It all becomes clear now: Structure, dysfunction, and the Episcopal Church

Katie Sherrod, a member of Executive Council, has published her version of the budget and restructuring debates in and around EC. With Susan Russell’s from last week, the two combine to offer an alternative narrative to that produced by the Presiding Bishop and the Chief Operating Officer, and to offer explanations for the deep distrust among all the players involved. It’s clear that it’s not just the process that’s broken. The institution, structures, and relationships are broken as well. Indeed, so broken is everything that I’m not sure there’s any point in trying to fix things.

My question for all those involved–PB, COO, PHoD, EC, staff, even GC itself: “How can you imagine any of us on the margins of these structures, looking on from afar, can have any trust in any of it, or even any sense that what you do might have a positive impact on what we’re trying to do in the local church?”

Where do we go from here? Can these bones live? I don’t think so. I think there’s only one answer and it’s a complete demolition and rebuild. We’ve got to rebuild from the bottom up, not remodel the existing edifice. Those who are currently involved in running things should be excluded from designing plans for the new structure. They are both too invested in the Church as it exists and too caught up in the conflicts and struggles of the past to imagine new structures and to imagine a new way of being church.

How do we go about all this? There are lots of proposals out there already and I’m not going to add to the mix. Instead, I’m going to urge my diocesan deputation to General Convention to engage in conversations about structure with others and to encourage the development of a process that takes place outside the existing structures of the Church (i.e., General Convention, Executive Council, 815). I’m going to urge them to listen to voices that don’t want to re-open old wounds or rehearse old antagonisms (even if “old” dates only to October 2011, January, March, May 2012). From those conversations may bubble up an alternative way to approach restructuring. It may even be that an already proposed resolution might point a way forward.

Scott Gunn has a great deal to say on these matters. I agree wholeheartedly:

In my view, we should start with a blank slate. “IF we were creating the Episcopal Church from scratch for our time, what would it look like?” Let’s pretend we have no headquarters, no committees, no legislative assembly. Nothing. What would we build? What does our mission compel us to build?

Our question cannot be, does this committee do a good job and are the people who have served on it faithful servants? No, the question must be, how can we do this work? Is there a way to do it without a committee? Do we need a staff office to make this work happen?

There should be no sacred cows. Everything, and I mean everything, should be up for grabs. Except. We are an episcopal church, so we need to continue to understand that the fundamental unit of the church is the diocese, not the congregation or a larger structure. Also, we need a model that supports ministry and leadership by lay people, bishops, priests, and deacons. Open, clear, governance is necessary.

I’m also going to propose a resolution at our diocesan convention that funds our asking to the National Church only at the level needed for canonical support (apparently 5%). That would free up a great deal of money for us to use in developing programs and networks both internally and across dioceses to do the mission and ministry work we need to do as a church. It may also be that from such efforts a new creation might spring forth.

I’ve found Bishop Kirk Smith’s reflections about restructuring which he places in the context of “creative abandonment,” quite enlightening.

4 thoughts on “It all becomes clear now: Structure, dysfunction, and the Episcopal Church

  1. One of the most glorious things about our recent forced move was that we had to look at what we could and could not take with up. What we could not take we abandoned in place. Just walked away from the excess that otherwise could tie us down.

    It seems to me this is what our church, as a whole, needs to do.

  2. Pingback: It all becomes clear now: Structure, dysfunction, and the Episcopal ... | Episcopal Church |

  3. What if we simply followed the foundational form of “church” as provided to us in Scripture. Do we even know or recall what that is? Have we become so self obsessed with the “organization and process” that we have left the simplicity of Faith in the closet.

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