May 21, 2015

More on the Anglican Covenant Resolution

Scott Gunn, who is planning to analyze every resolution in the 2015 Blue Book on his blog, Seven whole days, got around to Resolution A040 two days ago. This, of course, is the resolution responding to the Anglican Covenant, about which I have written recently. (See “End of the Line for the Covenant at the General Convention” and “Further Thoughts on the Anglican Covenant and the General Convention.”)

In “Tangled Up in Blue: Executive Redux,” Gunn discusses resolutions originating in Executive Council committees. After declaring the probable vote on Resolution A022 through Resolution A035 to be negative, he predicts a positive vote on A040.

It is important to note here that Gunn has long favored a lukewarm response to the Covenant, neither rejecting it nor accepting it (or all of it, in any case). In a 2012 post before the 77th General Convention, he wrote in “Resolutely Reading: Anglican Covenant responses
I don’t much like the way the Covenant goes about its project, but I think it would be a mistake to reject the entire enterprise without at least some appreciation for parts of it.
No Anglican Covenant logo
It is not completely surprising, therefore, that he is positively disposed to A040, which affirms “our common identity and membership in the Anglican Communion as expressed in the preamble and first three sections of the Anglican Communion Covenant.” Even Gunn admits, however, that the resolution “treads very close to failing on grounds of being too commendy or affirmy.”

I won’t revisit why I dislike the formulation of lukewarm acceptance of parts of the Covenant—see “Further Thoughts on the Anglican Covenant and the General Convention”—but I do find the resolution too commendy or affirmy, and it is worth saying why.

One might argue that, short of actually “adopting” the Covenant, and particularly without saying anything about the disciplinary Section Four, The Episcopal Church will not have committed itself to anything of substance. In any rational world, that would be true, but the Anglican Communion is not such a world.

In the Anglican Communion, merely writing something down, even if the words are never subjected to an approval process, can find those words elevated to holy writ by those who find doing so useful. Thus, the Virginia Report and the Windsor Report, which are only reports never adopted by any Anglican body, are regularly quoted as definitive statements of Anglican identity. And most notoriously, the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution I.10, on human sexuality, is repeatedly cited as articulating Anglican Communion policy. Resolution I.10 was adopted by the assembled bishops of the Communion, of course, but Lambeth Conference resolutions have never been considered to be other than the opinion of the assembled bishops at the time.

Because of the Communion tendency to view as official anything that finds its way into print, I am concerned that saying anything positive about particular parts of the Anglican Covenant will be taken as an endorsement of propositions that we will be expected to support wholeheartedly in the future or which will be thrown in our face for past infractions. (If “the Holy Scriptures” are “the rule and ultimate standard of faith,” how can we bless same-sex unions, which, at least to some Communion churches, clearly violates scriptural norms and amounts to endorsing sin?) For this reason, I believe that any General Convention resolution concerning the Anglican Covenant must not suggest that we agree with any part of the Covenant.

I hope that the General Convention will adopt something like my amended resolution or something even stronger.

May 20, 2015

On Electing Bishops

In her sermon yesterday at General Theological Seminary, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori said, “We can’t go on choosing leaders ‘the way we’ve always done it.’” There certainly is widespread concern that we may not always do a good job of choosing bishops, and I suspect this is at least in part what the Presiding Bishop was thinking about. Even for those who have not been particularly concerned about our episcopal selection process, the crash-and-burn end of Heather Cook’s ecclesiastical career has been something of a wake up call.

Mitre and shield
In all likelihood, the General Convention will have something to say about the way we elect bishops, and it will probably throw money at the problem. In Resolution A002, the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church proposes to spend $100,000 on a task force to recommend “a new process for discernment, formation, search, and election of bishops in The Episcopal Church.” The Episcopal Resurrection folks have offered a better thought-out proposal that calls for a task force that “will study the election, appointment, roles, and responsibilities of the Episcopate, including the use of Bishops Diocesan, Bishops Coadjutor, Bishops Suffragan, Provisional Bishops, Missionary Bishops, and Assistant Bishops in this Church.” This resolution carries a price tag of $150,000.

Admittedly, both the TREC and Episcopal Resurrection proposals involve more than just examining the episcopal selection process, but I am skeptical about how much study is needed. There is already a good deal of commonality in the search process from diocese to diocese—there may even be too much—and at least some of the variation arises from different views of what is needed in a bishop at particular times and places. The process can never be perfect because what is needed can never be precisely defined, the talents of candidates likewise cannot be exactly calculated, and, however, those properties are defined, there is never a perfect match. I believe that if dioceses relied less of consultants to tell them what to do and experimented a bit, letting the wider church know how things worked out, we might gradually improve the way we select out bishops. (There is a need for networking here.)

Of course, we didn’t need the example of Heather Cook to tell us that the episcopal selection process can run off the rails. Mark Lawrence provided an equally effective example, as did Robert Duncan and John-David Schofield. There are two most important defenses against selecting the wrong bishop are (1) transparency and (2) the consent process.

Cook may never have been chosen bishop had her history of alcoholism been known by the people who chose her. Likewise, Duncan was thought unqualified for quite specific reasons by the search committee. For that reason, he was not nominated by the committee. When he was nominated from the floor—Pittsburgh has learned never to allow that again—no words of warning were heard from the search committee. Candidates for bishop should expect that their lives will be open books and for their qualifications to be debated by convention deputies. If Candidates feel the need to hide something in that past (or present, for that matter), they should be asked to be excused from the search process. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

The need to obtain consents from the wider church is a safety mechanism in cases where a diocese has made a bad decision. The consent process prevented Kevin Thew Forrester from becoming Bishop of Northern Michigan. His involvement with Buddhism gave people the willies. He might have made a good bishop, but perhaps not. Why should the church take a chance? Mark Lawrence, on the other hand, represented a clear and present danger to the church. He failed to receive sufficient consents once. Unfortunately, Episcopalians’ pathological niceness resulted in his obtaining the required consents when the Diocese of South Carolina elected him a second time from a candidate pool of one. The church knew what to do, but it didn’t have the will to do it. A task force won’t fix that.

Perhaps some study of bishops and their qualifications is needed. I believe that the way we elect bishops, however, is not so bad. We don’t need to abandon what we are doing now, but it would help if we experimented a bit and we became more of a learning organization that could improve our process by analyzing both our successes and our failures.

May 18, 2015

In Praise of Provinces

Episcopal Resurrection has proposed that The Episcopal Church eliminate provinces, a task that, as it turns out, requires a lot of changes to the church’s canons. The authors of the Episcopal Resurrection Web site argue that
This layer of denominational structure serves little purpose today other than to ensure geographic diversity on certain committees. … This change will free up resources currently spent on maintaining an outmoded structural model.
They also argue that eliminating provinces will allow certain bodies that now require representatives from provinces, such as the Joint Nominating Committee for the Presiding Bishop, to be made smaller. They confidently assert that “we can ensure continued geographic diversity without rigid lines.”

I am skeptical of these largely unsupported claims. I don’t believe the existence of provinces constitutes a significant drain on church resources, and promises to achieve geographic diversity are not completely credible where there is no mechanism to assure it. Moreover, the existence of provincial groupings does not preclude dioceses in different provinces from working together for some particular purpose. The Dioceses of Pittsburgh and Northwestern Pennsylvania—the dioceses were once one—have consulted about possible efficiencies that might result from working together.

Rather than making an abstract argument for the existence of provinces, I want to make an argument from personal experience.

Province III logo
Province III Logo
As early as 2003, Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP) began seeking assistance and advice from 815—the general church was regularly referred to as 815 back then—as Bishop Robert Duncan’s actions seemed increasingly schismatic. PEP believed that there was sufficient evidence to bring a presentment against Pittsburgh’s bishop, but we were told that the bishops of the church would never act against a colleague. In short, we received no encouragement or assistance. (Actually, this is not completely true. We received some sub rosa assistance from sympathetic people in New York.)  Three years later, when Duncan supported a resolution that purported to withdraw from Province III, PEP reached out to the province, representatives of which attended a PEP meeting to brief members on the operations of the province. (The diocese had not been taking an active part in Province III for some time.) As Duncan’s actions became increasing alarming, PEP members began meeting with Maryland bishop and president of Province III Bob Ihloff at locations outside of the Pittsburgh diocese. Ihloff was more effective at getting attention from 815 than PEP had been, and the meetings were later expanded to include non-PEP Episcopalians and legal representatives of the Presiding Bishop. By October 2008, when the diocese actually split, Episcopalians were ready to move on, both to rebuild an Episcopal diocese and to carry on the legal fight. Of course, the lawsuit filed by Calvary Church in 2006 was instrumental in retrieving millions of dollars of property from the breakaway group, but 815 had opposed Calvary’s move at first. Province III helped bring everyone together when unity was needed most.

In the time leading up to the diocesan split, informal representatives of Pittsburgh were warmly welcomed at Province III events. Generally, our connection to the province helped maintain an emotional connection to the wider church that would have been difficult to maintain with the more distant Episcopal Church Center. Even had my diocese been a “normal” one, the provincial connection would have helped counteract the sense of isolation and independence that so easily develops at the diocesan level.

Province III has sponsored a number of useful programs, but, perhaps most useful, is the provincial synod, particularly in years in which the General Convention meets. (You can visit the Province III Web site here.) This year, for example, attendees were briefed on issues to come before the General Convention in a meeting attended by the Presiding Bishop and other church leaders. Such an event is more easily staged by an organization with an ongoing existence than by an ad hoc group, as would be necessary in the absence of the provincial system.

Finally, it is worth noting that other organizations have taken advantage of the provincial organization to segment the work of their own groups. Episcopal Relief & Development and Daughters of the King both rely on a provincial structure.

For these and other reasons I hope that the General Convention will reject the call to eliminate provinces within The Episcopal Church. I suspect that, if General Convention does eliminate provinces, some provinces may even continue to exist informally. In any case, if anything is going to save our church, it isn’t going to be the elimination of provinces.

May 15, 2015

Another View of Reimagining the Church

In a surprise development, a new Web site made its debut on May 14, 2015, Ascension Day. The Web site is Episcopal Resurrection: Calling the 78th General Convention to Proclaim Resurrection. The site includes a memorial, a kind of letter to the church, and a set of proposed resolutions for the upcoming General Convention. The About page of the site explains the origin of the site:
At the 77th General Convention in Indianapolis, several Episcopalians gathered to encourage prayer at the heart of General Convention. That gathering resulted in the Acts 8 Moment, a movement that is devoted to fostering prayer within and for the church.

The Acts 8 Moment is about prayer, not legislation. Still, some of us who grew to know each other in this effort wanted to work together to encourage our church to recommit to spiritual disciplines, to find its life in Jesus. We gathered at the Bexley Seabury campus in Bexley, Ohio in April 2015. There we drafted A Memorial to the Church along with some enabling resolutions, ways in which the General Convention can incarnate a vision of a renewed and revitalized Episcopal Church. We have also asked a number of people to sign on to the Memorial, and you can add your signature too, by emailing Signing the Memorial does not necessarily mean that you agree with the resolutions, just that you share the vision of the Memorial.

Those of us who have worked on these materials offer them to the church in the hope that they will spur conversation and prayer. Our hope is that our church can be ever more effective in proclaiming resurrection and in sharing the riches of God’s grace with the world.

Susan Brown Snook
Tom Ferguson
Scott Gunn
Frank Logue
Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale
Steve Pankey
Adam Trambley
Dean Tom Ferguson, one of the authors, has written about what this group has done on his blog, which is worth reading. This new Web site contains a lot of material, and I am not yet prepared to say much about it. My overall impression, however, is much the same as that offered as a comment on Dean Ferguson’s blog by the Rev. Eric Funston:
The real difference between this memorial and the TREC report and recommendations is that this is a new vision of mission for the church, whereas what TREC produced is management reorganization. A friend has characterized the Memorial as an attempt to design a new ship for new seas; what TREC produced is a plan for rearranging the deck chairs on the old ship. I have signed onto this as an alternate deputy sponsor; I cannot support the TREC material.
Of course, the authors of this Web site were not limited by the charge to the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church (TREC). They were really free the reimagine the church as a whole.

I am impressed that this small group of Episcopalians was able to put together this well-thought-out material in what appears to be a very short period. Suddenly, deputies to the General Convention will find that the resolutions of TREC are not the only game in town. This should be interesting.

The authors of Episcopal Resurrection have put their memorial and resolutions in a PDF file that readers of the Web site could easily miss. It is available here. That file is almost helpful. It lacks internal links to facilitate navigation, is missing one heading, orders the material in manner that some may consider unhelpful, and does not contain the material on the About page. Readers may prefer to read my own edited version of this file, which contains bookmarks that provide a virtual table of contents and the About material. You can find that here.

I expect to say more about the Episcopal Resurrection material soon.

May 14, 2015

Further Thoughts on the Anglican Covenant and the General Convention

In an earlier post, I suggested that Resolution A040: Affirm Response to the Anglican Covenant Process proposed to the 78th General Convention this summer was less than ideal but would probably be adequate to get the Covenant off the church’s plate without doing too much damage. In this essay, I want to explain what I don’t like about A040 and how I would like to see it fixed.

Here is the resolution recommended by the Executive Council task force charged with monitoring the Anglican Covenant:
A040: Affirm Response to the Anglican Covenant Process

Resolved, the House of _____ concurring, That the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church affirm our common identity and membership in the Anglican Communion as expressed in the preamble and first three sections of the Anglican Communion Covenant; and be it further

Resolved, That the 78th General Convention direct The Episcopal Church's members of the Anglican Consultative Council to express our appreciation to the 16th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC16, Lusaka 2016) for the gift of inter-Anglican conversation and mutuality in God's mission engendered by the Anglican Communion Covenant process.
Pursuant to the charge given the B005 Task Force, we monitored Anglican and ACC activities regarding the Anglican Covenant process and believe this resolution to respond appropriately to the current status of this process in Anglicanism generally and the ACC specifically. This resolution has no budgetary implications.
My guess is that the task force did not think deeply about what it was going to propose to the General Convention. Episcopalians generally have no use for the Anglican Covenant, and the postponement of a decision about it at the last General Convention was largely designed to avoid offending elements of the Anglican Communion until such time as ardor for the pact had largely run its course. I hope we have gotten to that point, but, despite the fact that many people have declared the Covenant dead, a trickle of adoptions by Anglican churches continues.

General Observations

The title of the resolution is odd. The resolution responds to the invitation to adopt the Anglican Covenant, and it expresses appreciation for the conversation about the Covenant. This fact justifies “Response to the Anglican Covenant Process,” I suppose, but what is the function of “Affirm”? What are we affirming? “Affirm” occurs in the first resolve, but that seems coincidental. Is the intention that we affirm our previous response, that is, our non-response of 2012? In any case, the second resolve is simply a piece of Anglican niceness meant to cushion the blow of the thanks-but-no-thanks first resolve.

The explanation for the resolution is amusing. It asserts that the resolution is appropriate, but it neglects to say why. Of course, everyone knows that we would adopt the Covenant when Hell froze over, and by not saying so, we avoid giving our detractors something else to complain about.

I hope that this resolution will be amended to delete “as expressed in the preamble and first three sections of the Anglican Communion Covenant.” Affirming “our common identity and membership in the Anglican Communion,” however, seems innocuous enough. I do not believe that the Preamble and first three sections of the Covenant do, in fact, express our common identity and Communion membership. The rest of this essay will be devoted to justifying that belief. I will try to ignore minor objections to the Covenant and to point out only major ones. You may want to read what follows with the Anglican Covenant nearby.

Covenant Details

If there is any affirming going on, it is our church’s endorsement (but not adoption) of the Preamble and the first three sections of the Covenant. What is not being affirmed is the Covenant Introduction and the enforcement-oriented fourth section. The Introduction is strange in that we are told that it must be published along with the Covenant, even though it is not part of it. The Introduction is a strained theological justification for what follows. The less said about it the better. I need hardly say much about Section Four, which is a thinly disguised club with with to discipline The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, and any other Communion church that dares to speak credibly to a modern audience.

Even if the references to the first three sections of the Covenant are retained in Resolution A040, the resolution should be amended to delete “preamble and.” The Preamble begins
We, as Churches of the Anglican Communion, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, solemnly covenant together in these following affirmations and commitments.
Clearly, “these following affirmations and commitments” refers to everything that follows, including Section Four. We cannot, in conscience, affirm this while rejecting Section Four.

Even though the wording comes from the Lambeth Quadrilateral—the Lambeth Conference version, though our church never officially adopted any version—I find objectionable the wording of Section 1.1.3: “[Each Church affirms:] the Holy Scriptures … as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.” If this were true, we wouldn’t have female priests, and we wouldn’t eat shrimp.

Like so much of the Covenant, Section 1.2 can be the subject of very different interpretations. It deals with scripture, theology, and ecumenical relations. I suspect that an Episcopal Church bishop could interpret this section in a way that would be accorded nearly universal acceptance within our church. I also suspect that a GAFCON bishop could conclude from Section 1.2 that in no way could The Episcopal Church in good conscience subscribe to it.

Section 2.1 is largely unobjectionable. I even like the description in Section 2.1.4 of the Communion as “a worldwide family of interdependent churches.” Section 2.2 is as acceptable—it is mostly about the Five Marks of Mission—though the phrase “mutual accountability” in Section 2.2.1 gives me the willies.

My queasiness increases as I read Section 3.1. Section 3.1.2 begins
[Each Church affirms:] its resolve to live in a Communion of Churches. Each Church, with its bishops in synod, orders and regulates its own affairs and its local responsibility for mission through its own system of government and law and is therefore described as living “in communion with autonomy and accountability.”
The quoted phrase “in communion with autonomy and accountability” is another of those clubs that conservative churches will use to try to restrain liberal ones. Perhaps more objectionable is the suggestion that all churches in the Communion are ruled by bishops. Frankly, this is not a strength but a problem. Members of our own House of Deputies should strongly object to Resolution A040’s suggestion that this describes our own church. The same section asserts that the Instruments of Communion enable Communion churches “to be conformed together to the mind of Christ.” Diversity, no matter how civil, is not an objective of the Anglican Covenant. Unity in doctrine seems also to be the objective when Section 3.1.4  speaks of articulating “the common faith of the Church’s members (consensus fidelium).”

Section 3.1.4 goes on to enumerate and attribute functions to the so-called Instruments of Communion. (Note that there has never been an official designation of what the Instruments are, though the Covenant, if widely adopted, would be such a designation.) In the descriptions, we see more indications that all churches of the Communion should progress in lockstep. The Anglican Consultative Council, for example, “calls the Churches into mutual responsibility and interdependence.” Although other tasks attributed to the ACC seem appropriate (e.g., “[i]t facilitates the co-operative work of the Churches of the Anglican Communion”), I’m less enthusiastic about our church’s being called “into mutual responsibility and interdependence.”

In fact, I think one can call the whole notion of Instruments of Unity into question. The Lambeth Conference, whose very purpose seems to be controversial, appears to be on indefinite suspension. This appears to be the case for the Primates Meeting as well. Moreover, the Standing Committee, which has quietly been given enhanced legal status, is not mentioned among the Instruments.

In reality, the Anglican Communion has become schizophrenic in recent years, asserting the independence of Communion churches, on one hand, and declaring that they must restrain their actions where other churches object. This is perhaps best illustrated by Section 3.2.2:
[Acknowledging our interdependent life, each Church, reliant on the Holy Spirit, commits itself:] to respect the constitutional autonomy of all of the Churches of the Anglican Communion, while upholding our mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Body of Christ, and the responsibility of each to the Communion as a whole.
This naturally leads into the notion of shared discernment. In Section 3.2.3, we find
Some issues, which are perceived as controversial or new when they arise, may well evoke a deeper understanding of the implications of God’s revelation to us; others may prove to be distractions or even obstacles to the faith [emphasis added]. All such matters therefore need to be tested by shared discernment in the life of the Church.
No doubt, we are being told that such matters as the blessing of same-sex unions should not proceed anywhere until all churches agree that such blessings are acceptable (i.e., when Hell freezes over).

Section 3.2.4 asserts that churches should “seek a shared mind with other Churches, through the Communion’s councils“ and “undertake wide consultation with the other Churches of the Anglican Communion and with the Instruments and Commissions of the Communion.”

Section 3.4.5 will certainly be violated in Salt Lake City as the report of the Marriage Task Force is considered:
[Acknowledging our interdependent life, each Church, reliant on the Holy Spirit, commits itself:] to act with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy, which by its intensity, substance or extent could threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness or credibility of its mission.
Section 3.2.6 asserts that, “in situations of conflict,” we will “participate in mediated conversations.”

Finally, Section 3.2.7 commits us “to have in mind that our bonds of affection and the love of Christ compel us always to uphold the highest degree of communion possible.”


From the foregoing, it should be obvious that the first three sections of the Anglican Covenant neither describe the present relationship of The Episcopal Church to the Anglican Communion nor a relationship we intend to develop. As such, it is not the case that, as the current version of Resolution A040 asserts, the Preamble and first three sections of the Anglican Communion Covenant affirm our common identity and membership in the Anglican Communion.

Therefore, Resolution A040 should be amended to read
A040: Response to the Anglican Covenant Process

Resolved, the House of _____ concurring, That the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church affirm our common identity and membership in the Anglican Communion; and be it further

Resolved, That the 78th General Convention direct The Episcopal Church's members of the Anglican Consultative Council to express our appreciation to the 16th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC16, Lusaka 2016) for the gift of inter-Anglican conversation and mutuality in God's mission engendered by the Anglican Communion Covenant process.
Pursuant to the charge given the B005 Task Force, we monitored Anglican and ACC activities regarding the Anglican Covenant process and believe this resolution to respond appropriately to the current status of this process in Anglicanism generally and the ACC specifically. This resolution has no budgetary implications.
Update, 5/21/2015: In my May 21, 2015, post “More on the Anglican Covenant Resolution” I suggest another reason that any resolution about the Covenant should not be construed as endorsing any part of the pact.


A local health system is using a word in a way I have never before encountered. Butler Health System has been advertising on television that it accepts most “insurances.” “Insurances” is also used on Butler’s Web site (see circled text below; click for a larger view):

Butler Health System Web site home page

The meaning of “Insurances We Accept” is clear, but I think that most native speakers of American English would write “Insurance We Accept” or “Insurance Plans We Accept.”

“Insurance” can refer to a particular policy (“My car insurance is very good.”), but it can also mean coverage by some insurance plan (“All clients have insurance.”). Because of this, I see no reason ever to use the plural of “insurance,” and I think it should be considered nonstandard usage. Perhaps usage is different within the insurance industry; I don’t know about that. Has anyone else encountered “insurances” in speech or writing?

Update: A Google search turned up many other uses of “insurances,” all of which are on Web sites of medical institutions.

May 13, 2015

Analyzing the TREC Report, Part 4

This is the fourth installment in a series of essays on the final report of the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church. An index to all my posts analyzing the TREC report can be found here.
My comments on the report of the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church so far may have seemed rather random. In this post, I will begin at the beginning of the TREC report.

The Task Force

The first page of the report—see above link, as the first “final” report is slightly different from the Blue Book version—lists task force members. By orders, the composition of the task force looks a lot like that of the General Convention. Lay and clergy are equally represented, and there are fewer bishops. I would like to have seen more laypeople who represent the greater part of the church. It is unfortunate that the task force report does not contain biographies of the contributors to the report. One recommendation of the report is that members of Executive Council be chosen for their particular skills. I wonder if such a selection process was used in forming the task force itself. I have no idea.

Page 1 also includes a statement of TREC’s mandate—something of a distillation of the charge in Resolution C095, which is reproduced on pages 19 and 20—and an abbreviated summary of TREC’s meeting schedule. One may quibble about the recommendations found in the report, but, on the whole, the task force seems to have done what it was asked to do. As far as process goes, however, I believe TREC made one serious misstep, and it is one for which it is not totally responsible. The enabling resolution included this item:
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);
There were at least two serious problems with this mandate. First, without substantial funding, it was unreasonable to expect every diocese to send the desired attendees. Second, no deadline date was set for the “special gathering,” although a delivery date was specified for the final report. Ideally, the General Convention resolution should have required that the event called for happened sufficiently in advance of the deadline date for the final report that adequate time would be available to factor insights offered from across the church into the task force’s ultimate product.

The “special gathering” was implemented as a brief meeting at Washington National Cathedral that was “attended” primarily by people sitting at home at their computers. Even if one believes that a few thousand people can meaningfully participate in such a meeting, there were three major problems with the event designed by the task force. First, although TREC had published several papers, no one really knew, either before or after the event, just what “the proposed recommendations” of TREC were. Offering “responses” was therefore a shot in the dark. Second, the National Cathedral event was scheduled in October, and the task force was supposed to be meeting together for the last time the next day. The report was due in November, a deadline it missed by about a week. Even had the proposed recommendations been known and intelligently criticized, the task force really had no time to incorporate any substantial criticisms into their final report. Of course, the recommendations were not known and, third, the “special gathering” was too short to collect much feedback. Moreover, members of the task force did half the talking, so not much in the way of “responses” were really possible. In short, the “special gathering” was a disaster.

Introductory Matter

A number of pundits have had good things to say about the introductory matter in the TREC report. Personally, I have had a hard time wrapping my mind around it, and I think that members of the task force found it difficult to distinguish what was and was not part of their remit. Following a resolve setting forth the Five Marks of Mission as the mission of the church, Resolution C095 states
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;
Was the task force to concentrate on issues of polity and management with the goal of making church governance more efficient, or was it necessary to consider mission and how structure could support that mission? The task force seems to have done a bit of each. Recommended changes to Executive Council, for example, are clearly intended to make that body work more efficiently. (It is an open question whether the changes would have the desired effect, but the desired effect is clear.) Other recommendations, such as those promoting clergy working other than full-time, address changed circumstances in how we do church. TREC was not asked to reimagine how we do church, which is perhaps where the redesign of our church should really have started. Resolution C095, however, was really the product of deputy frustration with the workings of the church’s administrative mechanism, especially its handling of the triennium budget, and the resolution, for good or ill, concentrates on organizational structure.

In any case, the report is surely correct in pointing out that The Episcopal Church no longer occupies the privileged position in society it once did. Only yesterday, the Pew Research Center published “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” which reports significant declines in mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. The message in the TREC report seems to be “make do with less.” Perhaps that is the best we can do, though I surely hope not. What I do know is that making the General Convention into a unicameral legislature is not going to do much to save our church from current demographic trends.

The report admits the limitation of the administrative changes it recommends and paints a glowing, but unrealistic picture of what the future could hold for the church:
While structural and technical changes, by themselves, will not be sufficient for reimagining the Church in the midst of a changing world, we have come to believe that they are essential to progress—even at the local level. Chosen wisely and implemented well, these changes will give us more time, energy, and financial resources for innovation and adaptation; speed decision-making; provide Church leadership with a bold and holistic agenda for change; and reinvent the roles of Church-wide organizations away from “doing” mission and toward enabling mission by connecting communities and individuals for mutual support, learning, and collaboration.
What the task force ignores here is the cost of change. First, dealing with the TREC report in Salt Lake City will take an enormous amount of time and energy, and other matters will suffer. More importantly, any kind of reorganization is disruptive and time-consuming. Even if the polity changes recommended by TREC result in minor efficiencies—and I don’t think anyone is suggesting the resulting efficiencies will be anything but minor—no one seems to have considered the opportunity costs of implementing them. The church may be focused not on mission but on institutional change for three, six, or nine years or more.

Finally, in this post anyway, I want to say something about the story of Luke 10:1–11. I should first say that I am wary of the Anglican tendency in documents to find guidance (or, more likely, support) in scripture. The Luke passage actually is rather perplexing. What is Jesus about here? Is this a training exercise for the disciples? Is he sending out advance teams to prepare for his next ministry campaign? I really don’t know, but I don’t think Luke is telling us how to run a 21st-century church. Despite its apparent fondness for this story, TREC notes: “The 21st century represents a profoundly different environment for The Episcopal Church, with new challenges and opportunities.” If that environment is different from the 20th century, it is surely different from the 1st. To the degree that the Luke story is relevant to how we do church, it seems most relevant at the parish level, not at the highest level of the church. But that level, of course, is not what TREC was tasked to examine.


In my next post about the TREC report, I will consider in greater depth the resolutions proposed by the task force. Please stay tuned.

May 11, 2015

Squirrels 2, Human 0

I took pride in my strategy for keeping my suet feeder attached to the bungee cord used to hang it from a tree limb. (See “Defending against Squirrels.”) The morning after I had declared victory over tree-climbing rodents, however, I found the feeder, less suet, and bungee cord on the ground.

I ditched the bungee cord, fastened the handle of the feeder more securely to the body of the unit, inserted a new block of suet, and re-hung the whole thing using nylon cord. The pictures below (click for a larger view) shows what I awoke to this morning.

Empty feeder on tangled cord
Empty feeder on tangled cord

A clearer view of the disaster
A clearer view of the disaster
I am at a loss to explain how the suet was removed and the cord was wrapped around the tree. I am assuming that one or more squirrels is responsible, but it is difficult to see how this bit of larceny could have been pulled off on such a slight limb.

I am contemplating my next move.