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Re-imagining the Episcopal Church – report from the committee

Re-imagining the Episcopal Church – report from the committee

The Task Force for Re-imagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) has issued its first report of its work:

A Letter from Deputies Jen Adams and Tom Little

September 20, 2013

Dear Deputies:

As you may remember, the Taskforce for Reimagining The Episcopal Church (TREC) was created by Resolution C095 of the 77th General Convention in July of 2012. Its dual mandate is to (a) reimagine The Episcopal Church and (b) present a plan to the 78th General Convention for reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and administration “to facilitate this church’s faithful engagement of Christ’s mission…in a way that maximizes the resources available for that mission at all levels of the church.”

As two deputies who are members of TREC, we are writing to update you on TREC’s work and ask for your comments, ideas and support in our upcoming churchwide engagement process. Today two bishops who are members of TREC–Bishop Andy Doyle and Bishop Sean Rowe–are providing a similar update to the House of Bishops at its meeting in Nashville.

Identity and Vision: Comments Requested

TREC believes that the Holy Spirit has led The Episcopal Church to a unique moment in our history, one in which we have an extraordinary opportunity to reform our structures and systems in order to participate better in God’s mission and proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom in a rapidly changing domestic and global context.

TREC began by discerning a set of principles to our work and by engaging the broader church, and we have tapped into significant research and writing on this topic to inform our thinking on the following questions:

¦ Who are we as Episcopalians? What is our particular identity?

¦ How is Episcopal identity being expressed and renewed in the context of the 21st century?

¦ How has our churchwide organization evolved, and does the current paradigm best support our identity and calling in today’s context?

¦ What do we need from a churchwide organization today and going forward?

In our discussions, it has become clear that any proposal for structural reforms must be grounded in a clear understanding of Episcopal identity and in a clearly articulated vision of what churchwide structures are for–how they best support the church in its work of engaging God’s mission.

A TREC working group, with the consensus of the entire task force, has completed a working draft of a paper titled “Initial Working Report on Identity and Vision,” which is available on our website. We encourage you to share your comments with us by visiting the TREC Website and/or the TREC Facebook page. The Identity and Vision paper is a living document, and we will regularly update and develop it through our discussions with fellow Episcopalians in the coming months. Our hope is that this paper, as well as the conversations that continue to shape it, will ultimately inform the specific proposals for reform that TREC will submit to the 78th General Convention.

On our Facebook page, we have posted a July 16, 2013 summary of our July meetings. We also commend the Episcopal News Service July 25 story about our work.

A TREC work group has been diligently developing proposals to change the structure and processes of TEC governance in keeping with the themes of the “Initial Working Report on Identity and Vision.” These areas of church governance include General Convention and the legislative process; Executive Council; the interim committees, commissions, agencies and boards known as CCABs; and the corporate and administrative structures of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and of the Episcopal Church Center.

Engagement Process: Coming Soon

To inform the Church of TREC’s work to date and to facilitate TREC being informed by all voices in the Church at all levels, we are now poised to launch a church-wide engagement process. TREC has developed an “Engagement Kit” that will be available in early October to facilitate engagement in small, medium and large groups, in person and online. We expect that the engagement process will go viral, and plan that all engagement input and learnings will flow to TREC for discernment and reflection and will inform further and refined proposals consistent with the TREC mandates.

The theme of the engagement kit is “What can you imagine for The Episcopal Church?” The kit will present simple, thought- and prayer-provoking guides for engagement. The House of Bishops will spend time at its meetings this week doing a version of the engagement process.

Members of TREC (including us, our fellow deputy Judith Conley, and recent deputies the Rev. Craig Loya and the Rev. Marianne Ell) encourage each of you to pursue engagement on whatever level you find works the best for you and your congregation/diocese/province. When TREC rolls out the kit in early October, you will see training materials for group engagements and for interviews. We expect, too, that you will find creative ways of expanding the engagement process as you see fit in your own Church context. Please remember to follow up with TREC so that what you learn in this process can be digested and shared with the whole Church.

Those familiar with the full text of Resolution C095 may notice that TREC has not announced the in-person, churchwide consultation described in the resolution. This is driven by the cost of such an engagement (estimated to be at least $300,000), and the fact that the entire triennial budget for TREC is $200,000. TREC is exploring fund-raising with a churchwide consultation in mind.

Our goal is to continue to share as much of our thinking and working process as we can. Ultimately, any effective and faithful proposal for structural change in the church must involve as many voices as possible in the discernment. As your colleagues in the House of Deputies, we are grateful to you for your ongoing engagement with our work.

We are grateful for the honor of serving on this task force and look forward to hearing from all of you as we work together to re-imagine our Church.

Key findings for the future from the Report.

V. What Do We Need from a Churchwide Organization? Evolving Our Paradigm

A new paradigm for Episcopal Church organization must be rooted in our identity. The identity markers defined in the first section have implications for the church’s structure and organization, which we might begin to outline as follows:

• Structure should foster a shared identity and sense of community, while resisting attempts to unduly narrow the church’s life and witness. This is a key overarching organizational principle.

• Structure honors and fosters a diversity of cultural expressions. Structure allows for centralized, decentralized, and distributive models of community life and mission. While maintaining clarity about organization, it should make room for new expressions and support new collaborations.

• In order that the sacraments may be accessible in the world, structure fosters mission: growth, creativity, innovation, and exploration; where it does not it is reformed.

• Structure encourages new liturgical expressions for mission rooted in the Anglican tradition and creates accessibility to a wide variety of materials for prayer and song.

• Structure fosters contextual engagement and enables regional and global collaboration on challenges that face the diverse communities of The Episcopal Church.

• Structure is organizationally lean for the new age of mission. Budgetary, canonical, and structural simplicity allow for ongoing adaptation and change. The church’s structure supports the work of God’s mission of reconciliation through evangelism and service.


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Is there a word about making the Church a safe, open place for spiritual and intellectual growth? I think I remember that, on average, we are one of the better educated denominations. To better do evangelism and service, don’t our hearts have to be bonded with and supported by a loving community, our minds stimulated and made new by both old and new insightful ways of understanding the Gospel, and our souls enlarged by growing in discernment of the works of the Spirit. In short, you can’t have service and evangelism without underlying, and continuing, spiritual formation. Well, that’s how it looks to me, anyway. And people are hungry for authentic spirituality.

Kay Wisniewski

Ann Fontaine

Read the next story about Nadia Bolz-Weber – this is how change will come – encouraging creativity. See also the interview with Krista Tippet from the Café last week.

Jim Naughton

Mike, there was nothing top-down about the CREDO research. It was good solid social science.

I think I agree that paradigms don’t evolve. Although one person’s paradigm is just another person’s path of least resistance.

Michael Russell

Paradigms don’t evolve. Existing paradigms fail more and more and outliers come to work within the turbulence of these contradictions to find a new theory whose utility in organizing a greater swath of observations makes more people go aha.

The proponents of the existing paradigm fight to maintain it, the revolutionaries fight to overthrow it, and nearly everyone is surprised by the newly emergent paradigm.

This is the struggle of the moment. Even this paper is written in the turgid prose of 815speak that I suppose some find profound because of its density. Jim suggests that for the Identity section they have tapped into previous CREDO work. That is the most frightening comment he makes.

Once again a top down, existing institutional shape has already been imposed. The outliers will be invited to engage about something. Why didn’t they start by engaging grassroots about the identity question?

They have already decided the identity question. I am appalled that they didn’t crowd source that discussion as their starting point and see what emerged from the pews.

I hope I am wrong, but I expect nothing exciting to come from this work.

Jeffrey Cox

I am disappointed about the report. Again, it was written by a theological professor to give a generic response to a tremendous problem. Here are some short answers that would help.

*Call on the DFMS to work with breakaway diocese to form a common understand of mission and ministry that is extra-legal. This would involve alternative Anglican representation with linkages to ECUSA insurance, mission, camping, and pension systems. Initially, it would feel like a loss. A reunion would happen over time. God calls us to be patient.

*Reduction on both national and regional structures. We need less governance that has little output. Yes, the church ends a human resource system for clerical deployments. Ours is too diocesan instead of nationally focused. If the monies that dioceses have in deployment officers could be better regionalize, there would be a better system.

*What is the ECUSA going to do with the 50 percent of churches that are not sustainable with full-time clergy. How does this effect sacramental ministry? Does the ECUSA utilize lay ministry as the United Methodists do with local pastors?

*Does the ECUSA have too many seminaries? Is General Seminary sustainable in its current format?

*What is the role of the laity? Diaconate? Priest? Bishops?

*Do we have an ecumenical vision for robust sharing with our partners?

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