First a qualifier: I write from my perspective as a journalist who has observed every General Convention since 1991. I speak only for myself.
Another open letter to the Episcopal Church has arrived, this time with a thud, drawing criticism from across the spectrum of belief and practice. The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church faced the Sisyphean task of finding a consensus on church reform. What the task force delivered is a 3,000-word document in language somewhere between the satire of Dilbert and the jargon of a Bain Capital report:
Specific examples of what the churchwide structure must and should do to fulfill [a capability builder] role would include cultivating and fostering the sharing of expertise for targeted training and professional development.
… We must streamline and focus the scope of our churchwide agenda, to become a more distributive, networked, and nimble church that is focused on local faith formation and local mission and that enables and accelerates local innovation and adaptation; while at the same time enhancing, not diminishing[,] our prophetic voice to the world around us.
… PB responsible for nominating three people to serve in the following offices, with concurrence by the PHoD: Chief Operating Officer (COO), Treasurer/Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Legal Officer. These positions would serve at the pleasure of the PB. Approval for the PB to fire any of these officers would not be required from the PHoD or the EC.
… The EC would review and provide appropriate oversight of DFMS’s total portfolio of projects relative to pre-established metrics on an annual basis.
TREC’s most consequential ideas involve shrinking the church’s representative bodies, from General Convention to Executive Council to the groups known by the odd initialism of CCABS (Commissions, Councils, Agencies, and Boards). Even here, the recommendations are baffling. TREC would abolish every standing commission save two: Nominations and Program, and Budget and Finance. As the church teeters on the last stage of redefining its doctrine of marriage, abolishing the Standing Commission on Music on Liturgy and Music is a prescription for full-tilt chaos. If structure signals expectations, does the church want to suggest that slot-filling and spreadsheets matter more than theology?
Rather than rethinking the role of presiding bishop, TREC strengthens the strong hand of that office and deepens the presiding bishop’s accretion of CEO-style duties. To show so little regard for the broader House of Bishops, much less for the House of Deputies, alienates Episcopalians who prefer something other than a structure top-heavy with executive power.
There may still be hope for substantial reforms to emerge from this body, especially as it convenes an open forum October 2 at Washington National Cathedral. For those unable to attend, or turned away because of limited seating, streaming video will help.
TREC says in its open letter that it intends to ask General Convention to vote on its package as a whole. That’s a commendable and gutsy decision. But if the proposals do not improve considerably between now and next summer, General Convention may do the usual thing: refer the whole package to a new task force for further dialogue and almost certain dilution.
Image via DigDang