Deputies approve new task force to reimagine church structure

July 10, 2012

[Episcopal News Service – Indianapolis] The House of Deputies today approved creation of a special task force to begin to reimagine the workings of the Episcopal Church to prepare it for mission in the 21st century.

In a vote that stunned deputies and visitors alike,Resolution C095 was adopted on a unanimous voice vote among the more than 800 lay and clergy deputies, prompting them and those in the gallery to break into sustained applause. The vote came after a period of discussion and a time of prayer.

The matter now goes to the House of Bishops for its consideration.

The resolution creates a special task force of up to 24 people who will gather ideas in the next two years from all levels of the church about possible reforms to its structures, governance and administration. Their work will culminate in a special gathering of people from every diocese to hear what recommendations the task force plans to make to the 78th General Convention. Its final report is due by November 2014.

In a press briefing afterward, the Rev. Gay Jennings, co-chair of the convention’s legislative Committee on Structure and president-elect of the House of Deputies, said this convention had shown “a palpable desire to reimagine how we do business. I think as much as the discussion is about structure, perhaps even more the passion and the interest in this is about identity and vision: who we are as the church, who is God calling us to be in the 21st century.”

The committee received more than 50 resolutions calling for structural change, prompted by a proposal last fall from Bishop Stacy Sauls, the Episcopal Church’s chief operating officer, to examine structural options. In response the committee crafted its own proposal, which offers a blueprint for how the church can begin to explore what it really means by restructuring and change.

In remarks that preceded the vote, Jennings said the committee heard from dozens of people on the topic and spent “many, many hours in careful and prayerful deliberation” but also “listened to each other with what I would call gospel ears.” A writing group then created a draft resolution, and the committee made final edits to it on July 9. The committee vote to present the resolution also was unanimous.

Jennings said the new task force is designed to have a high degree of authority to accomplish its work and not only will reflect the church’s diversity but also people who stand at a “critical distance” from the church’s current governing bodies. The group also is required to have regular and ongoing communication with the whole church about its work.

Deputy Steven Horst of Connecticut said in support of the resolution that he doubted “that very many of us would have guessed three years ago that the hottest topics for discussion coming into this General Convention would be issues of structure and governance.” He commended the committee’s work in helping a body the size of General Convention find a way to discover God’s will on these issues. “I think this resolution outlines a process that will allow us to discern where the Spirit is leading,” he said.

The only debate was over a motion to specify the range of diversity the new task force must have by mandating inclusion based on age, race, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression.” That motion was defeated.

The resolution also requests an allocation of $400,000 in the 2013-2015 budget. The task force can decide how it wants to spend the money to do its work.

— Melodie Woerman is a member of the Episcopal News Service team at General Convention.