“Suicide by governance”?

Updated at 1 pm: Executive Council discussed the Presiding Bishop’s opening statement of yesterday in an open session today. Details to come.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori made some provocative remarks in her opening statement to the meeting of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, which concludes today in Salt Lake City. ENS has the story.

Here are a couple of passages worth examining:

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori challenged the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council Oct. 24 to avoid “committing suicide by governance.”

Jefferts Schori said that the council and the church face a “life-or-death decision,” describing life as “a renewed and continually renewing focus on mission” and death as “an appeal to old ways and to internal focus” which devotes ever-greater resources to the institution and its internal conflicts.

Does it seem that the presiding bishop is suggesting that the Episcopal Church’s democratic governing structure is responsible for its numerical decline? If so, does that seem accurate? And if it seems accurate, what should be done about it?

“We need some structural change across the Episcopal Church,” she said. “Almost everywhere I go I hear dioceses wrestling with this; dioceses addressing what they often think of as their own governance handcuffs, the structures that are preventing them from moving more flexibly into a more open future.”

Later in her remarks, Jefferts Schori said “we need a system that is more nimble, that is more able to respond to change,” calling for “a more responsive and adaptable and less rigid set of systems.”

What structures do you think the presiding bishop is refering to here? Is your parish or diocese handcuffed by the church’s system of governance?

Meanwhile, Jefferts Schori said, there is what she called “a sometimes rather adversarial attitude” in the council that is the result of “confusion about roles.”

“Sometimes committees try to do the work of staff,” she said. “Council sometimes forgets that its job is about policy-making and accountability, and we live with the challenge of having 40 people challenged to make decisions together. There’s a reason why Jesus called 12 disciples, it’s a manageable group for conversation.”

Jefferts Schori also described “an adversarial attitude between bishops and deputies,” saying that bishops’ vocation is “their ability to do big-picture work, care for the whole flock” and to invite others into the big-picture, long-term conversation. Deputies, she said, are elected to represent the interests of their dioceses.

Does the presiding bishop’s explanation of the role of the Executive Council and the duty of deputies seem accurate to you?

Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies, seems to struck a somewhat different chord in her remarks, which are also quoted in the story:

“Fortunately God has called us to this ministry and has given us the gifts to do what needs to be done,” she said. “It is all of us, together — bishops, laity, clergy — who govern the Episcopal Church. Make no mistake about it: our form of governance enables our mission.”

Anderson suggested that “a choice between governance and mission is a false choice,” adding that the choice is a both-and, not either-or.

Both women will deliver closing remarks today.

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