Monday, October 06, 2014

Thoughts on TREC: [Task Force for Reimaging the Episcopal Church]

So these are my quasi-random thought on TREC in general and Thursday's churchwide meeting in particular. [Warning to any Casual Reader: this will be a particularly egregious example of  the Episcopal Church's version of "Inside Baseball."] But here goes:

On Thursday, October 2nd TREC (the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church) held a "churchwide meeting" which was down-linked from the National Cathedral in Washington DC. To back up just a little, TREC was convened by a resolution (C095) of General Convention in 2012 which read in part:"
Resolved, That this General Convention establish a Task Force under the Joint
Rules of Order, whose purpose shall be to present the 78th General Convention
with a plan for reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and
That challenge was issued not to reform our structures just for the sake of reforming our structures, but because:
...this General Convention believes the Holy Spirit is urging The Episcopal Church to reimagine itself, so that, grounded in our rich heritage and yet open to our creative future, we may more faithfully:
• Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
• Teach, baptize and nurture new believers
• Respond to human need by loving service
• Seek to transform unjust structures of society
• Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of
the earth;
Makes total sense. We should absolutely have structures that support those important goals.

So they -- the Task Force -- are now on the home stretch of coming up with their plan to present to the 78th General Convention ... which will be held in Salt Lake City in June 2015. And the churchwide meeting was a chance for them to present some progress and also to field questions and concerns from around the church.

If you have 2.5 hours you can watch the whole thing here ... but I would draw your attention to these to clips.

Bishop Michael Curry's opening remarks (read "sermon") on the both/and of church as movement/institution is brilliant. That's at 5:00-15:00 ... and TOTALLY worth the ten minutes it'll take you watch it. Trust me.

Then there's this response by Jen Adams and Michael Curry to a questioner about specific ideas to reach out to those "hungry for God" -- particularly younger people. The segment comes at 23:30 on the video, but here are the quotes:
Jen Adams: One of the things that I’ve learned as a part of this TREC project is how very little there is in terms of structure or governance or administration that stands in our way. We’re in our way at times, but it’s not generally our structure or governance or administration that keeps us from getting out there and finding those people and inviting those people and feeding those people and being those people. There are some technical changes we can make … but for the most part it isn’t the structure that needs to change. There’s something culturally that needs to change among us so we can inspire each other more fully be the people who are hungry to feed the people who are hungry for the good news.

Michael Curry: You’re talking about a revival. And TREC is about getting the bones rearranged so that they’re ready for the revival. We’re just doing a little piece – the cracking open.
That's the part that inspired this tweet with a question I'm still asking myself:

Seriously. I don't know anybody who doesn't want the church to me more nimbly response to all those great goals listed above in the enabling resolution -- but if what the Task Force for Reimagining the Church has discovered after two years of work is that it isn't actually the STRUCTURES that are getting in our way, then why are we going to spend a whole boatload of time writing, re-writing, debating and voting on resolutions to restructure structures that don't seem to the problem to begin with?

It's like a patient with a health issue being referred to a surgeon -- who does a battery of tests and comes back and says, "The good news is what you have doesn't require surgery. The bad news is we've scheduled it for Monday."

Somebody talk me down here.

Then there was the question I asked via twitter ... that actually got asked on-air by Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves:

The question was precipitated by a number of concerns raised by a number of smarter-people-than-me about the impact that some of the restructure suggestions being "floated" by TREC would have in continuing to concentrate power in the episcopate in general and in the Presiding Bishop in particular that seems contrary to the call to reimagine a more nimble church in this "age of networks" (as described in what has come to be known by some as the TREC Lazarus Letter.)

Question asked. Question NOT answered. The nice woman who took at stab at it -- Margaret Shannon from Texas -- instead gave a rather defensive reframing of the portion of the Lazarus Letter giving the PB unilateral hiring/firing capacity coupled with a little lecture about how it would all work out fine because "a wise presiding bishop" would surely consult wisely. (Ironic coming on the heels of the current debacle at GTS, let the buyer beware!)

I thought maybe it was just me  ... but at least some in the twitterverse seemed to agree:

Maybe I'll drop her a line and see if we can clear that one up moving forward.

The final point I'll make was the churchwide meeting did nothing to address the concerns many of us have about diluting the ability of the TEC to speak through General Convention on issues of social justice. The best piece on that was written by my brilliant friend Michael Hopkins. You can read it here. Seriously. Read it. You'll thank me,

But there was one point where the panel responded to a question about that concern with (what I experienced as) a rather dismissive answer about concentrating on "fewer things" in order to speak more emphatically about them. My response:

As Michael noted in his brilliant blog (which you will have read by now from the link above):
In 1976, a GC of some moment, one of the resolutions passed affirmed that gay persons were children of God and equal in receiving the pastoral attention of the church. How did that resolution get there? The short answer is that a movement had begun among members of the church, lesbian and gay, to find one another and seek to organize for mutual support and to work towards ensuring that their visibility as lesbian or gay people in the church could not be called into question.

What is important is that a movement was started. We call it grassroots now, and it was indeed that. But then how do we get from the movement to the resolution of GC? It was the openness of our system. A GC large enough that allies of lesbian and gay people could get elected as deputies, and, within a couple of GC’s, lgbt people themselves. And these people had access to the system, i.e., a resolution process that was relatively easy to initiate and an open hearings policy that allowed people other than deputies and bishops to speak.
And that legacy is not a baby I'm willing to watch get thrown out with the bathwater without a fight. Anybody think for a minute that if we'd had a more "streamlined" General Convention process with a committee that had the power to decide which "few things" we should be dealing with in 1976 -- which you will remember was the year we approved a new prayer book AND the ordination of women to the priesthood -- that we'd have managed to get the debate about whether or not we were children of God to the floor?

Give you a minute on that one. Minute's up.

So those are my thoughts on TREC. Not all of them ... it was, after all, a 2.5 hour event. But at the end of the day (or actually the next day) when the call came out for a "tweet sized recap" of the evening, here's what I came up with:

And a couple of days later ... with some time to reflect ... I'm still there. These are good people who love the Episcopal Church -- who want it to thrive and to grow in mission and ministry -- and who are responding with good will and great energy to the charge they were given in C095.

I'm not going to agree with all their proposals. (Heck -- THEY probably don't agree with all their proposals!) But it will be up to General Convention -- the duly elected representatives (lay, clergy and bishops) of the Episcopal Church -- to consider those proposals, to discuss, debate and amend them -- and make some decisions about some of them in Salt Lake City next summer.

These are not people who have all the answers and are going to fix everything that needs fixing in the Episcopal Church.

And they are not an agenda driven juggernaut focused on undermining western civilization and dismantling the church as we know it.

They are us; and we are all in this together. And I'm grateful for their service.

Onward and upward!


Lionel Deimel said...

I had low expectations for the churchwide meeting, and I was not disappointed.

You noted: “The nice woman who took at stab at it -- Margaret Shannon from Texas -- instead gave a rather defensive reframing of the portion of the Lazarus Letter giving the PB unilateral hiring/firing capacity coupled with a little lecture about how it would all work out fine because ‘a wise presiding bishop’ would surely consult wisely.”

I practically had apoplexy when I heard this explanation. Anyone who tells you the system will work just fine as long as all the actors are virtuous is selling you a bill of goods. We don’t have a system of checks and balances in the U.S. for no reason. Whether you describe people as fallible, imperfect, or sinful, the reality is that people screw up. God has not granted bishops an exception to that fact. What do you conclude about TREC when its members give answers like this?

Paul (A.) said...

The one thing that TREC seems to be clinging to is the concept of General Convention as a "missional convocation", or maybe a both/and. Crowds other than the Deputies and Bishops would join in a missional extravaganza of enlightenment.

But how many churched or unchurched GC outsiders would in fact make the trek to, say, Salt Lake City? I was reading some diocesan journals from the late 19th Century when GC was considering funding travel expenses of Deputies instead of having dioceses do so. It was pointed out that it would cost $25 to travel from New York or New Jersey to a General Convention in Philadelphia, but over $3,000 from Washington or Oregon. How many outsiders would then attend a missional convocation in Philadelphia?

Wouldn't it make more sense to have such "missional convocations" at Province meetings, where more people could attend more locally? And this would also be in line with ideas of dispersal of authority, networking, and dare I say deinstitutionalizing?

Paul (A.) said...

Responsive to Lionel's question, I can only note that when you try to populate a committee with persons removed from the current structure, you will get some proposals that do not take into account the current structure.

For example, the Presiding Bishop is accountable to no one. Canon III.12.9 does not apply to him/her, and the Constitution (Art. I Sec. 3) only contemplates early termination of term by resignation, incapacity, or death. So it is less than ideal to have critical offices of the Church be accountable only to the PB (some of these are already in place; others are proposed by TREC).

TREC's earlier paper described the Executive Council as an interim legislative body, but it is not. It is an interim executive body. Primary accountability of officers should be to it. The PB should be primarily a bishop rather than an executive. That's what we have a COO for. Let the PB chair meetings and spread the Gospel, but rely on the elected Executive Council to run the Church between Conventions.

Lionel Deimel said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Paul (A.).

Lionel Deimel said...

One more thought: TREC seems to want GC to transition into being something else entirely. This is misguided. GC is needed to do certain things, and those things are not compatible with being a missional convocation, whatever that might be.