Structure, Anti-Structure, Communitas: The Future of the Episcopal Church

No, this is not a post on Victor Turner. Rather, it is a brief reflection on the need for change in institutional churches, particularly my own, the Episcopal Church.

Mark Harris has been asking hard questions about re-structuring the Episcopal Church in response to budget shortfalls and other issues. In one post, he asks whether it is time for a special General Convention. Earlier, he offered some imaginative possibilities for the future of the Episcopal Church here and here. Insofar as his questions arise out of budgetary considerations, it seems to me, he is reacting rather than imagining new possibilities. . The question should be, what sort of church do we need to be at this moment in history? Our institutions were designed and built in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and do not seem nimble enough to change for the twenty-first.

Scott Gunn has also posted on this issue here and here. The latter post is an attempt to think about the current response to the need for change in terms of grief, which might be helpful on one level, but seems also to obscure things in some ways.

It seems to me that Gregory Jones’ comments about “sustainable institutions” might be helpful here

Less noticed, perhaps, is our longing for God, and for elegance, in the design of our institutions. The question is not whether we will organize ourselves; it is whether we will do so well or badly. We yearn for institutions — including those in the social sector — that will function with what Matthew E. May, in his book “In Pursuit of Elegance,” calls “effortless effectiveness”: an ability to achieve maximum effect with minimal effort.

We marvel at corporations, such as Apple, that offer such effectiveness. Apple combines identity and innovation, efficiency and creativity, functionality and beauty. Such organizations attend to the design of the physical spaces they occupy, to be sure, but elegant design is more than that. It involves attending to the design of people’s time and development, the design of ideas, the design of services, the design of networks and the design of budgets.

In fact, what Jones is describing is precisely the same sort of thing that Harris is imagining in his posts about the future Episcopal Church.

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