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How do we see the changes that are needed?

How do we see the changes that are needed?

by Jim Papile


A decade or so ago Trinity Church Wall Street offered a once in a lifetime program for clergy on leadership.  Innovative thinkers from places like the Harvard School for Public Policy came to share cutting edge ideas.  One of the central components of the program was the work of Ron Heifetz, especially his use of Adaptive and Technical to understand change efforts.  This came to mind as I was reading a New York Times opinion piece by Tom Friedman about the “complex adaptive coalition” which is revitalizing places like Lancaster, PA.


Being on the eve of the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church I would like to recommend a reading, or for some a re-reading of both the article and the work of Heifetz.  I believe there is much to ponder here.


Here’s a quick reminder (my language).

Looking for quick solutions.
Driven by Experts.
Divide problem into components.
Provide answers.

Long term introspection
Input from all concerned
“Big tent” thinking
Look for better questions


Serving as a deputy to General Convention from the Diocese of Virginia during the previous five gatherings, it is my sense that the convention format as we know it lends itself strongly to the technical side.  Voting on such important issues as current immigration policy, or the treatment of Palestinians in Israel, or prison reform, or racial and gender full inclusion may give us a feeling of accomplishment, but what really changes?  Many of these issues have been voted on convention after convention.  Have we dealt with the issue of shrinking, aging congregations?  Have we talked about what could make the Church more relevant to the outside world?

I found that the most exciting and hopeful gatherings at the past few conventions were people coming together at the end of day’s business, off the floors of the houses of Bishops and Deputies.  Freed from the constraints of assigned seats and Rules of Order, I have witnessed imaginative and, most importantly, exciting ideas.  Conversely, overloaded agendas, crowded schedules mixing social and business, and exhaustion has forced those involved into technical thinking patterns.


I remember that just a few conventions ago the first several days of deliberation were consumed by teaching the House of Deputies how to vote electronically.

But having said this I have also seen glimpses of hope.  In recent conventions there has been an impetus to bring the two houses closer together, both in legislation and in spirit.  Where there was once a distinct sense of us versus them there is now a feeling of togetherness.  So where might this lead us?


General Convention officially has started; the legislative agenda is essentially set.  Maybe there’s not a lot that can change in Austin in the next two weeks.  Still, let me encourage you if you are going, in whatever capacity, to take the time to find those small adaptive groups. The ones meeting after the busy days of worship, serving on committees, and deciding legislation.  Ask the hard questions, keep telling yourselves that everyone, inside and outside of the room has a piece of the puzzle to share.

The Rev. Jim Papile
Diocese of Virginia, retired


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Canon Rod Gillis

Hi Folks. Keeping you all in prayer during your General Convention. In fact, I thought of you yesterday in conjunction with the final line from Amos in the daily Eucharist lectionary (Canada): ” But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream”. I know that you know the verse and its social application well. I am sure your PB will one of the persons who will continue to provide the leadership that will keep you focused on living waters rolling forward into God’s future. Blessings to you all. Thank you so much for your gifts to our Anglican Communion, not least of which is one of the often forgotten gifts of the Holy Spirit–courage.

Prof Christopher Seitz

It is fairly staggering that the number one pressing issue, nowhere in dispute, is sustainability. TEC is a church of shrinking, aging, and difficult-to-resource congregations. 69 per cent with under 100. Amortizing this in the light of baptism rates and newcomers is not very hard.

It is as if being intensely concerned with other ‘more important’ issues also serves the purpose of changing the subject and keeping up a kind of morale amongst progressives.

One can pray that good minds will attend to how TEC can move into the next decades given these demographic realities on the ground. It will take some very hard-headed thinking. When seminaries struggle–Bexley, GTS, EDS, SSW, CDSP, Seabury–they die or merge or do whatever they can. That is happening less publically but more virulently at the parish level.

Mary Anne Chesarek

At last, someone recognizes the futility of arguing about what Israel should do about the Palestinians, while we dwindle down. Israel is another country and I doubt they’ll consult the 1.9 million Episcopalians when they decide to work on their political problems. Yes, divest if you like, but don’t waste General Convention time passing feel-good resolutions. If our denomination is to survive, we need to make some sweeping changes, which may involve minding our own business.

Philip B. Spivey

There are 1.9 million Episcopalians living in a constitutional democracy (for the time being) and over 5 million Palestinians living under the rule of apartheid. Does your viewpoint represent “Big Tent” thinking ?

Mary Anne Chesarek

I have great sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians and pray for a lasting, just solution in Israel. But General Conventions are very expensive and expending time and money on a problem about which most Episcopalians can do little does not seem productive. So write your Congressman, picket Netanyahu speeches, divest your portfolio of stocks that support the status quo there, whatever you think might help. But use GC time to look at how to sustain small congregations (especially in the west, where consolidating parishes might put you in a parish 100 miles away). TEC does indeed try to be a Big Tent organization, but we may not have enough stakes to hold the tent up.

Philip B. Spivey

And what other social concerns should Convention excise from its agenda to make more time for itself?

Prof Christopher Seitz

Time for itself? How blinkered. Unless you believe a disappearing and non-missional TEC is somehow noble in making global pronouncements. These are not made-problems TEC is facing. I think the HOB at least gets that. 45% of dioceses have under 4000 ASA.

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