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.

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