September 7, 2014

How Do I Hate the TREC Letter? Let Me Count the Ways.

When I learned of the latest communication from the Task Force for Reimagining the Church, I immediately planned to offer a comprehensive response to the “TREC Letter to the Church.” Then I read the letter. And I read it again. And I read what others were saying. And I concluded that my original plan would be a complete waste of time. Like the previous missives from this task force, the latest output is a pile of gobbledygook that hints of changes that, in my humble opinion, would be somewhere between counterproductive and disastrous.

TREC logo
So, this will not be a complete analysis of the TREC letter. Instead, I will try to offer some high-level criticism and raise objections I have not seen elsewhere.

Let me begin with a procedural concern. Ever since I read the “TREC Study Paper on Episcopal Networks,” I became concerned that the task force could not meet its November deadline for producing useful recommendations. I now have no doubt that the deadline will be met. And I have no doubt that the final report will be a disaster.

General Convention Resolution C095 required that TREC convene “a special gathering to receive responses to the proposed recommendations to be brought forward to the 78th General convention,.” That gathering will take place at Washington National Cathedral and on the World Wide Web on October 2. I assume that we now have all the work products of TREC we are going to have before that meeting. That, in itself, is scary. Scarier still is the fact that the task is convening its final meeting on October 3 and 4, with the intention of releasing its report by November 30. What if the work of the task force runs into a buzz saw, as seems possible, on October 2? It is a pretty fair guess that, even if the members of the task force want to, there simply will be no time to change the direction of the task force recommendation. The October 2 affair is a sham. There is time to pretty up the gobbledegook, but what we see on November 30 is going to look a lot like what we have seen already.

The task force might well have begun by building a picture of what it wants the future church to look like. Had it articulated such a vision early on, Episcopalians would have had a chance to either buy into the vision or to point the task force is a different direction. If the task force headed off in the wrong direction, a final course correction at the end of its journey is not going to land its recommendations at the right destination.

Rightly or wrongly, we can, infer the objectives of the task force from what it has written. It seeks a church that is less expensive to run, more authoritarian in its governance, less responsive to lay voices, indifferent to the needs of vast areas of the territory of the church, and which carries out its work of telling dioceses and parishes what to do using hired guns that can be hired and fired at will. This is not the church I signed on to.

A competent report for a group like TREC would:
  1. Articulate overall objectives against which its recommendations can be measured.
  2. Clearly identify each problem it intends to address.
  3. Analyze each problem and explain what the status quo is and how it contributes to the problem.
  4. Offer a plan to address the problem.
  5. Analyze advantages and disadvantages of the plan and how, on the whole, it ameliorates the problem and contributes to the overall goals.
Generally, TREC has not been clear about the problems it purports to be solving. Nor has it explained what improvements will be the product of the proffered solutions or how global objectives will be advanced.
Consider, for example, the idea of cutting the size of Executive Council and eliminating representatives from provinces. This will cut costs (good). It will make the group less representative (bad). It may or may not make Executive Council more efficient. Yes, it’s easier to make decisions in a smaller group—a group of one works best—but a larger Council brings greater diversity to the decision process and provides more bodies to carry on necessary committee work. Of course, if some of Executive Council’s responsibility is offloaded to, say, the Presiding Bishop, Executive Council will have less to do.

Consider now the job of the Presiding Bishop. If he or she becomes CEO with additional managerial responsibility—I’m uncertain about the lines of authority myself, and TREC has not clarified what the status quo is—should we be selecting Presiding Bishops for management expertise, rather than for spiritual gifts? It is unclear to me that we can find an adequate CEO and chief pastor in the same person. TREC says nothing about this concern.

Clearly, the office of Presiding Bishop has become more powerful as the church moved away from a bishop who simply convened the House of Bishops. If the Presiding Bishop has ultimate responsibility for both the spiritual and organizational health of The Episcopal Church, why is the office holder chosen only by bishops? Now, the House of Deputies merely rubber stamps the choice of the bishops. If we value a participatory church—it is unclear that democracy is a value of TREC—ordinary clergy and laypeople should have a real say in who becomes Presiding Bishop.

Perhaps what is most surprising are the problem that seem not to have come to the attention of TREC at all. Chief among these are
  1. The recent budget disasters in 2009 and 2012 (definitely not the fault of the General Convention)
  2. The failure to to discipline bishops in a timely fashion when it becomes clear that they are straying off the reservation
  3. The ambiguity, whether real or imagined, as to whether a diocese can leave the church (also, is the Dennis Canon strong enough?)
  4. The tendency of Presiding Bishops to attend meetings of the Anglican primates and leave the impression that they are in agreement with communiqués that are clearly hostile to The Episcopal Church
I could write an essay addressing each of these problems and more, but I leave that the the imagination of the reader.

Pray for our church. It surely needs your prayers.

Postscript. There is much commentary on the Web about the latest TREC letter. I do not intend to document it all here. My favorite essay so far is from the Rev. Tom Ferguson. I also have to mention Katie Sherrod’s post, coming as it does from another diocese that has experienced schism at the hands of a general church asleep at the switch. Read also what the Rev. Mark Harris has to say. The Lead has collected comments and links, including some I have recommended above. In any case, let your voice be heard before it is too late.


  1. Katie Sherrod's post (see link above), as Lionel has mentioned, is particularly worth a look. As a digression, Ms Sherrod's encapsulates the history of the split in her diocese in just a paragraph or two, in fine fashion. The diocesan splits and the failure of the greater church to prevent them are the types of issues which should be addressed. Thanks to all of the critics for detailing the many problems with the TREC report. I remain deeply troubled by the growing clericalism, including but not limited to the growth of the power of the House of Bishops to pick the Presiding Bishop, and the seizure by diocesan clerics of greater authority to choose a diocesan Bishop. The result is that the needs and concerns of the laity are increasing being ignored. If I favored that clericalism crap, I would go back to the Catholic Church and its secretive ways. Lionel has also listed four issues which have been not and should be addressed, and I am wholeheartedly in agreement with Lionel on the gravity of the four non-addressed concerns.

  2. I found this especially helpful:

    1. Certainly, the scope of the TREC letter is a problem—one among many. I think the task force went about its task the wrong way, Of course, we don’t know in detail what it did. I fear that the whole enterprise may come to naught.It could be worse than that; it could discourage the church.


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