church (In somewhat no particular order)

1. Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, Foley, Alabama

2. Forward Movement is growing, hiring staff, and generally rocking the pamphlet publishing world

3. The Reverend Canon John Newton

4. Embracing Generous Orthodoxy at, among other places, Virginia Theological Seminary

5. The School of Theology at Sewanee approved my thesis proposal on William Reed Huntington and Brian McLaren

6. Susan Brown Snook’s voice on Executive Council

7. Nativity Church brings Dothan their first ever Mardi Gras parade.

8. The Crusty Old Dean

9. People are engaging with The Task Force for Re-Imagining The Episcopal Church and they seem to be listening

10. The Right Reverend Sean Rowe


My Final Post on Governance… For Today #Acts8

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.

I borrowed this from another blog, don’t get caught up in the “art of manliness” stuff.

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.