The Network Paradigm, a la TREC, and real hope.

OK girls and boys, name an Anglican / episcopal "thingy" that has the word Network in it.

Well, there are a pile of networks in the Anglican Communion 10 at the moment, listed HERE.
They are described as "various self-funding networks that help profile various areas of interest in the Anglican world at large." They are networks that have no formal interconnection with one another except that they are networks recognized by the Anglican Consultative Council. They seem to be stand alone collections of like concerned folk from around the Communion.

There are networks already in the Episcopal Church - for public policy, digital communications, Stewardship (perhaps others). They seem to have various connections with specific officers and offices of the DFMS. Some are more networks of people concerned for specific issues, some are networks of particular sorts of ministries in the church. Funding sources seem varied. They do not seem to be part of a "network of networks" scheme.

Then there was the precursor to the Anglican Church in North America, the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, which had as its Moderator Robert Duncan, now the retired Archbishop of ACNA.  That network, while its members were mostly still part of The Episcopal Church, became a network on its way to becoming a new thing - a separate church. 

Well, that was another story, still being played out. ACNA has become just another denomination in the jumble of churches in North America. But it was a network of a different sort - it proposed a paradigm in which dioceses had a high degree of autonomy, were joined together by a set of common values (and dislikes).  When they got together to talk about the form of the emerging new thing, ACNA, they worked hard to maintain a network sort of approach in which member dioceses, churches and other collections of people, could maintain particular ideas (on the ordination of women, for example) and yet belong to the network / church.  The network paradigm in their case was a way of broadening the tent to included various sorts of groups that would otherwise have trouble getting along.  It is still an open question as to whether that is going to work, or if anyone will care.

And now The Task Force on Reimagining the Episcopal Church has proposed a new network paradigm. TREC writes,

"We live in an age of networks, yet our churchwide structure has not fully adapted to this organizational paradigm. The evolution from a bureaucratic / regulatory agency paradigm to a network will profoundly change the role, culture, decision making processes, and leadership paradigms of and within The Episcopal Church's churchwide structures. This would not be unlike other significant evolutions that have occurred historically around our church's governance and structures."

So the network paradigm is on the table for discussion, and TREC believes it is central.

What I want to know is what sort of network are they talking about?  The networks already in existence in TEC and in the Anglican Communion are about specific concerns. Does TREC envision all those CCABs (Commissions, Committees, Agencies and Boards) that it proposes to retire, reemerging as networks of like concerned people on the local level?  Great. As a former member of The Episcopal Society for Ministry in Higher Education (ESMHE) which was a network when nobody talked that way, I though we did a creditable job of keeping Campus Ministry alive. 

But wait, there's more: TREC calls this network thingy a "paradigm" that is to replace the "paradigm" of the bureaucratic / regulatory agency.  "Network" here seems more than a gaggle of networks pushing their own agendas and concerns in church.   TREC suggests that Episcopal Church "churchwide organizations should inspire and provoke all members of the church to live fully into its mission of "restoring all people to unity with God and one another in Christ." (BCP, p 855)  

TREC suggests roles in this network paradigm: Catalyst, Connector, Capacity Builder, Convener. 

Sounds like the thingy that The Network of Anglican Diocese and Parishes put forward.

But wait: What are these "churchwide organizations" that TREC speaks of? Who knows? 

We don't, because that's the last time organizations (plural) is mentioned.  The TREC document turns immediately from speaking of organizations (plural) to organization (singular) as soon as the roles are brought up. The churchwide organization should - inspire and provoke, establish and maintain, support leadership development, assemble the church...

TREC apparently wants the churchwide organization (read the governance of the DFMS and Executive Council) to be the core of the network paradigm. OK, so new organization of all of the above, and then they inspire, provoke, establish, maintain, support, assemble..

Sounds like a central core - spokes of the wheel sort of network, with coordination and all that provoking from the center, based supposedly on mandates from General Convention - or is it now based on mandates from senior staff. Who knows?  

But whatever the network thingy is that is paradigmatic, a network with a core hub and wheels is not it. The great wheel network is just another way to accent the difference between the local (read powerless) and the central (read powerful).  

So lets go back to the TREC beginning:  It is vaguely true, "we live in an age of networks,"  but that means almost nothing at all, since some of those networks are indistinguishable from terrorists cells and others are cartels of big money interests and others seemingly free for think tanks.  "We live in an age of networks."  So what?  

Networking is not an organizational paradigm, or at least not until a lot of work is done spelling out just what is meant.

I'm all for a network paradigm - a neural network paradigm - where the connections throughout the mind of the organization are so interwoven that its hard to know if the president or the janitor clicked in with the right approach, and furthermore it is relatively uninteresting to the organization to know just who was the clever source of the new idea, better way of working, more efficient method, new product,etc.  What if The Episcopal Church" tried to work as an organization that was a MIND, and it wanted as much as possible to have that MIND be the mind of Christ.

What if in that organization roles were determined not by ordination, election or even personal charisma, but moment by moment by need and ability. (I know, I know, it sounds a bit, well, socialist - you know, from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.)  

In a neural network paradigm maybe, just maybe, reorganization would look different from changing the locus of power from Executive Council to the PB, or from General Convention to Staff, or whatever. 

Now there's a network I would love to join. But as for TREC's "new paradigm," no thanks. The great wheel is just another way of having some people be the feet and others the head. Been there. Its OK, but it ain't heaven.  

Here is a list of the various self-funding networks that help profile various areas of interest in the Anglican world at large
- See more at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/networks/index.cfm#sthash.ht4JCo9n.dhe precursor to the Anglican Church in North America

TREC and the power of bishops

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.



On electing bishops

A good friend just stood for election and when the day came she was not elected bishop. She joins a quite large company, for the number of people who stand for election is probably 4 to 6 times larger than the number elected. I am a member of this gang of folk, having been on the ballot in two elections and not elected. 

Some observations about this bishop election thing. 

The election of a bishop is unlike the "process" by which one becomes part of the other two orders in ordained ministry. 

Deacons and Priests are ordered in the context of a process, and although various groups have to assent to the ordination, there is no sense of "election" by electors. The whole matter is treated as an exploration into vocation, with all the parties concerned working through what that might mean. When sufficient voice is found for ordination, it happens. Ordination is not usually accompanied by competition with other "candidates."  At the most the competition is with some larger concerns about deployment and particular call to ministry as a deacon or priest.  

With the election (or in other systems appointment)  of a bishop, the sense of exploration of vocation is greatly diminished and the sense of competition for a "seat" greatly increased.  It is not, "are you a good candidate for the office of priest?"  it is "are you the right person to be our bishop?" It gets personal, direct, competitive and ends with one person being "winner," and the rest (at the best) "also rans."

The parallel to the election of a bishop is not ordination as a deacon or priest, but the election of a rector or a dean.  That is, bishops are not so much the product of vocational discernment as they are a product of a search process. They are not in that sense a third vocational order, they are products of institutional search and board election. 

As with the election of a rector, the election of a bishop is confusing because it seems so personal (particularly the rejection) and yet it is couched in such good ecclesiastical language of discernment and vocation. The "no" by the electors gets confused with the "yes" of the discerned call to ministry.

A good friend who stood for rector in perhaps 15 parishes and got elected rector to three, said about rejection, "what I learned is it wasn't personal. The electors could not have known enough about me to reject me, they knew enough about themselves to find someone else to their liking."  I took comfort in that observation, but it didn't help a lot.

The problem of election or appointment as bishop is that it seems to be a conversation about a vocation, as in "are you called to be bishop?" But it happens in the context of search and seizure, of competition for a post.  When we were asked if we were called to the order of priest, it was not this or that particular posting, but to the order. When we are candidates for bishop it is to place.  

This by the way is one of the big problems with the Mark Lawrence types in the land of bishops. They don't get it. They are elected to a specific time and place of ministry, to a "position."

Had I been more willing to see election as bishop as a matter of competition rather than vocational discernment I suppose I might have made appropriate choices both over the years and in the immediate context of election, and might well have been elected.  But I did not choose work on the basis of it getting me to a particular place, nor did I campaign very much. Oh well.

I suspect most of us who have stood for election as bishop, as I do, look occasionally a the work done by the one who was elected and think, "I would have done differently," or even "I would have done better." But that passes quickly, thank God, for aside from its prideful spirit it is also mostly a fiction. 

Thinking about what we might have done in jobs not offered is an unpleasant exercise. In particular the work of the bishop is shaped by many forces and God only knows (really) what any of us might do if we were really in that position. The heat of the kitchen leads to unpredictable situations.

St.Martha, the tired.
Still, I find myself needing to remember that being bishop is sort of like taking the position of running the kitchen, believing that if folks want to eat, that position is one of considerable importance. 

And running the kitchen is a full time affair. But I am of a mind to believe that it is sometimes the better part to be able to sit at the table listening to that strange wonderful friend who tells us all who we really are.

It turns out that the "also rans" have time to play the better part, the Mary part, not having to be busy with many things. At any event the person closest to me in this world believes I should thank God regularly that I don't have to run the kitchen.

Here is to Martha, and all the bishops who have to stand the heat of the kitchen. We Mary types are listening to our friend, and sometime wonder when dinner is coming. We need to remember to thank you for standing for, and being, elected.

And although it is seldom mentioned, Martha is a saint... just a very tired one. 


The Leverage of Prayer

Yesterday I preached at St. Peter's Lewes. The subject was prayer. It was a difficult sermon to write and I did so carefully, and read it more or less as written here. The opportunity for pastoral or theological missteps are many and the possibilities for heresy abound. Which is why, I suppose, sermons on prayer are few and far between. While not really satisfied with the sermon I believe there is something about the "leverage of the suffering of the world" that rings true. Well, here it is.

The Leverage of Prayer

Sunday August 17, 2014

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has urged all of us, as Episcopalians, to observe this Sunday, Sunday, August 17, as a day of prayer for those in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East living in fear of their lives, livelihoods, and ways of living and believing.  

I am glad she has done so. We pray weekly for peace and an end of all wars. But the invitation to be specific in our prayers is always welcome.  We will indeed pray at the time of the prayer of the people, for all the people of Iraq and other countries in the Middle East who are suffering, including those in Gaza and Israel.

We don’t often talk about what it is we pray for and why.

We all, you and I, have a prayer life, and that we do indeed pray for justice, mercy and peace in a whole variety of ways, privately and publicly.  And we pray for people we know and people we don’t. . To the extent that we can, we pray without ceasing.  When I have been asked in various job interviews about my spiritual life, I say “I have a rich spiritual life, but it is somewhat chaotic.” And so it is, but I am aware of being at prayer a lot of the time, seeing the world through the burden of this or that concern in prayer.  I suspect you do to.

For a moment, let’s think about prayer as it relates the troubling events of the world. There are many troubles these days.  Just to name some, the terrible conflicts in Gaza and Israel, the struggles that are reconfiguring the power and state maps throughout the Middle East all of which are devastating to life and peace, and for the concerns for peace with the US in places where police and local citizens have clashed. Add to that our concerns and prayers for those who suffer and die the uneasy deaths of suicide and despair, or from violence by those who were meant to be protectors.You have other things to add to this list I am sure.

How are we to pray? What do we pray for? What does our hope, as Christians, offer us?  Where does the Gospel lead us regarding such concerns?

Well, Carlyle Gill or one of the other notable praying folk here in the parish can take us there.  We could use a wider conversation about prayer.  But that is not my job here. Here let’s look at some immediate help regarding prayer in the Gospel today.

When we pray it is good to remember that on a whole variety of accounts we are like the woman who prays, begs, cajoles, pleas for her daughter. She has no “standing” no passport, no creditability before Jesus except that of faith. The faith is not, by the way, that Jesus could heal – she knows he can heal. Rather the faith was that Jesus would yield.  The woman believed that if she kept at it, her argument would carry the day – and her argument was simple: her child needed healing.

It didn’t matter whether she was pure, or undefiled, or part of the people Israel. She was none of those. She was a Canaanite woman, a member of a people known to be defiled, unclean and idolaters.  So be it. But she wasn’t arguing from any position of her own. She had no leverage, save the suffering of her child.

You and I in our prayers might do well to remember this woman and her prayers and demands. The leverage for our prayers is the suffering of the world, which suffering, we believe, demands God’s attention. It is not about our right to expect anything from God, its about our right, and perhaps duty, to petition God.

Many have said, “If God allows suffering, what makes us think our prayers have any value. Suffering just is. We can’t all expect our prayers to be answered.”

True, suffering just is. It just is. And we have no right to expect miracle or intervention or alleviation of suffering.  That may come, but it is not something we have a right to expect.

What we have is the right of petition, of prayer. We have the right to ask for what we want for the suffering of the world.

And our faith is that that right of petition will be heard, and that at the last will be acted on. One of the reasons Christians talk about the end of the age, the return of Christ, is that we believe at the last all will be made right, and all tears will be wiped away. There will be a great getting up morning when we will see justice done, the truth prevail, and mercy done.

But in the meantime we need to be clear: we pray for the suffering of the world, and our license is that suffering itself.  

And in doing so we need to pray that we might be instruments, as much as possible, for the relief of that suffering. Because, until that great getting up morning, we are the immediately available expression of God’s love and care of the suffering.

That is why, for example, when people come to our side chapel for healing prayers for others we often anoint the one who comes, that she or he might be an instrument of healing for the one whose name they have brought forward. 

The faith of that Canaanite woman was the faith that the Word- God, Jesus- would yield and attend to the child.  She asked for, and received intervention.  Of course she was intervening herself. She was an instrument of healing, along with Jesus.

Remember another occasion Jesus said to another stranger and foreigner, the one blind man who turned back to give thanks, “go, your faith has made you whole.”  In our pleas for those who suffer, we become part of the healing. Our faith becomes part of the universal plea for healing.

How much do we really want peace, justice and mercy in the world? Enough to plea constantly for it, not counting the cost, demanding of God (from whom we have no natural right to be heard), constant in the faith that God will yield to the suffering of the world,  expressed in the prayers of poor sinners like you and like me? Are we willing to pray without ceasing?

Our prayers in times of great difficulties in the world need to be accompanied by a constant push against all voices that say that we have no right to be heard, filled with the faith that our prayers have the authority that belongs to the suffering world.

There are spiritual models for this constant persistent prayer. Gandhi believed that if the objective was true and just and the constant prayer of millions was for that end even unthinking and brutal imperial powers would have to yield. At the last truth, peace and mercy would prevail. What would it be like for the whole world to pray for peace NOW?

I think too that our prayers find their greatest strength in our willingness to be the justice, peace and mercy we pray for. 

Jesus says it is not what we take in (our practices, diets, even misplaced invocation of false gods) that defiles us. It is what proceeds from us that defiles – and there the list is about our evil intentions (I have a few, I suspect you do to).  And the opposite is true as well, it is what proceeds from us that glorifies.  In some traditions when a preacher prays, and the prayer rings true, members of the congregation, or the preacher herself will shout, “Glory!”  The prayer that is pure in intention is a source of glory.

Our prayers need to come forth from our mouths with pure intention.  Which means, dear friends, that we cannot pray for justice and practice injustice, we cannot pray for peace and have hate in our hearts, we cannot pray for mercy and comfort when we given none.

It is for this reason that the hidden meaning of our prayers for the world are found in our willingness to engage the world with purity of heart.

A friend, Chris Brennan Lee writes a blog called People’s Prayers.  She begins this week with a short paragraph that pretty well sums up the matter of prayer for the suffering of the world.

“It is definitely not my job to decide who is the right type to be chosen, that is all God's domain and God chooses even those I don't think are right. But it is my job to speak up and out, loudly and with conviction, persistently and continuously to God and to everyone else whenever a wrong must be righted, a truth must be told, and a life must be saved. Giving voice to our faith, speaking the good of our hearts through the opening of our mouths, let us do our jobs to care for our children and, for anyone who is a child of God. Let the crumbs fall where they may.”

Let us do our job… to pray unceasingly for the suffering of the world, leveraged by that suffering itself, and by purity of heart.  AMEN.


The call for Nominations for Presiding Bishop.

The Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop (JNCEP) has issued a call for nominations for Presiding Bishop. Read it HERE.

The Call for Discernment and Profile are HERE.

The JNCEP is to be congratulated on a very good call for nominations. It is an informative and useful introduction to the qualities sought in nominations. It is a very good document.

One qualification :

In the Call for Discernment and Profile the JNCEP states, 

"Canonical Qualifications:
The Episcopal Church’s Constitution and Canons do not set any limitations or requirements on which Bishops of the Church may serve as Presiding Bishop. Any Bishop of the Episcopal Church on the day nominations are received in a Joint Session of the House of Deputies and House of Bishops at General Convention is eligible, subject to being nominated in accordance with the Canons and processes prescribed by the JNCPB" (underlining mine).

The canons, as I read them, indicate that the JNCPB can indeed establish the process used in the Joint Session for receiving nominations from the floor, but it cannot refuse nominations of a bishop from the floor at the time of the Joint Meeting.

The JNCPB has suggested a way by which additional names would come to the Nominating Committee prior to the Joint Session. But if the JNCPB is in any way suggesting that names could not come directly from the floor on the day of the meeting, it has overreached. Bishops and Deputies to this Convention need to be watchful that their perogative - to nominate on the day of the Joint Meeting - not be negated by rules put in place by the JNCPB.

I believe the canons are clear. Any bishop part of the House of Bishops can be nominated from the floor at the time of the Joint Meeting, without prior inclusion in a list gleaned from a hearing or meeting of the JNCPB prior to that Joint Meeting.  

Granted, this bishops only one day in which to satisfy themselves of the appropriateness of particular nominations raised at this last moment. But I have stated before that we need to remember this is not the election of a bishop, but the election of an already ordained bishop to a particular task for a specific period of time. There is no indelible vocational call related to this election. There is no criteria regarding experience that would disallow nomination. There is no requirement for investigation of prior ministry or actions (no background checks). 

The raw, immediate and perhaps surprising possibility of new nominations is build into the canonical process of nomination for election. Given the good work by the JNCPB I believe great nominations will come forward and the JNCPB will choose well from among them for a "slate." Some who they do not select will probably be nominated from the floor, and perhaps some others as well. But my guess is the elected one will be from among the JNCPB recommended ones. But just in case the Holy Spirit, or the workings of the Joint Meeting, or both deem otherwise, let's make sure the floor process remains open.