Deputies approve new task force to reimagine church structure

[Episcopal News Service – Indianapolis] The House of Deputies today approved creation of a special task force to begin to reimagine the workings of the Episcopal Church to prepare it for mission in the 21st century.

In a vote that stunned deputies and visitors alike,Resolution C095 was adopted on a unanimous voice vote among the more than 800 lay and clergy deputies, prompting them and those in the gallery to break into sustained applause. The vote came after a period of discussion and a time of prayer.

The matter now goes to the House of Bishops for its consideration.

The resolution creates a special task force of up to 24 people who will gather ideas in the next two years from all levels of the church about possible reforms to its structures, governance and administration. Their work will culminate in a special gathering of people from every diocese to hear what recommendations the task force plans to make to the 78th General Convention. Its final report is due by November 2014.

In a press briefing afterward, the Rev. Gay Jennings, co-chair of the convention’s legislative Committee on Structure and president-elect of the House of Deputies, said this convention had shown “a palpable desire to reimagine how we do business. I think as much as the discussion is about structure, perhaps even more the passion and the interest in this is about identity and vision: who we are as the church, who is God calling us to be in the 21st century.”

The committee received more than 50 resolutions calling for structural change, prompted by a proposal last fall from Bishop Stacy Sauls, the Episcopal Church’s chief operating officer, to examine structural options. In response the committee crafted its own proposal, which offers a blueprint for how the church can begin to explore what it really means by restructuring and change.

In remarks that preceded the vote, Jennings said the committee heard from dozens of people on the topic and spent “many, many hours in careful and prayerful deliberation” but also “listened to each other with what I would call gospel ears.” A writing group then created a draft resolution, and the committee made final edits to it on July 9. The committee vote to present the resolution also was unanimous.

Jennings said the new task force is designed to have a high degree of authority to accomplish its work and not only will reflect the church’s diversity but also people who stand at a “critical distance” from the church’s current governing bodies. The group also is required to have regular and ongoing communication with the whole church about its work.

Deputy Steven Horst of Connecticut said in support of the resolution that he doubted “that very many of us would have guessed three years ago that the hottest topics for discussion coming into this General Convention would be issues of structure and governance.” He commended the committee’s work in helping a body the size of General Convention find a way to discover God’s will on these issues. “I think this resolution outlines a process that will allow us to discern where the Spirit is leading,” he said.

The only debate was over a motion to specify the range of diversity the new task force must have by mandating inclusion based on age, race, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression.” That motion was defeated.

The resolution also requests an allocation of $400,000 in the 2013-2015 budget. The task force can decide how it wants to spend the money to do its work.

– Melodie Woerman is a member of the Episcopal News Service team at General Convention.

Comments

  1. David Saha says:

    I don’t understand what “restructuring” means and what problem they are trying to solve. Is it to find a way to allow parishes to choose which bishop’s jurisdiction they want to be in? Is it a financial restructuring? It would be good for ENS to write a follow up article to clarify what this movement is about.

  2. Leon Spencer says:

    David is right on the mark, I think. Obviously there has been extensive discussion of which we are not privy, but I am not aware that anyone has made the case to those of us outside of the Church Center and General Convention. As David says, “what problem are they trying to solve?” Using phrases like “prepare for mission in the 21st century” really doesn’t mean anything.

  3. Matt Chew says:

    The committee will have my prayers! During my time as a deputy to 13 GC’s I participated in several ad hoc groups to consider such changes (the word “re-imagine” had not become part of our vocabulary). We considered ways to make the GC more efficient. We also studied many ways and means of making the day-to-day operations of our church more useful. Nothing ever got very far with our church leaders. I hope the “21st Century” and “re-imagine” will do the trick! I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one returning home from General Convention after General Convention wondering why we could not find acceptable ways to do “church work” better. “Have at it!”

  4. John Conrad says:

    Want to restructure? Here’s a truth. Committees don’t do creativity. Individuals do creativity. So here’s a creative idea that will never happen. Of the 400K, take half of it and give it to the poor. Then offer 10, $10,000 prizes for 5-page summaries of ideas. Have the committee choose the five ideas they like best, and choose another five at random, drawn just out of the hat. Spend the last $100,000 to publish the 10 ideas in a book which will be circulated to all deputies and bishops. Have a comprehensive multiple-choice examination on the book’s contents at the next GC. Those who don’t pass the exam, don’t get to discuss the ideas or shape the outcomes.

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