11/25/2014

Ten wishes for The Episcopal Church in its restructuring efforts:

Here are my top ten wishes for restructuring / re-envisioning of The Episcopal Church, from least to most important:

(10) Reduce overseas jurisdictions. Give oversight of the Episcopal Church in Micronesia (Guam and Saipan) to the Episcopal Church of the Philippines. We would continue to support them, but oversight should come from an Anglican Province nearer than TEC. We also should step away from further colonial based mission projects. Oh yes, and jurisdiction in Europe needs to be reordered.

(9) Support Overseas Regional Autonomy. Actively encourage moves for regional autonomy for overseas dioceses, working imaginatively with dioceses in other countries so that they can form new regional ministries within the Anglican Communion. This would include supporting a francophone province within TEC as a step towards autonomy for Haiti and other french speaking areas in the Caribbean, a new start at a Spanish speaking autonomous Province in the Caribbean, and discussions about how the Virgin Islands might link with the Province of the West Indies. 

(8) Focus on TEC as a US body. Stop advertising The Episcopal Church as an international Province (which it is indeed) but as The (Protestant) Episcopal Church in the United States of America, with overseas jurisdictions, whose autonomy TEC hopes to support. (I'm not much hung up on "protestant," but it is there in the formal title.)  It is important that we keep our eye on the primary task... to be the Episcopal Church, an entity primarily driven to be a reformed catholic community, with episcopal oversight,  of congregations grounded in common liturgy in this country, and part of a world wide community of churches (The Anglican Communion).

(7) Distinguish God's Mission from our work.  Try not to use "God's Mission" as some kind of shorthand for doing what we do as a church. The mission of the Church is indeed a subset of God's Mission, and our task is to find our place in God's work in the world. But that is a far cry from claiming that we know what God's Mission is in any detail, much less claiming that The Episcopal Church, or any other church for that matter, is the way by which that mission is to be carried out. 

 That is in part why it is not useful to single out employees of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society as "missionaries" or "missioners."  For that matter calling any person doing service on behalf of the church "missionaries" is a mistake. Better we call them what they are:  priests, pastors, medical personnel, teachers, preachers, church administrators or ministry facilitators, students, learners, people plunged into cross cultural life, and so on.  That TEC sends such people to work in places where they can make a real contribution should be a source of real joy to all of us. That TEC helps to expose its own members to the abundance of life outside the United States or their particular place in the US, is commendable.  That we work to use the missionary methods of St. Paul or any of the other great workers is valuable. But if the mission is God's mission, then God is the missionary. We who serve in one way or another are instruments of that mission (or not).  Meanwhile we are simply who we are... plumbers, administrators, preachers and those who plow and fish.  Better we be called by our names and what we do.

(6) The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society as a Service Agency. Bishop John Allin, with whom I often disagreed, believed the Church Center staff constituted a service agency. On this he was mostly right.  I think it is high time that that be the core commitment of DFMS staff - service. The limitations on staff and organization should be determined by whether the work and energy meets service needs as determined by General Convention and Executive Council.  TEC's budget for program should be recast from a zero base every General Convention. 

(5) Move the Church Center. The General Convention made it clear that The Episcopal Church Center should be moved from its current location. Period. That nothing has been done to effect this is unacceptable. If nothing is done to respond to this, and if General Convention again requires that The Church Center be moved, and if nothing happens again, General Convention should authorize Executive Council to fire those responsible and bring in persons willing to do the will of Convention.

(4) Let the Medium be the Message. In considering liturgical renewal, changes, and services for particular occasions, clearly distinguish between the prime liturgical task - the adoration of and giving glory to God - from the other ways in which our liturgies speak to people.  The prime liturgical task is not really communication at all (God knows what we have to say anyway), it is sigh, shout and groan of the creation as we await God's full presence.  

Communication of other information - that we are relevant, useful to the world's needs, responsive to changing understandings of commitment and life issues, and so on - is useful, but is primary only insofar as that communication is about life in the presence of God.  Liturgy is the medium, and the message at the same time. It is the shout and the shout is what is done. 

(3) Be clear that TEC is union of dioceses in General Convention and that the General Convention assumes as part of its charge that it will support an Episcopal Church jurisdiction and presence in every part of the territory that is the United States of America. For this reason, if work is discontinued in a particular place because the workers have left for other tasks, or it has failed for lack of effort or opportunity TEC seeks new ways to provide episcopal oversight and direction for ministry in that location. Domestic mission has always assumed that episcopal jurisdiction would include all of the United States.

(2) Clarify the role of Bishop in the Church:  Bishops in TEC are historically distinguished  by their being elected directly by their dioceses.  Yet we train our bishops in matters of administration and governance and expectations are generated about their authority, powers and perks that are not clearly understood by the electors. Further, the American hope was to have bishops that were not princes of the church, but its servants.  Something is amiss and the role of bishop needs to be clarified.

(1) The Episcopal Church as a Religious Order.  In our efforts to re-envision and restructure, we might well think of TEC not as a church, but as a religious order within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  Our discipline is the regular worship of the church - Eucharist, daily prayers - in a constant round of adoration, guided in common life by scripture, reason and tradition, trying as we are able to live out a common life of prayer and service.  

If our restructuring and re-envisioning concerns "church" models, in which the accent too easily becomes on size,  powers and relationships between various roles in the church, doctrines that make this a "better" or more perfect church, etc., we will be a church exactly like other churches, guided by those marks of success by which we judge churches.  I would be glad if there were tens of millions of Episcopalians, but it is no shame if there are ten, provided those ten are working at being ordered in worship and work in accordance to the model of such order received by us and modified from time to time as the order so determines.

That is why, for example, I am glad we do not have an Archbishop, but rather a Presiding Bishop, whose powers are limited by a community rule that accentuates the roles of all members of the community and not primarily the role of bishops and their "house."  I am glad we have a Book of Common Prayer that continues as the standard for our order.  I am glad we see our primary task as daily common prayer, and the work that springs from such prayer.  I am glad our catechism does not speak of The Episcopal Church, but of the Church, of which we are a part. 

Well, there there are: ten wishes.

What are yours?




13 comments:

Jim said...

Most of these are good ideas. But especially, let the 815 people listen and move as requested.

Quit spending vast sums to litigate dioceses which simply do not want to go on the new path that many in TEC want, and that will include a new BCP to accommodate new sexuality causes.

"Oh yes, and jurisdiction in Europe needs to be reordered." Since it is so tiny ASA, what would this look like? And would the PB revert to being a Diocesan in consequence?

Jeff Ross said...

AMEN! So let it be written; so may it be done!

George said...

Guam and Saipan are part of the US; the residents of both are US citizens. Separating the Episcopal Churches there from TEC may make geographic sense but it conflicts with your premise that TEC boundaries should match those of the US.

Mark Harris said...

Jim... third item, jurisdiction in Europe... I am thinking of our jurisdiction and those of CofE, Churches in Portugal and Spain, and maybe Old Catholics, with whom we are in full communion. Its a strange situation.

As to item 2. We differ on this.

Jim said...

Thanks. My experience of American Churches in Europe and the CofE Diocese in Europe is that the former likes to believe it is small and special. The CofE in Europe is a vast Diocese, stretching from the Baltics to Greece to Normandy to Spain. Maybe the American Convocation just needs to disappear altogether. Only the big cathedral in Paris is a genuine asset financially.

And with this would go the bizarre arrangement whereby the PB of TEC is given the TEC churches in Europe (with about 800 ASA).

Mark Harris said...

George. Guam and Saipan are indeed parts of the US, by acquisition from other colonial powers as a result of wars. You are right this tends to run against the notion that TEC is about the US. Of course that is true also for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. These acquisitions are not on their way to being states of the US. They are trust held territories or acquisitions of war and I think are a special case. Just as I belive the VI ought to move over into the Church in the West Indies, so I think Puerto Rico should be part of a spanish speaking province in the Caribbean and Guam and Saipan part of another province nearer at hand. But all of this is why this is far away from being number one on my list.

Leonardo Ricardo said...

Puerto Rico LOVES being Puerto Rico (Associated free state of the United States of America)...always half of the people say they wish to remain a Commonwealth (as is) and the other half always wants to be a state..I think this state of affairs suggests we remain ¨associated¨ with TEC (besides, P.R. departed once and came back)...(secret that you know: Puerto Ricans love having U.S. Passports to get in and out of wherever it is they want to go internationally... easily). The 2 English Sunday services at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Santurce are far larger in attendence than the mass in Spanish. The mid-day/Sunday in English is FANTASTIC!

Murdoch Matthew said...

We often pass the old Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society building next door to Calvary-St. George's church in NYC's Gramercy Park district. I wonder if it could be reclaimed for a few national offices. Obviously 815 is redundant nowadays.

Emily Cragg said...

I'm reminded the Kingdom of God was to be present among us all when the end of days got here.

I can't find it. We're all scattered, even so.

Can at least the topic of Kingdom of God please come up once in a while?

The Kingdom of God implies shared lives, community community, and a culture of Trust.

Even first century Christians under persecution managed to keep together, in catacombs if not out in the open.

My wish is that God will grant us communities once more.

Emily Windsor-Cragg

Tom Sramek, Jr. said...

My only question about moving Episcopal Church Center is WHY? Is it cost savings? Then General Convention needs to know the costs of staying at 815 (expenses minus income we get from renting the building) vs. costs of renting or buying space somewhere else (with examples). I'm worried about the attitude of "if we just move Episcopal Church Center, then everything will be better." If we end up spending millions of dollars moving and then have the same organization in a new place, that doesn't make much sense.

Bishop Daniel Martins said...

Mark, I agree almost completely. I might take issue a bit with #7. I don't know any bishops who think of themselves or act as "princes" of the Church, or who do not pretty much pour out their lives in service. But maybe you have experienced something I have not.

Leonardo Ricardo said...

I have noticed some bishops have poured themselves into church politics, usually not for the good of all. ALL still means all at the TEC (and soon everywhere else including the RC's. look at the NEW ARchbishop of Chicago and explore his views). Idle gossip, justifying ¨exceptions¨ or spending ones travel energies to validate exclusion of fellow Episcopalians at ALL levels of Church life OUGHT to be noticed as destructive behavior at TEC.

Charles said...

"The Episcopal Church as a Religious Order." That is a profound way of thinking about who we are. Thank you.