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Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings opened the inaugural meeting of the Episcopal Church Task Force for Church Structural Reform on February 14 with overviews of the church and their task.
The Task Force is meeting through February 16 at the Maritime Institute in Baltimore, MD.
The following are the texts of the opening statements.
Structure Task Force
14 February 2013
Maritime Center, Linthicum Heights, MD
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
As this body begins its work together, I want to offer a broad sketch of who and what this Church is today. I am deeply aware that many Episcopalians have a good understanding of their local congregations, but often lack the broader awareness of who and what we are. I’m also going to suggest a handful of broad areas of developmental work that I see us as a church beginning to engage. Your task is to bring all of your creativity, strategizing, thought and prayer to the work of suggesting how we might better support and undergird and challenge the life and work of this Church and to do it with as one person says, sheer holy boldness.
The Episcopal Church is 2 million people in 109 dioceses and three other jurisdictions (the Area Mission of Navajoland, Convocation of Churches in Europe, and Micronesia).
We are present in 16 countries: Taiwan, Micronesia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Haiti, Dominican Republic, British and US Virgin Islands, United States including Puerto Rico, Honduras, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. And these United States. There are conversations going on in Poland with people who want to affiliate with The Episcopal Church. We also have a unique relationship with the Diocese of Cuba, which was part of The Episcopal Church until the United States and Cuban governments forced an end to their membership in The Episcopal Church in the 1960s.
90% of our members and our dioceses are in the United States, but we are not a “national church” and haven’t been for nearly two centuries, since we began to live into our formal legal identity, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS).
We speak and worship in a variety of languages, not only in the extra-US dioceses. Even those who usually worship in one or more local languages and sometimes also in English. Within the United States context, most dioceses have worshipping communities that represent more than one cultural context, history, and/or language. The Diocese of Los Angeles offers worship in at least 19 languages every week.
Our diocesan structures range from the historic and numerically large (in terms of congregations and people), like New York, Massachusetts, and Virginia, to the numerically small but geographically large western dioceses (e.g., Montana, Navajoland, Alaska, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah). Micronesia is the smallest jurisdiction, consisting of four congregations and a large boarding school, in two different island jurisdictions.
Five of our dioceses are in various stages of renewal following the departure of leadership in recent years: San Joaquin, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy, and South Carolina. In each case, the remaining Episcopalians have found resurrection in turning outward to serve their communities, and moving away from an inward focus on conflict.
We are an enormously varied church, with strong growth in most of our overseas dioceses and in immigrant congregations in the United States context. Latino/Hispanic congregations are an increasingly significant part of the whole, as are Asian congregations of many sorts. These congregations are no longer all primarily first generation immigrants, and dioceses are beginning to learn how to address the changing demographic needs. We also have an increasing number of African immigrant congregations – Liberian, Sudanese, Nigerian, and others. We are also growing in more traditional congregations, particularly when they are focused on mission, and moving out into the communities around them.
As The Episcopal Church moves into the 21st century and considers where and how the gospel needs to be proclaimed in the midst of changing societies, we have several primary foci of attention, the places where people are paying attention.
1) Identity. This is central – who are we, what are we for?
Far more attention is being paid to these questions, and how we form our members of all ages in an Episcopal ethos for Christian living. [You might work toward a similar statement!]
We are baptized members of the body of Christ, formed and sent to be agents of God’s dream of reconciliation in a broken world.
2) Mission. This is a primary response to the question of identity (I remind you of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society)
In recent triennia, we have begun to explore the mission focus in broad ways that have engaged the imagination of the wider church. Beginning with the Millennium Development Goals (growing out of the global Jubilee movement in 2000), we have worked hard at serving “the least of these.” The MDGs center on the poorest of the poor in the developing world, they address hunger, maternal and children’s health, women’s empowerment, primary education, major disease threats, economically and ecologically sustainable development, and trade and debt practices. The MDGs will be refocused and renewed in 2015, and the good news is that we’ve made significant progress in several areas.
One of the challenges of the MDGs is that they are focused only on poverty in developing nations, and the United States has equivalent levels of poverty in inner cities, in some rural areas, and on Native American reservations. The Domestic Poverty initiative that came out of the 2009 General Convention is a response to this challenge. It has had its initial focus on Native American communities, using Asset-Based Community Development methods.
We have also claimed an Anglican Communion-generated understanding of mission in the Five Marks of Mission. This has been an enormously helpful framework for thinking about what it is God sends us to do: proclaim the good news of the kingdom; teach, baptize, and nurture new believers; respond to human need through loving service; transform unjust structures of society; and care for the earth. These Five Marks are gaining traction across The Episcopal Church and across the Worldwide Anglican Communion), particularly because no one community or part of the wider church can hope to accomplish all or even one of those on its own – these marks exemplify what it means to be members of the body of Christ.
3) Sustainability in mission.
The DFMS was key to missionary efforts in several parts of Asia, South and Latin America, and Liberia, and also sent early missionaries to Japan and China. A number of those churches planted in those areas have grown enough to become autonomous parts of the Anglican Communion: Mexico; IARCA (Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de America), Brazil, the Philippines, and the Diocese of Liberia – which joined the Province of West Africa a number of years ago. We remain in close relationship with those provinces, through covenant partnerships. At the same time, autonomy in some places came in name more than real fiscal sufficiency, which we must own as one of the legacies of our own colonial mission history. Several of the dioceses of The Episcopal Church remain in that kind of dependency, which I don’t believe is representative of full dignity and partnership in the body of Christ. Mission and ministry was begun in many contexts without adequate planning for growth and development; as a result, several of these jurisdictions remain or remained on the DFMS budget dole far longer than necessary or just.
A great mission focus of the 19th century urged the broader church to recognize that growing up into the full stature of Christ as a Christian community carries three broad expectations of maturity – that it be self-governing, self-sustaining, and self-propagating (cf. Henry Venn and Roland Allen). The church in China exists today as a result of effective mission work in the 19th century along those lines, and indeed, China claims this expectation in the name it gives its Protestant churches: the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM).
Province IX (Latin American dioceses) and several of our covenant partners (Philippines, Mexico, IARCA, Brazil) are engaged in a vigorous strategic process toward self-sufficiency. Navajoland and Haiti are also committed to this work. What they learn and develop might also be emulated by many of our more traditional US dioceses. Former missionary districts and dioceses (e.g., Coalition 14 and its successor the Domestic Missionary Partnership, have engaged these questions for many years). Other depopulating US dioceses might partner in the learning conversation about entrepreneurial creativity, strategic mission planning, and creative multi-faceted development that arise from these initiatives.
4) Organizing and structuring for mission.
The last General Convention, I think, listened well to the moving of the Spirit across The Episcopal Church (and many other churches) in recent years, and challenged us as a body to look carefully at how our structures serve God’s mission or do not serve God’s mission. This Task Force on Structure is expected to report to The Episcopal Church in late 2014, with the hope that our next General Convention will take up your proposals.
Change and reform are not waiting until then, however. The body charged with shaping the next General Convention, called Planning and Arrangements, has already begun to look at how we might work more effectively.
I see a variety of responses and needs as I look around The Episcopal Church, which are being variously addressed and will need sustained leadership by bishops, other clergy, and lay leaders:
Worldwide Anglican Communion
38 autonomous provinces form the Worldwide Anglican Communion. A significant portion of the Communion has its origin in The Episcopal Church: Brazil, Mexico, IARCA, Philippines, Liberia, Cuba. Early missionaries also helped to form the churches in Japan and China. We also have a long and deep relationship with the Diocese of Jerusalem.
The recent unpleasantness, as some people might call it, in the Worldwide Anglican Communion is developmental. The Communion is maturing – it’s moving from adolescence and dependency (that budget issue, again) into more adult and mutual relationships. The “Windsor process” that tried to define structures and attempted to develop an Anglican Covenant has been helpful because it has promoted far deeper and more honest conversation about relationships. We have hardly begun to explore the history of colonialism, however, from the legacy of both the British Empire and the United States.
Most people would recognize the Windsor process claim of “four instruments of communion” as being the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting, and the Anglican Consultative Council. Language about the “instruments” has shifted in recent months from surgical instruments to symphonic instruments, which I think is very significant. The ACC is clear that leadership in the Worldwide Anglican Communion needs to include the voices of laity and non-episcopal clergy, as well as women, in all its structures.
Relationships across the Communion continue to grow in number, depth, and mutuality. There is increasing understanding between The Episcopal Church and the Church of England, although there is still abundant plenty of room for growth there. The recent ACC meeting (Oct-Nov 2012 in Auckland) had attendees from all but one province in the Communion, and far more effective conversation and outcomes than the previous two meetings. In spite of or in parallel with GAFCON, the Communion is still extant, although not completely what we would hope for and expect in Christian community.
Relationships are essential to the life of the Communion. Several ACC initiatives are helping to develop greater missional partnerships: Continuing Indaba; Bible in the Life of the Church project; the Anglican Communion networks of several sorts.
The impact of Lambeth 2008, and a meeting of North American and African bishops in Spain before Lambeth, can’t be overstated. Most recognize the real need for learning and understanding other contexts; deep engagement in missional partnership is both the way to accomplish that, and it is the fruit of that engagement.
All of these communion-wide endeavors need investment, both personal and financial. Deconstructing the colonialism in our wider life and relationships is essential to answering God’s missional call. The Anglican Communion is the world’s third- largest distribution system, after the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches. It can be a powerful force for healing, reconciliation, and transformation toward the reign of God. Anglican and Episcopal churches exist beyond the end of the road in many countries around the world, that can offer healing, education, and transformation to the communities around them. The Anglican Alliance (of relief and development agencies of which Episcopal Relief & Development is a part) is an example of what is possible when we work together rather than separately. We have also seen what a difference it makes when one part of the Communion stands in solidarity with another. The life of people around the world has been changed by Worldwide Anglican Communion prayers and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe, Jerusalem, Congo, Sudan, Japan post-tsunami, Haiti, and in the eastern United States following the storm called Sandy.
All of this work toward the Reign of God depends on continuing to develop incarnate relationships, which are the outward and visible expression of the great commandment to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Task Force for Structural Reform
February 14, 2013
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings
House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church
As I’ve been preparing for this meeting, I’ve been thinking about the words of a good Anglican, T.S. Eliot. In the “Dry Salvages,” one of the Four Quartets, he wrote “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”
Welcome to the end of the great Episcopal Church structure debate of 2011-2012. We have arrived here, in part, through a politically fraught process that no one would perhaps seek to recommend or seek to replicate. As so often happens, however, the Holy Spirit showed up and worked through our legislative process at General Convention. The result was a rare unanimous vote in both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops for Resolution C095. The first clause of that resolution, which created this task force, says:
Resolved, That this General Convention believes the Holy Spirit is urging The Episcopal Church to reimagine itself, so that, grounded in our rich heritage and yet open to our creative future, we may more faithfully:
• Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
• Teach, baptize and nurture new believers
• Respond to human need by loving service
• Seek to transform unjust structures of society
• Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. (Five Marks of Mission)
Put simply, we are longing to be changed from glory into glory. So this is your starting point. What it lacks in specificity it makes up for in faithfulness.
Because we got here the way we did, we don’t yet have some things that you’ll need to accomplish the work you are charged to do between now and November 2014, when your report is due. Don’t worry: You have some of the sharpest, most creative minds I know in this room, and you’ll be able to make up ground quickly and collaboratively. But here are some fundamentals you’ll want to consider as you figure out how to get the job done:
We don’t have agreement on what we mean when we say we intend to reimagine “The Episcopal Church” and reform our “structures, governance and administration.” Are we speaking of our corporate structure of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society? Our diocesan and provincial structures? The General Convention? Executive Council? Theological education? Committees, commissions, agencies and boards? Congregations? It is up to you to define the scope of what you will seek to restructure. It is as much about identity and mission as it is structure.
We don’t have a common vocabulary. Those of you who played Bonnie Ball in the House of Deputies last summer remember the points you scored for using buzzwords like “nimble,” “flexible” and “creative.” The game was a blast, but jargon clouds meaning, as any of you who have read General Ordination Exams know all too well. I urge you to spend time developing a clear, common vocabulary to use when you communicate with one another and with the whole church—which you are charged to do “frequently” by Resolution C095.
Most of all, we have a lot of unquestioned assumptions and not much data—especially about the energetic, active, Spirit-led mission and ministries that are happening all over the grassroots of this church. As the president of the House of Deputies, which has nearly 900 members, I’m privileged to hear from a lot of laypeople and clergy, particularly young people, who are planting congregations, organizing communities, advocating for justice, and reinventing church. They have remarkably little need for, or interest in, traditional top-down governance structures more suited to the world of Mad Men than Modern Family. Any new structure worth having will need to harness their commitment to the Gospel, their passion for mission, and their energy and creativity.
Resolution C095 gives you the mandate you need to gather the information and ask for the prayers you will need:
Resolved, That, in order to be informed by the wisdom, expertise, and commitment of the whole body of the Church, the Task Force shall gather information and ideas from congregations, dioceses and provinces, and other interested individuals and organizations, including those not often heard from; engage other resources to provide information and guidance, and shall invite all these constituencies to be joined in prayer as they engage in this common work of discernment.
I want to commend to you one more resolved clause of your enabling resolution. You won’t be surprised that it is near and dear to me:
Resolved, That this Task Force shall be accountable directly to the General Convention, and independent of other governing structures, to maintain a high degree of autonomy.
You are no one’s agents; no one’s surrogates, and the credibility of this endeavor depends on your conducting your work accordingly.
There’s a lot at stake for many faithful people in the restructuring of The Episcopal Church, because the end that we are starting from is the end of the institutional church as we have known it. You’ve been called to guide the church as we begin anew, and you have been given the independence and autonomy you will need to keep the understandable and unavoidable fear, anxiety and grief at bay and give us all “a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11, as quoted in Resolution C095).
I will wait with great interest as you lead us in welcoming and engaging changing realities, emerging networks, flattening hierarchies, rapidly changing media, amazing new technologies, and new ideas about what community means. We are all praying for you.
Let us pray:
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 280, 291)
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