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.

Next


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

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