Examining TREC’s proposals to reform General Convention

I began my first essay blog posting about the paper on governance and administration from the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church by focusing on some aspects that deeply troubled me. This time I’d like to do the opposite. I think this insight is the most important one in the paper:

“Third, and perhaps most importantly, structural reform will not save the church or do the work of reaching out to the world in new ways with the transforming good news of the gospel. The church wide structures can, however, help to foster the kind of innovation and adaptation that many understand as critical to the future of The Episcopal Church, and which are already being explored and implemented in many places and at all levels of the church.”

Structural reform isn’t going to save the church, and many of the initiatives that might sustain the church can be undertaken now, before structural reform occurs. That said, the church can do more to raise up and devote resources to what is good, and church governance plays an important role in making that happen.

While I strenuously object to limiting the legislation that General Convention can consider by subject matter, and having an as- yet-undesignated body “screen” social justice legislation, I find some good proposals, as well as some misguided ones among the reforms suggested in the recent paper from TREC.

The TREC paper recommends nine reforms for the General Convention. I have written about the first of these, and am writing a separate post on the second (regarding the Missionary Convocation) so let’s begin at number three.

3. Though some have argued that lower the number of deputies from each diocese from eight to six will reduce the diversity of the House, Tobias Haller has looked at some voting results in recent years and argued that this won’t be the case. I was concerned about this, but he has persuaded me. And if it does, then shame on the electors in individual diocese. This will probably result in some savings and increased efficiency, so I think it is worth a try. (It is probably worth pointing out that diocese currently have the option to send only a single clergy member and a single lay person, though few do.)

4. I am not sure it makes sense to limit the business session of convention to seven legislative days. One of the reasons that the convention is sometimes a rather tense experience is that too much work is crammed into too short a time period. Let’s try working more efficiently, and finding a way to reduce and consolidate the legislation coming before the convention before taking an action that will make life more difficult for everyone in attendance.

5. Allowing legislative committees to meet 90 days before the convention actually convenes probably violates some existing canon, but it makes sense to “identify duplicate resolutions, discard resolutions already acted upon and distribute resolutions that need actions to the appropriate legislative committees.” So I am all in favor of this.

6. The proposal to limit the number of legislative committees is sensible to me, although I think it is supported by an erroneous argument. We won’t reduce the volume of legislation by reducing the number of legislative committees, as the paper contends, but vice versa. I’d propose instead that we have a certain number of standing legislative committees which we know will receive legislation and then populate them in proportion to the legislation that they receive—the bigger the workload, the bigger the committee, in order to provide adequate members to populate subcommittees. For what is it worth, I think the Church Pension committee needs to remain a committee of General Convention. At some point, our financially strapped congregations are going to start asking whether the 17 percent defined benefit pension plan is excessively generous, and the ensuing conversation should be as public as possible. (Before we start asking that, however, it would be nice if we could figure out a way not to pile the clergy who receive these pensions with a crushing burden of student debt.)

7 & 9. Like the authors of this paper, I am in favor of letting resolutions die in committee, and as long as the meetings that legislative committees hold in advance of the convention include a way to the public to be present, I am in favor of that as well.

8. I support the Task Force’s recommendation to reduce the percentage of their annual operating budgets that dioceses are expected to contribute to the larger church from 19 percent to “something closer to the biblical tithe.”

How do these proposals sound to you?

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