Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies, sent a letter to Deputies and First Alternates regarding the “model resolution” proposed to the House of Bishops by Bishop Stacy Sauls, chief operating officer of the Episcopal Church. Here is the text:
September 30, 2011
Dear Deputies and First Alternates,
This week I have received calls and emails from deputies and deputations regarding the model resolution calling for a special meeting of General Convention and the creation of a special commission to address issues of church structure and governance presented to the House of Bishops recently by Bishop Stacy Sauls, the church’s new chief operating officer. What follows are some of my thoughts on this matter.
In my opening remarks to the Executive Council in February, 2011, I called for Executive Council’s Joint Standing Committee on Governance and Administration for Mission to review the work of various standing commissions, committees and task forces and coordinate the efforts by these groups who are working on “structural change proposals for the Church”. As a result, Executive Council, by resolution, directed the Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church, which has a canonical mandate to “study and make recommendations concerning the structure of the General Convention and of the Church” (Canon I.1.2(10)), to hold an in-person consultation with representatives of these groups. The consultation was held in June. The results of the consultation and the resolutions it generated will be presented for consideration to deputies and bishops at the 77th General Convention in July, 2012, in Indianapolis.
The topic of structural change is important to our church. Whether it requires a special meeting of the General Convention, in addition to our usual triennial gathering is not entirely clear to me. What is clear is the ability of the General Convention to deal successfully with complex and emotionally charged issues in its regular meetings. Within the last 35 years, we have conducted extensive debate and voted to ordain women to the priesthood, revise our Title IV disciplinary canons, and combat institutional racism- within the church and beyond. Recent conventions have included intense and respectful conversations about the full inclusion of lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the church. It does not seem to me that the work of restructuring the church is demonstrably more difficult than tasks that the General Convention has already completed, especially since the House of Deputies modeled a productive means of conducting demanding conversations by convening for a time as a Committee of the Whole at the 76th General Convention.
We want any changes we recommend to be timely and carefully considered, but it may not be necessary to assign this important work to a special commission, as the model resolution would compel us to do. The reason we have no clarity on this is that we have not had time to consider the question as a House. Nor have we seen the other proposals that will come forward on the topic of restructuring God’s Church. We have not heard one another’s wisdom on this issue. We need to move forward fully informed, equipped with the insights we gain from each other, considering all the options and not taking a “position” until we have had that opportunity. We need to have a conversation about mission first, before we change structures to enable our doing mission. All the structural changes in the world will not help us if our mission is poorly defined, or poorly understood. So I ask you to give some thought to this question: What is mission and what does it mean to us?
I am very glad that Bishop Sauls has joined me, the Executive Council and the Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church in encouraging conversations between bishops and deputies and all Episcopalians regarding change in the structure of God’s church. Make no mistake about it; our Church, our country, and our world are experiencing significant change. For the sake of God’s church, and the poor we serve, we are compelled to adapt intelligently. We need to slow down, and not seek easy answers. We need to rely on the Holy Spirit to be with us in our deliberations now and when we convene in July.
You are in my daily thoughts and prayers, as we look toward our time together in Indianapolis.
President, The House of Deputies