Presiding Bishop's remarks to structure task force

Posted Feb 15, 2013

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] On February 14, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori made the following remarks at the first meeting of the Task Force on Structure created by General Convention Resolution 2012-C095:

Structure Task Force
14 February 2013
Maritime Center, Linthicum Heights, MD
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

As this body begins its work together, I want to offer a broad sketch of who and what this Church is today. I am deeply aware that many Episcopalians have a good understanding of their local congregations, but often lack the broader awareness of who and what we are. I’m also going to suggest a handful of broad areas of developmental work that I see us as a church beginning to engage. Your task is to bring all of your creativity, strategizing, thought and prayer to the work of suggesting how we might better support and undergird and challenge the life and work of this Church and to do it with as one person says, sheer holy boldness.

The Episcopal Church is 2 million people in 109 dioceses and three other jurisdictions (the Area Mission of Navajoland, Convocation of Churches in Europe, and Micronesia).

We are present in 16 countries: Taiwan, Micronesia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Haiti, Dominican Republic, British and US Virgin Islands, United States including Puerto Rico, Honduras, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. And these United States. There are conversations going on in Poland with people who want to affiliate with The Episcopal Church. We also have a unique relationship with the Diocese of Cuba, which was part of The Episcopal Church until the United States and Cuban governments forced an end to their membership in The Episcopal Church in the 1960s.

Ninety percent of our members and our dioceses are in the United States, but we are not a “national church” and haven’t been for nearly two centuries, since we began to live into our formal legal identity, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS).

We speak and worship in a variety of languages, not only in the extra-US dioceses. Even those who usually worship in one or more local languages and sometimes also in English. Within the United States context, most dioceses have worshipping communities that represent more than one cultural context, history, and/or language. The Diocese of Los Angeles offers worship in at least 19 languages every week.

Our diocesan structures range from the historic and numerically large (in terms of congregations and people), like New York, Massachusetts, and Virginia, to the numerically small but geographically large western dioceses (e.g., Montana, Navajoland, Alaska, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah). Micronesia is the smallest jurisdiction, consisting of four congregations and a large boarding school, in two different island jurisdictions.

Five of our dioceses are in various stages of renewal following the departure of leadership in recent years: San Joaquin, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy, and South Carolina. In each case, the remaining Episcopalians have found resurrection in turning outward to serve their communities, and moving away from an inward focus on conflict.

We are an enormously varied church, with strong growth in most of our overseas dioceses and in immigrant congregations in the United States context. Latino/Hispanic congregations are an increasingly significant part of the whole, as are Asian congregations of many sorts. These congregations are no longer all primarily first generation immigrants, and dioceses are beginning to learn how to address the changing demographic needs. We also have an increasing number of African immigrant congregations – Liberian, Sudanese, Nigerian, and others. We are also growing in more traditional congregations, particularly when they are focused on mission, and moving out into the communities around them.

As The Episcopal Church moves into the 21st century and considers where and how the gospel needs to be proclaimed in the midst of changing societies, we have several primary foci of attention, the places where people are paying attention.

1) Identity. This is central – who are we, what are we for?
Far more attention is being paid to these questions, and how we form our members of all ages in an Episcopal ethos for Christian living. [You might work toward a similar statement!]

We are baptized members of the body of Christ, formed and sent to be agents of God’s dream of reconciliation in a broken world.

2) Mission. This is a primary response to the question of identity (I remind you of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society)

In recent triennia, we have begun to explore the mission focus in broad ways that have engaged the imagination of the wider church. Beginning with the Millennium Development Goals (growing out of the global Jubilee movement in 2000), we have worked hard at serving “the least of these.” The MDGs center on the poorest of the poor in the developing world, they address hunger, maternal and children’s health, women’s empowerment, primary education, major disease threats, economically and ecologically sustainable development, and trade and debt practices. The MDGs will be refocused and renewed in 2015, and the good news is that we’ve made significant progress in several areas.

One of the challenges of the MDGs is that they are focused only on poverty in developing nations, and the United States has equivalent levels of poverty in inner cities, in some rural areas, and on Native American reservations. The Domestic Poverty initiative that came out of the 2009 General Convention is a response to this challenge. It has had its initial focus on Native American communities, using Asset-Based Community Development methods.

We have also claimed an Anglican Communion-generated understanding of mission in the Five Marks of Mission. This has been an enormously helpful framework for thinking about what it is God sends us to do: proclaim the good news of the kingdom; teach, baptize, and nurture new believers; respond to human need through loving service; transform unjust structures of society; and care for the earth. These Five Marks are gaining traction across The Episcopal Church and across the Worldwide Anglican Communion), particularly because no one community or part of the wider church can hope to accomplish all or even one of those on its own – these marks exemplify what it means to be members of the body of Christ.

3) Sustainability in mission.

The DFMS was key to missionary efforts in several parts of Asia, South and Latin America, and Liberia, and also sent early missionaries to Japan and China. A number of those churches planted in those areas have grown enough to become autonomous parts of the Anglican Communion: Mexico; IARCA (Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de America), Brazil, the Philippines, and the Diocese of Liberia – which joined the Province of West Africa a number of years ago. We remain in close relationship with those provinces, through covenant partnerships. At the same time, autonomy in some places came in name more than real fiscal sufficiency, which we must own as one of the legacies of our own colonial mission history. Several of the dioceses of The Episcopal Church remain in that kind of dependency, which I don’t believe is representative of full dignity and partnership in the body of Christ. Mission and ministry was begun in many contexts without adequate planning for growth and development; as a result, several of these jurisdictions remain or remained on the DFMS budget dole far longer than necessary or just.

A great mission focus of the 19th century urged the broader church to recognize that growing up into the full stature of Christ as a Christian community carries three broad expectations of maturity – that it be self-governing, self-sustaining, and self-propagating (cf. Henry Venn and Roland Allen). The church in China exists today as a result of effective mission work in the 19th century along those lines, and indeed, China claims this expectation in the name it gives its Protestant churches: the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM).

Province IX (Latin American dioceses) and several of our covenant partners (Philippines, Mexico, IARCA, Brazil) are engaged in a vigorous strategic process toward self-sufficiency. Navajoland and Haiti are also committed to this work. What they learn and develop might also be emulated by many of our more traditional US dioceses. Former missionary districts and dioceses (e.g., Coalition 14 and its successor the Domestic Missionary Partnership, have engaged these questions for many years). Other depopulating US dioceses might partner in the learning conversation about entrepreneurial creativity, strategic mission planning, and creative multi-faceted development that arise from these initiatives.

4) Organizing and structuring for mission.

The last General Convention, I think, listened well to the moving of the Spirit across The Episcopal Church (and many other churches) in recent years, and challenged us as a body to look carefully at how our structures serve God’s mission or do not serve God’s mission. This Task Force on Structure is expected to report to The Episcopal Church in late 2014, with the hope that our next General Convention will take up your proposals.

Change and reform are not waiting until then, however. The body charged with shaping the next General Convention, called Planning and Arrangements, has already begun to look at how we might work more effectively.

Responses Needed
I see a variety of responses and needs as I look around The Episcopal Church, which are being variously addressed and will need sustained leadership by bishops, other clergy, and lay leaders:

  • Identity as Christians and Episcopalians. We need an ongoing focus on formation for ministry and mission as engaged by all the baptized. That includes theological education for all that fits the need of individual and community. How can we more effectively call and develop ordained and lay leaders for all contexts, including tentmakers (those who will find their fiscal support other than sources other than the church).
  • A flexible and varied understanding of congregations/faith communities. For example, new monasticism (Episcopal Service Corps, intentional lay communities), congregations without permanent buildings, things like street and coffee shop ministries, or house churches.
  • Entrepreneurial models – such as worshiping communities that grow out of justice and/or mission efforts (feeding programs, housing initiatives, cooperatives). We are going to need to rethink, restructure, and reform in order to ensure that all of these develop that are sustainable – as congregations and dioceses, and for clergy and lay leadership can be sustainable.
  • Continued focus on mission. I believe our goal is the Kingdom of God, shalom, the beloved community, call it what you will — it means seeing this work through the lens of ensuring justice for all. That involves addressing poverty and care of the earth, so that all have full and adequate access to food, the basic stuff of life, education, employment, dignity, access to just economic systems. An essential part of this work is peace-making: questions of war, exploitation, violence including gender violence, as well as migration, poverty, and globalization.
  • Strong, and well-formed communities of leaders are needed, that model shared and servant leadership, that operate with radical trust, creativity. We need flexibility and capacity to respond to emerging realities and the call of the Spirit.
  • I want to encourage us to think about how we nurture and develop full communion partnerships with the ELCA, Moravians, IFI (Iglesia Filipina Independiente), and Mar Thoma Church. How can we continue to Explore other ecumenical possibilities for the sake of God’s mission.
  • We need to engage interreligious conversation, and explore possibilities for shared mission and solidarity, for all cases where we share the common goal of a healed and reconciled world.

Worldwide Anglican Communion
38 autonomous provinces form the Worldwide Anglican Communion. A significant portion of the Communion has its origin in The Episcopal Church: Brazil, Mexico, IARCA, Philippines, Liberia, Cuba. Early missionaries also helped to form the churches in Japan and China. We also have a long and deep relationship with the Diocese of Jerusalem.

The recent unpleasantness, as some people might call it, in the Worldwide Anglican Communion is developmental. The Communion is maturing – it’s moving from adolescence and dependency (that budget issue, again) into more adult and mutual relationships. The “Windsor process” that tried to define structures and attempted to develop an Anglican Covenant has been helpful because it has promoted far deeper and more honest conversation about relationships. We have hardly begun to explore the history of colonialism, however, from the legacy of both the British Empire and the United States.

Most people would recognize the Windsor process claim of “four instruments of communion” as being the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting, and the Anglican Consultative Council. Language about the “instruments” has shifted in recent months from surgical instruments to symphonic instruments, which I think is very significant. The ACC is clear that leadership in the Worldwide Anglican Communion needs to include the voices of laity and non-episcopal clergy, as well as women, in all its structures.

Relationships across the Communion continue to grow in number, depth, and mutuality. There is increasing understanding between The Episcopal Church and the Church of England, although there is still abundant plenty of room for growth there. The recent ACC meeting (Oct-Nov 2012 in Auckland) had attendees from all but one province in the Communion, and far more effective conversation and outcomes than the previous two meetings. In spite of or in parallel with GAFCON, the Communion is still extant, although not completely what we would hope for and expect in Christian community.

Relationships are essential to the life of the Communion. Several ACC initiatives are helping to develop greater missional partnerships: Continuing Indaba; Bible in the Life of the Church project; the Anglican Communion networks of several sorts.

The impact of Lambeth 2008, and a meeting of North American and African bishops in Spain before Lambeth, can’t be overstated. Most recognize the real need for learning and understanding other contexts; deep engagement in missional partnership is both the way to accomplish that, and it is the fruit of that engagement.

All of these communion-wide endeavors need investment, both personal and financial. Deconstructing the colonialism in our wider life and relationships is essential to answering God’s missional call. The Anglican Communion is the world’s third- largest distribution system, after the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches. It can be a powerful force for healing, reconciliation, and transformation toward the reign of God. Anglican and Episcopal churches exist beyond the end of the road in many countries around the world, that can offer healing, education, and transformation to the communities around them. The Anglican Alliance (of relief and development agencies of which Episcopal Relief & Development is a part) is an example of what is possible when we work together rather than separately. We have also seen what a difference it makes when one part of the Communion stands in solidarity with another. The life of people around the world has been changed by Worldwide Anglican Communion prayers and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe, Jerusalem, Congo, Sudan, Japan post-tsunami, Haiti, and in the eastern United States following the storm called Sandy.

All of this work toward the Reign of God depends on continuing to develop incarnate relationships, which are the outward and visible expression of the great commandment to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves.


Comments (1)

  1. Brad Howard says:

    Very interesting! I’m looking forward to learning what comes out of this process.

Comments are closed.