It arrived two days ago - "Shared Governance: The Polity of The Episcopal Church." Every deputy got a copy, and I hope many others will get a copy from Church Publishing. There are historical and canonical observations in the essays presented and a good bit of solid information about just how General Convention works.
The main thrust of this collection of essays is to support the notion that The Episcopal Church should retain its commitment to a polity in which lay and ordained persons continue to have a role in governance at every level of church life.
Reading these essays makes most sense in the light of a contrary proposition, that the bishops ought to exercise both leadership and governance in a way quite different from that exercised by lay and ordained persons, and that bishops therefore have a particular role in governance that sets them collectively apart from other members of the body and gives them unique authority in governance as well as leadership. In other words, the contrary argument is that bishops both lead and govern. The argument of these essays is that bishops lead, but the community as a whole, in a shared way, govern.
The essays take on various aspects of the argument - but the argument is finally about the difference between a church both led and governed by bishops and one led by bishops and governed by bodies representing lay and ordained persons, some of whom are bishops.
The last few lines of the book, in a closing essay by Ernie Bennett, tell the tale:
"Ours is a messy method of governance bu tit is worth contending for. As the late Dr. Pamela Chinnis, speaking at St. Phillip's, Laure, Maryland in the fall of 1991, put it succinctly,
"more and more we see efforts to increase the role and power of the House of Bishops and the national church staff. We have every right to be concerned. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom from a church dominated by the House of Bishops."
Perhaps a little overstayed, but it reveals the passion and zeal for our church from a dearly beloved servant and leader of our church. To lose sight of the genius and rich heritage of our form of governance would be to follow Esau in his trade of a rich blessing for a bowl of red pottage."
Is that really the case? Are we close to losing governance by the people of the church for the mission of the church? Have the House of Bishop, the national staff, and the Presiding Bishop sucked the air out of the room, leaving the House of Deputies and its larger constituency of lay and ordained persons, with less and less oxygen?
Apparently the House of Deputies Special Study Committee on Church Governance and Polity thinks so. This is a bid, a serious bid, to make sure that deputies to this convention know what is at state in reorganization and revisioning of the future of The Episcopal Church.
I am sorry there was no bishop writer in these notes. It was, of course a House of Deputies Special Study Committee, but the committee itself could have asked for a bishop essayist to contribute.
I am more concerned that the sub-text, namely the concern for the future of governance, was not more forcefully placed at the center and up front in the essays as the guiding concern of the committee.
An interesting note. The Introduction begins,
"Shortly after the adjournment of the 76th General Convention, the President of the House of Deputies created and charged a House of Deputies Study Committee on Church Governance and Polity."
Looking at the proceedings of the 76th General Convention we find the following notations concerning this committee.
pg. 4 lists the committee, along with several others as Committees of the House of Deputies:
Council of Advice
State of the Church
Study Committee on Church Governance and Polity
pg. 34 - 35 lists the members of the committee.
As far as I can find there are no other references to the duties of this Study Committee. It was created by the President of the House of Deputies, apparently soon enough after General Convention to be listed in the directory of General Convention 2009, a directory which covers the period 2010-2012. So there is no reference to this committee as having been formed by General Convention and certainly not by the House of Deputies.
It is in reality a committee formed by the President of the House of Deputies between meetings of the House of Deputies, not as a product of any decision by the House of Deputies but as a priority by the President of the House of Deputies.
I wonder why it is called "The House of Deputies Special Study Committee on Church Governance and Polity" rather than "The President of the House of Deputies Special Study Committee on Church Governance and Polity?
So, this is a group of essays growing from a committee formed by the President of the House of Deputies.
As to its mandate, this is what is listed in the Episcopal Church CCAB's pages,
This does not in any way distract from the good work done by the writers, or the intent of the whole, to retain our system of governance. But it perhaps useful to note that it is itself an example of the strain which The Episcopal Church's governance is dealing with regarding polity. Dr Chinnis may have voiced concern, but Dr. Anderson's committee has raised the volume.