Straining Gnats, Swallowing Camels Part II

Personal Commentary

Read Part I of “Straining Gnats, Swallowing Camels.”

One approach is to try to change the system from within.

But as we’re learning, camels don’t digest quickly. Bishop Provenzano’s “William White is Dead” proposal, and Bishop Sauls’ proposal  to refocus the mission of the Episcopal Church on all things mission, are generating lots of resistance.

Those who author the vast majority of the resolutions at diocesan conventions and the General Convention – and who in turn serve on the committees, commissions, agencies and boards that those conventions authorize – pretty much like the system the way it is: As Provenzano writes, “There are too many people involved and invested in the power that comes from deep and cumbersome organization that has become increasingly bureaucratic.”

The very fact that Provenzano and Sauls are naming the source of our institutional indigestion is a hopeful sign.

But I don’t think that is how real or lasting change will take place in the Episcopal Church.

Rather, I’ve come to believe in the concept of “parallel growth change.”

“Parallel growth” is a strategy apparently adopted by some major corporations that face issues similar to the Episcopal Church: outdated structures, bloated budgets, overly centralized and irrelevant systems.

The theory is this: Those interested in change should resist the temptation to battle the system or try to change the dominant, inherited culture – battles that only end up causing turf wars because people tend protect “the way things are.”

Rather, leaders who are in favor of change are encouraged to all but ignore “the system” and concentrate almost all their efforts on encouraging healthy franchises – those local retailers that are doing well in spite of “corporate” policy or procedures.

The analogy isn’t perfect – we’re not a corporation – but how that looks in the Episcopal Church is that people who are in favor of change should all but ignore “the system” and concentrate their efforts on encouraging healthy congregations – those congregations that are growing and mission-minded in spite of diocesan or “national” structures.

Where it gets really fascinating is this: “Parallel growth” assumes that one day all those healthy local franchises grow so much they eventually become the majority.

And then there is a revolution – an almost overnight toppling of those antiquated structures because the (now) majority simply won’t put up with it.

Rather than the slow, steady – and resisted-every-step-of-the-way – change favored by those who benefit from slow change, there is lots of parallel growth happening everywhere … and then there’s a palace coup.

My hope is to still be around – covering General Conventions and active in ministry – when that happens in the Episcopal Church.

It sure will be a lot more fun than watching deputies and bishops strain out gnats from their wine while munching down on camel burgers.

–The Rev. John Ohmer, Center Aisle Staff Writer

Categories: GC2012

2 replies »

  1. The parallel growth strategy is well known in the church world too, for the same reasons. It’s a viable congregational development method in many places. When faced with a “stuck” congregation that has some high missional potential, wise leaders enable the new development, new leaders and new ideas, while caring pastorally for the established folk. The tension takes place with the “New Service” or whatever the new development is begins to assert a majority and demand more of the resources. And here’s the crux… The old structures don’t automatically tumble. They entrench, make noise, withhold money, assert historical influence, and sometimes cause violence. Many a new, popular, growing worship service reaching younger, newer folk has ended up canned due to weak leadership when the going got tough. It takes a strong leader backed by a strong leadership team not to cave in to the threats of the “establishment” while still staying connected and honoring them.

    All that being said, I agree with you whole-heartedly, John. I believe our Presiding Bishop and other leaders can be those strong leaders, and I think they will find other strong leaders to support the parallel growth while honoring our tradition and history, yet not allowing it to dictate our future. Let’s each find ways to support the health and vibrancy in our rich faith at all levels of our Episcopal community.