Re-imagining task force making progress toward November deadline

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Mar 19, 2014

[Episcopal News Service] The Task Force for Re-imagining the Episcopal Church is on track for reporting its recommendations and specific legislative proposals to the church this November, according to the group’s co-conveners.

“I think we’re where we need to be at this point,” said the Rev. Craig Loya, dean of the cathedral in Omaha, Nebraska, who leads the task force with Katy George, a member of the Diocese of Newark. “I think we’re well on track to having a very thorough report that honors what our mandate was by the end of November.”

That mandate was set in General Convention Resolution C095, passed in July 2012, that called for a task force “to present the 78th General Convention with a plan for reforming the church’s structures, governance, and administration.”

Loya and George spoke to Episcopal News Service March 18, three days after TREC’s latest face-to-face meeting ended. The meeting, held at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, was conducted nearly exclusively in closed sessions (a copy of the agenda is here). Also on March 18, the group released a summary of the work it did during the March 13-15 meeting.

“I think we all felt that we’ve come a long way and are increasingly clear about the big-picture vision that we’d like to help the church shape and we also are clear about what some of the specific recommendations or legislative proposals may be,” said George, an economist who runs the New Jersey office of global management consultant McKinsey & Co and who has served on the board of Episcopal Relief & Development. “We still have a lot of refinement and a lot of work to deliver on our ambition level, but I think we feel like we’re on our way.”

TREC has released two papers to the church for comment thus far, one on networks in the Episcopal Church and one on governance and administration. George and Loya said that revised versions of those papers, based on feedback the group has received, would be sent out to the church. Still due is one on leadership development in the church. The task force also has developed what it calls an “engagement kit” to solicit feedback from the church.

During last week’s meeting “we spent a lot of time really reviewing all the comments and input that we’ve gotten,” George said.

“The whole task force is just really energized by the kind of feedback that we’ve gotten, both the stuff that was really positive and the stuff that was a bit more challenging and critical,” she said, adding that the group is “very grateful” for the responses.

“There are some places where there are clear themes in the feedback we were getting and other places where there was highly variable input, which was great,” she added.

The group will “continue to evolve” its recommendations and draft proposals using what has been gleaned from the church’s input, George said.

Loya, for example, noted a lot of the responses to the second paper on governance and administration “pointed out things that were either unclear or information that was missing or places where we needed to delve further and I think that will informed a lot of the work that we have in the next couple of months.”

That work in the months to come will center on “filling out some of the details in those proposals, making some of the things a lot clearer and also beginning to turn some of our proposals into specific legislation with appropriate canonical and constitutional changes,” he said.

George and Loya said the group has not quantified the level of response it has received or formally synthesized the responses because it “would not do justice to anybody’s input if we tried to synthesize it,” in George’s words.

However, the task force has agreed to have “something in our final report to the church that summarizes the input we got and the themes that we heard, or the points of divergence,” said George.

Loya added that the feedback is challenging to quantify because it has come to the task force through a variety of different channels and by a variety of different methods, including “formal feedback” via the website and responses elicited from the engagement kit’s questions along with comments via individuals’ blog posts made in response to TREC’s work and what Loya called “informal conversations,” to name a few.

Still, he said, the variety of feedback has been “actually quite helpful” and the task force plans to “continue to proactively engage people around the church, talk with some of the leaders in the church and get their input and feedback on some of the specific proposals, particularly some of the folks we have not heard from.”

Loya described those leaders as members of the General Convention leadership and the executive members of the churchwide staff “whose positions would be directly affected by some of our concrete proposals.”

And the members also plan to reach beyond that structure, Loya said.

“The reality is the church is already reimagining itself concurrently with the structural work that that task force is doing,” he explained. “And there are some people in the church that are doing some extraordinarily innovative, creative, forward-thinking kinds of ministries, so in addition to people in key leadership positions around the church, we also want to continue to find proactive ways to engage some of the people who are already doing really great, creative, innovative ministry in dioceses and congregations.”

George added that the task force feels that “at least on some topics we’ve been able to reach a broader group in the church on the topic.”

The group wants to broaden its reach even further because some people in the church “still don’t know what we’re doing and aren’t part of the dialogue,” she said.

Part of that effort is a plan for a virtual churchwide gathering focused on TREC’s work sometime this fall or summer. The virtual nature of the meeting is prompted by the fact that while Resolution C095 called on the task force to hold a “special gathering” to receive responses to any proposed recommendations it is 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. Convention approved (line 282 here) $200,000 specifically for the gathering.

TREC has meetings scheduled July 17-19 and Oct. 2-4 but a date for the virtual meeting has not yet be set.

Meanwhile, the bishops on the task force plan to brief their colleagues on March 21 during the House of Bishops’ annual retreat meeting at Camp Allen in Texas. On the day of that briefing, Loya said, the General Convention deputies on TREC will also send “the same basic summary of where we are at this point” to their colleagues throughout the church. While it may be assumed that the bishops will offer their reaction to the TREC bishops during the Camp Allen meeting, a process for getting similar feedback from deputies is “in development” with House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings and others, George said.

In September 2013, the last time the bishops got a briefing on TREC’s progress, the deputy members of the task force sent letters to their deputy colleagues summarizing their work the same day.

TREC’s Facebook page is here and it is here on Twitter with @ReimagineTEC, where the group is using #reimaginetec. The task force tweeted periodically the meeting, summarizing what the members were working on.

Earlier ENS coverage of TREC is here.

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