Bishop Stacy Sauls, COO of the Episcopal Church and member of the House of Bishops, made a presentation to the House of Bishops at their Spring meeting in Quito, Ecuador. The report, but not the presentation itself, is reported out by ENS and can be read here as, "COO asks church to engage in 'structural reform' conversations to shift focus toward mission" and was reprinted in my earlier post, COO Bishop Sauls on a Special Convention.
There has been considerable comment on his report, much of it on the House of Bishops / House of Deputies (HoB/D) list. (Access to that list is open, as far as "listening" goes. Commenting is reserved.) The range of responses varies from "good idea" to "good God, not another convention!" Several of the questions have to do with just why Bishop Sauls raised this at the House of Bishops meeting, rather than say, in Executive Council or some other venue. There was one question about the dual role of the Bishop as a member of the House and a member of Staff. There were several concerns about the fact that this initiative had no parallel in the House of Deputies.
I appreciate that Bishop Sauls raised the concern at the House of Bishops. If there is to be a special convention it has to be called by the House of Bishops, so it is appropriate that the conversation begin there. Bishop Sauls does indeed have a dual role (member of the house and also staff) and it took considerable courage for him to put the proposition on the table. Good for him. Now that it is out there all sort of groups will be involved in the matter.
Interestingly, according to canon, the calling of a Special Convention is by the bishops alone, and not subject to any needed assent or approval of any other body (at least as far as I can see). It is not called by "the House of Bishops," but by the majority of bishops either as they organize themselves to do so, or by the Presiding Bishop with the assent of a majority of the bishops.
On the HoB/D list and published on her own blog Telling Secrets, are some comments by Elizabeth Kaeton in an essay, "The Seed of the Jack Pine." Elizabeth goes to interesting places here. She begins with the observation "I don't like writing about church stuff ... but this particular subject has pulled my poor, last, tired nerve." Go read it.
What seems to have pulled at her is the need for there to be leadership by example. So, she asks, is the House of Bishops about the business of reforming itself as well? (Someone elsewhere, perhaps on the HoB/D list, has suggested that the House of Bishops could return to a single meeting a year as a start.)
But at the core of Elizabeth's concern is this, "I would submit to you, once again, that we need to be clear about our identity and mission before we restructure ourselves and cut spending to fund the "idea" of mission."
That is absolutely right on. That is why I believe we need to have the collective conversation not at the 2012 General Convention, in which it would be bound down by the budget issues and current staff and committee configurations, but in a separate Special Convention for which preparation could be had in meetings throughout the church's dioceses with an eye to sending deputies and bishops to this Special Convention for the precise purpose of becoming clear about our "identity and mission" prior to restructure and budget and so-forth. The upcoming General Convention could begin the process by using a budget making process that does not simply build (or deconstruct) its line items from an internal contest among offices and duties for the remnants of the pie. A quite different sort of budget process, one that was guided by some clear principles related to responding to God's mission, is possible.
By the way: A Special Convention can be run with clear intention to limit expenses - meet on a college campus, send only deputies (no alternates), have no services other than simple daily Eucharist and daily prayers, have no marketplace or special banquets or dinners, etc. And yes it would be expensive, but its results if successful would be valuable in any restructured budget based on a revised system of governance, use of committees, frequency of General Conventions, and on and on. It would be money well spent.
Restructuring, however, should not about cutting spending, although it does require a realistic understanding of budget limitations. If we were to restructure in order to cut spending it would be a disaster. Restructuring is about revisiting just exactly what we are about and responding to that.
The reason for restructure is in order to meet the requirements of a clear understanding of just who we are as a church and what we understand our work to be. I use "work" here because I believe as a Church we ought to reserve "mission" for our understanding of God's mission (reconciling, etc) and not for "mission" meaning goal or outcomes of an organization. We are a Church and we have work to do in response to what we understand God's mission to be.
So we need to get clear about who we are and the work we have to do.
That work is a product of leadership. In a hierarchical system we must demand that level of leadership from bishops, clergy and laity in leadership roles, true. But I believe that the ecclesial world in which we move is rapidly becoming more horizontal (not necessarily more democratic) involving lots of us who are not particularly near the top of the pile.
Out here in Episcopal-land, many of us get the itch, have a spark of the fire, get some sense of just how much we can do as people of faith and people in this particular church, The Episcopal Church, and we have greater voice in the system than ever before. The conversations about what we understand as our identity and work is already going on, and a whole host of witnesses are out there sharing more and more about just why being an Episcopalian is part of their Christian identity, why the Episcopal Church matters, and just what our work is about. One of the issues facing any effort to do a restructuring for mission is to gather a sense of just how and why any "center" is necessary at all in a more and more networked church.
The leadership issue is of course about fire. So, in our prayers for a way forward, let us pray that the fires are lit and we see more clearly by that light the work we are called to in this Episcopal Church of ours.