May 27, 2015

Thoughts on the Episcopal Resurrection Resolutions

The 79th General Convention is rapidly approaching, so I’d better say something about the resolutions from the Episcopal Resurrection folks now if I’m going to say anything at all. I have already written two essays about this recently released material (here and here). In this post, I want to discuss the resolutions proposed by Episcopal Resurrection.

Having just written six posts about the report from the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church and having reread the Episcopal Resurrection material, I can say with confidence that the General Convention would do well to ignore the TREC recommendations and move on to consider those from Episcopal Resurrection. The TREC resolutions are, as Scott Gunn suggested, a hot mess. (I don’t know if Gunn intended to apply this judgment to all the TREC resolutions, but I am comfortable doing so.)

Image from Episcopal Resurrection Web site

Clearly, the Episcopal Resurrection resolutions have been influenced by the TREC report. Also, although there isn’t a 1-to-1 correspondence between the two sets of resolutions, there are 9 resolutions in each set. I don’t know if this is a coincidence.

Creating a Capacity to Plant Churches

The Episcopal Resurrection resolutions do not yet have numbers, so I will use the titles from the Web site to refer to them. Click on the section heading to read the proposed resolution.

The first resolution is probably the boldest and most important. For a variety of reasons, it is also the scariest. First, it proposes to spend nearly $8.5 million, all of which, save $2 million, is to come from the church budget. The first question that must be asked is where that money is coming from. What will we not be able to do because we are funding church plants?

Another reason this resolution is scary is because it forces Episcopalians to face the dreaded “E” word, evangelism. Evangelism is an activity that just doesn’t seem to be part of The Episcopal Church’s DNA, although there is evidence that it once was. (Why else would we have churches all over the world?) Because we are a church—as we are fond of saying—that does not require you to check your brains at the door, we are also a church that does not foster the absolute certainty of doctrine that drives the passions of many other Christians to proselytize.

As a Pittsburgh Episcopalian, I am especially wary of the doctrinal certainty that caused a schism in my own diocese. (I find it interesting that the past few General Conventions seem to have had no response to the schisms of the past decade.) Mind you, I love my church and believe that there are those who would love it also if given the chance.

Frankly, I don’t have a good sense of how to form new Episcopalians. Our worship is something of an acquired taste, and one not likely to be acquired quickly. (We do a good job of attracting disaffected Roman Catholics, however, who are familiar with a not dissimilar worship style.) I worry that, in planting new churches, we will de-emphasize that which most makes us Episcopalian. Will new church plants use guitars, slide presentations, and have people rolling in the aisles? Gosh, I hope not! Yet I do realize that worship in a church plant will necessarily differ from that of an established urban cathedral.

Of course, there are different ways of planting churches, and I suspect that sending out teams from existing churches to form new churches is more effective (and more Episcopalian) than sending out a single clergy person into the neighborhood. I wonder if we, as Episcopalians, really know how to start new Episcopal churches. The church planting resolution would fund seminary positions devoted to church planting. Is there a body of knowledge ready to be taught? My concern is that we need to figure out how to plant churches. I am inclined to think we should fund some sort of church planting pilot project, rather than jump with both feet (and millions of dollars) into the full-blown program called for in this resolution.

I really am not an expert in church planting, however, and I could be convinced that making a bold move in this area is what the church needs to reinvigorate it. I recommend reading what two of the people behind Episcopal Resurrection have said about church planting. Adam Tranbley has written a blog post titled “Creating a Capacity to Plant Churches.” Susan Brown Snook has written “Treasure to Share: Why Plant New Churches?” on her blog. See if you find their arguments compelling.

I am concerned that an activity related to church planting is not dealt with in the Episcopal Resurrection resolution. I am referring to publicity. The Episcopal Church was once known as the church of the elite. I don’t think we have to worry about that anymore. Instead, I think we are known to the public as a church that has been involved in fights over doctrine. That is not attractive to the unchurched. Also unattractive is the most common notion of “Christian” in the public’s mind—the intolerant, self-righteous reactionaries that often represent Christianity on newscasts. We need to let the world know that there is a church that values science, that respects the dignity of every human being, does not believe that war or guns are the answer to every problem, and is concerned about such social ills as income inequality. Getting that message out would make Episcopal church planting a good deal easier.

Revitalization of Congregations

This resolution surely addresses a real problem. With a $1 million price tag, one can raise some of the same objections as to the church planting resolution. I’m not going to say too much about this resolution, because I’m not sure how best to achieve its objectives. I do have questions about it—do we really need a network of regional consultants?—but I want to raise an issue that this resolution brings to mind. It would require that
that a churchwide staff position be created to facilitate the creation of this network and coordinate training opportunities for congregational leaders
The problem I have with this proposition is that I have no idea how many churchwide staff positions there are and what those people do. In fact, I am even rather unclear about who supervises whom and who reports to whom at the administrative level of the church. Both the TREC resolutions and the Episcopal Resurrection resolutions address organization somewhat, but I think the General Convention needs to see a complete organization chart of who is working on its behalf. One picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words. Were I a deputy, I would be reluctant to add another staff position having no idea of how big or engaged the present staff is.

Permit Dioceses to Explore Shared Ministry and Collaboration

This resolution is straightforward and, I suspect, will not be controversial. No money is involved abd only minor changes to the canons. In particular, it allows dioceses to share a Commission on Ministry. It also allows dioceses to share a bishop, which might help dioceses under severe financial pressure to maintain their independence. This can be important because joining existing dioceses can create groupings that are geographically large, thereby discouraging maximum participation because of the travel involved.

I appreciate that the proposed resolution shows clearly how existing canons would be changed, something that TREC largely failed to do in its massive rewrites of portions of the constitution and canons.

Amend Article V of the Constitution

This is another fairly straightforward proposal. It would allow dioceses to consider joining (merging) even if one or both lacks a diocesan bishop. I don’t see any potential for mischief here, since any plan to consolidate dioceses must be approved by the General Convention.


Create a Task Force to Study Episcopal Elections and Appointments of Bishops

This resolution is not unlike one proposed by TREC, though the cost associated with it is 50% higher. As I suggested earlier, I am skeptical as to whether something like this is needed, and I suspect that the Heather Cook affair has the whole church a bit gun shy. I am impressed by how well thought out this resolution is, particularly in its specification of the kind of people who should staff the task force. The resolution suggests that we need to investigate how we can achieve greater diversity among our bishops. This becomes particularly important now, since the Cook debacle will have a tendency to make dioceses more wary (and therefore conservative) in their choice of bishops. Frankly, we need more women, gay, and minority bishops. We could even use another Bishop Pike or Spong every now and then.

Amend Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution

This is another simple resolution, and one that I think will be passed easily. Like the resolutions involving shared resources among dioceses and easier joining of dioceses, the resolution is simply permissive. It allows for joint sessions of the General Convention houses. Such sessions already happen, but, apparently, without constitutional sanction.

Budget Process for the Episcopal Church

The explanation given for this resolution is the following:
Our current canons contain a number of unclear, conflicting, and outdated budget procedures. We propose updating them to reflect current practice regarding budget development and oversight. In addition, we propose changing the provisions regarding the support asked from dioceses to clarify that full support is expected from all dioceses, and that dioceses that do not comply with the full assessment amount, and that do not receive a waiver from Executive Council, may be subject to some sanctions, including ineligibility for DFMS grants or loans, and ineligibility of lay, clergy, or bishops from those dioceses to be elected or appointed to church-wide bodies.
It is surprising that TREC did not propose a resolution on this topic, as a seemingly dysfunctional budgetary process was a major factor in creating the task force to begin with. I don’t have much to say about this resolution, as I have largely avoided trying to understand the church budget and how it comes to be. If the resolution does what it says it does, I guess that would be a good thing. I have long said that it is crazy that the church does not demand money from its dioceses, and both TREC and the Episcopal Resurrection folks seem to agree. Moreover, I like the fact that this resolution provides for consequences if a diocese’s assessment is not paid. I leave it to others to figure out if the resolution has all the details right.

Clarify Officers of The Episcopal Church

This is another area where there is some agreement between Episcopal Resurrection and TREC, at least insofar as clarification is needed. TREC resolutions are contingent on adopting a unicameral legislature, however, which is not going to happen. The explanation for this resolution is worth reproducing here, because it has lots moving parts, all of which are important:
We propose a change in the office of the Executive Director of The Episcopal Church (ED). The ED will be nominated by the Presiding Officers and appointed by Executive Council, reporting to Executive Council. The ED will be responsible for all staff except for the staff directly allocable to the offices of the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies and the staff of the Office of the General Convention. The ED will ensure that churchwide staff are working toward strategic priorities set by General Convention and Executive Council, under the leadership of the Presiding Bishop. This change will free up the Presiding Bishop to be the chief pastor of our bishops and to be a public voice of the church. The PB will be the President of DFMS, the chair of the board of directors and the chair of Executive Council, and the leader who guides the Council and staff in setting strategic priorities for the church. The President of the House of Deputies (PHoD) will be the Vice President of DFMS, vice chair of the board of directors, and vice chair of Executive Council. We have also included a provision to provide a stipend for the PHoD. We believe that this structure will bring together staff and governance structure in a collaborative, working team which will better serve the church.

Under our proposal, there is an Executive Officer of General Convention, who will fulfill the functions of Secretary of General Convention and lead the Office of General Convention, and also serve as corporate secretary of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. There will no longer be a separate canonical position of Secretary of General Convention.

The current canons name several distinct roles, and it is unclear how they interrelate: Treasurer of General Convention, Treasurer of Executive Council, Chief Financial Officer, etc. The proposed revisions clarify that there is one elected Treasurer of The Episcopal Church, who also serves as the Treasurer of General Convention, of the Executive Council, and of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. This person need not be the same as the staff position of Chief Financial Officer, who will report to the Executive Director.

We propose adding the position of General Counsel of The Episcopal Church, who will advise the Executive Council and General Convention Office on legal matters. The presiding officers may still name their own chancellors, but may also use the services of the General Counsel. This person should not be the same as the staff person of Chief Legal Officer, who will report to the Executive Director.

All of these positions—Executive Director, Executive Officer of General Convention, Treasurer of The Episcopal Church, and General Counsel of The Episcopal Church—would be nominated by the presiding officers and elected by Executive Council. They would report to Executive Council, and Council could terminate any of them by a two-thirds vote.
I have not checked all the details in this proposal. In particular, I have no idea if all the necessary canonical changes are correct. Others need to be sure that everything is proper and consistent. On the other hand, I think this resolution gets the organization of the church exactly right and makes the office of Presiding Bishop something that a sane person might actually hold. (My apologies to the four candidates for PB.) I like the addition of a General Council and a salary for the President of teh House of Deputies. I hope this passes. If it needs some amending, I don’t know where that might be.

Eliminate Provinces

Although the first eight proposed resolutions are either small changes made for good reason or bold initiatives that may or may not pay off, this resolution seems to make a fairly significant change that will save little money and will probably yield no significant benefits. It may do actual harm. I have written about this resolution in my essay “In Praise of Provinces” and will have no more to say about it here.

Parting Thoughts

When I first encountered the Episcopal Resurrection Web site, I was, like many, impressed with “A Memorial to the Church.” On first reading, I was not too sure about the recommended resolutions. I am still skeptical about the first two, which could have the same effect as the Decade of Evangelism, though with more money sent down the drain. I am encouraged by the thoroughness of the resolutions generally, however, which has the effect of reducing my anxiety regarding the church planting and church revitalization proposals.

The General Convention will, I think, have a relatively easy time with these resolutions, simply because they are so well crafted. I would anticipate attempts to amend the first two, and the officers resolution might need tweaks that aren’t easily identified.

May I propose a resolution of my own? We should thank Susan Brown Snook, Tom Ferguson, Scott Gunn, Frank Logue, Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, Steve Pankey, and Adam Trambley for the excellent work they have done without anyone’s having asked them to do it.

5 comments:

  1. Thank you, Lionel, for your kind words and for your engagement with the work before our church this summer.

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  2. Thanks, Lionel. With regard to your comments on church planting, I understand the fear that planting new churches could result in a whole lot of guitar and drum-based churches that don't look Episcopalian. While in some places it is indeed culturally appropriate to worship in non-traditional styles, please don't assume this is the case. My own church plant, Nativity in Scottsdale, has quite traditional worship with vestments, BCP, mostly Hymnal 1982 music, a small organ, and a very nice piano. We decided from the beginning that we were called to worship in the traditional Episcopal style. We are progressive on social issues also. I would also suggest that the experiment with Mission Enterprise Zones in the current triennium has actually been the kind of "pilot project" you suggest. We have helped fund 38 new church initiatives, and there are some great stories to be shared about them. You can read about some of them at the Acts 8 website, because we set out to discover and report on what was happening with those Mission Enterprise Zones: http://www.acts8moment.org/category/stories/mission-enterprise-zone/. My just-published book on church planting also covers the subject in detail, from interviews with a number of church planters and others, so there is at least the beginning of some knowledge about church planting in our Episcopal context, which can be added to the mountain of information available on church planting in other Christian contexts. I think we're actually well-positioned to make a strategic priority of reaching new people through planting churches: traditional and non-traditional churches, as well as churches focusing on fast-growing ethnic populations.

    Thanks so much for your writing about Episcopal Resurrection!

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    1. Thank you, Susan, for the information and links. The resolution on church planting is one of the most exciting and scariest to be presented to the General Convention. The big question remains: Where will the money come from?

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  3. Hi Lionel - thanks for writing about this! A few thoughts here:

    A) I commented on your original blog post regarding the provinces, but I'll repeat it here. I can be persuaded that there may be reasons for the provinces to continue to exist, but I am very wary of their role in governance, because the means of participation are inconsistent and opaque. If we're going to keep having provinces, they should be reformed.

    B) I can't say anything about church planting better than Susan did. But I will add another piece of data. There is a church plant just beginning in Brownsburg, Indiana, a rapidly growing suburb of Indianapolis. It's in very early stages, so it's way too soon to say what its worship style will ultimately be, but the plant describes itself as "a new progressive community of faith for the west side," and the priest planting it sees his mission field as those who do not feel ministered to by the mostly conservative churches in that area.

    C) Regarding Episcopal elections, Nurya Love Parish's comment on the resolution speaks directly to why we proposed this (http://www.episcopalresurrection.org/resolutions/episcopal-elections/). It's not Heather Cook lurking in the background so much as a search committee member's view of a broken process. This resolution also has a broader mandate than TREC's for what the task force is expected to accomplish - not just studying the process but also creating the resources to share (publicly!) with the whole church to make it better. This is part of the reason the Episcopal Resurrection resolution has a higher price tag than TREC's.

    D) Congregational revitalization is perhaps the hardest thing to tackle. Here we're talking about how to transform existing communities - that's a heavy task for a piece of legislation, especially when you consider the cultural dynamics of resistance to change, different geographic/demographic contexts, etc. I'd be very interested in hearing suggested amendments from any sources that would make this resolution more likely to achieve its aims.

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Brendan.

      I don’t claim to have a comprehensive knowledge of provinces. I have heard both good and bad stories about particular provinces. I am inclined to think that provinces should be retained, but I could be convinced otherwise. This issue isn’t going to save The Episcopal Church one way or the other.

      I would like to think that there is potential for planting real Episcopal churches. I think our church has something special to offer 21st-century thinking Americans. Societal trends are sometimes discouraging.

      I was not really bothered by the price tag on the resolution on the episcopate. The work products of TREC have made me wary of church task forces, though. :-)

      If I knew the secrets to revitalizing the church, I would be writing my own resolutions. I am surprised that no one has considered what polity changes might prevent the sort of schisms the church has experienced in recent years. For example, we could make it explicit that the only way a diocese can leave The Episcopal Church is by permission of the General Convention. Or we could impose discipline on clergy from outside the diocese, which could be encouraging errant behavior. After spending so much money on litigation, I cannot understand why no one sees a problem here.

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