Structure task force gathers for first time

Presiding bishop, House of Deputies president offer views of work ahead

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, Feb. 14 each gave the church’s Task Force on Structure their own sense of the work facing the 26-member group.

Their remarks came on the first day of the task force’s initial meeting being held Feb. 14-16 at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, Maryland.

“Your task is to bring all of your creativity, strategizing, thought and prayer to the work of suggesting how we might better support and undergird and challenge the life and work of this Church and to do it with as one person says, ‘sheer holy boldness,’” Jefferts Schori said.

The presiding bishop said church members are currently directing their attention to four areas. The first are the issues around identity, she said, such as “who are we, what we are for.” The second is mission, which she said is “a primary response to the question of identity.” Sustainability in mission is the third area and includes the question of how all parts of the church can grow to be self-supporting. The final focus of attention is organizing and structuring for mission.

Jefferts Schori noted that the group is expected to report to the church in late 2014, “with the hope that our next General Convention will take up your proposals.”

“Change and reform are not waiting until then, however,” she said, adding that the group charged with shaping the next General Convention “has already begun to look at how we might work more effectively.”

In addition to the four areas of attention the presiding bishop outlined, she also raised questions, among many others, about how the church structure ought to respond to a “flexible and varied understanding of congregations/faith communities” and how such communities might evolve out of various mission efforts.

“We are going to need to rethink, restructure, and reform in order to ensure that all of these develop that are sustainable – as congregations and dioceses, and for clergy and lay leadership can be sustainable,” she said.

Jefferts Schori also encouraged the group to consider how the Episcopal Church can nurture and develop its full communion relationships with other denominations and its relationships across the Anglican Communion.

The complete text of the presiding bishop’s remarks is here.

Jennings noted that the General Convention said in July 2012 when it called for formation of the group that it “believes the Holy Spirit is urging the Episcopal Church to reimagine itself, so that, grounded in our rich heritage and yet open to our creative future.”

However, she said, “We don’t have agreement on what we mean when we say we intend to ‘reimagine the Episcopal Church’” as well as present to the next meeting of convention a plan to reform the church’s structures, governance and administration.

“It is up to you to define the scope of what you will seek to restructure,” she told the group, adding it could involve the corporate structure of the church; the structure of dioceses and provinces; the Executive Council; the church’s committees, commissions, agencies and boards, theological education and the General Convention itself.

Jennings said the task force members are to be “guides” and “no one’s agents; no one’s surrogates” as they started out on their task, beginning at “the end of the institutional church as we have known it.”

There is not yet a common vocabulary for describing outcomes or approaches. “Most of all, we have a lot of unquestioned assumptions and not much data,” she said.

The House of Deputies president added that what she hears from many clergy and laypeople is that “they have remarkably little need for, or interest in, traditional top-down governance structures more suited to the world of Mad Men than Modern Family.”

“Any new structure worth having will need to harness their commitment to the Gospel, their passion for mission, and their energy and creativity,” she said.

“I will wait with great interest as you lead us in welcoming and engaging changing realities, emerging networks, flattening hierarchies, rapidly changing media, amazing new technologies, and new ideas about what community means,” she said. “We are all praying for you.”

The complete text of Jennings’ remarks is here.

The two delivered their remarks during an open session that was also to have included a review of the group’s mandate.

The rest of the Feb. 14 sessions, the next two days’ proceedings and small-group discussions are private. The closing worship on Feb. 16 will be open.

The task force plans to issue a statement following the conclusion of the meeting, according to a media advisory here.

The task force was called for via Resolution C095, approved at the July meeting of General Convention.

Resolution C095 called for a 24-member task force charged with presenting a plan to the next General Convention in 2015 “for reforming the church’s structures, governance, and administration.” According to the resolution “the membership of the task force shall reflect the diversity of the church, and shall include some persons with critical distance from the church’s institutional leadership.”

The resolution also requires that the task force “be accountable directly to the General Convention, and independent of other governing structures, to maintain a high degree of autonomy.”

The convention said the task force “shall gather information and ideas from congregations, dioceses and provinces, and other interested individuals and organizations, including those not often heard from; engage other resources to provide information and guidance, and shall invite all these constituencies to be joined in prayer as they engage in this common work of
discernment.”

The task force will conduct a special gathering with representation from every diocese to receive responses to the recommendations it plans to bring to the next meeting of convention, to be held in Salt Lake City. The resolution called for the representation at that meeting to include “at least” a bishop, a lay deputy, a clerical deputy and one person under the age of 35 from each diocese. It may also include representatives of institutions and communities such as religious orders, seminaries and intentional communities, according to the resolution.

The date and location of the special meeting will be determined later.

The task force must release its final report to the church by November 2014, the resolution said, along with any needed resolutions to implement its recommendations.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

Comments

  1. Doug Desper says:

    No report about the recent gathering of the task force to study our “evolving” understanding of marriage? When that report sees the light of day it will be all too obvious just how disobedient this Church has become to Jesus Christ. I am quite sure that our Church would not have to even be studying downsizing and consolidation of decreasing resources if only we would cease marrying the culture.

  2. I think it’s intriguing that the Presiding Bishop tried to give them a four-point charge. I was on the floor of the House of Deputies when the resolution was adopted, and I sat in the Structure Committee hearings (which Deputy Gay Jennings so capably chaired). We were very clear that we wanted this group beholden to NO ONE. In fact, we wrote it into the text of Resolution C095 that they should be “independent of other governing structures, to maintain a high degree of autonomy.” So thank you for your insights, Presiding Bishop. Now, kindly get out of the way and let the task force do the open-ended work we charged them to do at General Convention.

    BTW, I am grateful for our Presiding Bishop’s ministry. But this struck me wrong, that she tried to give them a four-point “charge.” General Convention already gave them an open-ended charge to dream big, and we expressed our wish that they would do so without influence of the “governning structures.” Everyone else needs to get out of the way and let the task force work.

    Lisa Fox
    Lay Deputy/Missouri/2012

  3. Magi Griffin says:

    We find ourselves where we are for many reasons! The reported PB’s comment reads “church members are currently directing their attention to four areas”…the looking at the where are we now…possibly a springboard, areas of attention, I do not see it as a charge as such. The Task Force will, without doubt, review things that ARE being done ‘right’. There is a saying in Tanzania, “pole pole” – slowly slowly. Joining all in prayers for the task and its members.

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