Thursday, December 18, 2014

We're One, But We're Not the Same: Two Proposals for Restructuring and Reform

Hello all:  I came up with the idea of Crusty Old Dean one night while watching the Colbert Report during my time working for the denominatonal staff of The Episcopal Church.  Serving on denominational staff, I found myself at times amused and perplexed by the hyperbolic state of much
COD: fighting Truthiness in the church since 2011.
of the discourse in the church, the way the internet and social media at times seemed to inflame that, and the life-or-death attitude many in the church had towards things which were most decidely not life-and-death.  I hit upon the idea of a Colbert-like character, eventually envisioning Crusty Old Dean as a kind of meta-narrative, an effort to sneak in commentary under the guise of precisely the kind of rhetoric I had come to despair.  With my last post on the TREC final report, I regret if anyone mistook the character for the person clicking these keys.

TREC was given a difficult mandate, not given the funding needed, and, I think, was set up for impossible expectations and failure.  I know a goodly number of the people on the Commission and they are faithful, dedicated, brilliant, fantastic people.  Yes, the last post was hyperbolic.  But it will be nothing compared to the hyperbole that will be flung in sincerity and earnestness as we face hard issues in our church.  I personally have been told previous suggestions of mine for reducing the number of deputies is racist and classist, and at other times been told I am nothing more than really a shill for (fill in name of individual's perceived bogeyman).  I am sorry if anybody mistook my hyperbole for any true feelings about the work of TREC, and I decry in advance the hyperbole that will be flung by those who are serious in their allegations, unlike me.

However, that does not mean I do not think TREC needs to be held accountable and judged by its work.  Yes, they had a difficult mandate.  But TREC also had nearly two years to do its work and had access to hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding, yet showed a repeated consistency to be unable to clearly articulate what they were thinking or doing, and produced a report that is problematic, including three resolutions that are, at times, gibberish, and other resolutions which are out of order and can't even be considered in their current form.  They conducted all of their deliberations behind closed doors, consulted formally with hardly anyone, and held a churchwide gathering on October 2 in which they did almost all of the talking (95% by my admittedly not official record, since I was there and timed how much TREC members spoke versus how much time was spent by non-TREC persons) and only answered about half the questions they were asked (admittedly not an official statistic, though I would stand by this assessment should anyone want to watch the video and determine whether they even answered direct questions asked of them.  They did, for instance, not answer my question at all, and simply cycled back to their talking points)  Yes, they had a tough mandate.  But they also must be frankly held accountable for their work, and I take back nothing of substance that I have written on this blog, though I may at times regret the tone used.

The clock, however, is ticking, and General Convention itself is coming up this June.  While critical of much of TREC's work, I'd also like to point out many places where I commended them, including in the last post, where I noted

--how much I appreciated their biblical metaphor
--their overall analysis of the current issues facing the church, and some of our challenges in responding, were spot on
--I heartily endorse a unicameral legislature and called for one on this blog 3 1/2 years ago
--found their Executive Council proposal really intriguing; I had expected to hate it but even against my best intentions they melted my Crusty heart.  I would love to see that proposal get the debate and discussion it deserves.

To that extent, Crusty would like to do two things to contribute to the discussion about reform and restructuring as we move towards Convention.

1)  present my own proposal for a unicameral General Convention,
2)  make a suggestion about how we can truly engage restructuring and reform going forward.

1)  Proposal for a Unicameral General Convention, or, We're One But We're Not The Same
Crusty can't be holding on to what you've got, if all you've got is hurt, General Convention.

Resolved, the Article I, Sections 1-6 be repealed in their entirety and replaced with the following:

Article I.

Sec. 1. There shall be a General Convention of this Church, consisting of the order of Bishops, order of Clergy, and Order of Laity.   All three orders shall sit, deliberate, and vote jointly [not thrilled by "jointly" and thinking of better one to indicate default is to deliberate and vote together] on all matters before the Convention, except as indicated in Section 5; and in all deliberations freedom of debate shall be allowed.

Sec. 2. Each Bishop of this Church having jurisdiction, every Bishop Coadjutor, and every Suffragan Bishop shall have a seat and a vote.  Each diocese shall be represented by no more than three persons in the clerical order and three persons in the lay order with seat and vote.

Sec. 3.   At the General Convention next before the expiration of the term of office of the Presiding Bishop, the General Convention shall elect one of the Bishops as the Presiding Bishop of the Church according to the process defined by canon. The Presiding Bishop of the Church shall serve as a co-chair of General Convention. Candidates for the Presiding Bishop shall be elected by the General Convention, by separate but concurrent vote of each order. The affirmative vote of a majority of the deputies of each order shall be required for the election of a Presiding Bishop. The term and tenure of office and duties and particulars of the election not inconsistent with the preceding provisions shall be prescribed by canon.  If the Presiding Bishop of the Church shall resign the office as such, or if by
reason of infirmity shall become unable to serve, or in case of death, the Bishop who, according to the Rules of the Order of Bishops, becomes its Presiding Officer, shall (unless the date of the next General Convention is within three months) immediately call a special meeting of all bishops with voice and vote in General Convention to elect a Bishop to be the Presiding Bishop. The certificate of election shall be sent by the Presiding Officer to the Standing Committees of the several dioceses, and if a majority of the Standing Committees of the dioceses shall concur in the election, the Bishop elected shall become the Presiding Bishop of the Church to complete the term of office of the Presiding Bishop who had resigned, died, or been unable to serve due to infirmity.

Sec. 4. The Church in each Diocese which has been admitted to union with the General Convention, each area Mission established as provided by Article VI, and the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, shall be entitled to representation in the House of Deputies by not more than three ordained persons, Presbyters or Deacons, canonically resident in the Diocese and not more than
three Lay Persons, confirmed adult communicants of this Church, in good standing in the Diocese but not necessarily domiciled in the Diocese. Each Diocese, and the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, shall prescribe the manner in which its Deputies shall be chosen. To constitute a quorum for the transaction of business, the Clerical order shall be represented by at least one deputy in
each of a majority of the dioceses entitled to representation, and the Lay order shall likewise
be represented by at least one deputy in each of a majority of the dioceses entitled
to representation, and with representation of a majority of bishops with voice and vote.

Sec. 5. The vote on all questions which come before General Convention shall be by majority vote of all persons present, regardless of order, except as described in this section.  For any resolution which changes the canons of the church, orders shall be polled separately but concurrently, with a majority of each order required.  In addition, a request to be polled separately but concurrently, with a majority of each order required, may be made upon request of the bishops, clergy, and lay deputations of any five dioceses.  A request to be polled separately but concurrently may not be requested for procedural or parliamentary motions, but only on resolutions and amendments to resolutions.  In order to amend the Constitution or the Book of Common Prayer (excluding provisions for amending the Lectionary as outlined in the Constitution and Canons), a vote by orders will be taken.  A vote by orders requires two-thirds majority in each order for approval.  A vote by orders may not be taken on any other matter before the Convention other than amending the Constitution or Prayer Book.

Sec. 6 At the General Convention, a majority vote of those Deputies present, even though
less than a quorum, may adjourn from day to day.

Section 7 to remain the same.

There you go.  It's not perfect, but I think it's cleaner, clearer, and simpler than the one proposed by TREC.   I welcome comments and suggestions for improving this, or for noting anything I might have overlooked.  After all, I'm not a lawyer, didn't have two years and 24 other committee members working with me on this, and didn't have access to a couple of hundred thousands dollars, so did the best I could while having a burger and beer at this place (makes Five Guys look like McDonald's) and so am opening this to crowd-sourcing.
Mmmm...grass fed...

OK, now on to the really difficult question here.

TREC is spot-on in its assessment that the church, for various reasons, seems unable and/or incapable of even addressing the massive problems facing the church, something my colleague Scott Gunn has also outlined ably in his recent blog post on TREC (and ably showing his nerd cred with an awesome reference to classic Star Trek), and which I, too, have noted over the years.  Crusty pointed out in 2009 and 2012 that we were essentially restructuring by defunding, without any strategic plan or even identification of missional priorities.  Crusty worked on the denominational staff from 2001-2011, and in 2011 I had 2/3rds fewer staff and 40% less funding than in 2001 for the particular responsibilities I was charged, but nobody, nowhere, ever sat down and talked about what we needed to prioritize, what we needed to let go of, what we could delegate to other networks or partners, and what we needed to differently.  We can repeat this process in dioceses that are unsustainable, with congregations that are slowly dying but can't seem to figure out what their purpose is for.  When Crusty has interviewed for rector in a couple of places over the years, when asked if he has any questions, he always asks, "Yes, if this congregation closed tomorrow, what would anyone other than the members say?  Would they even notice?"  We must be able to have the conversations we need to have about what God is calling us to do in this time and place, and everything must be on the table as part of that.

This is all the more galling because strategic planning, missional discernment, and institutional change can happen.  Crusty was chaplain at a campus chaplaincy that went through a two-year process of visioning, resulting in creative use of assets in the service of a redefined mission.  It also resulted in tearing down 60% of the chaplaincy's footprint to make that creative use of assets possible and to endow that ministry.  This is the question I asked TREC on October 2:  To restructure means not just creating new things, but tearing down and even destroying other things.  What can we consider letting go in order to build new things?  The Episcopal Church in the 1780s could not have created the structures they did had not all of their older structure either been destroyed, or they had let go of.  

As many others have said, and which Crusty's echoes, we have to figure out what this institution we are restructuring is for.  When Crusty began as chaplain at the campus chaplaincy, we started a six-month visioning process, but Crusty forbade any problem solving for the first two months.  Instead,

--We needed to build a vision and discern what God was calling us to do.  We spent some time doing that.
--We identified what assets we head, as broadly as possible: our Anglican tradition, our property,  partners called to do similar things, anything that was a resource.
--We then, after 3 months, began to ask: how do we put our assets in the service of the mission we have identified?

There's nothing special about that process, Crusty didn't think it up and it's something lots of people are doing in lots of places.  We need to have, as a church, the conversations TREC had behind closed doors.  We need to discern what our missional priorities are.  We need to realize what we need to let go of.  We need to identify the assets that we have.  We need to seek out partners for this journey.  We have done almost none of that in the past triennium *as a church*, though it is happening in various places with astounding stories of transformation and vitality.

We need

--to elect a Presiding Bishop who has a commitment to revisioning this church, and who work with a variety of stakeholders to have a churchwide process of conversation and consultation from 2015-2018.

--allocate a significant amount of funding (in the millions) to permit a truly churchwide consultation over the next triennium.  It is going to require painful choices be made, Crusty has some ideas, but this is something the church as a whole has to do.  We allocate enormous sums of money for lots of different things in our church.  If we can't figure out how to pay for what we need to do, then we'll just keep restructuring by defunding until things reach a tipping point and various components -- churchwide staff, General Convention -- just collapse because we can't pull them off anymore.  So we need to begin to make hard choices at this Convention in order to structure the conversations we need to figure out what kind of churchwide structures we need to implement the priorities and mission we discern.

--we need to commence conversations with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America about combining operations, mission, and ministry as much as possible.  Crusty thinks we should move everything to Chicago and share a whole host of support services  (Information Technology, Human Resources, etc.) and begin to discern how to do as much as we can in mission and program together.  Guess what?  The ELCA has gone through downsizing and restructuring half a dozen times in the past decade, too, and is asking all the same questions we are.  Time to engage them together.  One of the things that most disheartened Crusty in his decade on denominational staff is that in 2011, when I left, a decade after Called to Common Mission with the ELCA had come into being, we only had one denominational-wide shared position.  For both communions not to consider deeper partnerships would be a failure of will and vision.

--given the time it takes to amend the Constitution, we need to select those reforms requiring Constitutional change that need to be presented to this Convention.  Should we decide in 2015 we don't need a unicameral General Convention, we can always decline to take the second vote.  If it's something we do, then we can take the second vote.  Repeat as needed.

Well, that's enough for now.  As many have noted, the conversations on restructuring and reform are going to continue.  While some of what TREC has done will go nowhere, there is a goodly amount that can be rolled into other processes and conversations, and Crusty looks forward to ploughing ahead.

Let the dead bury their own dead.  Those who are interested in resurrection, let's begin to build coalitions of the willing.


  1. Much better proposal for a unicameral GC. May it be listened to!

  2. Rod Gillis put the church's problem succinctly on Thinking Anglicans:

    “Despite evangelism programs, despite classical or hip liturgies, despite churches that strive for transcendence and those advertise themselves as welcoming, the basic belief system of the church is no longer accepted as credible and meaningful by the majority of society.” --8 Nov 2014

    Now what? John Caputo in the Christian Century:

    "These are people inside and outside the church who are restless with established religion. . . . I have been invited to mainstream church discussion groups to meet with churchgoers who have not given up on going to church, but who secretly or not so secretly don’t quite swallow the dogmas of the church. Yet they do think that somehow religion should translate into practice: into communities of hospitality, peace, and justice, to provide support for people who have questions and doubts and are dubious about a big, encompassing story about the meaning of life.

    "They take the official teachings of the church with a grain of salt. They think: if I were born somewhere else, I wouldn’t be a Christian and that wouldn’t make much of a difference. This is why I speak of religion without religion, where the name of God is the name of a call rather than the name of an entity.

    "I have a friend who is a member of a Catholic religious order who says he is a 'lapsed Catholic.' I asked, 'How does that work?' He said, 'Well, I follow my community rule and I do what I am supposed to do, but I don’t believe much of it any more.' 'Why don’t you leave?' I asked. He said, 'The essence of my vocation is these kids.' He lives and works with really troubled children who live in impossible situations and are victims of terrible circumstances.

    "That’s what Wittgenstein called a 'form of life' and what Heidegger called our 'mode of being in the world.' This friend sums up what I am trying to articulate. That’s the kingdom of God, with or without churches." --17 Dec 2014

  3. Meanwhile things are a bit testy at the Vatican, too.


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