Structure Committee calls for task force to recommend ways to reform

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Jul 9, 2012

[Episcopal News Service – Indianapolis] The Committee on Structure has drafted a blueprint for how General Convention can respond to the growing voices in the Episcopal Church calling for change.

Resolution C095, Substitute, was adopted unanimously by the committee during its July 9 morning meeting. It grounds its action in the belief that “the Holy Spirit is urging The Episcopal Church to reimagine itself.”

It creates a special task force of up to 24 people who will gather ideas in the next two years from all levels of the church about possible reforms to its structures, governance and administration. Their work will culminate in a special gathering of people from every diocese to hear what recommendations the task force plans to make to the 78th General Convention. Its final report is due by November 2014.

The resolution mandates diversity in the task force membership and inclusion of people “with critical distance from the Church’s institutional leadership.” It is to be appointed by Sept. 30, 2012.

Because the task force is being created under General Convention Joint Rules of Order 22, its membership must be appointed by the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies. Committee members, however, said they want to make it clear that they expect inclusion of people who aren’t part of the church’s status quo, including young adults.

The task force will be accountable only to General Convention and will be “independent of other governing structures, to maintain a high degree of autonomy.” It also must report to the entire church frequently on the work it is doing.

Prayed for unanimity

After the vote was taken, at the request of the Rev. Gay Jennings, the deputies’ chair of the committee who presided over the session, members and guests sang “Sing a New Church” by Sister Delores Dufner.

Later Jennings said she had hoped and prayed that the committee would reach a unanimous decision and that “people would feel it was Spirit-driven, and I think that was the case.”

She noted that the committee members represented “a broad spectrum theologically, politically, spiritually across the church,” and added, “It was clear that this committee, even though we come from very different perspectives, came to a common mind to build up the church to the glory of God.

“That’s why the hymn was so important to me,” she said. “That’s what we trying to do — sing a new church into being, one in faith, love and praise.”

Writing group aimed for few constraints

The framework for the final resolution was created by a writing group of 11 deputies and two bishops headed by Deputy Tom Little of Vermont and Bishop Thomas Breidenthal of Southern Ohio.

Little said the drafters wanted to provide the task force the power to decide how it would operate and organize itself. The Rev. Wendy Abrahamson, deputy from Iowa, said they wanted to give them “few constraints” and instead trust that they could determine how best to undertake their work.

The Rev. Michael Barlowe, deputy from California, said he thinks the most important word in the document is reimagine. “We have talked about restructure,” he said, “but reimagine is what the Holy Spirit is calling us to right now.

The Very Rev. Chris Cunningham, deputy from Southern Virginia, said a critical piece is the requirement that the task force share its work regularly with the entire church. He said they are to communicate “not to Executive Council or General Convention or some other CCAB, but report back to the church, on a regular basis, to everybody.”

In response, committee member Fredrica Thompsett of Massachusetts said, “I see this as a brilliant document of trust.”

The committee received more than 40 resolutions calling for structural change, and this new one will take the place of all those, many of which are identical or nearly so.

The driving force behind those resolutions was a proposal last fall by Bishop Stacy Sauls, the Episcopal Church’s chief operating officer, calling for a special General Convention in 2014 to begin to make changes to the church’s constitution. Because amendments to the constitution can only take place at a regular convention, attention turned to how the spirit of change could begin to take shape at this convention and lead to options for its next meeting in 2015.

The resolution also requests an allocation of $400,000 in the 2013-2015 budget. The task force can decide how it wants to spend the money to do its work.

The resolution now moves to the House of Deputies, where it will be debated. If passed there, it goes to the House of Bishops for consideration.

— Melodie Woerman is a member of the Episcopal News Service team at General Convention.

The text of Resolution C095, Substitute, follows:

Resolved, the House of ________ concurring, That this General Convention, believes the Holy Spirit is urging The Episcopal Church to reimagine itself, so that, grounded in our in our rich heritage and yet open to our creative future, we may more faithfully:
Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
Teach, baptize and nurture new believers
Respond to human need by loving service
Seek to transform unjust structures of society
Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth;
and be it further

Resolved, That this General Convention establish a Task Force under the Joint Rules of Order, whose purpose shall be to present the 78th General Convention with a plan for reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and administration; and be it further

Resolved, That this Task Force shall be accountable directly to the General Convention, and independent of other governing structures, to maintain a high degree of autonomy; and be it further

Resolved, That the Task Force shall have as many as 24 members, appointed jointly by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies by September 30, 2012. The membership of the Task Force shall reflect the diversity of the Church, and shall include some persons with critical distance from the Church’s institutional leadership; and be it further

Resolved, That, in order to be informed by the wisdom, expertise, and commitment of the whole body of the Church, the Task Force shall gather information and ideas from congregations, dioceses and provinces, and other interested individuals and organizations, including those not often heard from; engage other resources to provide information and guidance, and shall invite all these constituencies to be joined in prayer as they engage in this common work of discernment; and be it further

Resolved, That the Task Force shall convene a special gathering to receive responses to the proposed recommendations to be brought forward to the 78th General Convention and shall invite to this gathering from each diocese at least a bishop, a lay deputy, a clerical deputy, and one person under the age of 35. It may also include representatives of institutions and communities (e.g., religious orders, seminaries, intentional communities); and be it further

Resolved, That the Task Force shall report to the whole Church frequently, and shall make its final report and recommendations to the Church by November 2014, along with the resolutions necessary to implement them, including proposed amendments to the Constitution and Canons of the Church; and be it further

Resolved, That the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance consider adding $400,000 to the 2013-2015 triennial budget, to enable this Resolution to be implemented energetically and successfully, “…for surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)


Comments (4)

  1. Samuel V. Wilson, Jr. says:

    So, it is proposed that the Episcopal Church re-invent itself in three years! As the Articles of Confederation gave way to the U.S. Constitution during a period of passionate debate and earnest apologia, so is our church now poising itself on the cusp of turbulent–perhaps rancorous– discussion. We must be prepared for this! My one fear as that the pendulum of reform is swinging far and fervently into the region of deconstruction and super-individualism in the pursuit of relevance which, we must know, always ends in the intractable morass of existential pondering. If one day, we look back and long for the simple good old days, and the orderly structures, and the process of paced discernment–all founded on centuries of tradition–then I will strain mightily not to say to my church or what is left of it: “I told you so.”

  2. From what I know of the conversation, I don’t expect that it will end in the intractable morass of existential pondering, but rather in the Great Commission to proclaim the gospel, particularly to emerging generations and those who no longer feel (or never did feel) a connection to the body of Christ. I thank God for the Structure Committee and their hard work in developing this resolution.

  3. John Perkins says:

    I had lunch with a friend who served on the Vestry with me when I was Senior Warden and our church was growing for the first time in 20 years or more. He told me that he felt that there would still be an Episcopal Church around for a funeral when he needed it some time in maybe twenty years or so.

    I’m not that optimistic for myself.

    May I recommend everyone read, or re-read, Fast Food Nation? There is much to chew on in that book that would inform a committee tasked with reorganizing the Church.

  4. Stephen Voysey says:

    I would have to say that most of the people with whom I work in the life of the Church are concerned first of all with the ongoing mission and ministry of their own parish, whether as clergy or lay persons. Some among them feel a genuine connection to the workings of the Diocese, and offer themselves on a volunteer basis to try to make a difference at that level. Very few have much of a sense of the mission and ministry which flows from General Convention and from the Executive Council between conventions. That is not to say that the work of GC is unimportant, but rather that it seems that it is very rarely on the minds of most folks I with whom I strive to share in the work of ministry. How the Church Center is structured seems to me to be secondary to the greater need for a much broader group of church people becoming aware of the mission and ministry at that level. I am enough of an historian to know that church structures and the cultures within which those structures exist are always changing. To my mind, there has never been a “good old days,” but rather continuous challenges and responses to challenges. I see no lack of spiritual concern and hope in the younger generation; the question is how will we be able to translate that concern and hope into mission and ministry.

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