July 9, 2012

Constantine has Left the Building

My assignment at this [77th General] convention has been to track the movement to re-organize the entire structure of the Episcopal Church. A strong consensus has emerged that it is time to re-boot the way we are set-up – General Convention, Office of the Presiding Bishop, Church Center staff, Provinces, Commissions and Committees – calling into question the whole shebang.

This morning the Legislative Committee on Structure moved forward on how we are going to get this done.

They considered resolutions that would have called for a constitutional convention, a special convention, a change to a unicameral house, and ones that would have assured whatever group gets to decide would have a large percentage of young adults involved.

What they have come up with is a plan for special commission accountable only to the next General Convention that is to propose the full re-organization by November of 2014. To come up with their plan, they will be required to engage dioceses, provinces, individual congregations and “other interested individuals and organizations not often heard from.”

The commission will also convene a gathering of 400+ people including a bishop, lay deputy, clergy deputy and young adult from every diocese “to explore how our structures can best empower our mission.”

They will be required to communicate regularly their progress.

The proposed resolution is simple, its implications profound. At this convention, the House of Deputies has already voted to sell the Episcopal Church Center at 815 Second Avenue in New York City and to leave open the option that the Presiding Bishop could stay a diocesan bishop while serving. It was during debate on these topics that one deputy declared, “Constantine has left the building” and in written testimony another stated, “The Episcopal Church has an important opportunity to re-imagine the office of the Presiding Bishop as part of the current conversations regarding restructuring of the church.”These are just the opening steps in the full re-invention of the church.

What will it all look like when the smoke clears in 2015? The big hope is that we will be (in the nomenclature of the leading buzzword at this convention) a more “nimble” church. However, when program budgets are gutted and their desks dissolved, when program commissions and boards are disbanded and the gatherings of church-wide community become few and far between, the danger is we will lose the hard-won diversity and inclusiveness that has typified our church at the same time its structure has grown unwieldy.

While this whole issue sounds like “inside baseball” to many, it actually is very germane to the future of our common mission. Stay tuned to see what this General Convention decides and what the first steps in re-inventing the church might look like.