‘Mission’ Doesn’t Need a Special Convention

Personal Commentary

Last September, Bishop Stacy Sauls, the chief operating officer of the Episcopal Church, made a presentation to the House of Bishops on the state of the Church and recommended that we restructure ourselves. He wanted to start a conversation about who we are, who we want to be and how we will get there.

The Church has been talking – sometimes vociferously – ever since. Part of the debate has been over what Sauls means by “mission.” Part centers on the call for a special convention to be held sometime in the next three years to focus exclusively on restructuring. An intense part of the debate has centered on how Sauls made his presentation, talking to the House of Bishops first without consulting with the rest of the Church. Yet another portion of the debate has centered on how the “numbers” of the Church were presented.

The result of all this talk: More than 40 resolutions have been filed thus far calling for a special commission and that special convention.

In his presentation, which was refined a few months later, Sauls pointed out that about 47 percent of the Church’s budget is spent on administration and governance (a point that many people debate – more on this in a moment), which he said sometimes hinders, rather than furthers, the mission of the Church.

The vast majority of those resolutions either echo or actually use the language put forward by Sauls last September at the House of Bishops meeting. A few resolutions end up in the same place, but differ in the amount of money requested for the commission.

So what is everyone asking for? A plan to reform the Church’s “structures, governance, administration and staff,” to be presented to a special General Convention for consideration, complete with proposed amendments to the Constitution and Canons, all prior to the next General Convention in 2015.

The number of dioceses supporting Sauls’ view shows that a large part of the Church wants change.

But what kind of change? And at what cost?

A special convention apparently would not have the authority to make any changes. Article XII of the Constitution says that “no alteration or amendment of this Constitution shall be made unless the same shall be first proposed at one regular meeting of the General Convention and be sent to the Secretary of the Convention of every Diocese, to be made known to the Diocesan Convention at its next meeting, and be adopted by the General Convention at its next succeeding regular meeting.”

These resolutions ask for $100,000 for implementation of the special commission, but there is no mention of where the money for a special convention – in the neighborhood of $2 million, according to the Rev. Canon Dr. Gregory Straub, executive officer and secretary of the General Convention – would come from. And that $2 million? That’s just the cost to the General Convention budget. It doesn’t include the costs to the dioceses, or to the deputies who have to pay their own way.

As long as we’re talking about money and how it is used in the Church, shouldn’t we also consider the fact that the numbers being discussed do not take into consideration the full amount spent by the Church on mission? The Rev. Tobias Stanislas Haller, in his blog In a Godward Direction, points out that what is missing from the equation is the billions of dollars spent at diocesan and congregational levels, money that by not being mentioned seems to not exist. Excluding that money from the discussion indeed makes it look like the “Church” – all of it, at every level – spends far too much on administration and governance, and not enough on “mission.” But that is misleading, because the Church as a whole spends more on mission than on governance, and far more on mission than on administration.

The problem is, while many want to see something different – a more nimble Church that is proactive, as opposed to being reactive; that goes out into the world; that depends on subsidiarity (the idea that things are done best at the local level) – few have put forward concrete examples of what the Church should do. All of the resolutions call for a special commission; most call for a special convention. But beyond that, we don’t seem to know what we want.

We don’t even seem to be able to agree on the meaning of this “mission” we want to pursue.

All of which leads to Resolution A073, which calls for the creation of “Mission Enterprise Zones.” A073, put forth by the Standing Commission on the Mission and Evangelism, envisions groups that are “committed to mission and evangelism” that “build relationships with groups currently under-represented” in the Church. The resolution also calls for “greater freedom” to be given to these zones vis-à-vis congregational status, “traditional formation for and use of ordained leadership, and the use of authorized texts for principal worship gatherings.”

At heart, A073 recognizes local leaders who have “taken up the challenge to engage in mission in creative, culturally sensitive ways,” and calls for the same freedoms that have been given to those who have gone before to be extended to those who want to follow in their footsteps.

And how does A073 tie in with all of the calls for restructuring the Church?

The answer is found in the explanation:

“Structures are important and necessary, but they must be flexible enough not to inhibit the proclamation of the Gospel by faithful Episcopal communities, and they have to be re-evaluated as mission conditions on the ground shift. By creating these stations for mission enterprise, and then by studying them, we will know what structures to create to recognize and encourage the growth of new and redeveloped faith communities.”

The resolution calls for $1 million in funding in the next triennium – far less than the cost of a special convention – so that dioceses can apply for a matching grant of up to $20,000 to help develop the Mission Enterprise Zone.

Amid all the calls the restructuring, instead of setting up a new special commission to study what could be done and calling a special convention to recommend canonical changes, perhaps the Church would be better served by implementing A073, which focuses on the actual doing of mission.

–by Lauren R. Stanley, Staff Writer

Categories: GC2012

2 replies »

  1. I agree with the major point of your essay, but I want to offer one small qualification. Bishop Sauls does not ask — nor do the resolutions crafted after his ask — for a Special General Convention. The resolutions ask for a special commission to consider our structure, and they include “enabling legislation” which would allow the House of Bishops to call for a Special Convention if need be. Check out any of the “C” resolutions at http://www.generalconvention.org/gc/resolutions for the text.
    I understand that “enabling legislation” is because only the House of Bishops has the authority to call for a special convention, and they want the full GC on record as supporting it if need be.
    But, like you, I’d like to see mission be our focus without any such necessity. I would love to see GC become a powerful force for invigoration and information-sharing.