Monday, December 15, 2014

Let the Dead Bury Their Own Dead: TREC Final Report

In an interview once, Bruce Springsteen gave his definition of rock and roll:  it was short, simple, and poignant: "Singing happy about sad things."  This speaks to the way music, whether it be Springsteen or Mahler or Pete Seeger folk songs, has the ability to crystallize the depths of human feeling and emotion.  Pop music, in particular, has had the uncanny ability to hide much of its sadness and pathos
Break my heart/I only want to go and cry/It's so sad to watch a sweet thing die
around melodic hooks and catchy beats.  Or, as the main character in the classic novel High Fidelity by Nick Hornby once put it with regards to pop music, "Did I listen to the music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to the music?"  Of all the many ways pop music has the ability to couch sadness in harmony, no one has been quite the master that Brian Wilson has been.

Crusty still remembers suddenly realizing one day when he was about fifteen, "Hey, Beach Boys songs aren't really about surfing."  They're about the boundaries of our expectations and exercising limited freedoms within broader constraints.  Then, of course, there is Pet Sounds and what would become Smiley Smile: where Brian's collaborations with Van Dyke Parks and others, combined with the harmonies of the Beach Boys themselves, reached levels of lyrical and melodic transcendence tread only by the likes of Coltrane, Handel, Bach, the Clash, Romanos the Melodist, and few others.

The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) has issued its final report.  Perhaps it's not a good sign that after the finishing the report, Crusty had the overwhelming urge to drink some
The brownest of the brown liquors...you want me to drink you?
Scotch and listen to Brian Wilson.  And in doing so, Crusty was reminded of one of the best examples of Springsteen's definition of rock and roll, which loops back to incorporate Brian himself:  the Barenaked Ladies' song Brian Wilson, which is a catchy pop tune about wondering if one is falling into the same depth of mental illness, disillusion, and substance abuse as Brian Wilson.  Nothing captures this dynamic more than the live version of the song, where the crowd sings along whimsically, always prompting Crusty to wonder if this was recorded in some country where English is not the native language, as the crowd chimes in to sing merrily along to the narrator's fear of his own descent into mental illness.

Crusty has found these words from Barenaked Ladies' song "Brian Wilson" echoing in his head this afternoon, pondering how to begin to try to offer a response.

"So I'm lying here, just staring at the ceiling tiles.
and I'm thinking about what to think about.
Just listening and relistening to Smiley Smile."

I found myself thinking about what to think about as I pondered the TREC final report.  Crusty has been writing about restructuring of the church since the fall of 2011, before it was cool to do so, when he realized living in California in the mid-1990s that Christendom had collapsed and denominationalism, thank God, was dying.  The church as a whole finally caught up to a conversation many have been having for years, in "emergent" and "fresh expressions" Christian movements -- and, like everything else the church does, has gotten it wrong.

Crusty always thought TREC was the best hope The Episcopal Church had for beginning to address huge issues facing the church.  As TREC points out in its own introduction, it seems as though the church is incapable, on a churchwide level, of even beginning to outline and define the scope of what we are facing.  Think about it!  The church once did massive things: created a world-class pension system that became a model for social security in a few years.  Built massive cathedrals over a generation where previously there had been none.  Created what is now Episcopal Relief & Development to respond to the massive problems facing postwar Europe.  The church seems cognizant of many of the issues swirling -- viability of dioceses, the number of churches we will need to close, the mounting problems of seminary debt -- but in seems completely incapable of even discussing these questions.  In what was a fitting metaphor for the church's impotence, in 2012 a church that wrings its hands continually about student loan debt eliminated the paltry pittance of $70,000 per year out of a more than $20 million budget towards seminarian debt without discussion or debate while approving hundreds of thousands of dollars just to nominate, elect, and install a Presiding Bishop.  Just like the nation that once built a world class infrastructure and state university education systems now has toilets like the one Crusty once saw in JFK Airport, our gateway to the world, where COD literally had to hotwire the flush mechanism by wrapping the exposed wires together.

The hope Crusty had in TREC is no more. 

The TREC report is, at times, an inchoate mishamash of the hyperspecific and the almost frustratingly vague, and this may be an element in its possible undoing.  The report runs the risk of kicking too much of what it was tasked to doing to the Convention itself, including an almost complete absence of financial implications for the restructuring it proposes, which means it will may, in turn, get kicked down the road again.  And again. At times I wonder if we will need to wait for our churchwide structures to collapse and build new ones instead of trying to spend the time, energy, and effort to reform them

Eventually, though, in trying to determine how to address the TREC report, Crusty just started at the beginning, which is the only place to start.

1.  Introduction.

Things started off hopefully.  Crusty found much to love in the introductory sections.

Crusty agreed that it's important to note that structural and technical changes alone are not sufficient to bring about a reimagining or revitalization of the church -- true transformation is about a deeper changing of relationship and connection.  But the report does note that structural and technical changes are essential to progress, which COD also agrees with.

While nodding approvingly at this prelude, Crusty also felt a sense of dread: the beginning of a dread of "doth protest too much."  Despite saying technical and structural changes are not sufficient, Crusty began to fear that a whole slew of technical and structural changes were coming.  Can a house divided against itself stand?  Was TREC going to outline a vision of the kind of deeper, transformational change needed, or end up only proposing technical and structural changes?  This is a tension within the report, between trying to shape a conversation for the church to have and proposing the actual changes as well, which means TREC might be neither hot nor cold, and not do either fully or effectively.

Or as Springsteen once put it, "Is a dream a lie if it don't come true, or is it something worse?"

But so far so good:  then TREC nailed the biblical metaphor.  COD winced at its previous Lazarus metaphor, since Lazarus, theologically speaking, is a metaphor for resuscitation, not resurrection, and Crusty didn't think it appropriate for revisioning the church.  Resurrection follows death, not resuscitation.  Jesus is born to a new mode of existence, Lazarus is resuscitated temporarily in the same rotten body that will die again.

COD loved the Luke metaphor here.  Movement precedes institution, practice precedes structure.  Let's got out in that world, and be nimble, people!

2.  Why the Church Needs to Change

Again, COD enjoyed much of what was said here.  it's important to name out inability to deal with pressing issues; as Crusty noted above, we are in danger of becoming the church equivalent of the broken down toilet in JFK, the crumbling Minneapolis bridge infrastructure, the gutting of the California public university system: unable to address the big issues we all know we are facing, we wind up not being able to do so much as go the bathroom eventually.

But then Crusty got his "doth protest too much" vibe.  They really debated about whether to present things in resolution form?  Really?  What did you think you were asked to do?  You wavered between being direct but open, specific but general?  And you also talk about technical and structural changes?  That this is the work of the church as a whole, yet you were tasked with structuring and reimagining this conversation?

TREC, hearing your vacillation here, Crusty was struck by Eugene Petersen's translation of Revelation 3: 17-17 in The Message: "You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit."  That's a bit strong, to be sure, and Crusty doesn't mean to give the impression TREC makes me want to vomit -- but that there's a danger in being neither hot nor cold.
Homer reading Book of Revelation?

On to the first three omnibus resolutions they propose.

3.  A001, A002, A003

Then the report falls off a cliff with a series of problematic resolutions marked A001, A002, and A003.   Let's take them one at a time.


A) First resolution:  A001:  Restructure for Spiritual Encounter

First resolved:  COD is at least pleased TREC "urges" Episcopal seminaries to do this kind of work, since the Episcopal seminaries are independent entities and General Convention can't tell them what to do anymore than it can tell Harvard Divinity School or University of Phoenix what to do.

COD welcomes the urging of this kind of collaboration -- hell, Crusty is dean of a seminary that is the product of two seminaries that have formed a federated, collaborative partnership -- but worries this resolution itself feeds a narrative which fosters a disconnect seminaries and the broader church.  Many are doing exactly the kind of thing being talked about here: undergone curricular revisions, developed low residency programs, formed partnerships with diocesan formation programs.  Far from requiring ministry reviews and standards of accountability, Crusty would hope TREC would understand that theological education, unlike EVERY OTHER ENTITY IN THE CHURCH has an outside body -- our accreditors -- which call us to accountability in precisely areas of standards and practice.  Nobody bothers to ask a local congregation, "Tell us how you are living out the gospel and show us how you are doing that, include measured, tangible ways."  Yet perhaps alone in the church, no seminary can get away with not having practices of accountability, since accrediting bodies require goals, outcomes, and standards for demonstrating you have reached them.   COD hopes that this resolution remembers it is an "urge" -- including its specific call for reporting back to Executive Council and Convention -- since otherwise this would be some kind of undefined, massive, unfunded mandate.

TREC also reveals the first of a number of canonical ambiguities here, as it requests seminaries to "look beyond competency in the academic areas defined by canon."  Um, TREC, this really makes no sense to Crusty.

--if you want to redefine canonical areas of competency, why not suggest that?  You do, after all, make any number of canonical suggestions.
--or are you suggesting seminaries simply ignore their responsibility to prepare people for the General Ordination Exam, which is precisely based on those canonical areas?
--or are you asking seminaries to continue to prepare people for those canonical areas, but add all of these other areas of competence on top of that, creating another unfunded mandate?

Also, TREC, you might have a little more credibility urging others to collaboration if you had shown a modicum of it yourself.  You set up your own series of courses on leadership through churchnext.tv without bothering to consult with any seminaries.  My own seminary, for instance, has a joint program on leadership with the Kellogg School of Management from Northwestern University, and offers training in community organizing, not for profit management, and leadership development.   Couple this with holding a forum on October 2 where you spoke for 95% of the time and only answered half the questions asked, and your credibility for urging collaboration rings rather hollow.


Second resolved: 

"That Diocesan Councils and Commissions on Ministry, in collaboration with their Bishop, encourage and support diverse ways for ordained clergy to make a living inside and outside the Church."

I do not know that this means.  First off, not every diocese has a diocesan council.  Second of all, what does "make a living inside and outside the church."  Make a living?  Does this mean bivocational clergy? 

Third resolved:

"That the Executive Council study the issue of clergy compensation"

Again, what does this mean?  To what end?

I'm just astounded 18 months and the best minds of the church somehow thought these two resolved clauses are resolutions for Convention to implement.  If you're going to speak in some kind of coded language, then by all means tell us here in your resolution since Explanation sections are not part of resolutions and are not voted upon.

Fourth resolved:

Well, here is the overly specific ying to the raging vague yang of the previous resolved clauses in one since resolved clause:  "That the Trustees of the Church Pension Fund study the following and report to the 79th General Convention: the current pension offerings and how well they serve the Church; the incentives in the current pension system; pension plan opportunities available to Episcopal clergy working in the secular world who are providing non-stipendiary service to The Episcopal Church; compensation models and pension benefits that may not be adequate or may be just in certain areas of the Church, particularly in dioceses outside the U.S."

We get specific -- look at a pension plan for non-stipendiary clergy and non-US clergy -- as well as vague or coded language -- "how well" pension offerings "serve the church" and the "incentives" in the current pension system.  If by "incentives" you mean "burned out clergy hanging on as long as humanly possible to maximize their length of service," then say so; otherwise, is it so hard to say what you mean in one clause when you show you can do it in the next clause?

All of this is prelude to the utter morass of the fifth resolved clause:

"That the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society develop a network to help Episcopal congregations, including clergy, vestry, organist, musical, lay, and other liturgical leaders, to become skilled in creating, nurturing, and developing spaces and moments for spiritual encounters that transform lives and unjust structures; and to have partnerships and practices with other congregations to become excellent stewards of spiritual, financial, real estate, and community resources; and to report their progress and learning annually to their Diocesan Convention/Council and Bishop."

Let's break this down:

--who in the DFMS will create this network?  A task force of Convention in the new world of having no commissions but all task forces?  The Executive Council, which you later charge with implementing resolutions?  The Presiding Bishop which you later define by a new canon as being responsible for program?  This has been a continual issue with TREC, one Crusty has pointed out in previous posts from previous reports, and which they seem oblivious to:  what is meant by "we" when they say "we"?

--how will this be paid for?  TREC, throughout this report, at times give suggested financial appropriation numbers to its suggestions, at times, like here, is utterly oblivious to what it might cost to create a network potentially this massive that will impact every congregation, clergy person, Vestry member, lay liturgical leader, and musician, potentially thousands and thousands of persons.

--and what this network do?  "help Episcopal congregations, including clergy, vestry, organist, musical, lay, and other liturgical leaders, to become skilled in creating, nurturing, and developing spaces and moments for spiritual encounters that transform lives and unjust structures."

Yes, they are legislating creating "spaces" and "moments" for "spiritual encounters."  And this is from the group which says it is trying to reduce the legislative scope of General Convention.

But not just that!  They are legislating cooperation and collaboration, so that "congregations, including clergy, vestry, organist, musical, lay, and other liturgical leaders" have "partnerships and
practices with other congregations to become excellent stewards of spiritual, financial, real
estate."  


And they are mandating reporting back:  "and to report their progress and learning annually to their
Diocesan Convention/Council and Bishop."


Yes, friends:  TREC is proposing that General Convention mandate that the part-time, unpaid organist in your congregation report annually to the bishop how they are developing spiritual encounters.
And this from the group that has wrung its hands continually about Convention needlessly expanding its legislative scope?

B) Second Resolution;  A002 Reimagine Governance Structures

Five things are "proposed" here, though Crusty is using that term loosely, because, upon closer inspection, COD is utterly perplexed at what is being proposed and resolved.

First resolved:  a proposal to adopt a unicameral General Convention.  First off, Crusty is pleased: he proposed something like this back 2011, as mentioned here.  I likes me some unicameral.  This is a great idea: opportunity to streamline our way of doing business, and build on places where bishops, clergy, and laity debate and deliberate in other places (diocesan conventions, General Convention legislative committees, Standing Commissions).

The problem is, their proposed replacement of Article I of the Constitution does not do this, and, in fact, a number of their proposals violate other aspects of the Constitution.

Section 1 of their proposed Article I seems, actually, to create three houses, not one unicameral house.   It says the three orders "may meet and deliberate separately" and "On any matter requiring a vote, any order may choose to deliberate and/or vote separately."  With no benchmarks for what determines this -- does it take one person in the lay order asking to meet separately -- and with enabling "may" language, does this in reality mean we have three houses, not one?  Given the conflict between previous Presidents of the House of Deputies and House of Bishops, can you imagine that this permissive "may" language would have meant the houses ever would have met together at the 2006, 2009, and 2012 Conventions?  Unicameral legislatures often mandate the opposite -- default to voting and debating together, and defining when and how orders deliberate and vote separately.

Congratulations, TREC.  Your unicameral body as proposed here actually could create three houses, not one, with a net gain of one from the current House of Bishops and House of Deputies we currently have.

Section 2:  Crusty has argued for years that we should have only active bishops voting.  No other episcopally ordered church in Christendom gives its retired bishops voice and vote on everything.  However, the Episcopal Church has spent 68 years unsuccessfully trying to make only diocesan, coadjutor, and suffragan bishops have vote, as Crusty outlined here.  To summarize, here's the legislative history since 1946 of introducing constitutional amendments to permit only diocesan, coadjutor, and suffragan bishops having vote: 

1946 -- failed in HOB in part because it was poorly worded

1949 -- passed both HOB and HOD

1952 -- on second reading, failed in HOD.

1958 -- rejected in HOB.

1988--  Resolution came from Standing Commission on Structure of the Church.  First reading, passed  59-46 in the HOB and overwhelmingly by orders in the House of Deputies (HOD).

1991 -- needed a second reading; failed in HOB on a voice vote.

1997 -- Introduced as a  "B" resolution, meaning it was proposed by the bishops. First reading, passed 108-72 in HOB.  Defeated on vote by orders in HOD, failed by 9 votes in lay order and 4 in clerical order.

2003 -- Another B resolution, another proposal from the bishops' themselves.  First reading, passed overwhelmingly in the HOB, 127-30 with 7 abstentions.  Passed in HOD.

2006 -- Up for a second reading -- not so fast!  The 2003 resolution was amended in the legislative committee in 2006...thus it was not a second reading, but a first reading of a slightly amended version of the one that passed both Houses in 2003.  So that makes it:

2006 -- first reading:  proposal passed in both Houses.

2009 --  second reading of revised proposal of 2003 effort.  Passed overwhelmingly in the HOD.  HOB didn't even vote on it, referred it to the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons.

Doesn't bode well for massive constitutional change if we have been unable for 70 years to do something as simple and obvious as allow only active bishops to vote.  But yeah, COD is in favor of Section2 wholeheartedly.

Section 3 outlines a process for electing the Presiding Bishop by all three orders, which COD is cool with; he has argued that if the PB is going to represent the church as a whole, he/she should be elected by the church as a whole, instead of current election by HOB and consent by HOD.

Section 4 reduces lay and clerical deputations from 4 to 3.  Similarly, COD has argued for a smaller House of Deputies.  With 2,000,000 members and 880 members of the House of Deputies, if the US congress had similar proportional representation to the 315 million or so Americans, we'd have over 140,000 members of the House of Representatives.  Sure, go for it. COD proposed previously having a majority of laity to clergy, since laity make up 99% of the church but only have half representation, but whatever.

Section 5 again shows Crusty is utterly perplexed by TREC's Lewis Carroll-esque prose.

At first it says voting by orders is not required except where it is required -- which is exactly what the current practice is, voting by orders is not required unless where it is required.  Then, it keeps voting by orders to reflect the fact we now have a tricameral and not unicameral Convention:  voting by orders may be required if requested by the episcopal, clerical, and lay deputations of three dioceses and now requires concurrence by the episcopal, clerical, and lay deputations in a majority of each, with deputations having one vote.  It doesn't note what to do about split deputations, which can still come up with only two clergy or lay deputies are present, so as phrased here there's no provision for counting split deputations.  There's also the perplexing reference to situations where  "a greater vote is required by this Constitution or by the Canons in cases not specifically dealt with by this Constitution."  Crusty doesn't know of any other voting threshold other than simple majority or voting by orders, except perhaps for procedural issues in Robert's Rules of Order, which are part of the Rules of Order and not the Constitution and Canons, and a very few places where a two-thirds theshold in the House of Bishops is required.  Then again, the current article that defines voting by orders is pretty confusing, too, but at least it covers all the bases.

OK, that was all just one the unicameral proposal in their first resolved and looking at the actual constitutional amendments proposed.

Second resolved:  Not content with asking every Vestry to report back to its bishop on the moments of spiritual encounter it has created, General Convention is asking bishops to "create, nurture and develop a culture of collaboration." So instead of a network, bishops are mandated to created a "culture" -- but one that has tangible results in 

"new structures, partnerships and practices on the interpersonal, group, and organizational levels;
What would you say you "do" here, bishops?
measurable, tangible outcomes of performance; standards of accountability, reporting and mutual ministry reviews at all levels (bishops, clergy, diocesan bodies); frank discussion on the number and size of our dioceses and whether change is needed; and report their progress to each succeeding General Convention."


OK, let's follow this again:  Bishops are required to "create a culture" which will produce "new structures", including on the "interpersonal level" -- and which have "tangible outcomes of performance." And they must "report their progress."  Maybe they'll send in The Bobs from Office Space to help the bishops map their organization!

COD is frankly a bit just stunned we could think that General Convention could really order the bishops to create a "culture" to produce "interpersonal partnerships" that has "tangible outcomes."  I mean, for once Crusty is almost speechless at a group which has talked repeatedly about the need for collaborative networks but has produced a resolution mandating bishops to build relationships and report back to Convention -- they are running the risk of creating a centralized, top-down mandating, couched in the most perplexing language.  I honestly do not know what they think this resolved clause will do.

Third resolved:  The third resolved would be ruled out of order.  This third resolved proposes a process for "discernment, formation, search, and election of bishops in The Episcopal Church."

Fortunately, Article II of the Constitution lays down the rules for electing bishops in the Episcopal Church, and quite clearly prescribes no particular method for choosing bishops.  Thus the third resolved for having a mandated, churchwide process for discernment, formation, search and election would be out of order because it conflicts with Article II.

Fourth resolved: same thing, since it introduces a mandated step in the process for choosing a bishop, requiring consultation between Standing Committees in neighboring dioceses.  For the record, Crusty is all for this, but also, for the record,  out of order, conflicts with Article II.  Do we really want to start requiring dioceses to take certain steps in electing and discerning bishops, even if we do make other necessary constitutional changes?  Where there be no end to it?

Fifth resolved, not worth the ink spent on printing the resolution.  The fifth resolved calls for "the diocesan assessment percentage be lowered while making it canonically mandatory (with means for pastoral exception) for each diocese to meet that assessment."

So it lowers the assessment, without suggesting a number, then makes paying that assessment canonically mandatory,  but then also allow for a "pastoral exception" without defining what that exception is or who grants it.

Crusty is getting a little exasperated here.  What is the point of bothering to make a resolution which says absolutely nothing?  A fill-in-the-blank Mad Lib version of canonical reform could have come at least been more entertaining. "Resolved, the diocesan assessment be reduced to (number between 0 and 100) and if (name) does not pay (same number) then (verb) happens to (same name) (adverb)."  It does return to this issue in its canonical revisions, with some teeth in having consequences for not paying an assessment, but still provides no guidelines for the exemptions it also permits.

C)  Third Resolution:  A003

Hang in there, almost in range of winding this down.  The third resolution looks at "Restructure Assets in Service of God’s Mission in the Future" and has four resolved clauses.

First resolved:  that the General Convention "direct every diocese to develop a theology of sacredly inclusive use-of-space that is adaptive and generative financially and spiritually."

Sorry to sound like a broken record, but WTF does this mean? "sacred inclusive use of space" that is "adaptive and generative financially and spiritually"?  What, unlike the "culture" the bishops are required to creative, the dioceses are not required to report back or show the tangible performance outcomes of their theologies?  How are dioceses to do this?  What does this mean?  No network to be created to help them do this?

Second and third resolved:  Hold that, here is a massive new network created to help dioceses and congregations do just that, to convene experts "regionally" and to allocate $200,000.  Crusty almost spit out his Bailey's when reading this [it's late at night and he switched to Bailey's from whiskey] -- TREC actually put a financial number of the kind of massive restructuring they are proposing for once!  COD would be all for a massive reorientation of the church to help local communities "to re-envision their purpose."  I think that might cost more than $200,000, though.  We can't even nominate a Presiding Bishop for less than that, let alone marshall a phalanx of experts to assist 110 diocese in the long, complex process of missional discernment.

Fourth resolved:  Again, TREC, how are you so unable to simple say what you are talking about?   It mandates Standing Committees to "create standards for intervention and endowment spending policies; and designate Future Generation Funds." The second standard -- endowment spending policies -- COD would hope most already have, and, if not, is probably a good idea to have.  The first and third items here seem to have been thought up by a very unfunny ecclesial Dr Seuss.

What are "standards for intervention"?  Is this some kind of financial emergency manager, like the law the state of Michigan passed which allows it to intervene and take over financial affairs in a local municipality?  Are they saying dioceses can intervene in parishes' financial affairs?  If not, what does this mean?  What are "Future Generation Funds"?  I'm sorry if this sounds like Crust is being mean, but I'm not the one mandating this, you are.  You are mandating  -- not recommending, not exploring, in your language here you are requiring -- that Standing Committees establish these, so maybe it might be helpful to say what they are.

And we have just completed the first three resolutions of TREC.  A series of at times maddening and at times baffling resolutions. Dean
My hero.
Wormer once said to Flounder "Fat, drunk, and stupid was no way to go through life, son."  Well, TREC, Crusty Old Dean says to you, "At the same time vague, hyperspecific, and incomprehensible is no way to draft a resolution."  You might just you reap what you sow.


4)  On to the next section:  New Roles for Churchwide Structures.

In general, Crusty is OK with what is being proposed here; he has said until he is blue in the fact that affinity-based, self-sustaining networks were how the churches did much of their work in the 1700s and 1800s, that the 1900s institutional-building time is an anomaly, and the church will once again need to have significant involvement of self-sustaining, affinity-based networks.  By all means.

Yet they hoist themselves again with the own petard of their vagueness:  despite their need for clarity around roles and agenda, they again do not define who is shaping or setting this agenda (pages 11-12).  Convention?  Executive Council?  Presiding Bishop?

They then propose a series of canonical changes to deal with Executive Council, the Presiding Bishop, and Standing Commissions.

A)  Executive Council

The canonical revisions make the confusion of A001, A002, and A003 all the more strange:  while COD may not agree with them, at least these proposed canonical revisions in this section actually make literal sense, by and large, as written, unlike their proposed A001, A002, and A003.

There is a proposal for a smaller Executive Council, down to 19, with an effort to keep Provincial representation by having provinces submit nominees to be presented by a committee on nomination to be elected by the General Convention as a whole.  COD in general is intrigued by the notion of an Executive Council which is more a throwback to its incarnation in 1919, when the then-National Council was seen as having oversight of the church's mission and ministry.  Council prepared regular reports and published budgetary updates and oversaw the program work at a time when there were few full-time administrative staff.  This proposal is akin to that.  They have outlined a clear and compelling vision of Executive Council, it will be interesting to see how this is received, if anybody makes it this far in their report.

B)  Presiding Bishop.  The proposed canon fleshes out the definition of the role of PB in a unicameral General Convention.  It includes a nominating process, while at the same time permitting open nominations from the floor.  Crusty is continually perplexed by a process which has a long, expensive, and tine consuming nominating process but then allows open nominations.  Why not just permit open nominations?  The ELCA has done this for nearly thirty years and has elected some fine candidates as PB.

There will be undoubtedly ink spilled around whether this proposes increases centralization in the office of the Presiding Bishop.  To be honest, COD isn't so sure.  In Section 4a of this proposed canon, the PB is given responsibility for program and and executing policies of Convention.  However, in section 1a of the canon on Executive Council, Council is given authority of oversight over the PB and the DFMS, including setting salaries for staff, and Executive Council must approve new initiatives by the PB (PB Canon Section 4b).  Rather, Crusty wonders if TREC is actually setting up the exact same potential conflict between Council and Presiding Bishop, which has plagued the program work of the church for a good fifty years or so, by not clearly defining who has oversight over executing the program work of Convention?  We will still have PBs claiming authority over staff but having to clear "new initatives" with a Council that also has the power of the purse in setting salaries?

C)  CCABs.  TREC proposes eliminating all Standing Commissions except for Governance, Constitution, and Canons and Theology, Liturgy, and Music.  Crusty has no beef with this; for much of the life of the Episcopal Church, appointed task forces that were renewed at each Convention did a tremendous amount of work of the church.  However, this revision also leaves in place more or less all the same canons which permit the formation and creation of additional Standing Committees, which means Convention certainly has within its authority to continue to create Standing Committees to reflect its own pet priorities.

The proposed resolution on Standing Committees has a very bizarre proposal:  Proposed Resolution A006, Section 2 (l).  It proposes that any Commission which proposes a resolution to convention to  "authorize a member or members of General Convention, who, if possible, shall be a member of the Commission, with such limitations as the Commission may impose, to accept or reject, on behalf of the Commission, any amendments proposed by General Convention to any such Resolution; provided, however, that no such amendment may change the substance of the proposal, but shall be primarily for the purpose of correcting errors."  Let me get this straight:  they are proposing that, say, the Commission on Theology, Liturgy, and Music, which is proposing resolutions to Convention, also select someone from that Commission, who may reject any amendments Convention may make to their resolutions.  This makes no sense.  Are they really saying that someone from these commissions has veto power over what amendments Convention might make on a resolution?  If it is primarily with regard to correcting errors, then why should a commission member be able to reject the Convention's correction of the Commission's errors?  Who defines what "substance of the proposal" means?  This is so utterly out of left field, and, as written, seems to indicate Commission members may veto resolutions of General Convention.  If this is not what it means, then please explain what it means.

D)  Presiding Deputy.  A007 proposes the election of a Presiding Deputy who will alternate presidency of the unicameral Convention and share duties with the Presiding Bishop.  Sure, Crusty is OK with this, though he does not that this position would be funded by an additional assessment on the church that is not defined, again showing TREC's unwillingness to engage in the financial implications of what they are proposing.    Personally Crusty prefers making the PB and PD/HOD primarily presiding officers, and creating an office of General Secretary to be a truly churchwide representative office, but nobody else seems interested in that.

Well, that's about all.   Crusty, in general, approves of much in principle: a unicameral General Convention, a Presiding Deputy, simplifying the Commission structure.  Yet leading off with their at times just plain confusing Resolutions A001, A002, and A003 undoes much of what they are trying to propose in their efforts to legislate mandated reporting on establishing relationships and creating culture from bishops to local congregations.

In addition, despite all of their pages of proposals, Crusty is left noting two things:

--nowhere do they talk about the specifics of their proposal to shift General Convention to a missionary convocation.  It's mentioned in passing, but given the emphasis placed on this in previous statements, COD was kind of surprised not to see it fleshed out at least a little more.

--nowhere do they have any proposals about how they will pay for their massive restructuring of the church.  Crusty is not really interested in them getting in the weeds, but at least some indications of the financial implications of the overhauls they are proposing is important.

Crusty guesses this is enough for now.  While critical of TREC at times, COD knew there were very good people on TREC, they had been given a very difficult mandate, and were still the best possibility for some kind of churchwide structural change.  Initially Crusty was depressed today: reading through the absurd first three resolutions, he despaired at an opportunity lost.  TREC will not shape this conversation, and none of those three resolutions will make it to the floor in anything like the form proposed here, because of how poorly worded, defined, and written they are.  The lack of any kind of sense of who will define or shape an agenda going forward, or what financial implications are, combined with the election of a new presiding bishop, mean nothing of constitutional substance will be addressed at the 2015 Convention.  Everything of substance will be kicked down to 2018, meaning no possibility of any Constitutional changes to 2024 at the soonest, when -- guess what -- we'll be electing another PB -- and thus the long, slow, death rattle continues as we are still unable to frame or shape the large questions facing us.

But then Crusty's despair began to lessen.  COD no longer had to have hope in TREC, because TREC is over and done.  That means it is OK to move on, and to begin to look for signs of life and resurrection in the church.  Our opportunity to shape churchwide reform will pass, we will not do
Hangs on my wall.  Icon written for Crusty by dear friend.  Mt 8:22
much of substance, and in the 2020s and 2030s our churchwide structures will collapse on their own.   There's going to be lots of collapse in the church, after all.  A number of seminaries, about half our congregations, and maybe 40% of our dioceses will eventually no longer be viable.  Our churchwide organization will do the same.  Those surviving Episcopalians doing the mission of the Gospel will come together and create something.  Like the Popes declaring themselves infallible as their temporal power ended in 1870, like Episcopalians creating a new church only when their old one was destroyed in the Revolution, we can only create a new order when the old one has passed away.

Ironically, rather than being the harbinger of that new order, TREC helped to put an end to the old one.

I come back to the quote which has been at the top of this blog from the very first day I set it up.

Let the dead bury their own dead.

2 comments:

  1. I have been ordained for 35 years and a rector for 32 years. Beyond providing the services of the pension fund and now health insurance I can think of nothing I have used from the national church office that I could not have gotten otherwise. And other than management of my health insurance (which they charge a fee for.) and an annual visit of a bishop I think I can count on one or two hands anything significant in the way of services I have received from the diocese. And no I am not an isolationist and have served on commissions and committees. I think I am an average priest living my faith and doing my job. All this is my long way of saying I see nothing in TREC that will make the National office or my diocese more relevant to me, my ministry or the people of the church I serve and that may lead to a collapse if we cease to fund irrelevant entities.

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  2. The structure we now have in the Episcopal Church developed in response to communication and transportation changes in the late 1800s and 1900s. I think that there is a MA thesis or PhD dissertation in showing that the structure of the church has always responded to those things. The structure of the organization necessary to support us in our walk (it takes a community) does not depend on theology, christology, ,or even eccesiology.

    TREC has a major problem. Transportation and communication is shifting everything. However, all of us are floating in the shift without any understanding of where it is taking us. Any proposal to change the physical operation of the Church made today will be proven quaint and behind the times a couple of years from now.

    So, how do we change the constitutional and canons to allow us to enjoy the ride? While something relevant to 2015 is better than being relevant to 1965, TREC isn't helping us see how to define our exoskeleton to keep us relevent in 2065,

    We have our Articles of Confederation. Unfortunately when General Convention created TREC as our constitutional convention, TREC didn't follow the example of the US Constitutional Convention.

    It is easier to get an idea of what you want once you see something in front of you. We are all concrete thinkers at heart (why do we need sacraments?). TREC would have been a success even if they had proposed something concrete that was rejected for something else. At least they would have made the Church think about something. Vague proposals don't do that.

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