Structure in the Spotlight

Center Aisle reports from the Committee on Structure’s progress. As reported last night, by the close of last evening’s meeting the committee had produced a draft omnibus resolution.

Center Aisle:

The Committee on Structure started General Convention with more than five dozen resolutions on restructuring the Church. By Saturday night, it had one. Almost.

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,”….

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.”

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 Committee or General Convention, but back to the Church. We are the Church … and that’s a key shared dynamic in the drafting committee.”

The church’s examination of structure has reached the mainstream media; in an op-ed in Huffington Post, Mark Edington (an Episcopal priest in Newtonville, Mass., and the executive director of the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory) writes

There, on page 536 of the 759-page-long doorstop of a book prepared for the delegates to read, is a resolution calling for the church to endorse the “principle of subsidiarity” in shaping its future life of witness and work.

The question this resolution seeks to answer is one confronted by all of the traditional mainline Protestant denominations: How can churches that have historically been organized in some kind of hierarchy open the doors to innovation and creativity, while still retaining an essential kind of unity and clarity of message?

This is, let’s be honest, a risky business. For better or worse, many of the most significant changes that have made the church more inclusive and more progressive in the years just past were, in their essence, top-down changes. They were not positions sensed by a majority and then codified by a once-every-three-years gathering. Something more like the opposite took place; the elected leadership of the church set out new and ambitions visions of our message, and the people in the pews have had to find ways to grow into that vision.

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