Calls to study, change Episcopal Church structure abound

May 2, 2012

[Episcopal News Service] The 77th meeting of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention is being asked to sift and winnow a variety of answers to the question of what to do about the Episcopal Church’s structure that, as one group says, it “no longer needs, nor can it afford.”

At least nine of the committees, commissions, agencies and boards (CCABs) of convention touch on the issue in their Blue Book reports. The comments and proposed solutions range from the over-arching to the extremely specific.

Some, but not all, of those nine CCABs have supplemented their comments with resolutions (designated by the letter “A”) meant for convention to consider when it meets July 5-12 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, Indiana, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. (Legislative committee hearings and some other convention activities begin July 4.)

The CCABs are not the only groups weighing in about how the Episcopal Church should change. Resolutions may also be submitted to convention by three other groups: bishops (B resolutions), dioceses (C resolutions) and deputies (D resolutions), and at least 29 of the church’s 110 dioceses have already filed resolutions about the church’s future structure.

Many of those diocesan resolutions are based on a model resolution suggested to the House of Bishops in September by Bishop Stacy Sauls, a member of the house who is also the church’s chief operating officer. (A video version of Sauls’ presentation about structural change, made as he presented it to Episcopal Church Center staff, is here. A PowerPoint  version, with Sauls’ notes at the end, is here.)

The model resolution would have convention call for a special commission appointed by the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies to present, possibly to a special meeting of General Convention before the 78th General Convention in 2015, “a plan to the church for reforming its structures, governance, administration, and staff to facilitate this church’s faithful engagement in Christ’s mission….”

Sauls told the church’s Executive Council at its April 18 – 20 meeting that he wants to talk with the council and the church “about putting everything on the table and rebuilding the church for a new time that has no precise historical precedent.” He added that he wants to talk to council “not about the panic of our declining numbers but about how we strengthen what is working best out there and make what is strong stronger so that the strong can serve the less-than-strong.”

The Rev. Gay Jennings, a council member from the Diocese of Ohio, noted in her closing sermon at the same meeting the “surprisingly passionate conversations about structure, governance, roles, responsibilities, canonical and constitutional amendments, rules of order, CCABs, budgets, staff, and General Convention.”

“As I talk to people around the church, people are clear that there is a need for something new, people are passionate, but there aren’t many concrete suggestions offered, and some are not sure about what the structure of the church actually consists of,” she said. “The good news is that people care about how we are structured.”

“How we go about restructuring is as important as how we restructured,” Jennings continued. “Will we be true to our Baptismal Covenant? Will we be courageous and brave?”

Other denominations also face questions of structural change

The calls for structural change in the Episcopal Church are not unusual. They come in response to the challenges facing all mainline churches, including declining membership and thus declining finances, demographic shifts and cultural changes in the place and authority accorded to religious communities in society.

Questions of structural reform dominated discussion during the April 16 – 20 meeting of the Anglican Church of Canada’s House of Bishops, according to the Anglican Journal. “We are talking about more effective use of our resources, both human and financial, to do the work that God is calling us to do,” said Archbishop Fred Hiltz in an interview with Anglican Journal following the meeting.

The United Methodist Church’s quadrennial General Council, meeting April 24-May 4 in Tampa, Florida, is faced with complex restructuring proposals that would consolidate some church agencies and change how they are governed. General Administration Legislative Committee refused April 28 to recommend either of two officially proposed plans — Call to Action and Methodist Federation for Social Action.

Proponents of those two plans can still bring their plans to the floor to be debated and voted on, according to the United Methodist News Service. And supporters of a so-called Plan B alternative could still make a motion to the plenary session to substitute their legislation for the others. Proponents of the various plans have been in discussions about possible compromises, according to UMNS.

Meanwhile, a proposal that grew out of the Call to Action plan to have the president of the Council of Bishops serve full time for four years without the responsibilities of overseeing a geographic area failed to receive the needed two-thirds majority. Delegates also voted down a proposed four-year study on the question. The failure came a week after the Council of Bishops agreed to reduce its structure and meet as a full council only once a year.

When the Presbyterian Church USA meets June 30 – July 7 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for its 220th General Assembly it will consider the report of its Special Committee on “The Nature of the Church in the 21st Century.” The committee was called for at the last General Assembly (in 2010) to “help to increase understanding of the church from a Reformed and Presbyterian perspective and assist current and new members in forming faithful plans for our common future.” The committee is bringing 10 recommendations to this summer’s General Assembly, ranging from ministry development and other vocational questions to new immigrant communities and multilingual communications.

The 10th recommendation discusses how Presbyterian individuals and organizations live out their faith publicly. It calls in part for the church to “focus its ministry and resources on the society-at-large and to mobilize its agencies/entities, councils, congregations, and members/disciples to reach out holistically with the Gospel of Jesus Christ to participate in God’s just peace and sociopolitical transformation.”

The assembly will also hear a series of eight recommendations from a committee meant to review its biennial assembly schedule and how those assemblies are conducted.

In August 2011, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Churchwide Assembly dealt with proposals about the role of the ELCA’s churchwide organization to accompany congregations and synods, build capacity for evangelical witness and service, strengthen interdependent relationships, promote God’s vision of a multicultural and multiethnic church, coordinate global mission and relief work, and lead in new ways theological reflection and deliberation on the identity and mission of the church.

The proposals came out of the report of the ELCA’s Living into the Future task force charged with recommending options for the future of the ELCA. The assembly also voted to move from a biennial meeting schedule to a triennial cone, beginning in 2016.

And the United Church of Christ, also meeting last summer, approved what it called Unified Governance revisions to its constitution and bylaws. The UCC’s 38 Conferences were asked to ratify the constitutional amendments before the next General Synod in 2013. They must be approved by two-thirds of the conference to go into effect. The changes will combine the five existing governance boards into a single, 52-member United Church of Christ Board.

The General Assembly defeated a proposal to lengthen its biennial meeting cycle to three or four years.

Proposals from the Blue Book

Against that background, below is a summary of comments and resolutions from the nine Episcopal Church CCABs, in order of their appearance in the Blue Book:

♦  The results of the House of Deputies Study Committee on Church Governance and Polity, appointed in September 2009 by House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson, will be available soon. The committee was charged with presenting the House of Deputies with “a study of the history, theology, political structure and practical realities of our Church’s governance and polity, and to explain why we believe it is essential to empower each order of ministry ‘to take their place in the governance of the Church.'” The members were also asked to discuss “what kind of theology is embodied in such a polity; what strengths flow from our system of government and what challenges this presents; and to make recommendations based on its findings to strengthen our self-understanding.”

The committee decided to provide all deputies with a collection of essays addressing the topics. The publication will be available to others as well. The Rev. Tobias Haller BSG, chair of the committee, told ENS that the publication is due out soon. Church Publishing Inc. is producing both printed and electronic versions of the collection (not Forward Movement, as the committee said in its Blue Book report). [Editor’s note: as of June 6, 2012, “Shared Governance: The Polity of the Episcopal Church” is available for a charge here.]

Report begins on page 57.

♦ The extensive report from the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church notes that the Episcopal Church, “like all mainline Christian churches — is a denomination undergoing transition … But this transition is also reflected in the realization that the Church is no longer in a world dominated by a ‘corporate’ structure and mindset …”

The report extensively reviews patterns of membership and giving, and concludes that “the Episcopal Church’s ‘growth spurt’ took place during the 1950s and 1960s, a time when the business corporation emerged as the dominant mode for all kinds of American institutions, including churches. Looking at the 2010 end of the chart, it is clear that this era has passed.” The members say they want to emphasize “the need for the church to find new and different ways to organize and function for ministry in a transformed environment,” and they note that the “key concepts” guiding their thinking included mission, structure, technology, and transparency.

In a survey conducted among the deputies, the committee found, among other things, that for most lay deputies and alternates, the restructuring of the staff of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society during the triennium had no discernible effect on their lay ministries. The restructuring happened in the wake of the last General Convention’s approval of a budget that was $23 million smaller than the one for the previous triennium.

The committee did not propose resolutions related to restructuring the church.

Report begins on page 59.

♦ The Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation and Education says in its report that “education in the history, structure and governance of the Episcopal Church is necessary for leaders” and proposes Resolution A041 (Amend Canon I.17) to require that each congregation provide instruction in the history, structure and governance of the Episcopal Church, and state that anyone “accepting any office” in the church shall have completed that instruction, as well as instruction “in the duties and responsibilities of their office.”

Report begins on page 151.

♦ “How do we develop ways by which church structures will be transformed in such a way that they naturally enable, empower, equip and support the ministry of all baptized?” the Standing Commission on Ministry Development asks in its report. A subcommittee of the commission recommends that General Convention call on the “whole church to be responsive to the context of a changing world, taking into account the shifting demographics, biotechnical changes and how the ministry of all baptized can be a step towards a new direction.”

Ministry Development did not propose any resolutions dealing with structural change.

Report begins on page 475.

♦ The Standing Commission on the Mission and Evangelism of the Episcopal Church bases its two main proposals for structural change on its conclusion that “the assumption of a Christian nation is no more. The assumption of a white, middle-to upper-middle class majority is no more.”

“Our structures, policies, strategies and Book of Common Prayer are largely designed for contexts that either no longer exist, or simply no longer dominate,” the commission says — adding, however, that “there is no reason to scrap all that we’ve known, done and loved. There is an urgent need to translate it, creating spaces that serve as ‘mission laboratories’ where the ancient meets the future, where the traditions meet the margins.”

The members call for creating such space for innovation by “agreement within a diocese to suspend certain conventional practices in a strategic location, followed by reflection on structures and canons.”

“We can then revise those statutes, once it is clearer what structures would facilitate ministry in rapidly changing contexts,” they say.

Thus they propose Resolution A073 (Establish Diocesan Mission Enterprise Zones) that would have the convention establish a $1 million Mission Enterprise Fund to give grants of up to $20,000 each to dioceses to form Mission Enterprise Zones, “defined as a geographic area, as a group of congregations or as an entire diocese committed to mission and evangelism that engages under-represented groups.”

Until the next convention, the zones would be granted greater freedom as authorized by the bishop in consultation with diocesan leadership regarding the designation of “congregation” status, traditional formation for and use of ordained leadership and the use of authorized texts for principle worship gatherings.

The fund would be administered by the Executive Council Standing Committee on Local Ministry and Mission.

“Structures are important and necessary, but they must be flexible enough not to inhibit the proclamation of the gospel by faithful Episcopal communities, and they have to be re-evaluated as mission conditions on the ground shift,” the commission says in its resolution explanation. “By creating these stations for mission enterprise, and then studying them, we will know what structures to create to recognize and encourage the growth of new and redeveloped faith communities.”

The standing commission would gather reports on the results of the efforts, reflect on the accounts and “use them to fulfill the request of the Executive Council to help the church ‘create a canonical process to incorporate new faith community models into our existing structures'” by the 78th General Convention.

The commission’s second proposal calls for restructuring General Convention itself so that it “provides training and inspiration for mission and evangelism through intentional leadership training, sharing of ‘best practices,’ storytelling, networking and engaging in mission in the host city — being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ: a community in action.”

Resolution A075 (Restructure General Convention and Church Governance) would set up a task force of the General Convention on missional structure and strategy charged with “presenting a plan to the church for reforming its structures, governance, administration, and staff to facilitate this church’s faithful engagement in Christ’s mission in a way that maximizes the resources available for that mission at all levels of this church.”

The resolution includes in its call for “serious consideration” of “more mission-focused models of General Convention,” a suggestion for “simplifying the structure of General Convention governance” by moving to a unicameral legislature.

The task forces would report to the church no later than February 1, 2015. The resolution asks for $100,000 for implementation.

Report begins on page 497.

♦ The Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church was charged by the Executive Council in February 2011 with coordinating the church’s various conversations on strategic planning and possible structural change. For two days in May 2011, the commission gathered representatives from the joint standing committees on Program, Budget and Finance and Planning and Arrangements; the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons; the Budgetary Funding Task Force, the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church, and council’s Governance and Administration for Mission, Finances for Mission and Strategic Planning committees, as well as Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson, General Convention Secretary and Episcopal Church Executive Officer Gregory Straub and Treasurer Kurt Barnes.

After the gathering, the commission, according to its Blue Book report, “reflected on what was heard, synthesized central themes and concerns,” asked the council for feedback in June 2011 and then developed a final version of its report on the gathering which includes 11 proposed resolutions.

The commission said it wanted to present not “final answers to what a re-energized structure might look like,” but “to assure that the right questions are asked so that all members of the church can live out their baptismal ministries in a structure that honors effectiveness over efficiency and provides the stability necessary to support an atmosphere of flexibility and nimbleness for ministry and mission.”

Resolution A090 (Endorse the Principle of Subsidiarity) calls for convention and Executive Council to “embrace” subsidiarity that works for “the appropriate balance between the unity of the whole and the roles and responsibility of its parts, all working toward and measured against a sense of the good of the whole,” and to measure all current and future operations by it.

Resolution A091 (Reduce Diocesan Apportionments) would direct the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) to reduce the amount of money convention asks dioceses to contribute to the work of the churchwide operation “to allow more monies to remain at the diocesan, and thus parish and regional, levels to support greater encouragement of widespread, effective innovation.” No amount is suggested in the resolution.

Resolution A092 (Length of the 78th General Convention) would have the 2015 meeting last not fewer than 10 days as a way to avoid “compression of time and competition for witnesses’ focus” that “curtails debate in the committees and also contributes to an atmosphere of impatience with debate on the floor and a desire to limit the speakers heard.”

Resolution A093 (Fund for the Length of the 78th General Convention) would ask PB&F to adequately fund a 10-day convention and Resolution A094 (Establish Financial Assistance Fund for Deputies) would have PB&F set up a fund to ensure that at least two clergy and two lay deputies from each diocese can attend that meeting of convention. The resolution’s explanation notes that a similar fund exists for bishops from dioceses with limited resources to attend meetings of the House of Bishops.

Resolution A095 (Frequency of Interim Meetings of the House of Bishops) would ask the bishops to limit their meetings to once a year. The bishops now meet twice during certain years of the triennium.

Resolution A096 (Reduce Barriers to Participation in Church Leadership and Governance) calls on dioceses and congregations to find “creative ways to reduce barriers to participation in church leadership and governance,” adding that those barriers may include time away from home or employment, or the need to care for family members. Such efforts would help to “reflect the full diversity of the church,” the members say.

Resolution A097 (Fund Initial Joint-CCAB Meeting Following the 78th General Convention) would set aside money in the 2012-2015 budget to be passed by this summer’s meeting of General Convention to allow for a meeting in the fall of 2015 for “shared orientation, training and development of work plans for the [2016-2019] triennium.” Similarly, Resolution A098 (Fund Initial Joint-CCAB Meeting Following the 77th General Convention) would have the 2012-2015 budget include money for such a meeting in early 2013 for CCABs’ work in the 2012-2015 triennium.

Resolution A099 (Fund Web-Based Mid-Triennium CCAB Meeting) calls for $5,000 for a meeting of no more than two representatives of each CCAB, or for one or more such meetings of appropriate representatives of CCABs so that the groups with shared or overlapping assignments “may learn about and from each other’s work.”

Resolution A100 (Coordinate Church Reform and Restructuring) calls for the structure commission to receive and review various governance reform and restructuring proposals from around the church, and develop a framework for diocesan and provincial conversations about their mission and how changes in the larger structures of the church could enhance their efforts. Structure would gather the results of those conversations into its report to the 78th convention.

In a twelfth resolution (Resolution A101, Convene Consultation on Diocesan Effectiveness) the commission proposes convening a consultation on the “effectiveness of dioceses, with a focus on the potential for re-aligning dioceses to maximize their effective witness and ministry.”

Report begins on page 533.

♦ Much of the Executive Council‘s attention to structural issues came via the coordination efforts it delegated to the structure commission, and the council is proposing to continue that delegation in at least one area. Resolution A122 (Financial Oversight and Budgeting Process) would have Structure “review, and recommend revisions to Canons and the Joint Rules of Order regarding the financial oversight and budgeting processes of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and The Episcopal Church.”

The other major focus to structural issues came from the Executive Council Committee on Strategic Planning. The summary of the latter’s report is below.

The report of the Executive Council and most of its related committees begins on page 565.

♦ Noting that “since 1789 our church has regularly changed her form of organization,” members of the Budgetary Funding Task Force advocate in their report for changes in a structure they note dates to just after World War II.

During that time, they say, “the church followed corporate America in adopting a structure requiring a corporate headquarters in a major city (the more major the city, the more important the organization), with a staff of experts to dispense their wisdom to all below them.” Dioceses and parishes “were lined up under the national structure just as divisions and departments were subservient divisions of the modern American corporation.”

Now, the members say, the organizational and financial problems the church faces “come out of fundamental changes in the culture and profound changes in understanding by the people of the church of their role and place in the church.” Thus “the church no longer needs, nor can it afford, the structure of the last fifty years,” they say.

The members of the Budgetary Funding Task Force, which was created in 2003 by General Convention Resolution B004, come from five provinces, the Standing Commission on Stewardship and Development, the Joint Standing Committee on Program Budget and Finance (PB&F), and the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church.

Chief Operating Officer Sauls was a member of the task force during the triennium. He discussed with the task force what might be called forerunners to his eventual presentation on structural change and its model convention resolution. There are mentions of his presentation in the task force’s minutes from its June and October 2010 meetings posted here.

In making the case for their proposal, task force members caution that “while our organizational forms are fully open for alteration, abridgement, enlargement and the like, our form of governance is not to be altered. In this 21st century we continue to treasure the checks and balances, the honoring of all orders of ministry in decision making, open communication and consultation among bishops, priests, deacons and the laity that date back to this church’s founding General Convention in 1789.”

In that light, they propose what they call a “foundation for fundamental re-formation of our organizational structure,” adding that it is “not the only solution or the perfect solution.” The proposal is similar to one the group presented to the General Convention in 2009, via Resolution A183, for a nine-year budget cycle. That resolution did not come to the floor.

Resolution A150 (Develop Nine-Year Vision and Budget Cycle) would have convention call for the 2015 gathering to be given a plan to implement such a cycle. The resolution envisions a budget cycle that coincides with the term of each presiding bishop, with the triennium prior to the election of a presiding bishop being a time for “developing a common vision … for the purpose of informing the [presiding bishop] nomination and election process.”

That vision would result in “term goals” to be accomplished during that bishop’s term. The houses would meet jointly at the beginning of the General Convention during which a presiding bishop is to be elected to amend and ratify the term goals. A so-called “term budget” would then be built based on those goals.

There would be an annual budget report to the leaders and members of the church, and the convention would receive a review of the budget and progress towards meeting the goals via a joint meeting of the two houses “to encourage accountability and so that the goals may be revised as needed.” Church Center staff would be configured to meet the goals, with some positions coinciding with the term of the presiding bishop and others being permanent.

Report begins on page 717.

♦ Executive Council’s Committee on Strategic Planning was created in January 2009 to assist the council and the churchwide staff as they implemented the priorities of General Convention. The committee’s work continued into the 2010-2012 triennium via the mandate in Resolution A061 passed by the last convention.

In the committee’s Strategic Plan for the Executive Council and the General Convention, the members say that the 10-year planning horizon originally envisioned for the work “is no longer practical.” They say some progress is being made on long-term planning, adding that there is “limited coordination, reporting and accountability.”

The committee suggests that the strategic plan should have a three-year rolling horizon and it calls for a coordinating body for all strategic planning.

“Significant progress will require significant structural changes to the Episcopal Church as a whole,” the committee said, adding that this statement “does not reflect the opinion” of Executive Council’s Governance and Administration for Mission committee or the entire council.

Thus the committee proposes in its Resolution A155 (Continuous Cycle of Strategic Planning & Oversight) that convention affirm the Strategic Plan “as a working document” and that it be used as a model for the church as a whole and not just the Executive Council of the Church Center.

The resolution would have convention establish a Standing Commission on Strategic Planning “to support a three-year rolling strategic planning process” for the church and to which the CCABs would annually report on their own strategic plans. The resolution would also call for the planning activities of the CCABs and the General Convention “be aligned with The Episcopal Church’s strategic planning process.” Provinces, dioceses and congregations would be encouraged to use the Episcopal Church strategic planning process as a model. They also would be encouraged to provide plans and annual updates to the new standing commission.

General Convention would direct the council and PB&F to follow the strategic plan for “future financial and budgetary planning.”

Report begins on page 728.

The A resolutions have not yet been posted to the convention legislation site. Resolutions are posted as Jefferts Schori and Anderson assign them to one of the convention’s legislative committees.

Other resolutions pertaining to structural change may yet be proposed. The deadline for filing any type of resolution (A, B, C or D) is 5 p.m. EDT July 6, the second official day of convention. The structure-related resolutions posted thus far have all been assigned to the legislative committee on structure and any action on those resolutions will begin in the House of Deputies.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

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