The Taskforce for Reimaging the Episcopal Church (TREC) has written a letter to the Church. It deserves our careful consideration on a variety of points. Go read it HERE. Really.
A number of comments on the internet begin, "well I haven't read it yet, but ...." Read the thing.
Most commentators seem to have Crusty Old Dean's (COD) problem. It is a mixture of really good and really not so good stuff, put together by a group of people who are doing their best. And in cleaning house they have inadvertently made room for all sorts of devilment.
Rather than pick through the basket of goodies in this letter, finding the good and chucking the bad, I will refer you to Crusty, whose read is clear in insightful, although one wonders just how cranky Crusty has become in these last days. Go read him HERE.
And follow that by reading Katie Sherrod's piece, HERE. She speaks with clarity from a context where purple power had free reign.
It will be interesting to see if anyone is left who hasn't already decided how they feel about the effort, or have not simply let it pass by. I think TREC folk are working hard and deserve our best efforts to respond, but I am afraid they won't like some of the response.
TREC begins with John 11:43-44, with Jesus calling "Lazarus, come out," and Jesus commanding them to "unbind him, and let him go." There are all sorts of problems with this as a starting point, not the least of which is COD's observation that resuscitation is not the same as resurrection, and the additional point that unbinding does not necessarily mean freedom to do as the Spirit directs. Sometimes death is simply put off for a while, and sometimes freedom ain't worth nothing, but its free.
TREC proposes to reduce the scope of several entities in The Episcopal Church. If their recommendations are accepted, the duration and actions of General Convention will be reduced. Full time staff positions will be reduced and supplemented by contracted workers. The Executive Council will be reduced in size and function. The CCAB's (Commissions, Committees, Boards and Agencies) will disappear except for the Joints Nominations Committee and the Joint Committee of Program, Budget and Finance.
Well, there's lots to think about there. What about boards such as the United Thank Offering? The argument has just been made that it is a CCAB... bound by the rules of that part of the church game. If it's not a CCAB thingy, what is it to be? No wonder the powers that be up yonder in Church Center land wanted to make it totally integral to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS). If the future is CCAB free, then UTO is either a program of the DFMS or it is cut free from central control. Better to make it a funding instrument from within than a missionary structure from without.
TREC is careful to point out that the role of the President of the House of Deputies remains. That's nice.
Then there is this: "The report states, as a recommendation, that "Presiding Bishop (PB) retained as the CEO of the Church, Chair of Executive Council and President of DFMS, with managerial responsibility for all DFMS staff." It also states, "President of the House of Deputies (PHoD) retained as Vice President of the Church....and so forth."
Well, dear friends, TREC is just plain wrong. There is no CEO of the Church. There is a Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. She or he is the CEO of DFMS and Executive Council. But bubba, there ain't no such thing as a CEO of the Church.
Same goes for the notion of a "Vice President of the Church."
This could be chalked up to sloppy writing, but I think not.
Then there is the matter that the TREC letter makes no mention of the House of Bishops, either in the context of General Convention reform, or in terms of governance.
The shift in focus of General Convention, away from legislative work to engagement as a missionary convocation, and the reduction in appointed staff for DFMS, and the end of CCABs, means that fewer laypersons, deacons and priests have a part in the life of governance and work of the Episcopal Church on a church wide level. That work then becomes focused on the Presiding Bishop and people serving at the will of the PB.
Go read Crusty Old Dean and Katie Sherrod, then think about this.
Perhaps the lack of any mention of the House of Bishops is not an accident. Remember that this union of churches in the General Convention is at the moment governed by a bicameral legislative body and by an Executive Council that continues the work of General Convention between Conventions.
If we remove all the committees (CCABs), reduce the size and work of Executive Council, and reduce the staffing of work through Executive Council, the one remaining piece of General Convention that is intact is the House of Bishops. At it stands the HoB meets several times a year and on a narrow range of matters acts unilaterally. But if there is no other means for getting a wider read from the church regarding policies and actions, it will be tempting to expand the executive / governance function of the House of Bishops an give that house separate powers from that held by General Convention itself.
The drift from governance by the Executive Council / DFMS to bishops will be hard to contain. And if a Presiding Bishop, in his or her hour of need, felt consultation was called for, Executive Council might be less appealing than the House of Bishops (although that's not a sure bet).
It would not be too difficult a thing to imagine a future Episcopal Church where the governance of matters growing from General Convention reverted more and more to the House of Bishops which might meet even more often, and to the Presiding Bishop, a close staff, with power to contract out work at will. At that point perhaps TREC's error would prove to be true, that "The PB is the CEO of the Church." We would also look a lot more like The Anglican Church in North America or little Rome.
The narrow way through which this might be prevented is simple: If the bishops resist the temptation to even think of the Presiding Bishop as the CEO of the Church, and if the whole lot of those exercising governance at the 2015 General Convention make it absolutely clear that The Episcopal Church has a Presiding Bishop, not a CEO, we might have a chance for reform and re-envisioning that made for a better common life.