The Committee on Structure started General Convention with more than five dozen resolutions on restructuring the Church.
By Saturday night, it had one.
After extensive testimony and discussion, Structure is well on its way to presenting one resolution to convention for consideration.
The substitute resolution, C001, “Structural Reform,” which will be worked on again Sunday afternoon, begins by affirming that the “Holy Spirit is urging the Episcopal Church to reimagine itself grounded in our rich heritage and open to our creative future,” based on the Five Marks of Mission.
It also calls for the establishment of a task force, “operating independently from direction by existing church governing authorities,” composed of “as many as 30 members appointed by the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies.” At this point, the resolution asks that “the membership includes those not currently involved in the governance of the church.”
The Rt. Rev. Dan Edwards of Nevada was clear: “I don’t think this group is going to decide to micromanage” the task force’s work.
The task force would be given three years to create a plan for the “reform of the Church’s governance, structures, administration and program.”
During testimony, Deputy Scott Remington, Central Gulf Coast, warned, “If you’re focused on structure, you’re not executing a plan. If we can’t find a brand, we don’t have ethos. … We have to look at what has been developed, how it was used and what didn’t work.”
The Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe of California, a member of the committee, asked the Rev. Susan Snook, deputy, Arizona, to comment on the call for a task force that many were making.
Snook, whose blog, “A Good and Joyful Thing,” is widely read, said the proposed resolution “incorporates a process of discernment that is church-wide and grassroots,” and makes the “leadership talk with those in lower places.”
JoAnn Jones, deputy, Pennsylvania asked Snook to “dream if you would … share what three things you might like to see.”
“Wow,” Snook replied. “All right. The Church needs to put a true new focus on evangelism. Reach out to those not currently in the Church. We focus too much inward. We need to focus on the people outside the Church.
“We have an opportunity to rethink who we are as we share the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
Snook also said that we need to “refocus on populations who are not in the Church,” and to focus on under-represented populations in our culture.
Dr. Steven Horst, deputy, Connecticut, asked that the process “be approached as one of discernment with the Holy Spirit. I don’t think a year ago we would have thought [structure] would be the theme of this General Convention. We need to listen to the Holy Spirit and find a way to discern where we go from here.”
The Rev. Canon Dr. Neal Michell of Dallas said, “Evangelism cannot be legislated.”
When conversation turned directly to the proposed resolution, Barlowe said that the “most important word is ‘reimagine.’ It is what the Holy Spirit is encouraging us to do. We have confidence the Spirit will lead us where we need to be.”
The Rev. Wendy Abrahamson of Iowa said the drafting committee “set out to do … something with a skeletal structure. … We got resolutions from many dioceses and people, and we tried to give them what we thought they wanted.”
The Rev. Andrew Green of San Diego said, “For a hearing that wasn’t about sex, we had a lot of people show up and talk. We tried to listen to those voices.”
The developing resolution includes a call for the task force to “report on its work frequently, and shall make its final report and recommendations to the church by November 2014 along with resolutions necessary to implement them, including proposed amendments to the Constitutions and Canons of the Church.”
“The communication piece is important,” the Very Rev. Christopher Cunningham of Southern Virginia said. “This is communication back to the Church. [The task force] is not interested in communicating back to the Executive Council or General Convention, but back to the Church. We are the Church … and that’s a key shared dynamic in the drafting committee.”
The Rt. Rev. Robert Johnson, retired from Western North Carolina, said he thought the draft of the proposed resolution “is wonderful and exciting after Bishop [Michael] Curry’s sermon” on Saturday morning.
At one point, questions were asked about the task force operating independently, without oversight from the president of the House of Deputies and the presiding bishop.
The Rev. Gay Jennings of Ohio, chair of the Deputies committee, replied: The two leaders “are, by default.”
Judith Conley, deputy, Arizona commended the drafting group for “putting this simply. There’s no way you can’t understand this. I’m reading something that is exciting. You don’t often get legislation you can say you feel that way.”
Edwards agreed: “I look at this and I see a glimpse of a church I’d like to see.”
The Rt. Rev. S. Johnson Howard of Florida, chair of the Bishops committee, called the draft resolution “a great piece of work. It’s a minimalist document that allows the right group of people to do the right kind of work to sit around a camp fire and burn canons.”
Dr. Fredrica Thompsett of Massachusetts agreed.
“Theologically and pragmatically,” she said, “this is a splendid document of trust,” adding that it calls people to prayerful discernment rather than just doing something.
Jennings wondered about naming the task force. In baptism, she said, “we say name this child. … Perhaps we should consider naming the task force,” which would make it the people’s own.
– Reported by LeighAnna Feeser; written by Lauren R. Stanley