Thursday, March 26, 2020

The New Normal

The Diocese of Connecticut is one of the most venerable of the Church.  It elected the first Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Samuel Seabury, shortly after the Revolutionary War.  Seabury was a Tory like many of his fellow Anglicans in New England where they faced stiff persecution by their congregationalist neighbors.  Seabury was a traditionalist and set the tone for the Diocese.  When I attended Berkeley Divinity School in New Haven, I like many of my seminary classmates served my assignments to parishes in congregations in the Diocese.  I also started ordained ministry as a curate in Wilton and my first tenure as a Rector in Stamford.  During that time, the Diocese was one of the largest in the Episcopal Church.

I was very surprised when my friend and seminary classmate, Andrew Zeman, mailed me a paper that had been sent out by the Diocese entitled “Transition is the New Normal” by their Transition Officer Lee Ann Tolzmann. It outlined the Diocese’s response to the present crisis of decline in the Church.  As the title suggests, the leadership of the Diocese under their Bishop Ian Douglas are taking intentional steps to meet the challenges of the Diocese amidst this change.

I plan to focus three blogs on the issues presented in this paper.  These are all related to the demographic changes in America that are having direct effects upon the Church.  The first is that the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut (ECCT) is changing the way congregations with full-time clergy are now transitioning to new ordained leadership. The second issue is the changing demographics of ordained clergy, and if you haven’t heard of this, many baby boomer clergy will be retiring in the next five years creating a shortage.

Third is the way the ECCT plans on handling the 2/3rds of their congregations that no longer have full time clergy serving them.  Let me repeat this, the 2/3rds of the congregations of Connecticut that do not have the number of people to support full-time clergy.  My friend Andy servers one of these in retirement on a part-time basis.  All this is accentuated in ECCT because most of these congregations have long standing facilities larger than the current congregations need and face costly expenses in upkeep.

I think each of these issues deserves a blog.  I want to start with the first issue because of the creative way ECCT is facing the issue of recruiting clergy to serve effectively because the full-time positions are also being affected by the looming shortage of clergy. This will be reducing the number of candidates that will be available when transitions occur.  It is here where their strategy moves in a courageous and creative way. It is here as Lee Ann clearly writes that transition is now the new normal.

To make their case, ECCT lays out in the paper the conditions of what Bishop Douglas calls “The New Missional Age.”  I don’t have the space here to reproduce this and neither do I want to steal the Diocese’s thunder.  What is outstandingly persuasive is what they call “Landmarks in the Landscape of a New Missional Age.” They list 8, and in my opinion, the whole leadership of TEC should read these!  I will share the first one:

   “Our current model of church is being funded by the increased giving of a smaller and smaller number of people who are getting older and older.  This clearly not a sustainable model.”

Almost every Bishop and lay leaders of the Church knows this is true.  Sadly, most keep doing what they have always done, hoping for different outcomes.  This, of course, is denial, and it pervades our church community.  This is why I say that ECCT is courageous in making the changes now.

What have they changed?  Effect starting this year, when a clergy person leaves the parish, the Vestry does not form a search committee.  Instead, with the guidance of one of the two Bishops, they form a Transition Committee to help the parish face these new missional realities and to make adaptive and systemic changes to function in this new environment.  As part of the process, the Diocese will recommend a short list of clergy persons who will help the Transition Committee and the Vestries do this work. The Diocese and the Committee agree on the clergy person best equipped to lead this process in each congregation.  This clergy person becomes the Priest in Charge (PIC) for three years.  After that period, if the leadership and the PIC are making these missional changes, the Vestry may, with the Bishop’s approval, call the PIC to be the Rector.

During this three-year period, the PIC works with the Transition Committee on a plan for educating the congregation on the current realities and putting together a strategic plan the future.  Some of you will recognize what is, I think, one of the best practices that some dioceses have developed.  This in the present structures is asking the Search Committee to continue as a Transition Committee to help the new clergy carry out the task around which they have been called.  The ECCT has intentionally removed the old model of search which quite frankly does meet the realities of our present situation. I wholeheartedly agree with this step and it will be key in making the new model work.

I also like a couple of other elements in this plan.  For example, the PIC meets monthly with a peer group and coordinator in support of this work.  I applaud making the Bishop and Diocese a partner in the transitional work.  I support the idea that the Diocese takes an active hand in recruiting the possible PIC people.  Given the looming shortage of clergy, this is a necessity for the parish to find good quality ordained leadership who understand the task before them.  In other words, or at least my words, don’t start this process with a clergy person who is skilled in operating a model that we know will not work. 

Four times during my 9 years with Bishop Payne, he intervened in congregations in a similar way, two of them were quite large.  All faced a crisis just before they were to start the transition to a new Rector.  Bishop Payne approached the Vestries and told them that he did not believe they were able to make the best decision about a clergy person for the future, nor did they have the typical time given their crisis.  He offered to them a Rector in Charge who he had selected for them to interview.  In all four situations, the parishes took the person offered and later called them to become the tenured Rector.  In every situation, the Vestry leadership gave us feedback that the Bishop was right and that it became obvious over time what this person was the best leader for the future.  That was, of course, back in the 1990s before the dramatic demographic changes of the beginning of the 21st Century had taken place.

Let me observe that the Bishop and Diocese acting in this more directive way brings TEC more into line with the way things are done in most of the Anglican Communion.  Imagine Bishops acting as if she or he has oversight! This is what the original word Bishop meant.

As I close this first blog, let me share that I am encouraging Lee Ann and the Diocese to make their paper and actions available to the wider church.  In my next blog, I will share their understanding of the looming clergy crisis before the Church.  Let me end with Landmark #2

“Formerly successful models are not helpful.  Trying to do what we’ve always done, even in new improved versions is not the answer when the whole world is changing. And it is not a faithful response to the God of resurrection’s call to move towards a new life. “

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

2020 and the Tsunami of Death

In the mid 90s, the Diocese of Texas hosted an annual series of gatherings named The Clear Vision Conference.  Eventually, three other Dioceses joined us as sponsors.  The audience was leaders of the Episcopal Church and especially Bishops and leaders of Dioceses.  These conferences built upon Bishop Claude Payne’s vision for the Diocese of Texas, One Church United in Mission and its goal to increase the membership and attendance of the Diocese.  In the last few years, the Join Commission of General Convention on Evangelism would hold its annual meeting at these conferences and from it they put forth a bold challenge to the Church.  It came to be known as the 2020 Vision; to double the size of the Episcopal from 2000 to 2020.  I was honored to be one of the members.  This idea began to gain momentum and received the support of the Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold and the President of the House of Deputies, Dean George Werner.

In order to give this proposal a strategic plan, a diverse group of eight Episcopal Leaders were appointed to write out such a strategy.  This was presented to the wider Church via the Episcopal Church Executive Counsel, and although there was a concerted effort from some of the members to stop this proposal seeing it as “an evangelical wooden horse,” the work was extended to a much wider and even more diverse Commission (66 members) to write out specific resolutions to the 2003 General Convention.  Almost 20 resolutions were produced by this group that had considerable range. Only two of these resolutions ever made the floor of that General Convention.

As every Episcopal leader knows, these resolutions were put on hold as the General Convention debated the place of Gay and Lesbians via the election of Canon Gene Robinson to be Bishop.  To a large extent, the current situation for TEC is largely still occupied over the resulting fracture of our denomination and the efforts to reimage the Church as a primarily diverse and inclusive Christian body.

It is now 2020.  I have heard people on both the conservative and progressive sides of the Church laugh about the 2020 goal, but the momentum was genuine and by 2000 many Dioceses had benefited by putting into action information learned at the Clear Vision Conferences.  An unknown fact is that from 1995 to 2000, The Episcopal Church was the only mainline denomination showing growth in both Baptized Membership and attendance.  There was reason to be hopeful although even those of us on the Commission saw actually doubling our size as a very bold and even audacious goal.

So where is TEC now?  We have done the opposite of the 2020 goal and are about half the size we were in 2000.  And we continue to decline.  While it is clear to everyone that the conflict in the aftermath of the vote on Gene Robinson was a major factor in this decline, but it was not the only one.  In this blog I want to talk about the other major factor that has affected all denominations and is still affecting TEC.

The second major factor that is still affecting us, is what Bishop Dole of Texas recently called “the Tsunami of Death.”  By this he is referring to the lost of most of the GI Generation.  This Generation that Tom Brokaw rightly called “the Greatest Generation” were forged in the furnace of the Great Depression and World War II.  These forces produced a remarkable community of leaders in the US both in the wider society and the Church.  This generation was 60% Churched.  As they are passing from this world, they are being replaced by the Millennial Generation and the following one that are 10% or less Churched.  Since Church membership in the US had remained consistent after WWII till 2000 at between 40 and 44%, it isn’t hard to do the math.  Remove the GI folks and add in the Millennials!

In fact, I projected back in 2000 that if we did nothing but hold our current membership, this demographic destiny would be two-fold.  First, by 2020 Church Membership in North American would drop to about 20%. We reached this in 2019.  Second, the two largest Christian bodies in the US would be the Roman Catholic Church and a largely conservative group of churches called “Evangelicals.”  This is exactly what has happened.  And it has happened despite the RC scandals and the highly published support of some prominent, but by no means all, Evangelicals leaders of President Trump.

I like to add, that it is interesting that both these two Christian groups tend to hold the same values regarding social issues in our society.  This should serve as a warning that merely accepting the wider more secular views of society would allow a denomination to grow.  This is reinforced during this shifting demographic because the former mainline have now become the sideline of American Christianity statistically speaking.  One need only remember the famous prediction by one of our Bishops that the consent to Gene Robinson’s election would open the door to hundreds of thousands of new church members.

This, by the way, wasn’t a great insight on my part, but rather information that I had gleaned from Lyle Schaller and other leading consultants and teachers in the America.  And here is the critical point in all this.  Even given the decisions and actions of the past, how is TEC doing in reaching the two newer generations in America.  Despite all our language about inclusiveness and our efforts to make ourselves relatable to current social values in North America, with very few exceptions, we like most of the rest of Christian denominations, are failing terrible at this task.  Even Evangelicals and Roman Catholics are, with very few exceptions, failing at this task.

I am also suggesting that even if we had not had division in TEC, we were after all a relatively small denomination even back in 2000, we would today still be faced with this most overwhelming challenge.  In my next blog, I will begin to hint at some actions that we could take to change this, but for now, let me close with this observation.

Is the Christian Church failing to reach the next generations here in North American because we are focused on the wrong things and are largely indifferent to the spiritual needs and aspirations of these next Generations?  Whether you stand on the right or the left (or somewhere else entirely) in the Church today, the evidence seems to be overwhelming pointing us to these sad truths!

Friday, November 29, 2019

What Chapter are You Writing?

Over the years, one of the most frequent question that I have been asked is by clergy pondering whether to stay in their present position or consider moving to another; “should I stay, or should I go?”  My answer to this is to ask the clergy friend to consider that they are writing a book about their life and vocation.  Then ask the question “What Chapter am I writing now?”

This means thinking of the natural divisions of your life and ministry which usually overlap and giving each one a name.  I suggest that if the chapter you are writing now best fits the place you are serving at the present time, then stay and finish the chapter.  If you find that you have finished a chapter and are ready to start another one, the you may need a new place to do this. Often, I hear, “I realize in answering this question that I am approaching the end of a chapter, but have some things I need to do to finish off this one.” 

For example, shortly after I accepted the call to become Dean of St. Matthew’s in Dallas, I was asked to enter a Bishop’s election process.  After asking myself this question, I knew the answer was to finish out this next chapter until retirement as Dean.  It was an easy question to answer even if I had the temptation to think of what I might do should I become a Bishop. 

However, when I served on the staff of the Diocese of Texas and we were approaching the election of a new Bishop, this was a hard one to answer.  The reason was that I loved working in the Diocese, but I had known for about a year that my chapter had come to an end.  While knowing this made leaving clear, the next chapter was harder to define.  I would say that it took me almost three years to answer it. During that time, I was in two bishop elections including one where I should have been elected, and no it wasn’t Texas. 😊

My point in these two examples is that answering this question is not always easy.  It is always important.  Since I have written on this topic before, I want to use this blog on a more personal level and talk about how I am having to answer that question in retirement.

In working with three Bishops, I learned something about the chapters clergy often face regarding retirement. I found that “Retirement One” involved a time of anxiety as parish clergy approaching retirement age worried over the question “Will I still be a priest when I retire from parish ministry?”  This, of course, is a question about identity because if you serve parishes being a priest and parish rector are pretty much linked.  Some clergy get downright depressed over this. One example of this anxiety is clergy telling folks a year ahead of time about their date of retirement.  The clergy often say that “they” (the congregation) need this kind of time to prepare.  The truth is that “they” don’t need more than about 3 months, but the clergy person and spouse often need this time to prepare.  

This first retirement almost always has a good resolve as we clergy discover that we are still priests and now we can do in retirement only those things that are most fulfilling to us.  For me, this is preaching and teaching with writing being a part of the teaching identity for me.  Therefore, I haven’t done interim work because I don’t care if I ever run another vestry meeting or oversee the repairs on a heating or air conditioning system!

Then at about 75 years of age, the Diocese receives a call from the retired person saying, “take me off the supply list.”  I call this “Retirement Two, the sequel.” This is the point when because of age, or health, or spouse’s health, or tiredness, or whatever, the clergy person is saying that now by retirement I mean I am content to really being retired.  I am still a priest and may function from time to time, but my regular working days are over. 

Knowing this, I have always had my 75th birthday in mind for considering changing to Retirement Two.  Well, as many of you know, two years of on-going health issues for both me and my wife has gotten me to this point early.  (I’ve always been advanced for my age!)  Recent health issues have confirmed this for me.  I am on a health sabbatical now and after the first of the year I will enter the next chapter.  For me this means mostly not traveling so much for work related issues.  I want to stay home and when I travel, do it with my wife for fun, help at our local church from time to time, continue to give advice when asked, and lastly, as long as I can, write.  BTW, if you work with congregations or are thinking about doing some consulting work, I would love to support you in any way that I can during this next chapter. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

Finally, during all this chapter work, you can give the book a title.  What is mine?  I have a few ideas, but I haven’t decided yet.  Perhaps those of you who know me would like to suggest one. 

Have a blessed Advent and joyful Christmas season.  I will be writing, the Lord willing, in the new year.    

Monday, September 9, 2019

Behind the Numbers

Since the 1990s, I've been keeping track and commenting on the trends in membership, attendance, and stewardship in TEC. If you haven't seen them, here is the big picture from the latest data taken from the 2018 Parochial Reports.

Membership is now 1,676,349 down 2.1% from last year.

BTW in 1965 our membership was 3.8 million. 

Attendance in 2018 was 533,206 down 4.2%  We didn't start keeping ASA until the 90s.

Decline in membership in the last 5 years was 10% and ASA decline in the last 5 years was 14%

Membership decline in the last 10 years was 19% and ASA decline during that time was 24% 

These are depressing and dismal numbers and it is not surprising that many of our current leaders do not wish to discuss this.  Over the years when I have written on the topic of decline, many leaders react negatively.  Decline is not a politically correct topic for either the staff at 815 or our Bishops. I like to respond that if you don’t like this decline then do something about it.

Good news is that still 20% of our congregations show at least a 10% growth in membership and ASA. This 20% number has remained about the same for the past 10 years. Put another way, 20% of our congregations have figured out how to have growth during a time when the denomination is in steady decline. They counter the often-spoken argument that “all mainline churches are in decline and there is nothing we can do about this because it is driven by demographics.” 

BTW, what can we learn from them? Lots, but no one in our denominational leadership seems to care. Sadly, many growing Episcopal congregations are seen and treated as outliers. 

40% of our congregations are experiencing serious decline of 10% or more a year. 

The remaining 40% are remaining somewhat stable.  This is an improvement from 10 years ago when 60% of our congregations were in steady decline.

Stewardship numbers are slightly up but allowing for inflation makes it flat.

If you don’t know, here are the historic general trends for TEC. Like all mainline denominations in the US, we experienced growth after the World War II (think baby boom!). Then, all mainline denominations started declining in 1965. I mark this as the beginning of the end of the Protestant Era. It certainly marked the end of mainline dominance in the Church in the U.S.

TEC has been in steady decline since 1965 with three exceptions. The first was six years of accelerated decline during and after the process that involved the vote allowing the ordination of women.

The second was a period of growth (we were the only mainline to do this) from 1995 to 2000. (Amazing how many of our leaders think that the Decade of Evangelism didn’t accomplish anything) 

The third was a major period of decline for the seven years following the consent to the ordination of Gene Robinson to be Bishop of New Hampshire. During this period, 80% of our congregations reported "major conflict".

Since Michael Curry was elected our PB, the decline has returned to its more historic steady number of about 1.5 to 2% a year.

You may want to ask how your congregation and diocese are doing compared to the trends of TEC as a whole?

Behind these numbers are some very important dynamics related to the size of our current congregations.  For example, the median average Sunday Worship Attendance is now 53.  In 2000, the median was 85.  So, the median dropped from the Pastoral Size Church to the Family Size.  This confirms other information and my experience that the number of congregations that can afford the services of a full-time ordained clergy has been in decline.  More congregations now have part-time, bi-vocational or retired clergy serving them.  This has overwhelming implications for seminaries, for deployment of clergy, and for the Church Pension Fund.  The CPF has been giving commentary on this for some time now. 

As for our larger congregations, the percent of congregations with an ASA of 300 or more is 4%.  This means that if your congregation has over 300 people on an average Sunday, it is in the top percentile of all our congregations.  

Now comes some commentary from me on the congregational dynamics.

First, isn’t it ironic that we no longer have a full-time staff person at 815 dealing either with congregational revitalization or small church ministries.  We have a few dioceses with such a person, but almost no urgency among denominational leadership.

Most dioceses deal with congregations that can no longer support a full-time clergy person by sending a priest in charge who works two to three days a week.  Sometimes a fuller package is provided by merging or coupling two smaller congregations together.  This, I believe is driven by necessity. 

Sadly, there is almost no training for clergy in this type ministry with how to grow these churches.  The strategy is to maintain them and as the numbers show, that isn’t working. And I know of no diocese that sends a full-time priest to such a situation with the intention that they turn it around and grow it to a larger size.  My intuition says that we don’t do this because our Diocesan Bishops don’t know how to do this.

Can smaller congregations learn the skills to evangelize, recruit new people, and form new Christians?  Of course, they can.  We have wonderful examples of this happening despite the strategy of Diocesan leaders.  We also have consultants like me that have the skills to help, but almost no funding or intentionality to make this happen.

My colleague John Wengrovius and I am now in the process of trying to find the funding to make such training and strategies available to churches that need it.  What I do wonder is this. If we find the funding are their any current leaders with the vision to use these resources?   If you are interested in helping with this project, let me know at 

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Preaching Scale

In this blog, I want to point to one thing that clergy could do that would make our congregations more attractive and magnetic to more non-Christians and Christians alike.  Why not improve our preaching?

Let me be clear, I am not saying that preaching in the Episcopal Church is bad.  I think that it is general thoughtful, contextually related to the Sunday lectionary, and generally informative.  It is, in other words, good.  And that is the problem.  It is not great, and I think I know the reasons why.

When I do workshops on preaching or have taught preaching at our Stanton Center, I usually start off by asking about good preachers the students have known.  We make a list on a whiteboard.  The list usually includes some former Rectors, a current Rector, an occasional Bishop, and a few point to some well-known clergy within our denomination such as the Presiding Bishop.  What I then point out to the participants is that none of them are known beyond the Episcopal Church especially when it has to do with preaching.  What this exercise shows is what is generally known outside the Episcopal Church, namely, our clergy are not known as outstanding preachers.  (One notable exception to this is Barbara Brown Taylor, but notice we have not heard much from her lately.)  I think I know why we are are not as good as we could be. 

For 15 years, I worked in positions that put me directly in clergy placement and recruiting which means that I read lots of resumes and Clergy Deployment Office Profiles.  I found that 90% of Episcopal Clergy list preaching as their first or second primary pastoral skill.  In other words, we think we are good at the preaching. So, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being outstanding, we rank ourselves in the 7 ,8 or 9 categories.  Why do we think this?  We judge ourselves this way this way because our scale is based on Episcopal clergy, those who teach preaching in our seminaries, and hearing ourselves. 

Some folks think that I am a good preacher.  They are surprised to discover that I rate myself as a “5” generally who can occasionally preach a “7” on what I call “The Preaching Scale.”  Then, I point out this truth.  If I am a good preacher, it is because I think I need to work at it.  You see, if we rate ourselves as already good, we do not dedicate ourselves to becoming great.  I consider myself both a preacher and a student of preaching even in retirement.  I attend workshops on preaching.  I constantly read books on preaching. I also study communications and read books on writing well.   I analyze the preaching of others, and along with this I listen to outstanding preachers from other traditions. 

In listening to outstanding preachers, I mark how she or he uses language; words, phrases, and imagery to communicate effectively.  I listen to how they make their case, appeal to their listener, and motivate others to action. 

The good news is that preaching involves multiple skills, and because of this, any preacher can improve.  We can improve the content of our sermons.  We can improve the delivery of our sermons.  We can learn how to create a more engaging introduction and a more pointed and memorable conclusion.  When we do, we almost always get good feedback from our congregation.  When a preacher has something worthwhile to say, and says it effectively, it draws people in.

All our congregations are faced with challenges, and many are in decline.  There are many reasons for this, and truth is that many of these are beyond the power of the clergy person to fix them.  However, we can begin today to become a better, more effective, communicator of the Gospel.  If you want to become a more effective clergy person who is a blessing to your congregation, give yourself over to becoming a student of preaching. Desires to become better at the task than you are now, and you will do yourself, your church, and your community a favor. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

How to make Restructuring Work

My last blog on the continuing need to restructure the Episcopal Church received the least amount of comments of any of my blogs.  I wasn’t too surprised because I know that the energy for this work was completely sucked out of the room by our current PB’s agenda of which I approve, and the folks who run TEC and General Convention are so invested in it, that they have no interest in this topic.  So be it.

However, this was the lead in for this blog where I discuss what I have learned about structure and restructuring in my many years of work with diocesan and parish leadership.  Let me start with this observation:

Many current church organizations are badly in need of revisiting their current structure with an eye toward being a more effective organization.  Indeed, many current structures keep mission mined organizations from making the mission the main thing.

 Principles for Structure and Restructuring

Let me begin with a few basic observations, and then I will apply this, at no charge, to the current inefficient, wasteful, and resistance structure of TEC.

Let me start with an observation from my mentor Lyle Schaller.  He observed that consultants in North America make a fortune by going into a centralized system and recommending de-centralization or going into a de-centralized system and recommending centralization.  He went on to observe that it usually took about five years for these organizations to figure out why these recommendations are not going to work and returning to at least what had worked in the past.

What Schaller recommended was that consultants should determine the current structure, centralized or de-centralized, and recommend ways to operate in a more effective and efficient manner.  For my friends in Calgary, this is what I attempted to do in my recent consultation with your Diocesan Council.  I have a word for this kind of work, streamlining, that I will demonstrate with my example for TEC.

I also learned from John Kotter’s writings why most efforts at change fail, namely, too much complacency with the status quo!  I have learned to ask two important questions about this.  First, how much real energy is there for change?  Second, who will be the predictable people in the organization that will resist such change? It takes perseverance for meaningful change to happen.  These are the principle reasons the attempt to restructure TEC failed; too much complacency with the status quo and two many stakeholders in the old system.  Hence, the leadership’s halfhearted support for this mean that the effort was doomed from the start. 

I also learned from Bishop Payne’s example of how to restructure a Vestry of a larger congregation that what is most needed is a way to “streamline” the structure.  So, his model would take the long overgrown and historically complex structure of a large church with its complicated committees, commissions, areas of ministry, and staff direction (or lack of it) and streamline this into a simpler structure of a Vestry and four subcommittees.  (BTW I have a paper on this and if you email me, I will send it to you.)  Once put into operation, this streamlined systems works so much better than the previous one, most Vestries embrace it quickly.

                         Implications for TEC

This brings me back to my free consultation with TEC and its historic structure, which is IMHO costly, overly complex, and inefficient.  It should be because it was designed in the 19th century when we had fewer dioceses and where the leadership of Bishops, Clergy Deputies, and affluent Lay Deputies could board a train for a two-week adventure of leisurely and informally doing the business of the church.  And remember that the Presiding Bishops of that era were the most tenured Diocesan Bishop of the Church.  They had almost no staff.  In those days, it was a de-centralized system.

Then came the first elected Presiding Bishop, now official a Primate, who had a staff that grew as did General Convention until we had 3.6 million members and nearly 100 dioceses.  These two factors centralized our current system. 

Let me remind all of us that we have had at least one major attempt to decentralize in the last 50 years and this was the Provincial System.  Some provinces have had more energy and life.  In others, the Bishops gather regularly. However, these provinces have never really developed for two reasons.  First, the provincial lines were drawn by east coast Bishops with little knowledge of the huge vastness of “the West.”  (For them, the “West” was west of the Allegany Mountains!)

Next, and more importantly, there was never any real attempt to fund these structures especially on a program level.  This remained the prerogative of General Convention with the influence of the Presiding Bishop’s Office and staff.

I have no interest in de-centralizing TEC. I do have a few suggestions to streamline it. Here they are: 

1.      Treat our structure just like any other effective not-for-profit organization.  There is plenty of information available on this topic in the literature of not-for-profit governance.

2.       So, The General Convention sets vision, policies, and procedures.  It does not run programs and it should not bog down in attempting to create the budget of the Church, just its priorities.

3.      Next see the Presiding Bishop as the “Director” of our organization who with his staff operates the programs of the Church just as most dioceses operate.  The PB is, with his staff, accountable to the interim body/board called the Executive Council who oversee all this between General Conventions.

4.      The Execute Council, with input from the Presiding Bishop and staff, should take the initiative in creating the draft budget for the next General Convention.

5.      The General Convention may approve this budget or amend it based on emerging priorities and special needs.

       There it is!  Streamlined and efficient, this structure will then allow General Convention to meet, celebrate, and set policy over eight days beginning with a Sunday Celebration of what has been done and ending with a Sunday commissioning of what will be done.  Occasionally, they will need to elect a new Presiding Bishop.  The GC continues to elect members of the Executive Council. The Executive Council becomes a more significant body with more power to make more immediate decisions; remember that GC only meets once every three years.  

      There may be a need for some committees of General Convention that manage its business to meet before General Convention starts, but all those joint house committees now have a very reduced workload, and many of them could even be eliminated.  Gone too is the myth that all those hundreds of submitted resolutions can be debated, prioritized, and voted on by both houses.  Now, they must be submitted to the Executive Committee first whose four subcommittees will determine if they need to be acted on by the Executive Council or referred to General Convention.  Three years is simply too long for a good and commendable idea to be delayed in our electronic culture.  The streamlining means that all those join committees no longer get to generate resolutions. But hey, we are not a State Church and few in our society care what we resolve and pass.  Just get over it.

                 But Who Said Anything About Restructuring?

Now, if you are a General Convention Deputy or a member of Executive Council, don’t worry.  None of this is going to happen.  There is way too much complacency and resistance in our current structure to lead to any of this being done. Your privileged position along with all its costliness and inefficiency will remain in place.  However, one thing could be done that is now struggling to emerge out of simple necessity.  This is the preparation of the next proposed budget by the Executive Council in consultation with the Presiding Bishop and staff.  The logic of this strait forward and commendable.  In the current structure, the GC passes resolution after resolution with budget amounts that get dumped on the desk of the Budget and Finance Committee who must in the closing days of GC sort this all out.  This should make sense to even the most long-standing Deputy.  (Oh, did I mention term limits?  Well, I am not that stupid!) 

                    Let's Forget About GC!

Now, turn to your more local situation.  Ask this question of your congregation and diocesan structure.  When is the last time we streamlined it to be a more effective missional organization driven by our stated priorities and on-going strategies?

Clarify your mission, then streamline your structure, and you will become a more effective organization.  This has worked for thousands of businesses and hundreds of not-for-profit organizations, and it can work for the Church too.    

Monday, May 20, 2019

Restructuring the Episcopal Church

Do you remember the attempt under our former Presiding Bishop to restructure the Church?  There was a great deal of discussion and energy put into this, but nothing came of it.  In this Blog, I am going to talk about the need for restructuring, and the primary reasons it failed.  In my follow up Blog, I will suggest a way forward and what could be done in the future.

The primary question is should TEC be restructured regarding General Convention, the Executive Council, and the myriad of Commissions and Join Committees of the General Convention.  The answer is very strait forward.  The current structure is the same one that emerged when TEC was almost 2/3rds larger than it is today.  I am a consultant to congregations and diocesan organizations, but you don’t have to be a consultant to figure out that this is an impossible and extremely complex structure for a Church now our size.  It would be very fruitful to take the lead of our current Presiding Bishop and combine his image of the Jesus Movement and his strategy of the Way of Love to aim our corporate life primarily at these missional goals and create a structure that serves these. 

Within these missional priorities would it also be possible to reduce the time and expense of General Convention not to mention the over 500 resolutions that are processed each time it meets?  Of course, we could.  So, why don’t we do it, and why is there no will to carry this out?

The first answer to this for me has to do with leadership.  When Michael Curry was elected our Presiding Bishop, he immediately did what good leaders should do.  He made the main thing, the main thing.  He contextualized our life and mission in the framework of Jesus’ movement.  Did you notice that from that moment on, talk of restructuring just stopped?  This leads us to the two primary reasons this effort at restructuring failed.

First, Curry’s predecessor did not have the energy, interest, and I would add the leadership ability to persevere with this restructuring.  Most of the energy for the restructuring was coming from good leaders who saw the need, but there was clearly no buy in by the then President Bishop, and there was almost no buy in from the Executive Council.  There was no sense of urgency and just like most efforts at organization change, this effort was doomed by too much complacency with the status quo.

Second, and there is no kind way to say this, there were too many people invested in the various committees and commission.  Having been elected a deputy, now folks had earned the right to sit at the table where actual decisions were made.  Why would they ever support a movement that would cause them to lose the power they had or the power at least they imagined they had?  Having served as a deputy for 4 times, I can tell you that the process of General Convention is largely controlled by the senior deputies through the apparatus of the current structure such as the Committee on Resolutions.  But if you are on one of those committees, you are a small group of the Deputies who can hear debate, discuss resolutions, and prepare them for a floor vote.  When I was on the Evangelism Joint Committee, we consider some 20 resolutions.  Only two of these got to the floor of convention and neither made it through the Budget Committee for funding.  Yet, we did a lot of work! 

Now let’s be fair.  We don’t usually see democratic organizations voting to have members of its deliberative body give up their perceived power.  Our deputies are no different and each person on one of those committees represented resistance to change. And since many are second, third, or fourth time deputies, it represents considerable resistance to change.  This too fits my first point, too much complacency with the status quo along with no sense of urgency.

Let’s go back to what would drive such a restructuring.  It would be leadership, missional priorities, and a sense of urgency.  All of this would be necessary to overcome the predictable resistance to change.  And what would be the benefit of doing it?

First as I said, the current structure served a much larger Church and in the economy of scale, we are paying way too much money for structure and organization.

Second, by streamlining our decision-making process, we could create a Church better able to respond to change and issues that emerge and areas that need funding while dropping areas that have lost energy.  Notice that I am for streamlining, not decentralizing.

Third, we could create a greater coherence in what we say is important and what we do.

Lastly, we could eliminate the immense cost of General Convention as a deliberative body.  If you add up the cost of General Convention meeting for two weeks and the cost to individual deputies, quite frankly we are squandering resources that are now needed badly for our mission, our dioceses, and our local congregations.

Next time, I will suggest a way forward in restricting that would enrich our community and its effectiveness.  The good news is that I am paid by the Church Pension Fund so I won’t be billing anyone.