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What good are Standing Commissions?

What good are Standing Commissions?

The Rev Susan Snook asks some good questions about the need for Standing Committees of General Convention:

I’ve just returned from a gathering in St. Louis of the Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards of The Episcopal Church, where some 200-250 people gathered to advance the work of the church. I serve as the Executive Council liaison to the Standing Commission on Mission and Evangelism (SCME), and I found myself in the room with some very bright and passionate people. … This group was ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work empowering Episcopal evangelism and mission. When you gather so many talented people together, it is always an opportunity for synergy, for the Holy Spirit to begin to blow.

Yet we immediately ran into a roadblock, and that was the very nature of our mandate. Pay attention here, Restructure Task Force Players-to-be-Named-Later, because I heard a similar frustration coming from members of at least four other CCABs. That frustration is this: CCABs are not actually supposed to DO anything. All we are supposed to do is think up ideas and draft legislation for the next General Convention to approve or reject. Here is the stated mandate of the SCME:

CANON I.1.2(n) (4) A Standing Commission on the Mission and Evangelism of The Episcopal Church. It shall be the duty of the Commission to identify, study and consider policies, priorities and concerns as to the effectiveness of The Episcopal Church in advancing, within this Church’s jurisdictions, God’s mission to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ, including patterns and directions for evangelism, Church planting, leadership development, and ministries that engage the diversity of the Church’s membership and the communities it serves, and to make recommendations to General Convention. …

Get it? You gather a group of bright, talented leaders in the church, experts in their various fields, representing the diversity of the church in age, ethnicity, ordination status, etc., get them excited about a particular area of mission, and then tell them they can’t actually DO anything. You pay $1,100 per person for an in-person meeting of hundreds of people, to be repeated at least once and maybe more during the triennium, and the end product of all this work is … The Blue Book?

Snook raises questions that many of us have had when serving on these commissions – may the church pay attention now that money is forcing us to hear.

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Susan Snook

Hi Marshall, I remember meeting you in St. Louis. I am glad that your commission found a way to do some additional non-legislative work despite the rules, and I’m sure that will be beneficial to all. However, wouldn’t it make sense if we didn’t have to find ways to stretch the mandate to make good and sensible ministry fit and be allowed? If we were empowered to do ministry that is not appropriately a matter for legislation? You mention the liturgy for same-sex couples that the SCLM created. Along with that came some resources for pre-blessing counseling of couples. This is an example of something that is useful and helpful, but should not be legislated – no priest should be mandated to use one particular counseling resource. But the SCLM couldn’t just create something and make it available – it had to propose it as legislation. This does not seem helpful to me. Let them create helpful resources, but differentiate between the ones that need to be legislated (like the blessing rite itself) and the ones that don’t (like a curriculum and session outlines for pre-blessing counseling). This is an example of legislative overreach that I believe follows directly from the CCABs’ limited mandate.

Susan Snook

mscottsail

Tom, your point is well taken, too. And I really do appreciate that you are the one to decide (in appropriate context) what is needed in your congregation.

Marshall Scott

Tom Sramek Jr

Marshall: Your point is well taken. However, as we have a very part-time Parish Administrator and a VERY part-time organist, the resolutions you mention don’t apply. We have done nothing differently in our congregation as a result of General Convention resolutions, with the possible exception of reporting on them.

And, yes, I may have overstated things, but to use your metaphor of building–it often seems like we have a lot of foundation stones (resolutions) and precious little building on them! As a church, we seem to spend a lot of time, money, and energy on such “stones” and then we’re so tired we can’t do anything with them.

mscottsail

Susan, I was also in St. Louis, in the Commission on Health. I think we had a broader view of what it could mean “to develop policy.” We discussed the Report to General Convention that each CCAB produces as a teaching opportunity, and an opportunity to share resources. We thought about all the resources that the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music provided for blessing couples.

We also discovered that materials we share for our own use can be cross-posted on the Commission’s web pages on the General Convention web site. Resources shared there can come up in Google searches. So, not only can we share resources in for the next General Convention, we can also share them between now and then. (If you want that information for your Commission, get in touch with me through my blog site or through the GCO Extranet).

We are also planning a joint meeting with two other Commissions with which we share overlapping interests. We hope that working together we can produce better resolutions, more appropriate for where we will be from 2015 forward than simply from 2012 to 2015. Obviously, I think there’s plenty of latitude for useful work from a Commission beyond appropriate resolutions.

And, Brother Tom, if your parish life hasn’t been affected by the resolutions that at least intend to establish good health and retirement benefits for Church employees, including parity between clergy and lay employees, you haven’t be paying attention. I know some of our resolutions are esoteric. However, some of our Church statements on ministry to various groups are there for you to build on, any time you think it’s part of where you need to lead your congregation.

Marshall Scott

Susan Snook

I certainly agree that legislation is vital to achieve some things. Further down in my post, not quoted in the summary above, I wrote the following:

“There ARE things that legislation is vital to achieve. Ordination of women, a process for Title IV disciplinary proceedings, ordination requirements, blessing of same-sex unions, revision of the prayer book (but please God, not anytime soon!), funding and budgets – all these are vital issues of church policy that our legislature should decide. Legislation is necessary to decide what the rules are, what the boundaries are, how much money we have, and what we are NOT allowed to do.”

It certainly is important to have legislative processes to accomplish these things, and this should be one role of the CCABs. However, not everything needs to be done by legislation, and General Convention should not have to decide on something three years from now AND assign the authority to put it into action, before it can occur. If you have a group of leaders gathered who are passionate about a subject, expert in that subject, and trusted enough to be appointed by the presiding officers, then their mandate should extend further than ONLY writing legislation. Sure, maybe there could be approval processes, like, say, Executive Council or some other official authority, but requiring General Convention legislation as the ONLY possible outcome of a CCAB’s work just stifles ministry that doesn’t need to be legislated. We have gotten so caught up in our processes and need for permission-giving and control that we have not allowed gifted leaders to take sensible and productive actions, and we have gotten General Convention bogged down in having to rule on every good idea that comes down the pike.

Maintaining the CCABs is a very expensive thing to do (the joint meeting was estimated to cost $1,100 per person for 200-250 people – that’s somewhere between $220,000 and $275,000). If we are going to continue to spend this kind of money – and there’s no guarantee that we will, in our restructured church – but if we do, then we should get in return a real flowering and empowering of ministry in all areas, not just those that are appropriately legislated. We all need to realize that church processes are going to be streamlined, and a lot of things are going to change.

Susan Snook

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