The Task Force on Re-imaging; Its mission, "To boldly go where no one has gone before."

The Task Force on Re-imaging the Episcopal Church wrote the following in their "Letter to the Church.

In that document the Task Force asked us to imagine various possibilities. I have. On the whole I find the imagining to be a variation on the Star Trek motif of "boldly going where no one has gone before," and mostly as banal. My comments in RED follow each imagining.

"Imagine a world where all of our Episcopal parishes are spiritually vibrant and mission-focused. A recent survey suggests that less than 30% would pass this test today.

Imagine a survey that actually could measure spiritually vibrancy and mission focus. What in the world do the writers mean by "spiritually vibrant" or "mission-focused"?  I can guess and even guess that it would be good to be vibrant and focused. Also muscular and relevant and so forth. Blah blah blah. Still, imagining a world of vibrant and focused parishes has some value, provided their vibrancy is not a goose step and their focus is not on their own survival.

Imagine a world where our parishes consistently are good at inspiring their traditional members and also are energized and effective in reaching out to new generations and new populations. 

Ah, imagine indeed. I'm an old white clergy guy and frankly pissed off at being relegated to being a "traditional member" who needs to be inspired, as opposed to being a new generation.  Actually I am part of a new generation of old white guys who, as members of the modestly revolutionary "sixties", constitutes a "new population. This new population is the wave of older people who are younger than that now. This imagining is fluff at best.

Imagine a world where the shape of our Church frequently adapts, as new parish communities emerge in non-traditional places and non-traditional ways, and as existing parishes merge and reinvent as local conditions change. 

Well now we are getting somewhere.  Adaptation is a key issue. Congregational life needs to be more fluid and open to times and conditions. But casting this in terms of "parishes" is a mistake, since "parish" is a specific sort of congregational structure with particular meaning in canon. Better to encourage congregational life in a variety of forms, one of which is the parish.

Imagine a world where Episcopal clergy and lay leaders are renowned for being highly effective leaders, skilled at Christian formation and community building, at new church planting, at church transformation, and at organizing communities for mission.

Imaging "Episcopal clergy and lay leaders" as highly effective and so forth is great. Asking them to be "renowned" for those abilities suggests a new round of "our clergy and leaders are better than yours".  Being renowned is irrelevant, unless of course it is a gambit to get people to join us, and not "them."

Imagine that Episcopalians easily collaborate with each other across the Church: forming communities of interest, working together to share learnings from local initiatives, and collaborating to pool resources and ideas.

OK, now you are on to something.  New means of collaboration are very much in order. Notice now that the "imagining" is no longer about a "world where" but about Episcopalians.

Imagine that the Church wide structure of The Episcopal Church primarily serves to enable and magnify local mission through networked collaboration, as well as to lend its prophetic voice. 

This is just sloppy. (i) This view of networking involves the old view of networks as having a "hub" that serves "to enable and magnify."  But networks are more and more understood as neural and organic, that is as having no hub but rather a life as a whole. In this sense we don't need the Church wide structure at all. Collaboration and enabling takes place organically. (ii) The Church wide structure does not have prophetic voice, no non-person has prophetic voice. That is a left over from the notion of the corporate persons.  The church wide structure can acknowledge prophetic voice or not, it can lend its affirmation to prophetic voice, but it is persons who are prophetic, not structures.

Imagine that each triennium we come together in a “General Mission Convocation” where participants from all over the Church immerse themselves in mission learning, sharing, decision making and celebration.

Now the whole imagining gets down to cases. The "imagining" here is of a meeting each "triennium" (notice the specific use of the General Convention triennium language) that is NOT General Convention but something else - a "General Mission Convocation."  Where is the work of General Convention going to be done?  In Executive Council? By a smaller leaner meaner cleaner legislative body meeting on some other schedule than every three years?  There may be something to that, but stay tuned. Meanwhile, imagine that this "General Mission Convocation" took place WITH General Convention.  Well that would be very much like having the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society resurrected as a "Mission Convocation" and reclaiming its place in the wider General Convention context.  Is this a suggestion that we imagine GC legislation taking place in the context of DFMS missionary strategies?  Is this a return to an earlier model or is it really a new model?  We will have to wait and see.

Now, here is the thing. All this imagining is fine, rhetorical but fine. The bottom line, however, is not about a "world where..." but about more specifically a "church where."  The imaging line is moving us to consider recasting General Convention to be a smaller legislative body and a larger tribal body.  Interesting idea. Actually, fine idea. But...

More on the Letter to the Church later.  


  1. Ellen Tillotson--I'm afraid I find all this "imagining" more than a little snarky toward the faithful folk who are trying to serve God in their homes, their workplaces and, sometimes, even in their churches and from their churches. I'm amazed at the people shoulder deep in the system who seem to have been blind to such faithfulness because it is local, quiet, world-changing and prayerful. And most of these folks have received precious little help from dioceses and wider church structures who have blamed them instead of helping--blamed by taking a larger and larger portion of income and offering fewer and fewer resources for developing mission and ministry locally, where it is most effective and most sustainable. Tip O'Neill had it right, baby--all politics, and the best mission--is local. I'm just sayin.' Thanks, Mark.

  2. Well said, Mark. In addition —
    There will have to be a "church wide structure." But what will it be? General Convention makes the decisions that are binding on all of us, though these are, in relation to the number of resolutions, few in number (canons, Prayer Book, budget...).
    Who implements these? TREC wants a leaner Executive Council — good. The role of the Presiding Bishop and staff? They call for clearer lines of accountability — at last someone has pointed that need.
    But I still want to know, what are the needs of the dioceses that the Church Center must meet because they cannot meet them for themselves? It has to do with maintaining unity in diversity, including ecumenical, inter-Anglican, and inter religious relations, of course. Also maintaining the canons and liturgical standards. And in general fostering the network that we already are, and need to nurture much further. What else?
    Also, I strenuously object to TREC's wrong characterization of our governance as a "confederacy go semi-autonomous dioceses." We are not that, nor are we a "voluntary association of dioceses." Without a clear idea of the bases of our church's decision-making, I fear their imaginings will not have the clarity of vision that we need from them.
    Pierre Whalon

  3. Jack Tull said...
    Thank you Mark+ for your comments. I believe that an important aspect of restructuring The Episcopal Church has to be centered around the local church and the ministries they are involved in. I believe that people are attracted to a church that does something. So, in a local church there should be programs more internal that strengthen our faith, care for members when they need help and build us up as the body of Christ. There should also be programs that are more external that care for people that are hurting on the local as well as the world wide level. To do these things the local church needs resources to help them. In our Re-Imagined Episcopal Church I would hope that we would provide a place where the local church could go to get one-on-one help in establishing their internal and external programs. This help would include suggestions as to existing programs that may be a good fit for that church and how to make the necessary contacts to get started. This Ministry Resource Center could also be available to help a diocese that may be looking to set up a diocesan wide program.

  4. Pierre, Where are you picking up the phrases you have in quotes: "confederacy go (sic) semi-autonomous dioceses" and "voluntary association of dioceses"? I don't see where TREC said such things.

  5. John,
    For confederacy, see http://reimaginetec.org/july-2013-meeting-report/

    Structure for Dummies, II, 3rd paragraph. "Voluntary association" is ACI-speak.

  6. Pierre, The recent TREC letter does not use the term. While we might wish everyone were aware that ACI has made "confederacy" a dirty word before one uses it, in the context of the July 2013 TREC document there is no hint of intended implication that it means "voluntary association" or that dioceses are "autonomous." It is a statement of how the dioceses worked together differently than today with the structure of Executive Council and Presiding Bishop's office and staff. It is not an ecclesial statement, although I will agree that it is a teachable moment to underscore that however the dioceses may work together ("context" and "structure" if you will) they do so within our Anglican ecclesial tradition.

  7. 'Voluntary association' is legal speak, and accurate -- as against the imaginings of some who would claim otherwise and write odd documents wherein GC is a Metropolitan(the HOB was not buying it).


  8. SCM, whoever you are,
    The HoB's comments are in the final version. The fact that the General Convention acts as the final (or metropolitical) authority is affirmed.
    As Bishop Hopkins' observation we quoted states, there is no such thing as an independent diocese. The concept is sheer nonsense in the Anglican way of being the Church. It is part of our catholic heritage, the local church of its region, presided by a bishop in synod.
    While you are correct that "voluntary association" is a legal term, it is clear that, among all Anglican churches, the dioceses do not form a voluntary association. The Episcopal dioceses are all creatures of the General Convention, except for those founded in 1784 expressly for the purpose of sending Deputies to the Conventions of 1785 and 1786. In 1789, with the adoption of the Constitution, the clergy's conformity to it by 1790, and the fact that not one congregation in the land dissented, show that there never was a "voluntary association." Certainly the founders never intended one.

    As Bishop Hopkins said, the idea of "an independent diocese" is either an absurdity or it is a schismatical invention.

    Pierre Whalon

  9. SCM, whoever you are,
    The HoB did not suppress the term metropolitical, they wanted a better definition, which the final version of the Primer gave,
    The Episcopal Church's General Convention is not a "voluntary association." Your local parish may be considered one from a purely legal viewpoint, but its clergy are in Orders. The diocese of which it is a part is not a voluntary association either. And the General Convention creates dioceses, so it is not a voluntary association either. The use of that term is what's odd.
    Pierre Whalon

  10. Good luck in your ongoing advocacy of an enthusiastic personal interpretation. One which progressives reject.

    We shall continue to watch the courts decide when they read the documents. As Ortbal effectively concluded in Quincy. "When one spends 900K for an 'expert witness' and invests 5 years to interpret and commend a probative reading, that alone says there is a problem with the documents/constitution itself."

    So it is.


  11. And your name is — ?

    This is not my personal idiosyncratic opinion, by the way. Not rejected by progressives, either (huh?).

    Pierre Whalon

  12. I'll put my money on the professional opinion of Judge Ortbal and others who make a living knowing what terms like 'voluntary association' mean.

    Your document received the lackluster reception it deserved.

    And by the way, your claim that the 'authors' were not involved in litigation is false. Bishop Buchanon's name is on the court documents. Did you think we'd just ignore that fact?


  13. No point in discussing things with three initials.

  14. No point discussing when the facts are unhelpful.

    Fortunately judges are no longer fooled by these manipulations.


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