We don’t have text we can post yet, but several of us here at the Café have read a resolution that has been submitted to General Convention calling for the establishment of a unicameral governing system. The new house would consist of diocesan bishops, bishops co-adjutor and suffragan bishops; two clergy deputies and two lay deputies from each diocese. The presiding officer would be a bishop chosen by the bishops eligible to vote at the convention and approved by the deputies.
Under the new system, clergy and lay deputies would not be counted as separate orders, but as a single order of “deputies.” Hence, while a majority of bishops could still effectively kill any piece of legislation, on a vote by orders, majorities of clergy or lay people could not.
The explanation of the legislation, which is sponsored by Bishop Lawrence Provenzano of Long Island and several other bishops reads:
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 a 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 and time we accomplish very little in the way of sustainable mission strategies and program.
We minister in a very different environment from that of our founders, 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 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.