Imaging the future of the Episcopal Church #2

Imaging #2: Let 100 flowers bloom. Horizontal networking and organization. 

Why not let most programmatic work bloom as networks of people in the church want them to bloom and have Episcopal Church funding for occasions to bring those who work in a given field together to share ideas and (hopefully) to keep each other focused on positive work by the Church rather than inter-group fighting?

Examples: Publishing a paper.

There used to be hard copy Episcopal Life, published from the Church Center. It was too expensive and reached, it was felt, fewer and fewer people. So it was discontinued. Now there is an independent journal, Episcopal Journal, and it seems to be doing pretty well. Here in Delaware our own Delaware Communion is bundled with it monthly.

The Living Church keeps on keeping on, changing a bit with greater emphasis on thought pieces. It drives me crazy at times, but I read it. 

There are wonderful online "journals." In my mind one of the best is Episcopal Cafe. It is perhaps a bit left of center, but there are other collectors of material - TitusOneNine, Covenant (run by the Living Church crowd) - that offer some balance. 

What if we are more proactive in supporting the work of such groups while at the same time continuing with ENS and its news service?

Example: Producing Video:
There are a variety of video resources providing both thematic content and news. Most of them are not programs of the Church Center. Some are very good. Some are so so. Anglican TV stands far to the right and is pretty mixed and promotes a church that thinks The Episcopal Church is awful. Still, it is a challenging video presence.  Trinity stands middle and is very good, as is the superb work of Fr. Matthew. There are also a variety of parish offerings. 
TECtube's Channel on YouTube has lots of interesting stuff.  As yet there seems to be no clear progressive Video presence in Episcopal - land, although some offerings are nicely edgy.  

When I googled "youtube episcopal church" here were the first four offerings: A diocesan website homepage; TECtube's Channel; a parish based edgy "Who are we," and Preludium's own Episcopal Church, a Question, which has now been seen by over 14,000 people.

Here is that list:

  1. Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles | Home Page

    www.ladiocese.org/ - Cached
    Holy Family Services, an institution of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, offers ... Youtube · The Episcopal Church · Best Practices | Education Resources ...
    You've visited this page 9 times. Last visit: 4/1/10

  2. TECtube's Channel - YouTube

    www.youtube.com/user/TECtube - Cached
    EpiscopalChurch.org ... The following content has been identified by the YouTube community as being ... St. Thomas Church Choir - See Amid the Winter Snow ...
  3. The Episcopal Church - Who Are We? - YouTube

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=eT-APVyFcq43 min - Oct 18, 2009 - Uploaded by kingofpeacekingsland
    A revised version of this video is online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v= vJ_lUoloW4M.
  4. Episcopal Church: A Question‏ - YouTube

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3pCmU7b2d43 min - Jan 8, 2007 - Uploaded by poetmark
    Why become part of a splinter group, why not take part in the life of the Episcopal Church?

So again, why not encourage more work independently of a Church Center office, but including its offerings and its YouTube presence, putting more emphasis on the Church Center encouraging good work than doing the work by professionals "in-house." Some of this is already taking place in a new communications strategy that encourages video presentations by staff and others. Remember the "I'm an Episcopalian" experiment that was carried out two years ago?  Some of those videos have a life of their own including this one from our parish: I'm an Episcopalian. Almost 3000 people have seen this one.

In these and other areas the explosion of creative work done around the church needs mostly to be shared, and that sharing ought not be by way of a vertical "filter" but by way of horizontal value.  This places greater importance on watchful engagement so that really unreliable and misleading videos do not stand unchallenged. But it does mean that many more voices will be heard, and some of them will be amazingly valuable.

So imaging #2: an Episcopal Church brave enough to be itself in a more horizontal communications environment, with less "official" materials and more shared ideas.

Potential savings to the Church budget, considerable. Potential value to the Church, beyond calculation.


  1. It takes a lot of courage to acknowledge that TEC is in big trouble financially and that Executive Council needs to consider radical change. The money is drying up.

    It takes even more courage to ask deeper questions about why the church is shrinking to older and smaller congregations, and all signs point to even greater shrinking. What things has TEC done that are driving it into such straits?

    A good survey would dig into the deeper, signal issues. It would also ask why some dioceses are growing or holding their own.


  2. Agree with Franklin. Will "The decline" be a MAJOR topic at GC2012?
    Could the ExCon help make this a prominent conversation? There really is an elephant here, folks.

  3. Hi Franklin...actually, the money is not drying up, the costs of everything is going up. And, yes TEC is in a decline numerically. So is every other main-line denomination in America. It appears that the evangelical mega churches are behind the curve but feeling the pinch as well. (Witness the selling of the Crystal Cathedral).

    Norris... the major conversation will be the responsibility of General Convention to produce a budget, and everything that is of interest to that end will be considered. The question of real interest (at least in my sense of it) is what the budget will be for, and how it will related to the mission of the Church.

    The Episcopal Church is alive and well on many levels and we can be proud of what we are and what we have done. We have to deal with real budget issues, that is for sure. The way forward is to look to the needs of the future church, not to look to a shiny (although not so shiny) past.

  4. Norris, the decline (and no need to put it in quotes) has been a topic for some time. Statisticians at the Episcopal Church Center have been tracking and analyzing it for some time. Some things are pretty clear. First, it's affecting, to a greater or lesser extent, almost all Christian communities in the United States - including now the Southern Baptist Convention and the Assemblies of God. One part of the cause is that birth rates are falling in the United States. One is that religiosity in the United States is falling across the board. And, yes, one appears to be that congregations with clergy focused on the conflict itself, from either perspective, tend to lose members.

    That's not an exhaustive discussion; but it is, I think, illustration that people aren't somehow waiting to discuss the decline; nor to think about evangelism to address it.

  5. Thanks, Mark, for responding. in my view, the budget for the next three years is short term thinking. To oversimplify, without a Church, there can be no mission .IMHO, there needs to be a well thought ou groeth initiative, and not one like 20/20 which was weak at best..

  6. Yes, Marshall, I have been following these analyses for years, longer than I have followed your magnificent blog which is so spiritually valuable to this ageing lay person. Perhaps I'm just not close enough to it, but I don't see the decline as an action item for TEC. Maybe the discussions need to be more visible in the Episcopal media. Thanks for your reply.

  7. When I think of the Episcopal Church and YouTube, my thoughts first go to the excellent Fr Matthew: http://www.youtube.com/user/FatherMatthew

  8. Something that our parish is doing, and that I suspect a lot of other parishes are doing, is using social media. This is not a panacea and it has its drawbacks, but there are some real advantages. Our parish members are almost all linked by Facebook. This allows people who normally see each other once a week to have more frequent and regular contact. The promise is that friendships can develop, the risk is that antagonisms can become exacerbated. This is also a way for parish members to keep track of each other, including those without computer access, and to take action if anyone of them is in need.

  9. Fr. Mark,

    I follow your musings on TEC organization with great interest. The only thing that concerns me is the motivation for organizational change. The polestar of reorganization MUST be its mission and the best ways to accomplish that. I don’t mean to suggest that organizational structures drives success, but poor organizational structure can stifle the individual processes that DO create success.

    Flatter organizations can be very successful (e.g. HP in its glory days), but transition from pyramid style organizations can be both difficult and slow. The benefits will not simply appear. Such a shift requires long-term commitment and resources (financial and educational, and often, re-orientation of current participants).

    Acknowledgment of the costs (financial in particular, but also the dis-ease and resistance all significant change incubates) of a flat structure is not to say that such a shift would not be beneficial long-term. Indeed, the resulting organization should be able to foster innovation and adherence to core principles. And, in the long run, be more efficient in its use of centralized resources.

    I happen to believe that the church should be the ultimate flat organization. We are members of the same body, after all. We have a central organizational imperative (the gospel) that needs to adapt to current, local conditions.

    If these are the reasons TEC shifts to a flatter structure, it should be successful. If not, progress will be uneven and the benefits that should manifest will not.

    Within the context of organizational change, the boundaries of dioceses MUST be up for review. I suggest that some of our current dioceses are actually too big, and would benefit from a smaller “jurisdiction.” Geography is a popular organizing benchmark, but it need not be the only one. It should remain an open questions whether every diocese needs a bishop and the precise role and duties of a bishop.

    The gospel is not dependent on any particular organizational structure. I love TEC and hope that it can embrace the changes that need to occur for its long-term success, however we choose to describe it.

  10. Mark, I do hope it was unintentional, but you've missed a terrific video produced by The Rev. Chris Yaw, Rector of St. David's, Southfield MI: http://www.jesuswasanepiscopalian.org/


  11. Norris..you are right, the budget conversation for the next three years (a mandatory one) only makes sense in a longer term carefully thought out sense of mission, and a mission with reach.

  12. Point of Order - great comment. I believe you are right, the move to a "flat" organization is a long term effort and one that requires strong commitment by those who want to go there. The issue of size of diocese is, as you suggest, not a primary issue, but rests on other issues having to do with the specifics of mission in place.

    Thank you for a challenging comment.

  13. I do not know if it is still in print, but the story of how a single CEO imposed what we now call a "flat" organization suggests that the "it takes a long time" approach is an excuse. The simple fact is we can do it now. The simpler fact is we will not do that -- they persons who would have to vote for it are beneficiaries of the existing system.

    That said, a simple first level reformed structure would be the complete elimination of national staff, and the creation of a number (I think about twice the number of existing provinces) of support centers replacing 95% of the diocese based staffs leaving only a single secretary and canon to support the bishop.

    That way, the bishop is the person on the road to cathedral and parish, the secretary (admin assistant) is charged with his paperwork and schedule, and the canon is his trouble shooter and support for deployment issues.

    We might find then that we need more, smaller diocese, not bigger ones. Bishops would actually be out there with the people instead of managing staffs.We might also find that we need fewer rectors serving more congregations. We might even rediscover the role of lay readers!


  14. Mark, If there was ONE very clear need from the national church in the tech arena it is in providing the daily office online in an rss feed similar to what the Church of England is doing. http://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/join-us-in-daily-prayer.aspx

    Now hear me out because I know what you're thinking. There are indeed sites through Josh Thomas and through Mission St. Clare and likely others. Josh does a wonderful service to the church by his work on the daily office. I think the ability to customize the CofE's materials either contemporary or traditional would suit us well. It would also be helpful to be able to choose between the Daily Office Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer and from the Lectionary from Holy Women, Holy Men.

    Mission St. Clare gives one many options, but these are not contained in an rss feed. The benefit of an rss feed is that it is easily incorporated into a parish's iPhone or Android app or directly on a parish's website.

    They say in this new era that Christian traditions will be distinct by their faith practices. Making the offices as widely available as possible seems to me to be an essential part of this. There is a great move toward the daily offices in the emergent church. Why not seize the moment and help as many as possible make use of our resources. We do say Lex orandi, lex credendi, afterall.

    The Rev. Sean Ferrell

  15. Norris:

    First, thanks for the kind comments about my blog. I always appreciate knowing that folks find it useful.

    As to growth: most of the conversation as I have heard it has noted the decline, but has not wanted to pursue church growth for its own sake. Instead, it's focused on how to be better at our ministries, and at sharing the stories of our ministries (specifically as opposed to our controversies), trusting that folks would be willing to join us and commit or recommit. It is sometimes phrased, "If we do our ministries well, growth will take care of itself." While that may be simplistic, and while it begs the issues of solidly identifying our ministries and steps to improve, it reflects a concept (one that I agree with) that numbers in and of themselves are not the best measure of our reflection of Christ in the world.

    Sean, there is another website you might consider for the Offices: St. Bede's Breviary. It has been put together by Derek Olsen, Scripture and liturgical scholar, and contributor to Episcopal Cafe. It offers options of service and kalendar that I haven't seen anywhere else. Now, that doesn't address the possibility of an RSS feed; but I'm not sure how you'd offer flexibility or customized experience in an RSS feed (not that I'm an expert by any means).

    (NB: verfications is "slysts" - are these folks who make a lifestyle, or perhaps web style of being sly or cunning?)

  16. Marshall,

    The RSS thing simply makes it easiest to share the content with the widest number of people. With a simple line or two of code, the daily offices with all of the readings would show up on a parish's website, or could be used in countless other ways. In other words, a person or group of persons that would drop readings right into the office to make them accessible to others. It would have timely regular updates for Morning and Evening Prayer.

    I've seen Derek's site and I like it. Again, if only it was set up on a regular feed it could be used easily and widely distributed.


  17. Jim,

    A commercial organization has the luxury of imposing any structure it chooses. Church is not a business, nor should it mimic commercial behavior. Certain commercial skills are transferable to church work, and there are lots of folks who apply those skills to the great benefit of the Church.

    It is part of the human condition to resist change especially, it seems, beneficial change. Regardless of efficiency, our current organization is familiar if not necessarily comfortable. Flat organizations require different behavior. Changing the behavior of adults is problematic, even when change is desired. In the grand scheme of things, the Church isn’t all that far from being flat in its current condition.

    Perhaps what I envision is even more radical and more difficult. How do we best harness and deploy resources where they are needed? How do we quickly adopt best practices? How do we coordinate the activities that are best centralized, and who is responsible for that? And, which activities are those anyway? The conversation should be wide ranging and without preconceptions.

    Everything takes longer than you could ever imagine when it happens in the church. No excuses are required. It simply does. Roles and tasks throughout the church have been well known for generations. I dare you to tell the Alter Guild how it’s going to be organized.

    But the very exciting thing about a conversation like this is the long term influence this could have on the public sphere. Which came first, the church or the corporation?

  18. Good ideas, Jim.

    Sounds very much like TEC before the Henry Knox Sherrill 'move to NYC and become a CEO' model of american anglicanism.

    I can recall a diocesan staff like the one describe even in my own lifetime. Bishop+secretary+canon to ordinary. Worked pretty well.


  19. This is what I glean, FWIW.

    1. Lots of the budget goes to PB, staff, national church -- strip this back or eliminate it altogether (return to PB as elected pro temp Diocesan)

    2. If 30-35% of dioceses look hard to sustain, a) make suggestions about how to survive (Jim has some good ones), b) merge, c) shut down, absorb them into missionary districts (as many once were), and send out domestic missionaries (as was once the case)

    3. ask dioceses that are doing well how they are doing that

    4. prepare for a less monarchial system -- and that will include, NB, flexibility about innovations. A surefire way to kill a diocese that is conservative, and healthy, is to demand it do something.

    5. adjust many presently monarchial features in the light of a more horizontal (the term du jour) system, and that will for example affect Title IV

    Thank goodness Mark Harris (and perhaps other EC confreres) are not ignoring the financial reality but asking that it be addressed creatively.

    Vertical goes horizontal!

    grace and peace, Franklin

  20. Franklin,

    I think you make the error of assuming that staffing changes are all that is required to effect the kind of change under discussion here. As best as I can discern from what you have posted here, your proposed changes stop with reduced staffing in our centers of control (the diocese and 815). You further assume that, somehow, everything else will continue as before.

    This is the mistake a lot of commercial organizations make. For a true conversion to a flat organization, changes go beyond how things are controlled. Indeed, the most serious changes should occur in how members of the church interact with each other.

    Lean staffing as your describe would probably work in good number of situations, until it doesn’t. Effective span of control (what one person can reasonably focus on and do well) is finite. Quickly resolving a matter involving clergy misconduct is in everyone’s interests. One could even make an argument the Title IV, as now constituted, would work best in a flatter organization.

    That being said, any kind of serious organizational change requires buy in from its participants. We don’t need to reach Quaker-style consensus, but since we are at root a volunteer set-up that has evolved over millennia, meaningful consensus requires time. Re-forming habits requires patience and persistence.

    But first, there must be open and free discussion among the various participants (that would be us), without precondition or a predetermined result if we want changes that go to the bone.

  21. You will probably appreciate that very little in your post is, to my mind, controversial or obscure.

    Indeed, I firmly believe we are collapsing as a church because of disagreement over major issues. I also believe that we will never agree how to resolve them; they are not resolvable. They entail convictions that are mutually corrosive.

    For this reason I am speaking only about the most obvious structural changes that could stop the blood-loss for a season. That are necessary before we have utter collapse.

    My own belief is that the array of innovations TEC wants to embrace (SS marriage; communion of unbaptized; Jesus as moral teacher who asks us to try hard) God will not bless. But I also believe God is sovereign over his Body and will allow those portions of TEC that allign with his will a way forward. The structural changes I have in view might help with that, in that they dismantle the monarchial model that is often the enforcer of innovations.


  22. Franklin...please take on a name of some sort so that we can distinguish you from other "anonymous" folk.In the "Choose an identity" section, use one of the options other than anonymous.

    Meanwhile, you write:

    "My own belief is that the array of innovations TEC wants to embrace (SS marriage; communion of unbaptized; Jesus as moral teacher who asks us to try hard) God will not bless. But I also believe God is sovereign over his Body and will allow those portions of TEC that allign with his will a way forward. The structural changes I have in view might help with that, in that they dismantle the monarchial model that is often the enforcer of innovations."

    You appear to be part of yet another alignment group - or maybe the same but working from within - sort of an AAC visitor.

    I am not interested in structural changes that either do or do not "enforce innovations." I disagree with your reading of the history of the church in the last 100 years, almost entirely. The corporate model, the "national church" idea is considerably older than the development of a national council, whose presiding officer was the Presiding Bishop (1919). It has served us well.

    Most of what we think of as the overseas missionary work of the Episcopal Church took place in the 20th Century. a whole variety of programs and ideas that we look back on with some appreciation grew out of the "national church."

    The issue now is that we may have moved on from that model and are looking for a new way of organizing that does not always look to the center for direction.

    The need for change is related, I believe, to changes in the way we sense that we belong to a large body. The Corporation Model does not feel right, it poorly fits the sense we have of the body now.

  23. Great thread!

    I agree with Elizabeth's concern that the changes must be systemic. The piecemeal approach that is occurring is done as the "canary in the coal mine." We are seeing the problems of decreased revenues, shrinking dioceses that are calling for the consolidation of dioceses, and the increased administrative costs (hello health insurance mandate) for which aggregation of multi-diocesan administrative centers might be a solution.

    One of the larger questions is: what is the role of the denominational and local judicatory in this changing (post-denominational, post-christendom, declining mainline) environment?

    I think that many of the suggestions offered in this thread are excellent. The challenge is that in a free-market denomination, putting together a strategy will be difficult. Because we don't all agree on the problem--and I'm not talking about the sexuality issues, I'm really talking about the reality issues that we are in decline--how in the world will we be able to come to a common mind about solutions.?

    I do think it is a worthy and necessary endeavor. We are seeing more and more resources eaten up by non-efficient and growing administrative costs at all levels. Because of the autonomy of individual dioceses, I fear that most dioceses will choose to operate inefficiently rather than cooperate in more efficient ways.

    I am in favor of a smaller PB staff and letting the free market develop resources as Mark has suggested. The time may be past for the program development on the part of a centralized denominational judicatory.

    My suggestions:
    1. Establish a task force to study the status of dioceses and their continued viabiity as currently configured.

    2. Establish a task force to study the role of the Presiding Bishop and staff of TEC in this new context. Part of the remit of this task force would be to consider how to shift funding of TEC-originating programs to diocesan-based programs. (Haven't we always said that the diocese is the basic unit of the church?)

    3. Establish (yet another) task force to study the advisability of owning 815 Second Avenue and the possibiity of relocating the office of th Church Center. A secondary question would be to consider relocating the archives to 815 Second Avenue, NY, NY. (Why should we buy new property in Austin,TX, when we already have a building in NYC where the number of offices we use is shrinking. If the response that real estate is cheaper in Austin, then let's consider relocating the Church Center to Austin.)

  24. Nice comments, Neal. I concur.

    Father Harris, I am consistently and one-and-only Franklin.

    There was no 'national church' on the order of what we now have until the middle of the last century. And the move toward even greater monarchialism is well documented and uncontroversial. I suspect Henry Knox Sherrill would look on metropolitical insignia, private chancellors, Title IV authoritarianism, communion of the unbaptized (manifestly uncanonical) and be aghast. He would likely say, 'Boy, I did not see this coming).

    I will leave to the side the degree to which such recent changes are borne of the need to claim hierarchy for legal purpose. As Canon Neal writes, the basic unit of the church is the diocese. But that doesn't work well if you want to sue in the name of the 'national church.'

    But that is now water over the dam. TEC is in a financial crisis and the problem of reduced and aging membership is not going to just turn around. Comparisons with other denominations only beg the question (is the point that, if bigger, they will be slower to collapse?).

    I like Canon Neal's list. I have given my own.


  25. Franklin, I sincerely doubt that communing the unbaptized in TEC is as widespread as your elevating it to one of your many personal hobby horses, makes it out to be.

  26. David

    Thank you for a reassurance so sincere.

    I am glad to know that you believe something like a 'faith and order' brake can be pressed down.

    I doubt it. We'll send you a postcard.

    BTW, do you have objections to such a pratice? Please do share your views.


  27. Communing the unbaptized? No, I do not agree with the idea. I think that baptism is the initiation sacrament of the church, done once. Eucharist then is the sacrament that renews that initiation on a regular basis. Communing the unbaptized is meaningless, with no sacramental value to the unbaptized and backwards.


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.