Examining TREC’s proposals to reform General Convention

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I began my first essay blog posting about the paper on governance and administration from the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church by focusing on some aspects that deeply troubled me. This time I’d like to do the opposite. I think this insight is the most important one in the paper:

“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.”

Structural reform isn’t going to save the church, and many of the initiatives that might sustain the church can be undertaken now, before structural reform occurs. That said, the church can do more to raise up and devote resources to what is good, and church governance plays an important role in making that happen.

While I strenuously object to limiting the legislation that General Convention can consider by subject matter, and having an as- yet-undesignated body “screen” social justice legislation, I find some good proposals, as well as some misguided ones among the reforms suggested in the recent paper from TREC.

The TREC paper recommends nine reforms for the General Convention. I have written about the first of these, and am writing a separate post on the second (regarding the Missionary Convocation) so let’s begin at number three.

3. Though some have argued that lower the number of deputies from each diocese from eight to six will reduce the diversity of the House, Tobias Haller has looked at some voting results in recent years and argued that this won’t be the case. I was concerned about this, but he has persuaded me. And if it does, then shame on the electors in individual diocese. This will probably result in some savings and increased efficiency, so I think it is worth a try. (It is probably worth pointing out that diocese currently have the option to send only a single clergy member and a single lay person, though few do.)

4. I am not sure it makes sense to limit the business session of convention to seven legislative days. One of the reasons that the convention is sometimes a rather tense experience is that too much work is crammed into too short a time period. Let’s try working more efficiently, and finding a way to reduce and consolidate the legislation coming before the convention before taking an action that will make life more difficult for everyone in attendance.

5. Allowing legislative committees to meet 90 days before the convention actually convenes probably violates some existing canon, but it makes sense to “identify duplicate resolutions, discard resolutions already acted upon and distribute resolutions that need actions to the appropriate legislative committees.” So I am all in favor of this.

6. The proposal to limit the number of legislative committees is sensible to me, although I think it is supported by an erroneous argument. We won’t reduce the volume of legislation by reducing the number of legislative committees, as the paper contends, but vice versa. I’d propose instead that we have a certain number of standing legislative committees which we know will receive legislation and then populate them in proportion to the legislation that they receive—the bigger the workload, the bigger the committee, in order to provide adequate members to populate subcommittees. For what is it worth, I think the Church Pension committee needs to remain a committee of General Convention. At some point, our financially strapped congregations are going to start asking whether the 17 percent defined benefit pension plan is excessively generous, and the ensuing conversation should be as public as possible. (Before we start asking that, however, it would be nice if we could figure out a way not to pile the clergy who receive these pensions with a crushing burden of student debt.)

7 & 9. Like the authors of this paper, I am in favor of letting resolutions die in committee, and as long as the meetings that legislative committees hold in advance of the convention include a way to the public to be present, I am in favor of that as well.

8. I support the Task Force’s recommendation to reduce the percentage of their annual operating budgets that dioceses are expected to contribute to the larger church from 19 percent to “something closer to the biblical tithe.”

How do these proposals sound to you?

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Ann Fontaine
Guest

Five things that could be done immediately to improve GC --1) make it less clergy centric - with bishops and half the Deputies ordained - I suggest cut the HOB in half and have 2 clergy and 4 lay Deputies.

2)- do not let new deputies speak on the floor and give an intensive course to them in parliamentary procedure - they mostly ask questions about things they could find out from others in their Deputation. Half the time of GC is taken up by irrelevance.

3): Do not have general sessions until there is legislation to act upon (committee work only for the first few days) - having early sessions gives people the feeling that they have forever - and they say the same thing at the mic over and over. Unless you can make a new point - don't talk.

4): have table groups to discuss resolutions - deputations could talk to those around them - then vote. Rarely is anyone's mind changed on the floor from a speech.

5) Joint sessions for all but a few things, No secret meetings or executive sessions - if you can't speak publicly - be silent.

These are my thoughts after 9 GCs - 4 as a Lay Deputy and 5 as a Clergy Deputy. But they are thoughts I suggested after the first one. Not much has changed.

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Maureen Shea
Guest
Maureen Shea

While there is much that is out-of-date and in need of change in the church, I think it important to say that unfortunately, much of what I saw that was dysfunctional related to performance and accountability, failure to enforce rules and uphold guidelines, i.e. not things restructuring necessarily addresses.

That said, regarding the specific proposals: The draft changes to the way in which social justice resolutions are handled at General Convention appear to neglect our Baptismal covenant to “do justice” and our democratic history in favor of a fix that is lacking in transparency and doesn’t necessarily address the present problems.

Establish a screening process to permit only the most important Resolutions addressing the Church’s position on social justice issues.

This proposal is so vague that it is hard to even know how to address it - who would establish the process, how would it work, and who defines “important?” And why only the Resolutions dealing with social justice?

Empower a legislative committee to:

- Meet 90 days before GC to identify duplicate resolutions, discard resolutions already acted upon and distribute resolutions that need actions to the appropriate legislative committees.

- Decide what Resolutions will be allowed after the 90-day pre-GC cut-off deadline.

I am not sure what mechanism is envisioned to enforce this proposal. A process to eliminate duplication was supposed to be in place for each committee when I served, but it was ignored. Is this a special legislative committee that is going to direct the other committees? What is meant by “meet?’ What is the criteria for deciding which Resolutions will be allowed after the cut-off date?

To help achieve the goal of reducing the number of Resolutions by a large factor, reduce the number of legislative committees from 25 to 12 and reduce the number of members by a factor of one-third.

It is not clear how reducing the number of legislative committees reduces the number of Resolutions; it is simply reducing the number of places Resolutions can be considered and thus adding to the work of each committee. Combining National and International and Social and Urban is a sensible proposal.

Proposals 5 and 9 read as if they should be combined into one and clarified, but there is neither accountability nor transparency.

CCABs

It appears that there would be no CCAB relating to social justice issues, as if the only areas of importance are internal. There is great need for reform of CCABs and many of the proposals make sense, but if you are serious about proclaiming the gospel of Christ and fulfilling God’s mission, how do you not address social justice?

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Jim Naughton
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Jim Naughton

Jeffrey, I wouldn't be surprised if some of the issues you raise weren't discussed in future papers. I don't know that for a fact, but I think it is possible.

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Jeffrey Cox
Guest
Jeffrey Cox

No ecumenical sharing of resources with ecumenical partners. No sharing of office space and administrations with ELCA. No specific outcomes projected in the report.

I know that people like to fly around and have a great time. However, does a diocese with 30 churches can afford sending so many delegates?

When will there be serious conversation about merging dioceses?

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