Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Jim White Reports from General Convention

Canon Jim White is a long time diocesan and national church leader, as well as several-times-vestry member here at All Saints Church. A founding member of Beyond Inclusion and Claiming the Blessing, Jim also serves as the co-chair of our Diocesan Commission on Minstry. An Alternate Deputy to the 77th General Convention, he monitored the Committee on Structure and reports here on its important work.

#GC77 Addresses Structural Reform by Jim White

While same-sex blessings and expanding the rights of transgender persons within the church grabbed the headlines from General Convention, probably the more significant action was the creation of a Task Force “whose purpose shall be to present the 78th General Convention [2015] with a plan for reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and administration.” The enabling resolution, C095, whose first paragraph explains that “…this General Convention believes the Holy Spirit is urging The Episcopal Church to reimagine itself…” was passed unanimously by the Legislative Committee on Structure, the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops.

The House of Deputies was so shocked when there were no “No” votes that an audible gasp filled the hall. Chair of the Committee on Structure (and newly elected President of the House of Deputies), the Rev. Gay Jennings, then asked permission for the house to stand and sing “Sing a New Church Into Being,” as the committee had done when they passed the Resolution. As an Alternate Deputy, I had the freedom to monitor whatever I wanted and I chose the Committee on Structure to watch all of this go through the sausage-making factory of that committee.

This effort to examine the current structures of the church began with a presentation to the House of Bishops from the Chief Operating Office, Bishop Stacy Sauls, at their meeting last fall. Since then there has been much conflagration and tongue-wagging about the “Bishops trying to take over the governance of the church” and “eliminating the voices of lay people in our polity.” But what it all really boils down to is the sense that the church is top-heavy with administrative staff at the Episcopal Church Center in New York and with overlapping responsibilities between the Committees of Executive Council and the Standing Commissions of General Convention – all of which comprise the ongoing work of governance during the triennium when General Convention is not meeting. Not to mention the huge expense – both to the Church Center who has to put the thing on and the Dioceses who have to pay for travel and lodging expenses of a minimum of eight deputies and a bishop – of gathering the largest legislative body in the world every three years (General Convention) to attempt to wrangle through hundreds of pieces of legislation in eight days. All of that is on the table for this Task Force.

The resolution proposes that the Task Force (which is un-named, expecting the Task Force to name itself as part of its work – a symbol of the expansive freedom given it to look at anything and everything) be composed of “as many as 24 members,” appointed by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies and should “reflect the diversity of the Church, and shall include some persons with critical distance from the Church’s institutional leadership.” In other words, it ought not to be filled with the “usual suspects.”

It also requires that the Task Force “convene a special gathering to receive responses to the proposed recommendations to be brought forward to the 78th General convention, and shall invite to this gathering from each diocese at least a bishop, a lay deputy, a clerical deputy, and one person under the age of 35. It may also include representatives of institutions and communities (e.g., religious orders, seminaries, intentional communities).” And it requires that “the Task Force shall report to the whole Church frequently,” which is taken to mean that it will use all forms of digital media to keep the whole church updated on what it is doing as it goes along.

It’s going to be an interesting three years – and a really interesting 78th General Convention.

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