May 14, 2007

Helping Episcopalians Put in Their Two Cents’ Worth

A bit less than a month ago, the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church issued “A Short Study Guide to Aid The Episcopal Church in Responding to the Draft Anglican Covenant As Prepared by the Covenant Design Group.” This six-page document with the catchy title asks 14 detailed, non-leading questions about the Anglican covenant as proposed by the Covenant Design Group (CDG) in January. Episcopalians have been asked to answer the questions and to send their answers to the secretary of the General Convention to help the church formulate its response to the covenant draft.

Whatever one thinks of the covenant, it is clear that it has the potential to change The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion in profound ways. (I doubt that anyone, liberal, conservative, or otherwise, believes the claim of the CDG that there is nothing new in the draft.) The Study Guide provides a mechanism for all Episcopalians to have some influence on how our church deals with the covenant proposal. Answering the questions is not a simple matter, however, as they call for a close analysis of the draft. Nonetheless, Episcopalians of every stripe should welcome this opportunity to influence what our church does at this critical time in its history. Episcopalians will have only themselves to blame if they fail to offer their opinions and the church’s response turns out not to be to their liking.

I don’t know that the church has a good plan for how it will handle the answers it receives. It could be dealing with over 2 million responses, handwritten, faxed, printed, and e-mailed. Realistically, of course, that number will be much smaller, perhaps very small indeed. Making sense of them will still be a problem, however, as the Study Guide did not offer a uniform submission mechanism.

Into this breach comes Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh with a Microsoft Word form to help people organize and record their thoughts. The form is a Word document containing fields to enter one’s personal information (name, parish, etc.—the Study Guide did not explicitly ask for this), followed by the 14 questions, interspersed with fields for one’s answers. The form is both convenient to use and, I hope, helpful to the hapless folks who have to tabulate all the answers received by the church. The worksheet and its instructions can be downloaded from PEP’s Web site here. The Lead (a blog of the new Episcopal Café) already has a story on the Worksheet.

I hope that people will not be intimidated by the worksheet, which looks more complicated than it is. It is accompanied by a set of instructions to put the task at hand into context—links are provided to the Study Guide and to the CDG report—and to explain how to use a Microsoft Word form, a process that is fairly intuitive, but which can can also be frustrating until one gets the hang of it. The instruction sheet is as long as it is in order to be as helpful as possible to all Word users, including those with the latest version of the software (Word 2007), and to accommodate both PC and Mac users.

Just for the record, the idea for the form came from Joan Gundersen, PEP’s president. I developed the form and its instructions. Several people acted as testers for the project, and they deserve special thanks—Jane Little, Jack Harmon, Mary Jane Amick, and Ben Mudd. Any mistakes, however, are my responsibility, and I hope people will report them to me, so that I can correct them.

Responses to the Study Guide are due by June 4. Download the worksheet and get to work.

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