Re-imagining task force members say ‘real challenge’ is transformation

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Oct 15, 2013
Task Force for Re-imagining the Episcopal Church Co-convener Katy George gives an update on the group’s work Oct. 15 to members of Executive Council meeting in Chicago. The Rev. Dwight Zscheile, TREC member, also participated in the briefing and discussion with council. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg, Episcopal News Service

Task Force for Re-imagining the Episcopal Church Co-convener Katy George gives an update on the group’s work Oct. 15 to members of Executive Council meeting in Chicago. The Rev. Dwight Zscheile, TREC member, right, also participated in the briefing and discussion with council. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg, Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Chicago, Illinois] One of the co-conveners of the Task Force for Re-imagining the Episcopal Church told Executive Council Oct. 15 that the task force was aiming for “not just a legislative success”; that is, having the 2015 General Convention accept its recommendations.

“The real challenge is actually not in the legislative success; the real challenge is turning the proposals into real action and into a sustained way of working across the church in a way that really meets all of our dreams and visions for what the church should be,” said Co-convener Katy George.

TREC’s work began in July 2012, when General Convention, by way of Resolution C095, called for a task force “to present the 78th General Convention with a plan for reforming the church’s structures, governance, and administration.”

George and the Rev. Dwight Zscheile, a task force member, updated council members on the group’s work and led them in a discussion of some of its effort thus far.

TREC already has received a lot of feedback from some members of the church, ranging from the “nitty-est and grittiest to the most broad perspective,” George said.

The 24 TREC members, George said, know that the church is already changing, and so the group’s work is “not about tweaking a current approach just to make it a little more efficient because that’s all that’s needed.”

“We understand that the role of church, the role of religion, the role of the Episcopal Church has been changing dramatically in our society,” she said.

“We see that in dwindling church attendance and in dwindling church resources, and so we are very aware that what we are about is not just making our current church work a little bit more efficiently – although it would be nice if it did – but that we really should be setting forth a vision to help coalesce the church around what it can be in the 21st century: a vital and exciting church that calls people to it and has a wonderful influence in our world.”

The task force knows that, in such major change work, structure “is never the right starting point and it is never the whole answer,” George, a management consultant, told the council.

Instead, such work is really about what knowing what the organization’s culture is, what the “degree of alignment around the vision is,” how all in the organization are working towards that vision and discerning whether the organization has the right skills to get there, she said.

George said TREC had limited its scope to the work of General Convention; Executive Council; the presiding bishop; president of the House of Deputies; the church center staff; and the church’s committees, commissions, agencies and boards.

The task force is not considering the work of the church in its nine provinces, its dioceses, congregations and other church bodies, although George acknowledged that decisions made about the workings of those people and groups in the “in-scope list” will no doubt influence the structure and work of the entities on the second list. Those possible changes might be “an appropriate follow-on activity for the next triennium,” George said.

Later in the council’s discussion, member Steve Hutchinson wondered whether General Convention’s desire to have a report in 2015 was a challenge to true engagement in all the facets of such work. And council member John Johnson urged TREC to take risks and be provocative with its recommendations to the 2015 convention.

The council also spent about an hour discussing with George and Zscheile some of the principles included in an Initial Working Report on Identity and Vision that TREC released a few weeks ago. The report, on which the House of Bishops received a briefing and the task force’s House of Deputies members sent a letter to their colleagues, outlined the task force’s work to look for answers to the following questions:

  • Who are we as Episcopalians? What is our particular identity?
  • How is Episcopal identity being expressed and renewed in the context of the 21st century?
  • How has our churchwide organization evolved, and does the current paradigm best support our identity and calling in today’s context?
  • What do we need from a churchwide organization today and going forward?

In the report, the task force said that “a new paradigm for Episcopal Church organization must be rooted in our identity,” naming as its “overarching organizational principle” the sense that “structure should foster a shared identity and sense of community, while resisting attempts to unduly narrow the church’s life and witness.”

The report named “four specific roles that the churchwide organization could and should play,” including “catalyst, connector, capability builder and convener.”

“We really are looking for substantive engagement on these ideas,” George told the council, adding that the task force is “very open” to revising its work on those ideas as it goes through the next year until it is due to make its report to General Convention public in late 2014.

George and Zscheile urged council members to encourage engagement and feedback to help with that refinement. Connecting to that, the day before TREC’s presentation to the council, the group announced its plans to “to continue to engage the church at all levels in an ongoing conversation about how we can re-imagine our structures, governance and administration in a way that best responds to God’s call at this moment in our common life, and helps most faithfully live into the church God is calling us to become in the future,” in the words of TREC’s other co-convener, the Rev. Craig Loya.

The so-called Engagement Kit, which includes overviews, guidelines for engagement, facilitator’s notes, charts and other materials, can be downloaded in either PowerPoint or PDF form at the task force’s site here. The kit, Loya said, is intended to be used by any local, diocesan or churchwide gathering.

There is also an opportunity for online engagement, which is a series of four questions.

The materials are meant to deal in part with the reality that, while Resolution C095 called on the task force to hold a “special gathering” to receive responses to any proposed recommendations it was considering sending to the 2015 meeting of General Convention, the convention did not give the task force the estimated $450,000 it would take to stage such a meeting. The convention approved (line 282 here) $200,000 specifically for the gathering.

In addition, the task force will have met three times for two days each by the end of 2013 (TREC meets again Dec. 6-7). Each of those meetings costs money as well. The convention allocated $630,449 to be divided among all of the church’s committees, commissions, agencies and boards, including the task force.

The task force asked for and received a $150,000 grant from Trinity Wall Street. Loya told ENS in July, “We also talked about other ways to convene … that may be a helpful way of modeling new ways for the church to gather.”

George said TREC was now contemplating a plan to hold a churchwide gathering in July 2014, funding what it could of the total cost out of its budget and asking provinces and individuals to pay for their participation.

House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings hinted at the implications of the changing nature of the Episcopal Church during her opening remarks.

“Figuring out our identity as advocates for the gospel requires us to set aside, yet again, our old establishment identity as the church of power and privilege,” she said. “Whether it’s Congress or big business, those who inhabit the corridors of worldly power aren’t obligated to listen to us anymore — if they ever were. But that doesn’t mean we should stop speaking. We must speak up, not because we are powerful in the culture, but because we are Christians called by God to raise our voices for those who have no voice.”

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori pointed in her opening remarks to the already-changing nature of the church as well, and thus the council’s work, noting the members had “important work to do in beginning to shape a missional framework for the next triennium’s churchwide mission and ministry.”

The council’s budget subcommittee has received feedback from the church, she said, that point to keeping the Five Marks of Mission “as the desired framework, as well as a focus on evangelism, development of new and existing faith communities in the Episcopal tradition and an understanding that the churchwide structure should focus on networking and resource-sharing.”

ENS coverage of the initial work of TREC is here.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.