Bp Larry Provenzano, the bishop of Long Island, has something to say about the structure questions facing the Episcopal Church. Taking a cue from a presentation given to his diocese earlier this year that “Eisenhower is dead”, meaning that the centralized, corporate, model for church government that came to full bloom in the 1950’s is no longer useful, he is suggesting that the bicameral structure of General Convention, created during the time of the first Presiding Bishop needs to be discarded.
“For a very long time, our bicameral system was seen as the church in council. It was understood as a fair representation of the church and it created an atmosphere of shared ecclesial decision-making that honored the voices and opinions of all the baptized. As a structure for a uniquely American denomination it provided representative governance that worked well for a church ministering in a culture where conditions were similar from one triennium to the next.
To all involved in the mission and ministry of the church today, it is clear that this system is failing us, failing the mission of the church. The reasons why are many. It is too expensive. There are too many people involved and invested in the power that comes from deep and cumbersome organization that has become increasingly bureaucratic. Even among much larger denominations that gather in convention-style deliberation, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church is the largest gathering by far and the most costly. General Convention can no longer claim to be the church in council in its ancient and ecclesial form when it looks and acts more like the national conventions of political parties. And for all of this expense, time, and seemingly necessary inclusion, we accomplish very little in the way of sustainable mission strategies and program.
As a bishop of the church I believe it is time to declare that William White is Dead. We minister in a very different environment from that of William White, in which the pace of change calls for a nimble church able to easily adapt. Bureaucracies are anything but nimble which is why they are only effective in fairly stable conditions. It is time to set ours aside. The bicameral system needs to be replaced with a unicameral General Convention that meets in sacred council to consider the mission of the church, its programs and budget.
It is time to gather in one place with laity, clergy and bishops meeting together, praying together, talking and listening together and working together for the mission of the church. The unicameral convention could meet for five solid days, once every two years, with debate and prayerful conversation being exchanged in a common space in which the concept of sacred council could prevail. We may discern that certain decisions require the majority of both deputies and bishops to provide balance and shared authority, but the votes would come following the open, fair and prayerful discernment of a body that met together as one in council. The core of the business of the convention, however, should be decisions about our mission. A simple majority in a single house enables an agile response to our principle concern.
I would propose that deputations be limited to two clergy and two laity from each diocese, and only bishops with jurisdiction – both diocesan & suffragan. This new form of General Convention would be chaired, as any diocesan convention would be, by the Presiding Bishop, with the aid of members of Executive Council.”
There are a number of implications to this proposal. It would effectively enhance the power of the bishop’s votes. It would make it easier to have a split diocesan vote in a vote by orders thus effectively raising the bar that a successful vote would have to surmount. It might save money and reduce some complexity, but it would also mean that most if not all deputies would be more busy with legislative committee work in the early parts of Convention. It would increase the power of Executive Council.
But this proposal isn’t all that different from others that have been floated online recently. So what do you all think? Good idea? Needs work? How would you change it?