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Two bloggers underwhelmed by TREC report on networks

Two bloggers underwhelmed by TREC report on networks

The Task Force for Re-imaging the Episcopal Church released a paper on the role of networks in the Episcopal Church two weeks ago. There hasn’t been an outpouring of response (mine is here), but much of what has been written has been negative, indicating a discomfort with both the language and the reasoning in the paper.

The Rev. Adam Trambley of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania who blogs at Black Giraffe writes:

I am initially disappointed by the length and difficulty in reading the study paper. For example, I don’t really understand why we need an entire treatise on sin in this document. Certainly all of our networks, ecclesiastical and otherwise, have fallen short of the glory of God, but so much energy is taken up by going down background rabbit holes that I couldn’t even bring myself to read the entire paper the first two times I looked at it. I can’t help but wonder how many interested people never found the time to wade through the document in the midst of the rest of their lives.

My more serious criticism is that the document doesn’t seem to have a sense of why networks exist. Networks exist because people want to accomplish something and they decide a network is the best way to do it. If a centrally organized top-down network is effective, that is chosen. If a loose spoke-less network makes sense, they go with that option. If people need more social interaction, a model that involves cocktail parties is selected. If people want to compare saints in a way that lets thousands cast ballots for one over another, we get a web-based Lent Madness. No type of network is necessarily better than another or theologically privileged. A good network is one that accomplishes its goals, and a better network is one that accomplishes its goals more effectively. TREC’s four-tiered system may be an interesting description of different types networks, but their sense of hierarchy among them is not helpful.

The Rev. Tom Ferguson of Bexley Seabury Theological Seminary, who blogs at Crusty Old Dean writes:

Crusty is just flummoxed by TREC’s understanding of “change.” They assert that we can’t sit back and wait for usual demographic changes to transform us. They trot out just the kind of trendy corporate example that they say the church shouldn’t be imitating in Steve Jobs, noting Jobs at first didn’t know how to get past resistance from people to using keyboards on computers, but that he eventually decided that younger people would come along and use them, and thus a tide of demographic change would transform the industry. The Episcopal Church can’t rely on that, TREC says. To which Crusty says, So what? True, we can’t wait for a tidal wave of younger people to come along and transform the church, because the church skews ridiculously old and is resistant to change. Yet is there no other way to work with change in the church than to be transformed by demographic tidal waves? What would it take to invite what younger Episcopalians there are in the church truly to co-create the structures that will be needed in a future church, instead of a bunch of old people pondering what structures we need to reimagine for “them”?

What do you think of the paper and of these responses?

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Jim Naughton

Adam Wood, I agree entirely with your most recent comment and with your list. I think that's just it. To me, then, TREC's job is to make the governance of the church possible in a way that helps provide for these and a few other necessary things, while leaving as much of the church's financial capacity in the parishes and dioceses as possible.

Adam Trambley, I think you have outlined the right questions for TREC to be pursuing. And you are right, it isn't easy, but in most ways it is straightforward.

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Adam Trambley

Jim, I agree with you that there isn't a whole group of people out there ready to storm the doors (I wish I didn't, but I do). To me that makes it more important that we figure out how to let the insiders we have spend their resources (money, energy passion) on things that matter to them. For me the answer isn't so much about new anything, but looking at what we have, asking hard questions about who is invested in any particular network and what is its purpose. If we don't have a good answer, let's eliminate it and free up our people to focus on our work that is effective. Pretty straightforward, but not easy, which is why I think we need TREC's engagement here.

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Adam Wood

Moving the old out of the way will not do it. That would just let the organization collapse further.

What is needed from the organization is:

-permission

-training

-inspiration

-leadership

The most-recent Bishop in my diocese (which has its own host of problems) said to me in a meeting: "People have got to stop waiting for the guy in the big hat to give them permission. You already have it!"

What I wish I had said was: "You have to tell them that. There's no way they would know if you don't tell them."

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Jim Naughton

I'd really like to join Liz and Adam in believing that if we just abandoned old ways and trusted in new ways and new people we'd be happily surprised by the results. But I don't see much evidence on which to base this hope. In my experience, there isn't institutionally suppressed creativity on the grassroots. There is, in most places, a lack of capacity, a lack of confidence, and an incomplete understanding of how the church governs itself now or how it should govern itself in the future. If we labor under the impression that getting Group A out of the way of Group B will unleash a tide of renewal, I think we are likely to be disappointed.

The problem with what TREC has produced to date, in my eyes, is not that too many of its members are insiders, but that too many are clueless of how churches work, or can work.

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Adam Wood

>>I wonder if having a traditional task force with a traditional path to the goal and traditional ways to gather feedback -- a traditional paradigm keeps us from really breaking out of what we've always done and prevents us from seeing the greater possibilities.

---------

BINGO

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