Imaging the future of The Episcopal Church #1

As it stands we have too many dioceses, some quite small. One thought is to merge some of the smaller dioceses (easier done if they are geographically contiguous). That will work in some cases, but the problem is it still leaves the remaining dioceses with the same need for canonical and administrative offices that are expensive and are not directly related to mission. 

What if smaller dioceses, in a regional configuration, contiguous or not, were to administer their diocese using shared structures:  In particular, using shared business and office administration, communications management, Title IV legal council and processes, perhaps shared resource personnel (for interim pastors, youth ministry, etc.)? 

The bishops might pool their particular interests and abilities in the larger context of a "college" of bishops for the regional consortium.   The idea would be to free up the bishops in two ways: (i) letting them focus on special ministries in which they particularly excel, and (ii) reducing the administrative load so that they can more clearly focus on the role of encouraging local congregations as a missionary presence in their communities. 

If the financial load was taken off smaller dioceses by sharing canonical and structural tasks when possible, bishops could be more closely akin to the missionary officers we had hoped they would be.

The end result?  Some reduction in the number of dioceses by merging, some regional consortia of dioceses, less duplication of offices in small dioceses, greater use of bishops as missionary officers, a sharing of resources, considerable savings to all and a renewed focus on the bishop as a missionary presence.

Could it be done? Hell yes. All it would take the willingness to share authority in new ways, give up the monarchical episcopate idea, and the notion that success always looks like bigger.

Will it be done? Who knows?


  1. I read that your church is about to dip below 2 million members for the first time since the Harding administration; is this true?

  2. This is largely correct, #1.

    Oddly enough, the imaginings now being considered return us, in many instances, to the TEC of former years. Lean and non-hierarchical. A diocesan church in voluntary association for the purpose of mission.

    But for this return, TEC needs to give up the centralization and hierarchical concept which was tragically made necessary by lawsuit stategies and also top-down push for various theological positions (SS marriage).

    I am not confident it has the will to do that. How can dioceses merge and share things when they do not share views on SSBs, Communion of the non-baptized, new rites for a BCP, and so forth.

    I conclude that TEC is aging and losing membership and that what is happening, latterly, is a combination of recognition of the real nature of the problem, and persistence in a innovative theological direction with polity knock-on. The second of these will unlikely be corrigible to redirection.


  3. oh Mark --I'm in. Keep chewing on this --I promise I will.

    wv: depod
    The Church strove to de-pod. It worked!

  4. Anonymous #1... without putting any name on at all you are at your limit. You have to sing on with some name, even Franklin(2) if you want.

    Franklin (1) your second paragraph is nonsense.

    Time to give your real name and why it is that you are an authority on these matters.

  5. Certainly, there are discussions of realigning dioceses. The question has been raised in my own.

    That said, my expectation would be that the first change to result would be simply fewer bishops. That would certainly save money, at least in some instances; although in some dioceses where the episcopate is funded by trusts it wouldn't make a difference. In most dioceses the single biggest expense is the bishop's package; and after that any other diocesan employees. That could, in some cases, conflict with the expectation that the bishop be accessible, demonstrated specifically in regular visitation in congregations. I can appreciate your suggestion of bishops freed to express their strengths in their vocations; but I fear the "quick fix" of simply paying for fewer bishops would leave bishops more stretched than ever.

    Another possibility comes to mind. My belief is that the Church Pension Fund's 30-year retirement option was hoped to provide experienced clergy who could afford to take smaller, part time positions because they had their pension payments as cushion. I wonder if we might move to half-time suffragans, elected from among such clergy. Since suffragans are already called for specific functions, serving less than full time could simply be structured in. Now, we might think instead of part-time assistant bishops, allowing for bishops displaced by the realigned dioceses. However, I don't think there will be that many, and certainly not for long.

    Well, it's perhaps an odd thought, but I thought it interesting.

  6. top-down push for various theological positions (SS marriage) ... unlikely be corrigible to redirection.

    Crabby Franklin's agenda emerges---and surprise, surprise, it's about Teh Icky Gays. *roll eyes*

    Like your ideas thus far, Mark.

    My thoughts tend to be more Big Picture. I foresee Fundamentalist Religion and Fundamentalist Atheism to fight more and more furiously (one hopes bloodlessly, but?) in the US in coming years---w/ non-fundamentalist religion and goodwilled agnosticism caught in the crossfire. Atheism will be ascendant . . . and until that itch is well and thoroughly SCRATCHED. When Fundamentalist Atheism's excesses are exposed (from within, of course), and a nihilist wasteland's got everybody singing "Is That All There Is?", only then will sensually rich/dogmatically humble religion make a comeback (after I've shrugged off this mortal coil, most likely...)

    Unless we blow up/poison/overheat the planet first, of course! ;-p

  7. Realign dioceses -- thanks, Marshall, that does sound almost required. 30% cannot go on much further as is. Fewer bishops follow logically from that. The challenge is likely geography -- which dioceses?

    I think a couragous approach would also get to the bottom of why individual dioceses don't wish to fund a 'national church.'

    I remember a Bishop returning from a HOB meeting. He spoke with another colleague about putting together a teaching series. The Church's Teaching series was born. No national church, just colleagues meeting a need commonly.


  8. Franklin... the first teaching series was produced by Seabury Press then the press of TEC. It was a national church thing. The second was produced by Cowley Press, independent of the Church Center. Both had steller writers, writing for somewhat different audiences. You are quite right... independent presses can and do produce a lot of Christian Ed materials "meeting a need."

    The notion of funding or not funding a national church is another matter. We fund Church wide programs and projects as well as the required structures - required by General Convention and canons - and the assumption is that inclusion in the union of General Convention means meeting its financial obligations. The fact that some dioceses have not paid any or only some of the support asked is irritating at least, irresponsible at most.

  9. Of course it was. But the point being made is that Seabury Press was the consequence of collegial creativity, not its engine.

    That dioceses do not pay an asking is (1) a sign that we are a diocesan church and mission moves from that point, and (2) not irritating or irresponsible. Indeed it flows from precisely the reality you are now facing into, viz., subsidiarity. A survey that has the courage to ask what can be done down the line and not from a 'national church' notion is a survey that at least acknowledges the possibility that the answer is: everything.

    Good on the survey. It fits nicely with the polity reality of TEC.

    BTW, I am no fan of EFM, but I suspect anyone analysing the situation would find it has been far more widely used and had far more influence than any national teaching series.

    All denominational presses are in major trouble. WJKP produced almost no new books in the past year. Augsburg Fortress struggles along with long-running series. Who is making money? Baker Academic.

    Thank God TEC never arrogated to itself the sense that it needed a 'national church press' -- it would have collapsed even more quickly.


  10. Our first bishops were often also rectors of parishes. While that might no longer be possible in more than a few dioceses, I think that many clergy who serve on diocesan staffs could also serve smaller congregations. In some places, instead of a full-time canon to the ordinary, there might be two part-time canons who bring different gifts.

  11. If a major percentage of the 38% figure goes to a PB, staff, etc, why not return to the longstanding TEC polity of senior Diocesan Bishop serving pro temp as PB?

    What is wrong with this polity (it obtains in a good number of provinces, including the Scottish Episcopal Church)? It was the polity of TEC until american denominations thought they needed to ape business-CEO models in the earlier 20th century.

    I'm not sure rector-as-bishop is such a good idea (see Rowan Williams' book on Arius).

    But PB as Bishop-colleague. That has a venerable history.

    Good on Exec Council for recognizing that something must be done. I'd like to know how much money would be saved if 815 were sold and the senior diocesan served as PB.


  12. Fr Weir

    In small dioceses, yes, it might be necessary. And I agree about diocesan clergy staff serving parishes. Many of course do.


  13. Before this turns into another long thread all about Franklin, I would second JCF's comment about the bigger picture.
    Religious affiliation is declining across the board in the USA. There are now as many former Roman Catholics as there are Roman Catholics. While the evangelical and fundamentalist churches are still signing up trainloads of new members, they are having terrible problems with retention. It is now more common than not for the children of evangelicals and fundamentalists to leave their parents' faith.
    Indeed, the fasted growing single religious category in the USA right now is the one marked "none of the above." That should not be construed as an expansion of the numbers of secularists. There are lots of unaffiliated Christians in that "none of the above" category. What this means is a dramatic vote of no confidence in institutional religion and in traditional ways of thinking about religious experience. Perhaps that's something that all churches (and others) should consider.

    Perhaps a question to consider is whether or not there really is such a thing as anyone "born" Christian. The Episcopal Church today, whatever its statistics, is made up overwhelmingly of converts. That was not true 50 years ago. Born and bred Episcopalians are definitely a minority now within the church. That might be something to consider as we ponder institutional restructuring.

  14. One can talk demographics endlessly. This survey is an acknowledgment that things need fixing. MH asked for input as to how to fix things. My question is how much money is saved by selling 815 and returning the PB role to Sr Diocesan.

    I suspect that would save much money and return us to the polity of TEC's history.


  15. Franklin, one way to deal with the Church Center would be to sell it (the whole building) and rent back part from the buyer, not having to be saddled with the full costs of the building and upkeep, as well as being relatively free in future years to consider resettlement outside NYC.

    The PB has not been Sr. Diocesan since 1919, and has had to resign as diocesan (or whatever his prior work was) on assuming office since 1947, when Bishop Sherrill became PB.

    So TEC has had an elected PB with a centralized office since 1919. The polity prior, when the PB was at the same time senior Diocesan did not mean the PB had no role other than presiding at GC or the House of Bishops, but rather that he added those to is work as diocesan.

    We are not (at least I don't think) returning to "the polity of TEC's history." We may be turning to a new polity, one which will allow a greater horizontal flexibility and less reliance on a central "headquarters." But we shall see.

  16. In 1947 the PB for the first time resigned his post as diocesan. This created a sui generis polity, so far as the anglican communion is concerned, with the PB not having jurisdiction, except 'the convocations of churches in Europe' (former chaplaincies).

    So there was no 'office of the PB' in the 815 sense of that until 1947. A sixty-five year experiment, one could conclude, has proven that we need to return to the pre-1947 model.

    It would save money.

    It would encourage collegiality among Bishops (a PB who remains a diocesan is now more like her/his colleagues).

    It would cease the confusion related to metropolitical insignia, cathedra, etc.

    It is the way non-archepiscopal systems work.

    It costs a lot to maintain and we are seeing the downside of that.

    Call it new and lean and flexible, or call it an admission that the CEO-type model was not really 'episcopal' and we are returning to what was historically the case. It doesn't matter and a lot of that is branding/politics.

    Thanks for a stimulating thread and also for some hopefulness that things may indeed now change.


  17. Mark - While I enjoy the re-telling of some of the history of how the church - most specifically in The Episcopal Church - has structured its governmental organization, I must say this idea of restructure and decentralization raises more questions than provides solutions.

    Before getting to an answer and a solution that might be workable and effective, the question needs to be asked, "Why are there too many dioceses?". I'm not suggesting an exercise in self-flagellation that would delight "Franklin" (why do these posts always become an opportunity for the comment section to be "All-About-Franklin"?) but rather, more appropriately determine an intervention and plan of action that might have greater efficacy.

    I say this because I've seen the church at the local level work on various solutions which include some form of "Area Ministry", "Shared Ministry", or "Regional Ministry". Every last one I've been involved with in the Diocese of Newark (since 1991) is no longer in existence.

    Why? Well, IMNSOHO, we approached the situation with the same question you are posing in terms of diocesan re-structuring.

    Why do we have too many dioceses? It may be that we need another bishop with another style of leadership and another vision for that piece of God's Vineyard. I have seen bishops move clergy around like so many chess pieces and sometimes, he (it was always he) was absolutely right. We don't have that option with bishops who have life tenure (rectors do, vicars and PIC don't). It seems to me that if you have a bishop in leadership who is not a leader or a visionary, all you are accomplishing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Or, here's another image - you are grafting a weak vine onto another weak branch.

    Now, that may look good on paper and organizational charts, but it doesn't make any sense at the organic, cellular level.

    I'm not saying that this reorganization and decentralization isn't an important option. Indeed, going "back to the future" may be precisely what we need. What I am suggesting, however, is that we need to do a thorough assessment and consider all options - including merger - before we act. And, by thorough assessment, I mean including an assessment of congregational viability at the local church level to see what we might learn at the diocesan level.

    I am suggesting that we need a more systemic approach to the problem of "too many dioceses" which may include decentralization - or not.

    I'll stop now and let that sit for some reaction and response. My great consolation is that Franklin will most likely not respond. While he barely engages with other men on this list (it's all about Franklin and his agenda against TEC), he never "talks" to women. There are some small things which are blessings in disguise. (You are obviously much more patient with these folks than I am. Kuddos to you for that generosity of spirit.)

  18. Elizabeth. Great post within a post. Of course you are right, decentralization, horizontal networks, merging dioceses, etc are all options to consider, but none is in itself the answer. Different places will work it out in different ways.

    Indeed it may be that the answer is to be patient and work for the discernment and election of bishops who have both vision and stability and modest sized egos (there are such bishops, but there are also others less visionary, more reactionary or impulsive and with not so modest egos). If we had such elections for the next fifteen years we might have a new general direction among the bishops and a lot of visionary, stable and mature bishops in place. So maybe waiting this time out is one way to go.

    On the other hand, if the issue is not the bishop's work, but the cost of having one, merger is one possibility, bishops who are rectors of parishes another, and some reduction of the "prince bishop" idea. BTW get rid of the phrase "princely powers" in the prayer for bishop in ordination.

    As to tenure and pay grade, I have often wished that we elected bishops for life, but that they were "licensed" as bishop of X for only ten years and then were returned to some parish or other ministry where in addition to their other duties they could act as assisting bishops when called on.

    As to pay, bishops should be paid as much as the best paid rector in the diocese, but with considerably larger travel allowance and funds for hosting gatherings. As to discretionary funds, let a deacon be appointed archdeacon and keep the bishop's purse / discretionary fund, expending it as per the bishop's wishes and the archdeacon's advice.

    I once suggested in Delaware that we pay the bishop the average of all full time clergy salaries in the diocese so that he (at that time it was "he") might understand the situation of many clergy. Then give the bishop lots of perks - house, expense accounts, etc. The idea was struck down almost instantly on the grounds that we couldn't get the sort of person we wanted if we didn't pay them executive salary and that only people who wanted to be bishop really really badly would apply. That and the rich.

    Turns out some who have been elected in some dioceses did indeed want really really badly to be bishop, had independent wealth and happily took full salary in addition. Others work for next to nothing, have next to nothing and were surprised to have been elected.

    You never know.

    Your post was very helpful. Thanks.

  19. What would it be like it we had some sort of canonical structure via which multiple dioceses could share resources, wisdom, and more?

    The Anglican Future has arrived!

    We have nine provinces that exist for just that purpose. Maybe that structure needs to be reformed, tweaked, or used more effectively and extensively, but there it is.



  20. Mark - All I'm saying is that, no matter the final decision, I think we need a more systemic approach to the analysis we do before we decide on a pathway to a solution.

    Where I disagree with you is that we need to be patient. That's different from taking the time to do systemic analysis and prayerful discernment.

    We need some bold leadership - lay and ordained and consecrated - who will look at all the problems that beset us and not panic, but call in the specialist - just as one might do when a patient is exhibiting a complex array of symptoms. We need the ecclesiastic, spiritual equivalent of cat scans, lab work, MRI's and vital signs.

    While we're at it, let's call in a surgical, cardiac and endocrinology consult. And, maybe even a few specialists in fertility and obstetrics who will help us call and deliver new life.

    And yes, in some instances, we may need to call in Hospice and do some effective pain and other symptom management. Maybe we need fewer dioceses because some need to die.

    Okay - so I'm just like any other Episcopal clergy. I never saw a metaphor I couldn't wring more life out of.

    I hope that only underscores my two main points in response to your brilliant post (1) We need a systemic, analytical approach to problem-solving, not a bureaucratic one and (2) We need to do this work of assessment now - yesterday, actually - while we pray fervently through it all.

  21. Linda L. Grenz31/8/11 9:25 PM

    Thanks for starting this discussion Mark.

    I want to comment first on the membership decline: It is largely related to birth rates (sorry, but issues of contention have created only temporary declines that recovered quickly). If you look at our history over 100 years you'll see that we track the birth rates of white Americans. We went up dramatically in the 1950's (we're called the Baby Boomers for a reason!) and then dropped with the Busters. The US population climb after that separates from us -- it goes up and we lost our earlier 1.6% share of the US population primarily because we didn't reach people of color. I know that focusing on sex is...well, sexier. But actually, the reason our numbers (and that of other mainline denominations) are down is that US population is growing amongst people of color and we aren't serving them.

    That leads to the second problem: our organizational structures at almost all levels are designed for larger numbers of people (and money). We are still trying to do programs at the parish, diocesan and churchwide level as if we were 30%+ larger than we are. That means that we will never have enough people or money -- which is exhausting many of us and it feels like failure. Part of what we need to do is simply "right size" ourselves. And we need to move from trying to do both everything we used to do in the Modern Era church AND everything we know we need to start doing in the Postmodern Era church (any wonder we're exhausted)!

    That, frankly, means stop doing lots of things -- things that are dear to us. But we need to pause. Let go. Look. Listen. Discern where God is leading us. Find that small spark of the Spirit that IS already burning in our midst and nurse that spark into a flame, add twigs, then logs and build a bonfire! The end result will look very different from what we have now, because we live in a different time and place.

    My hope is that we can start looking at how to build new bonfires -- new ways of being the church. Set aside our endless (ridiculous, wearisome and sometime downright nasty) natterings on this and that -- most of which are more about our personal insecurities, anxieties, etc. than anything else. Just stop already! Instead, let's focus on what we can do together as the People of God. But better yet, let's focus on what God is already doing -- with us, among us, but even more important, what God is already doing amongst all of those "none-of-the-above" people who are opting out of church. Let's get our butts out of our pews and into God's wide, wonderful world and begin discovering, celebrating and aligning ourselves with God's amazing work of reconciling the world to God. Let's get on with doing THAT....knowing that it will mean that we all have to give up much, if not most, of what we think is so terribly important. I suspect it is only then that we will discover the organizational systems that work for us. They will emerge out of the work -- rather than being re-organized into something we've thought up.

    So, Mark, here's my challenge: We need a vision. We need a cadre of leaders who will hold up a vision for us over and over again -- in a way that enables us to fall in love with it and do whatever is needed to make it happen. We need a vision that draws us to God.

  22. Elizabeth--not a thing in your comments I find unworthy of engagement.

    Not sure why you need to adopt a defensive attitude.

    Keep at it. We have a problem. It needs fixing. Sooner than later.

    I like the idea of collegial Bishops and a return to a former polity. Saves money. Easy to do. Precedented. Call it horizontalism...

    grace and peace


  23. Dylan: 9 Provinces...but some are just not effective. Others are too scattered. What about smaller "lumps" - several dioceses that might decide to share a business manager, or two dioceses that have no desire to merge still being interested in sharing, say, a youth ministry person.

  24. Linda: thanks for the comments. Particularly the end:

    "We need a vision. We need a cadre of leaders who will hold up a vision for us over and over again -- in a way that enables us to fall in love with it and do whatever is needed to make it happen. We need a vision that draws us to God."

    And your idea that we need to stop trying to fix "it" and perhaps simply drop the whole thing, and see what emerges while we are no longer bound to the old "program."

    I suggested earlier that we might want to propose a short term budget (three years) that includes money for a special convention in which we would zero base budget absolutely everything not required by canon or civil law, and begin to talk about what we can and ought to do as The Episcopal Church based on a vision for our common life, not on prior programs.

    Then when the next regular Convention comes (2015) we can elect a new PB AND provide a new sense of direction for the church.

    So.. let's work on the vision, remembering that as visions go the resurrection and the incarnation are about as good as it gets.

    Now what?

  25. Dear Elizabeth: naaaaa...I ain't so patient either. I was suggesting that one way to go was simply to hold tight and wait until new bishops could take up a new venture / vision.

    I don't think that will work without considerable impatience by many of us. We really do have to do the assessment now. The "We" is who? Well, Executive Council can call for some of it, I think various groups in the church ought to take a whack at it.

    But we will need leaders who will push the systematic analytic thing along. Who will those people be?

    Perhaps it is time for a virtual congress of bright and faithful people to come together to form some new way of working and being Church, making an assessment of where we go from here.

    Offer that to the Church structures in place now...but more offer it to the regular paid up people of the Church and see what happens.

    Much to work on here.

  26. Mark - there were a few folk a few years back who called for a restructuring of the church. Unfortunately, that restructuring came with an agenda which I call "Build a Better Yesterday". It was really a call to rebuild the crumbling structures of patriarchy - complete with sexism and heterosexism. Now that "they" have left and are busy doing that very thing, perhaps it is time to take another look at restructuring the institutional church with the radical agenda of the gospel.

    Excuse me if I raise an eyebrow of skepticism. The institutional church has never been very concerned with the radical gospel of Jesus. It's always been more concerned with self-preservation.

    Bonnie Anderson says we needs to be less an institution and more of a movement. I couldn't agree more. How to do that? Ah, now THERE's a discussion I'd love to be part of.

    Thanks for opening up this discussion for wider conversation.

  27. I do find it interesting that we talk about moving away from the "corporate" model, when corporations have been doing just that for the last decade and more. "Flatter" administrative structures; more networking and team-building; flexibility in responses at local levels; and sharing best practices: these are all things we've been about, at least in health care (and I'm sure some other places) for the past two decades.

    That's why I thought one of the most hopeful things done last year in the Episcopal Church Center was some strategic planning. No, we haven't seen all the results of that yet, and yes, it got swamped by budget concerns; but it's still the right way to go.

    But, these things do take time. Elizabeth, Mark, I appreciate the sense of impatience; but I do fear lest we swing too heavily to the contemporary ethos of "it can happen that fast in my computer, so why can't it happen that fast in real life?" We need to see things moving, and also appreciate that resulst will take time - and then still need to be tweaked. (Granted, Elizabeth, we could discuss "this moment" as kairotic until it makes us all neurotic!)

    Perhaps there is something we need to pick up from the past: some good management tools. W. Edwards Deming, the American engineer who saved Japanese manufacturing (largely because American manufacturing wouldn't listen to him until the Japanese were kicking their butts!), was an Episcopalian. Interestingly, his principles began with discerning and focusing on mission, and constant oversight to keep improving. I have the conviction that there are good theological handles by which we can appreciate and appropriate performance improvement in the Church. It also requires a long view - not just next year. But, then, we used to say (usually for ill) that the Church thinks not in years but in centuries. Well, we do still need to maintain that long view for some things.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.