Time for structure decisions
Today at 5 p.m. (MDT) the House of Deputies will spend just over an hour in consideration and debate of key structure proposals coming to convention. We’re looking at four resolutions today, three of which will be considered under the “special order” at 5 p.m. Those three resolutions are to restructure executive council, to reduce the number of standing commissions, and to reform our budgeting process. The first two are revisions of work that came out of TREC and the last one comes from revisions to work done by the Episcopal Resurrection group (of which I am a part). Before that, under regular business, if we have time, we’ll look at a resolution on provinces. Whereas I proposed a resolution to eliminate them, the General Convention will be asked to pass a resolution that reaffirms their work as important centers of networking and to study the possibility of doing something at some point in the future.
Time is short, but I’d like to share a few brief thoughts on these resolutions.
The resolution on executive council represents a few steps forward and, I think, a couple of steps back. On the plus side, we get a Chief Legal Officer for the Episcopal Church, which is important and good. We say here that all staff will report to the Presiding Bishop, which should offer clarity. Whereas I had backed a proposal for an executive director, my primary interest is that all parties (staff, leadership, Executive Council) are clear as to their role. Under our current system, it’s a dysfunctional hairball. I’ve written about this plenty, so I won’t rehash here.
Other good things are a mutual ministry review between the officers of council and members of council. This will facilitate communication, as will the requirement that the PB review the COO, CFO, and CLO annually and share the results of that review with council. All this will help communication, which we sorely need.
There are a couple of steps backward. For one, the Executive Council continues to be a zillion people. There simply isn’t a way for this large a group to govern effectively as a board. Every single study about effective group size suggests that a group about a third as big as Executive Council would be more effective. The only people on the planet who like the massive council are the people currently occupying the castle. Also, this revision allows council to remove the COO, CFO, or CLO by two-thirds vote. This means that the COO, for example, works for both the PB and the Council. Trying to serve two masters is known to be a bad idea. I just don’t think this works, and it creates the possibility of ugly triangles, which is the last thing we need right now.
On to other things.
The number of standing commissions plummets in this proposal. As TREC suggested, we reduce to just two: one focused on liturgy and one focused on canons & structure. Makes perfect sense, and we can do the rest of our work via task forces. This alone will cut down the number of frivolous resolutions coming to General Convention, which will be a good thing. It will allow us to focus our work on work that matters, as committees will no longer need to try to justify their existence. Instead, we’ll appoint groups of people to do work that we identify. I’m also hoping Executive Council will take note and reduce its number of committees (because with a zillion members, they apparently think they need a zillion committees now).
Our budgeting process has been a nightmare in the past couple of General Conventions. This time, it’s been better. Still, we need to reform this process. The resolution aims to clarify who does what in the budgeting process. It also provides a stipend for the President of the House of Deputies; this will be controversial in the House of Bishops, but I believe it does make sense given the enormous workload of trying to ride herd on our still-burgeoning governance structures. The canon will not require the stipend to be for a full-time position (neither, by the way, does the canon require the PB to be full time).
When it comes to provinces, we have blinked. I listened to testimony in committee, and this is how to broke down: The folks who wanted to keep provinces said “we need them to gather and to network” using largely emotional arguments. The folks who wanted to eliminate them said “we can network without a complicated and opaque structure called provinces,” and the arguments were pragmatic. This is not a rational reason to keep provinces as part of our governance structure. If we keep them, it is only because we fear change. If we keep them, it is only because we want to abrogate our responsibility to network and do ministry among dioceses. The resolution we are looking at keeps provinces and says we’ll study them and maybe, possibly do something at some point in the future.
We talked a big talk about restructuring. More than 500 people signed a memorial saying it was time to let stuff go. We are indeed going to let go of a bunch of committees. Can we take the next step, and leave the castle and trust in our own ability to work together apart from rigid structures? I’m hoping we’ll eliminate provinces right now, and preserve more resources of time and money for mission, while expanding our opportunity to network across what are currently very rigid lines.
In general, this convention is proving that we like the idea of change, but we’re not willing to do much actual change. Word on the proposed budget is not encouraging in terms of bold action for evangelism and reform. We’ve declined several opportunities in legislation for real structural and cultural change. It’s not surprising, and you see the same thing in local congregations. For that matter, it’s true in my own life, so I shouldn’t be too quick to judge the General Convention. Still, wouldn’t it be great if we could send a message to the whole church — in response to the bold election of a new Chief Evangelism Officer — that we are ready, willing, and able to change for the sake of the Gospel?
If you are a Deputy or Bishop, please do re-read A Memorial to the Church, which many people signed. It pushes us out of comfort and safety into the neighborhood. It pushes us from mistrust of one another toward trust it the transforming power of Jesus Christ.