TREC issues letter to the Episcopal Church

Posted Dec 11, 2013

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] The Taskforce for Re-Imagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) has issued a letter to the Episcopal Church.

TREC Letter to the Church: December 10, 2013

In the last several months, the members of the Taskforce for Reimagining The Episcopal Church have been on a listening tour – in person and virtually. We have spoken with youth groups and bishops, the Executive Council and councils of local leaders; at provinces, at dioceses, parishes, and religious communities. We have asked people what their hopes and dreams are for our Church; what aspects of the Church they hope we cherish and strengthen; and what they wish we could be brave enough to let go of in order to make our Church more vibrant and mission-focused.

Our listening to the Church is an ongoing process. What we have heard is a deep, abiding love for our Church and its unique way of creating Christ-centered community and mission. The Book of Common Prayer and the beauty and mystery of our liturgy bind us together across ages, geographies and politics. We deeply love the intellectual as well as the spiritual life that is cultivated in our members (“you don’t need to leave your mind at the door”).

On many other issues, we disagree. We heard calls for the Church to be “less reactive to social issues,” and also calls to make the Church’s voice on social issues even louder. We heard calls for more diversity in our liturgy and music, and equally urgent calls for less. We would have expected nothing different! Many of us cherish the diversity of our community as much as we cherish the common beliefs and traditions that bring us together.

But there were several loud and urgent themes that consistently ran through our discussions: the Church is calling for us to reduce the bureaucracy and resource-intensity of our Church wide processes. The Church wants the work of General Convention and other Church structures to be more relevant and more life-giving to our local parish communities. And, the Church wants us to face and grapple with the tough issues and the “elephants in the room” that suck up our resources, time and energy and that block our growth.

As a taskforce, we have been reflecting on what we have heard, and the vision of a reinvigorated Episcopal Church is emerging.

A New Vision
Imagine a world where all of our Episcopal parishes are spiritually vibrant and mission-focused. A recent survey suggests that less than 30% would pass this test today. [1] Imagine a world where our parishes consistently are good at inspiring their traditional members and also are energized and effective in reaching out to new generations and new populations. Imagine a world where the shape of our Church frequently adapts, as new parish communities emerge in non-traditional places and non-traditional ways, and as existing parishes merge and reinvent as local conditions change. Imagine a world where Episcopal clergy and lay leaders are renowned for being highly effective leaders, skilled at Christian formation and community building, at new church planting, at church transformation, and at organizing communities for mission. Imagine that Episcopalians easily collaborate with each other across the Church: forming communities of interest, working together to share learnings from local initiatives, and collaborating to pool resources and ideas. Imagine that the Church wide structure of The Episcopal Church primarily serves to enable and magnify local mission through networked collaboration, as well as to lend its prophetic voice. Imagine that each triennium we come together in a “General Mission Convocation” where participants from all over the Church immerse themselves in mission learning, sharing, decision making and celebration.

Realizing this vision
It will take far more than structural changes in order to realize this new world. It will take resolved and capable leadership at all levels of the Church, and it will take broad and deep cultural change within the Church. We will have to work through a grieving process as we individually and collectively lose structures that have been critical parts of our lives and even of our identities. At the same time, we will also have to find a way of adopting a new and more hopeful mindset: we will need to believe—truly believe—that The Episcopal Church can, should and must GROW!

In our work, we will call out some of the non-structural changes that we believe will be critical to living into a new vision of a vibrant, growing and adaptive Church. We will give some suggestions for how we might go beyond structural reform to achieve these changes in leadership behaviors, culture and organizational capability.

We will focus most of our time as a taskforce on developing a set of recommendations for structural or “technical” changes that we think will be a critical part of reinvigorating the Church. These changes will play three important roles in the revitalization of our Church:

  1. They will “clear the way” for innovation and adaptation, freeing up our time and energy, and speeding up decision making.
  2. They will give the leadership of the Church a bold and holistic agenda of change which, if adopted, will role model the kind of similar bold changes that must occur at every other level of the Church.
  3. They will reinvent the role of Church wide organizations and structures: away from “doing” mission and towards enabling mission; away from setting agendas and assigning resources and towards connecting local communities and individuals for mutual learning, support and collaboration.

What to expect from us
We have identified a number of key issues that we believe must be tackled through structural reform. We are working to develop proposals that address each of these issues. Some of these proposals will feel incremental, and many have been debated before. Some will feel bold and risky. Some of them will go beyond the scope of a narrow interpretation of the resolution that created our Taskforce (C095). Some of them go even beyond the scope of the authority of General Convention, and thus will take the form of “recommendations” or “prophetic proclamations” rather than legislative proposals. Taken together, however, alongside the many exciting, vibrant, and hopeful things already emerging around the Church, we believe that our proposals will be part of the ongoing work of setting the Church on a new path towards health and vitality.

Some of the areas in which we are developing recommendations include:

  1. The role and mechanics of General Convention: Narrowing the legislative agenda and reducing the size of its legislative bodies, while expanding the scope of our get-togethers so that they serve not only as places where key legislation is debated and adopted but also as vibrant, open and inclusive celebratory Mission Convocations—bringing together passionate and active practitioners of every kind of mission going on around the Church.
  2. Roles and accountability of the Presiding Officers and of the Executive Council–particularly as related to Church wide staff: Establishing simple and clear lines of accountability and responsibility, reducing redundancy, clarifying confusions which can inhibit clear decision-making processes, and resizing the Council to function more effectively as a governance board.
  3. Breadth of CCABs (Committees, Commissions, Agencies and Boards) and the creation of alternative, fresh and creative models for Church wide collaboration: Recasting most of our CCABs into a new model of distributive and accountable collaboration. Creating on-line collaboration models that connect local mission leaders across our Church so that our collective “agenda” can dynamically adapt to local needs, and so that we tap into the greatest asset of our Church—all of us, sitting in the pews, doing great work locally but mostly disconnected from each other and from The Episcopal Church.
  4. Number of dioceses: Considering a one-time, objective process for establishing norms for a healthy and viable diocesan size and structure in order to enable mission and reduce the complexity of our organization.
  5. Capacity and leadership development: Establishing effective leadership formation and development approaches for all orders of ministry, grounded in our vows of baptism and ordination, as well as in the particular needs of the 21st century. Calling out the implications for clergy career paths and deployment, as well as the implications and opportunities for seminaries and other current leadership development programs. Encouraging the creation of new “centers of excellence” or other mechanisms for fostering ongoing learning and large-scale capability building, encouraging networking around existing nodes of great work.

It is also clear that there is a deeply felt need to develop some common understandings of how individual dioceses can best make decisions about, and provide the best support for, parish vitality and viability. Given how vastly different the cultural and demographic landscape has become since most of our congregations were founded and buildings constructed, how do we make the most faithful and strategic use of our resources as we make decisions about the number of parishes, locations, consolidations, new plants, etc.? This work is largely in the hands of local dioceses rather than the General Convention, but we hope that our work will contain some reflections and recommendations that may be taken up by the whole church around these pressing and critical issues as well.

What we need from you
We have a huge and complex scope of work, and we need your help! Please keep talking with us and giving us feedback and ideas. If you have not convened a discussion with our Engagement Kit, or completed our on-line questionnaire, please do so! If you have reactions to our Episcopal Identity and Vision paper posted on our website, please send us your feedback and ideas. We are revising it with the feedback we have already received and will continue to revise it as we gather additional input.  Please send us your feedback and ideas regarding this letter.

Going forward, please watch for drafts of recommendations around the areas of reform that we have highlighted in this note. We will post installments around our ideas as quickly as we can, beginning in late January 2014, to enable as much discussion, debate and feedback as possible. We will continue to post updates to our evolving proposals through the course of the year, as we work towards finalizing our work in late 2014. In addition, we are in the process of planning a special gathering of the Church in the fall of 2014 to further discuss our proposals and to receive feedback. In line with our vision to live into new ways to “do Church” in the 21st century, this meeting will be virtual, so that we can involve as broad and diverse a group as possible, without restricting access to those who don’t have the financial resources to join an in-person gathering.

Finally, please pray for us and for all who are engaging with us, as we try our best to discern the right path for our Church. You might use the prayer that members of our Taskforce have written for us:

Holy Spirit, who broods over the world, fill the hearts and minds of your servants on Taskforce for Reimagining The Episcopal Church with wisdom, clarity and courage. Work in them as they examine and recommend reforms for the structure, governance and administration of this branch of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. Help them propose reforms to more effectively proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, to challenge the world to seek and serve Christ in all persons—loving our neighbors as ourselves and to be a blazing light for the kind of justice and peace that leads to all people respecting the dignity of every human being. Be with The Episcopal Church that we all may be open to the challenges that this Taskforce will bring to us—and help the whole church to discern your will for our future. In the name of Jesus Christ our Mediator, on whose life this Church was founded. AMEN

Thank you for the trust you have placed in us, and in the input you have already provided. Thank you in advance for the input and vigorous debate that we hope will mark the next phase of our work with you.

For more info, questions or comments, contact TREC members at

[1] David Roozen, “A Decade of Change in American Congregations: 2000-2010,” Hartford Institute for Religion Research, 2011.

TREC Engagement Kit:

NOTE: the information in Spanish will be available shortly.


Comments (32)

  1. John M Stevenson says:

    Anecdotally, Billy Sunday, evangelist of the early 20th century, said that the Episcopal Church was a sleeping giant. Hopefuly, these are waking moments to assist others in seeking a spirituality which has been, in part, reflected in the rise of nondenominational places of worship.

    1. Joseph F Foster says:

      :…nondenominational places of worship.” =
      highly localized protestant denominations with one or at most a few congregations.

      1. Catherine Cummings says:

        I agree with Joseph Foster my comment is that most of these churches preach the “God of prosperity”. Or else “we are the “good” Christians we are opposed to single mothers, divorced people, gays, people on welfare or the unemployed”. They distort the Gospels and quote only very judgmental parts of the Old Testament. They often preach that the Second Coming is close at hand and only “they” will be “saved”. Unfortunately, this is the only version of Christianity that many people know about and they reject it.
        I don’t see why some people point to Pope Francis, the Episcopal Church has been saying and practicing this for years and our bishops have spoken out against demonizing he poor, single mothers, gays etc. It seems the RCC is catching up to us and not the other way around. I think we need to get our message out there somehow.

        1. Jane Greene says:

          One thing the pope has is a public relations genius, Greg Burke. Just google pope pr and you’ll see what I mean.

  2. The Rev. Fred Fenton says:

    I recommend the “Time Magazine” Man of the Year issue, which highlights the revolution Pope Francis is beginning in the Roman Church. Of first importance is his commitment to simplicity of life and service to the poor. His personal example is all important and has won praise from people throughout the world. That radical Christian life is what is missing in our bishops, priests, and lay leaders. Without holy lives to inspire and commend us the institutional changes proposed by TREC will not bring about the desired changes in the life and mission of the Episcopal Church. Put simply, we must be more Christian, following the example of Pope Francis.

    1. Joyce Ann Edmondson says:

      Amen to that. A lot of what we have read in TREC sounds like verbiage. They need to simplify their language and get to the roots of what we need to do in a practical sense. …”commitment to simplicity of life and service to the poor. His (Our) personal example is all important …That radical Christian life is what is missing in our bishops, priests, and lay leaders.”

      1. Joyce Ann Edmondson says:

        I don’t believe the average Roman Catholic or Episcopalian is a radical, everyday Christian. We often see or read about “others” within both denominations that do these extraordinary services for the poor, but the average church member doesn’t do this every day. I do believe the Episcopal church has gone farther than the RCC to be merciful to the divorced and remarried, the gay and lesbian community, the women priests, bishops, etc. and have introduced many changes. The RCC is reluctant to do any of this, but the Pope is leading the way to a more merciful approach to people in general. Unfortunately, many in both denominations are having problems with changes that have taken place since the beginning of the church and is part and parcel of their church practices, if not their doctrine. I further believe it is the Holy Spirit leading this movement in both.

    2. john Neir says:

      Why do you feel that TREC will not bring the desired changes to our Episcopal Church ?

      What do the Romans have that we Episcopalians do not have ?

      1. Mary Morrison says:

        Nothing. We have more than they have. See the comment above. Pople Francis is exhorting the RC to do what Episcopalians have been doing for decades.

        1. Sally Rooney says:

          I agree with Mary…but the disconnect seems to be in how people “see” us and maybe how we “see” one another. What is the missing piece?

      2. Larry E Collins says:

        What the RCC has that Episcopalians do not have is consistency of belief. Their doctrines, teachings, and worldview have not changed. Pope Francis has added humility and civility, and refocused the church on actions and not just theology, but he has not changed any fundamental doctrines on abortion, homosexuality, divorce, women in the church, or any of the things that now divide us. Episcopalians seem to want to abandon long-held but now unpopular beliefs and become ‘of the world,’ not just ‘in the world.’ And THAT is the elephant in the room. We’ve become the religious social club of the 21st century. You taught me over decades to believe one thing, and then you change that belief and I’m supposed to follow you into the new doctrines? So if the old doctrines were wrong, what makes the new ones right? Moral relativism is a death knell. We look askance at the RCC and equally askance at the Southern Baptists, the charismatics, and the Mormons. But they are all consistent and solid in what they believe and are growing. We can’t seem to figure out WHAT we believe anymore, and we are suffering for it.

  3. In Alabama our diocesan camp and conference center,Camp McDowell, has for decades been an enormous source for inspiring, teaching, and forming the diocese into “family.” This is also shared with a large number of non-Episcopalians. The committee should take a close look at what is going on here.
    Our bishop, Kee Sloan, and the director of McDowell, Mark Johnston, should be carefully listened to.
    I can’t think of anyone others who could be more helpful in this process. – Doug Carpenter

  4. Bruce Garner says:

    I understand all of the needs and concerns expressed about reducing and refining certain structures of the church. I fully support the need for re-visioning and restructuring. What does concern me is the potential for “re-disenfranchising” people when we reduce the sizes of CCAB’s, GC Deputations, etc. Invariably and historically, the marginalized and disenfranchised are the “last and least” with voice and recognition in our various structures. So reductions literally reduce them out of that voice and recognition. Similarly, some of the non-budgetary resolutions often involve creating and maintaining the diversity of our church. They are not so “popular” at the local level, often because they force us to look at our shortcomings about race, gender issues and sexual orientation. Many at the local level choose to avoid looking and many would also vote against resolutions intended to maintain our diversity. I look at Province IV in particular. We have not yet raised awareness and sensitivity enough in our province on these “hot button” issues. In what is often true Southern fashion, we choose not to discuss un-pleasantries. So I find that I must be ever aware and vigilant when I look at what impact any proposed revisions to our structures might have….whether unintended or intended. Just my thoughts at this point.

    Bruce Garner, L3, Atlanta

  5. Bob Partlow says:

    I am slowly digesting Pope Francis document on revovering the joy of evangelism. I think we would be wise to start with a similar document for ECUSA. We need to articulate a theology of the church that will enable us to share the joy. If we do not recover that joy, we are simply rearranging the deck cairs on a sinking shp.

  6. James Graham says:

    I agree with the comment that describes the TREC letter as “verbiage”. Much of it seems very vague, but I read serious hints at what amounts to a misguided desire to implement the deconstruction of traditional worship and belief, to make the Episcopal Church more appealing to an evangelical, charismatic crowd. There seems to be a sense of urgency, recognizing the crisis of loss of membership, and implied financial health, which could be cured by “dumbing down” our theology, liturgy, and music, to attract a “21st Century” crowd. This would be a terribly mistaken policy, in my opinion. I’ve seen churches in which 90% of the congregation don’t kneel, where supplementary hymnals with more “homey, campfire style” music supplant the glorious traditions of our Anglican hymnography, where some clergy call the Nicene Creed “exclusionary” and mention that some congregations have abandoned saying the Creeds altogether! What is going on?? Don’t throw the Infant Jesus out with the bathwater! Don’t destroy our Episcopalian/Anglican identity to improve financial statements!

    1. Vikki Nordeen says:

      Also my biggest fear!!

  7. Ceil Fruchter says:

    I would just like some of the people who are out there listening to parishioners and clergy to also collect concrete ideas we could do now. These ideas do not even need convention approval but would make our faith more visible in our communities. Starting a preschool/daycare in our church neighborhood would not only fill a huge need but also let neighbors learn about us. We say we want young families but do not currently do much to facilitate that. I would also like to get more of our community college to visit and know us. Many of these students are gifted musicians and with a stipend could add to our worship. Currently our choir director is bringing in local young musicians and talented parishioners for special services. Would not a musician in residence program be great? I do not think the stipend would have to be so big to attract interest. I think young college kids might then also draw in their peers besides enriching our community. Music has a way of connecting people with faith in a non threatening way. Just a humble thought. I would love to hear other ideas that a parish could do on their own initiative rather than waiting for a top down approach through a lot of hierarchy.

  8. Steven Colburn says:

    Item number 4 could produce some interesting and helpful results, although I’m sure that it will turn out to be among the more contentious issues. No one ever said that the process of change will be easy, or trouble-free, although it may be necessary. Thank you TREC for your work!

    4. Number of dioceses: Considering a one-time, objective process for establishing norms for a healthy and viable diocesan size and structure in order to enable mission and reduce the complexity of our organization.

  9. Ann Tucker says:

    Pope Francis has modelled church and clergy in new ways already. Has seldom relied on transcontinental meetings, travel or listening. We know why church is not relevant to young people today. Changing the music is not the answer. As a therapist I am aware that young people today, as always, want something bigger than themselves and want to make a difference.
    Leadership, committment, old but ever new values are needed today, as always. Our Episcopal identity is valuable and can be valuable to the world today.

    1. Bob Woodson says:

      As a retiree member of our church, where the average age is 65, we are continualy challenged to reach out to the young people attending the liberal arts college across the street. Several attempts to establish a Canterbury Club have been unsuccessful. . However we have a new younger rector (39) who seems to be making some success in drawing younger families into our church family which is encouraging. We’ll continue to welcome the students who may enjoy our 5:00 PM Saturday Contemporary service.

    2. Bob Partlow says:

      I share your appreciation of Pope Francis. In ECUSA I think we continue to confuse Tradition and Tranitionalism

  10. Liz Haltom says:

    Thank you for this process and the opportunity to contribute $.02 in the comments. Not sure if this is helpful but I’ll put it out there. If churches need to grow, and I think that they do, and this letter seems to acknowledge that, then it seems like attention needs to also be place outward, toward the people who are *not* part of the church, and ask, why not? How can we serve you, spiritually and otherwise? What is needed to build new bridges and community out into our neighborhoods and towns where they have been lost? What I’m reading here, seems very inwardly turned and self-focused, which may also be necessary, but seems to only consider half of the equation for how growth happens.

  11. Susan Speir says:

    Words, words, words. Action speaks louder and does more real good in the world. Our millenials along with others show up when there is something to help with, not for more information or regular church. I’ve been an Episcopalian all of my life and as a priest and rector, I can tell you that what people want to do is be guided into helping others. When we put out a call for the soup kitchen or food bank, we have lots of volunteers. Let’s stop thinking we are part of an elect that has to have a new system and answers to every scenario before we begin. Copy Pope Francis!

  12. Roger Brown says:

    This letter is emblematic of the problem in the first place. I am envisioning committees of individuals spending months “listening” when any experienced observer could have sat down at their laptop and knocked out a cleaner version of this in a couple of hours. Maybe it is the perceived need of consensus that makes these documents so tortuous. How many hands were involved in this?

    The mammoth length and vagueness of the letter make this a most unrewarding effort. Make your recommendations! Make them simple, clear, easily understandable! I get a general thrust towards the idea of a stripped-down and more accountable church management, but even within the very generalized statements at the end of this there is huge fuzziness. This is not helpful. Get clear, get specific, present it simply, or no one will read it.

    Or is that simply not the Episcopal committee way?

  13. David Waller says:

    I work for an extremely large corporation (150,000+ employees). Reading through the letter, I recognized the same language, assumptions and approaches that have been part of the corporate (secular) world for decades. By editing a few words here and there, the letter could pass for another ‘communication’ from a high-level task force addressing an audience in a large business.

    TEC must understand that we have are entrusted with a life-changing, life-affirming, and life-saving gospel to preach to fallen humanity. Anything else and we continue in the slow death-spiral of the past 40 years.

  14. Weston F. Cook, Jr. says:

    As a cynical old New Hampshire Yankee, I confess to sharing much of the weariness expressed by some of the respondents here. The phrases, the images, the cliches, I’ve heard it all before so very many times. But as an lay Episcopalian and a TSSF Franciscan, I want so much to join the TREC and other “people of hope” in our church. And I don’t want to be a boor or a jerk. So, here, in one sentence is what I have learned in my four decades in this church is the primary desire of the majority of Episcopal. They want a priest. Rector, Vicar, Cluster Missioner, “Canon Nine”, resident Deacon – they don’t care. They want someone among them to share community and icon the Lord while they’re doing ministry. They want sacraments, liturgy, and that perspective that comes from being more wired into the higher levels of Church and having a degree of detachment. So, TREC, what can you do to create pastoral models of priesting that more of our congregations can afford?

    [Oh, and I wouldn’t mind a little less derision directed at those of us who are called to minister to animals as comrades in God’s Creation but that’s my personal calling.]

    1. Bob Partlow says:

      I agree completely with Weston Cook. We just do not have a plan to sustain small congregation ministry. I also encourage a thorough reading and reflection on Pope Francis exhortation on restoring the joy of th eGospel

  15. Carla Aldridge says:

    Help us please. What has happened to Adult Confirmation for new people that show interest in our church. I am a convert myself and I remember being approached by the priest and some of the congregation. The Service and my Commitment was a deeply moving experience. I believe that confirmation should be offered to all ages. As blessings received. What is happening to our traditions as we strive to change. Do we want to be like our neighbor churches. Our priest seems reluctant to offer Confirmation to our new adult people. We have so much to offer even as we are.

  16. Denny Allman says:

    Hear, hear, David Waller. I have made note of this for many years in many meetings. After all the newsprint has been shared and analyzed it could just have been written for the Rotarians or Lions. I realize that I seem to be in the minority but for me the First Purpose of the Church is to worship almighty God. If we do this we will want to do the things that He would have us do. Unfortunately , I detect little desire for this in most of the comments in the link that is in the letter. If any haven’t been there, I commend it to you.

  17. The Revd (Canon) Kale Francis King says:

    Is there now something wrong with being different from the other congregations in the community? (I came to the Episcopal Church in a VERY small community BUT the new young priest right out of seminary was the REAL pastor in town – wore his collar, visited businesses in town as well as his congregation.) We have the finest “script” for the finest ” drama”/worship in town.
    What happened to obedience? Congregations can’t adhere to the basic BCP worship. Priests ignore diocesan standards (when they are existent!) as well as the bishop as he expresses expectations.
    Priest are largely unseen in the community (Too busy) and avoid wearing the uniform while out in the community (while policemen and other who have a uniform wear them in public).
    What happened to instruction of any significance? People are baptized and confirmed with “conveniently-designed” brief instruction.
    Should not congregations have a standard expectation of their members and have it readily available?
    But, then, I am probably “blowing in the wind”. After all, 60 years since ordination, I am just a “retired old fool.”

  18. Gail Grange says:

    My daughter left our Episcopal church. Shortly after her 16th birthday she visited a friends non-denominational church. She left for a couple of reasons. 1)The non-denominational church offered a more vibrant program for teenagers. For example, on Wednesday nights they have a loud band that plays the “new contemporary Christian music” that appeals to young people. And even though I am 53-years-old, it also appeals to me. 2)She also told me she was not hearing enough about Jesus. I had a meeting with the rector we had at the time. I told him I was concerned why my daughter left our Episcopal church. His only response was, “well, my three daughters do not even attend church. I am still bothered about his lack of concern. And people wonder why the Episcopal church is not doing better in regards to growth. If it can not attract young people, it will wither away.

  19. John C. Kimbrough says:

    Are the teachings of The Episcopal Church these days determined by biblical teachings and doctrine and enlightening and strengthening spiritually those who are members of it, or secularism and a perception of contemporary cultural shifts, forces and movement plus the lust and greed for power and money?

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