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.

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We asked for change, and they delivered – thoughts on the #TREC Report

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.

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.

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).

Acts8Logo-4

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.