Bishop Pierre Whalon takes a long look at the structure of the Episcopal Church, and ventures a few opinions on the sorts of changes that might be necessary in an essay at Anglicans Online. He writes:
Start with the local congregation. We can and we should add new models to our definition of “parish” and “mission church.” In Europe we have been experimenting with this, necessity being the mother of invention in a missionary situation. The swift changes in the landscape of American church life also demand a new flexibility in congregational organization, while retaining the substance of our identity as Anglicans overall, and Episcopal Christians in particular.
The definition of a diocese and specifically, the office of bishop, are also a center of reforming interest. … Does the particularity of our polity require so many dioceses? How does this age’s great game-changer, the Internet, figure in?
The General Convention itself needs rethinking. Some are calling for consideration of a unicameral body, like our full-communion partner, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Its enormous size (888 deputies and almost 300 eligible bishops) and expense certainly need to be trimmed: the representation and resultant expenditure should be proportional to the need to meet.
The office of President of the House of Deputies has recently expanded in its scope from being the legislative officer presiding at triennial meetings of the Convention. What should be the duties of the office, given that we continue not to pay a salary to the President of the House?
The Presiding Bishop’s office is another focus of attention. The present Presiding Bishop has been criticized for seeming to take more responsibilities than the office allows, specifically with respect to dealing with the property disputes above. … But it is precisely when there is crisis that a central authority needs to intervene. How to define that?
The Executive Council meets between General Conventions to conduct the business of the Church. Its president is the Presiding Bishop, and the vice-president is the President of the House of Deputies. It functions like a board of trustees, yet with 38 elected members, reforms also should be considered. The Treasurer and Secretary of Convention are elected by Convention. So with the Council, we have five centers of elected authority, each with a staff — on whose desk should the buck stop?
What are your thoughts? I find myself wondering lately if it would be more beneficial for the structure task force to take a fresh look at the entire Episcopal operation, rather than diving straight in to the mechanics of our governance. I don’t just want them to help us reorganize–although reorganization is necessary–I want them to help us rethink what we should be doing and how we should be doing it. All the issues that Bishop Whalon outlines need to be dealt with, but if these are the only issues that we deal with, I am afraid we will end up with a more efficient church that does the same things, only in a more cost effective way.