Change coming to the structures of the Episcopal Church?

Bishop Stacy Sauls made a presentation to the recent meeting of the House of Bishops meeting proposing a radical restructuring of the Episcopal Church, beginning with the calling of a Special Convention. The ENS article is here.

Mark Harris has comments here and here. Much of Sauls’ proposal has to do with General Convention, but there are large points, as well. For example, he observes that the Episcopal Church spends about 47% of its budget on administration and governance; 53% on mission. The Better Business Bureau suggests a non-profit should spend no more than 35% on overhead expenses.

Elizabeth Kaeton welcomes the conversation but worries that it is beginning in the wrong place. We should start with clarity about mission, and then talk about funding priorities.

Conversations like these are of crucial importance, but they can’t be driven solely by concerns about cost-cutting. The structures of the Episcopal Church that were built up in the twentieth century were an attempt to live out a vision of the church and that they did. They also reflected the cultural values of the time. On this, Derek Penwell is correct. But what should the church look like in the twenty-first century? What should it be? These are questions that need careful, thoughtful discussion, and not just by those who are invested in the church as it is (Bishops, national church and diocesan staff, and General Convention deputies). That is a self-selected (occasionally appointed or elected) group. Centering the conversations among this group leaves important voices out, especially those whose experience of church is primarily, perhaps only, in the parish or a local ministry.

Most of us working in the trenches have little time or energy to waste on conversations at the national level, or even the diocesan, for that matter. We are too busy doing ministry and often too busy even to think about how we need to change and adapt in the twenty-first century. We know the old models and structures don’t work, but can’t think our way into a future.

But it’s not just us. It’s also all those who come to us for spiritual renewal, for hope and strength, for ways to reach out to those in need, and could care less about the larger church. They ought to be in the conversation as well, for it is they who will shape the twenty-first century church. If they are not part of the conversation, perhaps guiding it, we will just be rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.



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