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TREC discusses its work with the Executive Council

TREC discusses its work with the Executive Council

Episcopal News Service reports from Executive Council on a presentation by the Task Force for Re-imagining the Episcopal Church:

[Episcopal News Service – Chicago, Illinois] One of the co-conveners of the Task Force for Re-imagining the Episcopal Church told Executive Council Oct. 15 that the task force was aiming for “not just a legislative success”; that is, having the 2015 General Convention accept its recommendations.

“The real challenge is actually not in the legislative success; the real challenge is turning the proposals into real action and into a sustained way of working across the church in a way that really meets all of our dreams and visions for what the church should be,” said Co-convener Katy George.

TREC’s work began in July 2012, when General Convention, by way of Resolution C095, called for a task force “to present the 78th General Convention with a plan for reforming the church’s structures, governance, and administration.”

Ms. George was accompanied by the Rev. Dwight Zscheile, who discussed the task force’s vision and identity paper. The Rev. Zscheile has written an influential paper that, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I didn’t find particularly helpful, and that seemed to me to betray a set of personal prejudices against the folks who actually make church governance work, rather than an actual set of ideas about how it could work better. I am suspicious of people who want to lecture us on “the downside of democratic rule,” as the Rev. Zscheile does, and fervently hope that TREC isn’t building toward recommendations that will marginalize lay people in the governance of the church.

But when I read a passage like this one: “Other than those who relish church politics, most Episcopalians approach diocesan conventions and General Convention with apprehension, for coalition politics, parliamentary maneuvering, and divisiveness typically characterize these gatherings.” I don’t say, “Ah, here is someone with fresh new ideas for how the church should do its business.” I say, “Yikes. Here is someone who seems to have no idea how difficult it was to get women into the House of Deputies or into ordained ministry; who has no idea how difficult it was to get Bishop Gene Robinson elected and confirmed; who has no idea how difficult it was to pass canonical protections for transgender people; and who has no idea how close the church came to backtracking in several of those instances.


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barbara snyder

(And again, I have to point out that, as far as I can tell, the current “activist church” is something fairly new.

Prior to this era, most people probably didn’t pay much attention to boring church business, because nobody expected huge changes from year to year. (As far as I can tell, there’s been a dramatic increase in resolutions over time; is that right?)

That’s why everything has happened the way it has; nobody expected such drastic, overnight changes, without warning or notice. That’s why everything has blown up for the past 10 years – and why, I suspect, people are now complaining about General Convention in the way they are.)


Barbara, I hear and appreciate that you’re not saying that individual deputies are responsible for lack of information. I appreciate it especially because I’m one of those deputies (albeit clergy, and not lay; or perhaps you mean lay as opposed to General Convention or Episcopal Church Center staff).

I would observe after a long career in the Episcopal Church that the issues regarding education about General Convention involve several groups, and several failings. In my current diocese each of the last three General Conventions there have been open forum sessions scheduled in different places in the diocese to which all interested were invited. They were invited through the various diocesan tools for communication (both print and electronic) to clergy and to lay leaders (wardens, vestry members, etc). Out of our diocese the total each time was perhaps 50 participants, including deputies. There were also meetings after to share what happened, in addition to a report at diocesan convention. Those were also included in diocesan print communications (it’s only recently that we’ve almost eliminated those in this diocese). There were nightly “dispatches” posted on the diocesan web site, as well as from various folks sent back to congregational web sites. My point isn’t so much to challenge your sense that few people heard. I wonder instead if it wasn’t that many people did hear, and what they heard was displaced by issues and crises more personal and close to home. Indeed, it seemed around here that more attention was paid – even by Episcopalians! – to those wedge issues highlighted by the commercial press than by the much broader (and usually more meaningful and accurate) information shared in various ways from General Convention.

What do people know? Do they know about General Convention? I haven’t encountered an adult Confirmation class that didn’t include it; but, again, was it retained, or was it overwritten by things more immediate?

It seems to me that folks are interested in issues, topics, concerns; but not so interested in the structures through which such things happen. When I hear talking heads including elected officials who don’t understand the import, and the determinative nature, of a decision of the US Supreme Court, I wonder about their high school educations. Did they not take a Civics class? Or, did they not pay attention in it? Or, have they been overtaken, as Scripture says, by “the cares of the world,” so that the seed gets overgrown?

Mostly, I hold myself and other clergy accountable for not keeping people skilled with the tools of the Church, whether the Book of Common Prayer or the structures of General and Diocesan Conventions. They are not perfect tools, nor beyond reform and improvement. At the same time, if we as clergy keep them before our congregations – if we keep them in practice – they are tools that can do a lot for the individual spirit and the corporate expression of all our spirits.

Marshall Scott

barbara snyder

I don’t really think, ladies and gentlemen, that “volunteers” are or should be the people held responsible for the GC informational black hole. After all, General Convention does have both mailing and email addresses, and apparently an entire staff that runs it.

Is it really too much to ask that it send something to the parishes, if not directly to each member, ahead of and perhaps after General Convention once every three years? I can’t imagine that other denominations operate in this way. I mean, this is supposed to be one of the most important things about the Episcopal Church – isn’t it?

Of course, it is true that the church is pretty broke these days; that fact by itself will probably force GC out of business.

John B. Chilton

I can remember the day when the diocesan newspaper came out monthly and it read like a newspaper. It was something that sat on the coffee table or the back of the toilet and you’d pick it up and read it as you would your weekly Time magazine. There was a cohesiveness as dioceses and as a denomination we’ve lost because (1) those newspapers in their bulk and frequency no longer exist, (2) news today comes out as a flow without the kind of prioritizing an editor can do with a periodical, and (3) there’s lots of competition for our eyeballs.

Another thing that’s an issue for the denomination is we have many members who are not lifelong cradle Episcopalians. There are many positive aspects to that trend of course, but a downside is an adult convert often doesn’t get the immersion a child of the church would get. And then there’s the issue that many of our members (and their children) frequently miss a Sunday. It’s like skipping class in college. Even when you’re there you’re missing some of the larger context.

And we have parishes of all flavors that act like the diocese and national church don’t exist. It would be overstated the case, but these parishes a like those churches, Anglican and otherwise, that stumble on the Book of Common Prayer and adopt for their use because they like it.

Jim Naughton

Barbara, I don’t see how anyone who has read the Cafe over the last ten years doesn’t know that we have been involved in a long struggle over LGBT issues and that there was a significant step backward in 2006 (B033) that had to be reversed in 2009, or that we’ve been under great pressure — at convention– from the Church of England to reverse the steps we’ve made in this regard. There has also been plenty of coverage of the fact that we failed to pass a non-discrimination policy to protect transgender people in 2009, but then–after much hard work and organizing–succeed in passing it in 2012. And you assume erroneously if you think that lay people elected by their peers didn’t play a key role in these victories–as did the folks elected by nobody who come to testify at hearings.

I share your wish that the church did a better job of covering its own news, but it is certainly not the fault of lay deputies that the church is now investing its communications resources on other priorities.

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