Study paper on governance by Re-imagine TEC Task Force

The Task Force to Re-imagine the Episcopal Church has released (TREC) its latest study paper. This one is on Reforms to Church Wide Governance and Administration and include

1) suggestions for General Convention: smaller deputations, less legislation, more conversations; 2) changes to the staff and Presiding Bishop’s office, and Executive Council; 3) Reforms of Committees, Commissions, Agencies and Boards. Download pdf here for details:

One TREC Sub-Committee has been focused on drafting concrete proposals for clarifying and reforming the current church wide structures of governance and administration. We offer the following study paper for conversation and feedback from the wider church.

From our first meeting, members of the Task Force for Re-imagining the Episcopal Church have been conscious of at least three often competing impulses inherent in our mandate. First, it has been clear for some time to many in the church that we need to undertake large-scale, adaptive changes in order to most faithfully and effectively proclaim the gospel of Christ and participate in God’s mission in our contemporary cultural context. Second, there are many redundant, inefficient, and simply unclear aspects of our current governance and administrative structures. Third, and perhaps most importantly, structural reform will not save the church or do the work of reaching out to the world in new ways with the transforming good news of the gospel. The church wide structures can, however, help to foster the kind of innovation and adaptation that many understand as critical to the future of The Episcopal Church, and which are already being explored and implemented in many places and at all levels of the church.

Some of these changes to our current structures might seem like an incremental rearranging of deck chairs. We believe, however, that making some of these smaller changes will be a key component to the development of structures at the church wide level that will create the space for the bold innovation and adaptive work that the current moment seems to demand This paper, therefore, offers some rough draft proposals for reforming, clarifying, focusing, and streamlining some of the extant structures. Specifically, we are suggesting technical and clarifying reforms to the General Convention, the Executive Council, the Church Center, and our current system of Commissions, Committees, Agencies, and Boards (CCABs). During the discussions, debates, and drafting of these proposals, we tried to be mindful of the principles that we articulated in our Initial Working Report on Identity and Vision, released last September.

What are your thoughts after reading the report?

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  1. Jeffrey Cox

    No statement on ecumenical sharing.

  2. Jim Hammond

    While our current system is large, it does permit more people to participate in defining and governing the Church. Reducing the size of General Convention by twenty five percent, and of Executive Council by half, if I have read correctly, would make for a more nimble organization to be sure, but it would necessarily make for a less representative Church. I think that would be quite sad.

    The seemingly inexorable move toward a centralization of power vested in a few leaders is something I lament. I tend to favor the third option for the Office of Presiding Bishop wherein she/he can maintain his/her Diocesan role. I also must confess that my feelings would not be hurt if the the word “Primate” were struck from the Office of Presiding Bishop.

    There are many other things about which I am uncertain in the proposals, but the two which are of most concern to me are 1) keeping participation in government of the Church as broad as possible, and 2) limiting the roles of the central leadership. The system is messy, but then all participatory forms of government are messy.

    Jim Hammond


    Winchester, VA

  3. Paul Woodrum

    Why doesn’t the same ax fall on the House of Bishops as that proposed for the Deputies? Not many retired bishops attend so removing their vote is no big deal. Wouldn’t reducing the number of active bishops by 25% be more equitable as well as reduce a tremendous amount of overhead throughout our shrinking church?

  4. Not impressed. I’ve never been impressed with the “nimble” meme from last GC; furthermore, smaller doesn’t necessarily mean more nimble. — I’m of two minds about the reduction of General Convention by 25%; I can see financial merit in the proposal but I’m also aware that there are some touchy interpersonal dynamics that could come into play with 3-person delegations in each order (committees of 3 frequently don’t work well). — The proposal to limit the number of legislative committees may have some merit, but the combinations suggested don’t make sense to me: how is “World Mission” a subset of “Evangelism”? and why combine “International Affairs” with “Urban Affairs”? — Finally, I don’t like any of the proposals regarding the Executive Council. Reducing its size feels like the creation of a curia (with a “hired pope” in one configuration).

  5. tobias haller

    I think there are some very good proposals here, including a few I’ve advanced myself over the last years, such as reducing the size of the HoB and the HoD. I also like the idea of reigning in the types of legislation addressed by GC.

    Sadly, I don’t think much of this is going to fly, as the final decisions to amend the Constitution and Canons rest with the very body that needs reformation. (e.g., I’ve seen the retired bishops issue bounce back and forth more times than I care to recount.)

  6. Well, I did read it. Some things I think worth thinking about, and some not. I have concerns about restricting a priori subjects for resolution to General Convention. As a Church that doesn’t produce study guides or white papers, and that pays attention to the reports of Interim Bodies only in the preparation for General Convention, such resolutions are the primary way that the Church speaks to issues (second being actions of Executive Council, which get, if anything, even less attention). I think empowering legislative committees to meet electronically prior to General Convention can certainly address redundancies and matters dealt with in the past. That said, I would also like citations about how such matters have been dealt with in the past, now that the electronic archives allow access both to past resolutions and to past reports to General Convention (Blue Books).

    Such resolutions and Reports to General Convention are the most extensive way that we hold up specific ministries, or specific focuses for ministry. I’m a member of the Standing Commission on Health; and while I’m not shocked at the suggestion it isn’t necessary, I’m also not to sanquine that the Church will speak with one voice to matters of health and health care if we don’t have one. Having reviewed those topics in past Blue Books, I’ve been struck by how often such issues have been the purview of commissions with broader mandates (notably “Human Affairs and Health”), and how often other “human affairs” displaced consideration of issues of “health.” As we restructure, we need to think clearly about how we will speak as a Church. This is not to remove such issues from discussion at the parish level, but to give folks at the parish level resources, and an understanding that they are part of a larger and related body.

  7. Jack Tull

    I have read the 3 alternatives regarding Executive Council and Church Center Administration and have the following comments:

    In these 3 alternatives the role of the Presiding Bishop is listed in each. We know that our Presiding Bishop is Chief Pastor and a Primate. When the HOB’s select a PB, besides these 2 primary roles do they consider administrative experience. That experience would be key as to the role the PB might play in the administrative functions of the Church. I think it would be interesting to ask our present and past PB’s as to what their thoughts are on administrative responsibilities and do they see a way that a PB who is not strong administratively or wishes to focus on more the pastoral responsibilities of their position still be involved in major decisions by GC or EC that affect the Church. I do not think a Presiding Bishop should continue a tenure as bishop diocesan or bishop suffragan in their diocese as it is not fair to the PB, the diocese or The Episcopal Church. The role of PB is big enough as Chief Pastor and Primate as to require undivided attention.

    I will continue to study the 3 alternatives and other suggestions made by TREC and comment on them on the HOB/HOD List Serve, with our deputation and at GC.

    As having served on 2 legislative committees and a JSC I do believe that whatever work can be done before GC should be done by the legislative committees. They of course would need all resolutions related to their area with no more resolutions being introduced. By the way, in the TREC Study it was mentioned that we have a Consecration of Bishops Legislative Committee which we no longer have in place. The second reading of that canonical change to eliminate that committee was passed in 2012.

  8. Paul Woodrum’s comment about the HoB is interesting. As I understand it, the Church of England has a College of Bishops that includes all bishops. That church’s House of Bishops does not. Perhaps this is a plan TEC should consider.

    I have written a blog post about the GC-related recommendations of the study paper, which can be read here. I find the recommendations a mixed bag.

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