Structure to Church: Sell 815

The Committee on Structure cut to the chase this morning, editing D016 down from eight resolutions to one:

Sell the Episcopal Church headquarters at 815 Second Avenue before the 78th General Convention.

Structure was clear: No more talking about it. No more studies. Just do it.

The action came as a result of discussion about the open hearing Structure held Thursday night, where 40 people repeatedly called for massive and quick change in the Church.

The Rev. David Knight of Mississippi summed up the emotions and thoughts of many on Thursday night when he said, “I have seen what the Church can do when we are nimble. We were far better than FEMA or even the Red Cross [after Hurricane Katrina]. Resolutions from 45 dioceses support this idea. Thousands of Episcopalians agree. The people in the pews have spoken, and they are waiting for us. … I believe we can do this because I have seen it.”

On Friday, members of Structure spoke of what they heard.

The Rev. Gay Jennings, chair of the Deputies committee, said that she heard the “theme that we in the system are least likely to be able to reform ourselves.” But, she pointed out, Structure repeatedly has brought resolutions to General Convention to change the Church, only to be rebuffed by General Convention itself.

“I also heard a huge groundswell of desire for a special commission,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of magical thinking in terms of what a special commission would do. It sounded like it would be our salvation. I am cautious about that. I don’t know who should be in charge of this process … and caution us to avoid magical thinking.”

Jennings also pointed out, “With all due respect, that there is no such thing as a constitutional convention. There are regular meetings of General Convention, then there are special meetings of General Convention, which can only be called by the bishops.”

Deputy Judith Conley of Arizona said that she had heard the same thing as the others. “Even though the people don’t know exactly what they want, they are asking for change and asking for something different.”

She added, “Another thing I heard – the voices of the people in the pews and grassroots are missing. We need to find a way to get those voices” heard.

Many members of the committee wondered if Structure was the right place to attempt to effect the sweeping changes that people want.

The Rt. Rev. S. Johnson Howard of Florida, chair of the Bishop’s committee, wondered “whether ultimately this is going to take not committees … but somebody manning the barricades, unfurling the flag, saying, ‘This is the way we need to march,’ and seeing if people really rally behind him or her and march in that direction. … What it may require is for somebody to stand up and say, ‘I move that we throw all this away,” referring to the Constitution and Canons. “That may be what’s required. [But] I’m not the one with the guts to say, ‘Let’s break up this convention … do away with bishops … start all over again and here’s my vision, will you buy into it?’”

But the mood changed dramatically when the Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle of Texas, vice chair of the Bishop’s committee, spoke.

“I feel frustrated,” he said, “because there is nobody else. There’s us. There’s no special committee that is going to go away and do something and won’t have to come back to us.”

“This is a brilliant group of people,” he said, referring to the Structure committee. “We have expertise in this room to do this work. We believe, in our system, that God put us in this room to do this work. So the notion that we can’t do it is an unfaithful notion, in my opinion. It is unfaithful. That’s when the system no longer works.”

Doyle went on to declare, “The budget process does not work. PB&F right now is restructuring the Church by deciding who gets money and who doesn’t, even before we get the resolutions to vote.”

The governing system, he said, “is broken and we can fix that. We can change that. People are not happy with us spending this much money to talk to each other about people who are not here. … People are not happy that we have a building in New York that takes millions of dollars out of our missionary operations. They are not happy, and we have known that for years. How many studies have we done? Do we need to study it again? … Let’s force change. Don’t study it. Let’s sell [815]. We in this committee have the power to make change happen.”

He concluded, “We have the opportunity to make these changes. … To walk away and give it to somebody else is unfair.”

Other members of the committee voiced their own frustrations. Howard lamented that “we come into this place … without any real singular vision being projected and we’re let loose to debate things [with] no unified vision of what a budget for mission and ministry looks like.”

However, the Rev. Wendy Abrahamson of Iowa echoed Doyle’s call for action. “I do think there’s a need for a vision to be found, but I do think there are some specific themes that are well within our ability to address. The financial ones are very specific. All of the resolutions (on the structure of the Church) point out that administration is half the budget. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, parishes can’t afford a clergy person. … The stuff that we’re doing is not going to address that. But money in the world and the Church living in the world as it is, those are things we can do something about. … There are a lot of things that we can begin to attack that will create some room for maybe helping that vision to be clarified,” she said, referring to financial issues and the length of General Convention in particular.

Deputy Debby Melnyk of Florida ended that portion of Structure’s discussion by saying, “I left last night very enthusiastic, and I feel we have a wonderful opportunity right here to start some change. … We have an opportunity for creative thinking. … We have all sorts of opportunity to do greater thinking to create change. … I agree with Bishop Doyle. I think we can do it. We can put our minds to come up with a creative framework to effect that change.”

Twenty minutes later, Structure slashed seven “resolveds” from D016 and reduced it to the basics:

Sell 815 before the next General Convention and report back in 2015 on the sale.

Just do it.

–Lauren R. Stanley

Categories: GC2012

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