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.



  1. I wonder where the reflex to refer to the PB as CEO of TEC came from......

    Thank God there have been forces of sanity which have all along decried this and pointed to its unconstitutional character.


  2. It reminds me of when the ¨Episcopal Church¨ ran the full page ¨institutional¨ lifeless AD in a National Daily Newspaper (thin/throw away fast) a few years ago! This same lack of * expertise ¨ WASTED hundreds of thousands of dollars while attempting to reimage TEC. Such busy hands at home really ought not be allowed to trash and burn TEC Executive Council with their unwise ideas...I DON´T TRUST their business skills! Meanwhile, if they want to SAVE MONEY I suggest they limit the spouce attendance/includsion of the Bishops when they meet...afterall, I'd rather have the EXECUTIVE COUNCIL help discern good orderly direction for TEC than funding a few busloads of Bishops wifes and husbands examining scenery twice a year! Time for the PB to get rightsized and stop with the despostic ¨reimagining¨ stuff!

  3. Dear friend Mark, you make a valid point when you say "read the thing" before commenting. I read the thing. It's unnecessarily wordy and still a snoozer, which is why I stopped reading. A church is not a corporation, and I don't see how functioning like a corporation will further the spread of the Gospel. The logic of the thought processes in the letter all too often escapes me.

    Presiding Bishop as CEO, hiring outside contractors to do the work of the church? Before I had read the entire text, I left the following comment at "The Lead".

    "I could not even read the entire text, so my comment may reveal my lack of full knowledge. The task force uses far too much business speak for my taste. What is the ordinary person in the pew to make of the report? I guess we shouldn't worry our pretty little heads about it. Or is just me?"

    The church was founded as a participatory institution. I hate the idea of centralizing more power in the office of presiding bishop. What happened to the concept of the bishop's role as chief pastor and servant of the members of the church?"

    After reading the text, the only words I'd change would be those about not having read the full text. With all due credit to the team for the time and effort put into the proposal, if this letter is the Good News to the church in the year of Our Lord 2014, then it falls far short of the goal.

  4. TREC: A lot of words, as one my fellow parishioners said today. Beside all the issues floating around, I could not get excited by the letter.

  5. A little Rome is what it sounds like. Reduce GC, give the Executive council more power. The PB and 815 running the show, the CCABs gone and the those in 815 making the decisions with the PB at the head of every group. Add to that Jefferts-Schori's desire to appoint bishops instead of elect them and what have you got?

    Chris H.

  6. Robin Sumners10/9/14 5:09 AM

    Robin Sumners Sitting on the Island of Leros in close proximity to Patmos, I think of John every morning, we so need Revelations don't we? Personally, I find solace in your comments. The CCAB move is exactly what the UTO four saw coming. And it is coming. Does it always have to do with control of the money? And on another note, in the parishes where I have participated during the last two years, there are struggling but brave and hopeful Episcopalians who don't even know there is a PB, yet there churches worship with extraordinary joy on Sundays, serve their communities with real love, and faithfully send their offerings for mission where it seems to be needed. Most recently on the Texas Mexico border. I see a lot of hope, but that hope I held for TREC is not so strong. Thank you for your continuing presence,

  7. Robin, for my first several years in the Episcopal Church, I hardly paid attention to my own diocese, much less to the PB and the national office, and I believe I was the better for my focus on my parish church. Most of my fellow parishioners were and are as I was then. The truism, "All church is local," is still true.

    About the UTO, I do believe the changes had to do with control of money.

  8. Jack Zamboni10/9/14 2:16 PM

    Though I agree with much of your critique, as I read the letter, TREC is proposing abolishing all but two Standing Commissions, not all CCABs. In fact, I don't recall anything in the letter that addresses Committees, Agencies and Boards. That may be their intent, but it is not what I find in the text.


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.