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


  1. TREC has never defined what it thinks a network is or just how that is supposed to serve TEC’s brave new world. “Network” calls to mind nodes connected to one another, in which authority is distributed, not centralized. TREC seems to have attached itself to the buzzword “network” without any real sense of what that implies.

  2. Borg, anyone? Perhaps we might start this way: what if we begin seeing ourselves as a federation of dioceses with a common core (BCP, Episcopal R&D, etc.) overseen in a conciliar fashion by a once a decade GC with 80-90% of daily/weekly/annual functionality devolved to dioceses and parishes? Within the federation, Episcopalians as individuals would be free to network with peers across the dioceses/parishes to influence their dioceses without insisting that the whole Church take one position. Thoughts?

    George Herbert, Jr


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.