Reimagining task force hears from the church

Group begins last face-to-face meeting before proposing structural changes

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Oct 3, 2014
The Rev. Victoria Heard, canon for church planting in the Diocese of Dallas, asks a question Oct. 2 during the church-wide gathering of the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church at Washington National Cathedral. TREC member Victor Feliberty-Ruberte, of Puerto Rico, managed the floor microphone. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The Rev. Victoria Heard, canon for church planting in the Diocese of Dallas, asks a question Oct. 2 during the church-wide gathering of the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church at Washington National Cathedral. TREC member Victor Feliberty-Ruberte, of Puerto Rico, managed the floor microphone. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Washington, D.C.] After spending the evening of Oct. 2 answering questions and taking comments about its work, the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church is refining its recommendations to General Convention on structural changes to the church.

TREC’s last face-to-face meeting before its report to General Convention is due began with the 2.5-hour gathering Oct. 2. The event was webcast live from Washington National Cathedral. It is also due to be available on demand for later viewing here and here. The agenda included 10-minute presentations from some TREC members each followed by 15-minute question-and-comment periods. A 40-minute question-and-comment period rounded out the meeting. Questions, concerns and comments were taken from the audience in the cathedral as well as from people sending in questions via e-mail and Twitter.

The task force recently released a letter to the church outlining what it called “our thinking and emerging recommendations” on structural changes it will make to the 2015 meeting of General Convention. It said in that letter that its final report, due to be made public at the end of November, would “illustrate how these recommended changes would help The Episcopal Church to more effectively and efficiently address critical and urgent agenda items, with the flexibility to innovate and experiment more rapidly and to adopt bold courses of action where necessary.”

It was not clear from comments made during the Oct. 2 gathering if the proposals included in that Sept. 4 letter will remain as they are, whether others will be added or just how sweeping a scope the final report’s recommendation will have.

Diocese of North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry leads off the Oct. 2 church-wide gathering of the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church at Washington National Cathedral with a commentary on the biblical perspective on TREC’s work. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Diocese of North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry leads off the Oct. 2 church-wide gathering of the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church at Washington National Cathedral with a commentary on the biblical perspective on TREC’s work. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

“I think for most of us, we understand that what TREC is doing is a beginning; it’s not the final product; that we are in the midst of a great transformation culturally and as a church in terms of doing the mission of Jesus in this particular mission moment,” North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry, a TREC member. “At a basic level our hope is that whatever we recommend will be in a preliminary way and the convention will wrestle with it … and we will do something that will move this movement forward.”

On the other hand, the Rev. Dwight Zscheile, TREC member from Minnesota, answered a question about why the task force had not called for dramatic changes such as combining the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops or eliminating all church-wide staff by saying: “The challenge for any group, given this very large task and very short amount of time is we’ve had a lot of big, dreaming conversations and quite radical ideas and we’re still hoping to be bold.”

“And we’ve also heard from a lot of you: “don’t blow things up … there’s things that are working.’ So that’s part of the discernment for us and part of the challenge … We see this as an opening up of the structures, you know, there may be ongoing reform, not just once every generation,” he added.

Katy George, who convenes TREC along with the Rev. Craig Loya, told the Oct. 2 gathering that the group sees its effort as an important way to help the church work for “renewal, revival, discipleship” but she added what she called a disclaimer.

“Structural reform is neither necessary nor sufficient for our church to fully live into the opportunities for discipleship that we have or to fully address the issues that we have … but, boy, it would be helpful,” she said.

George and others said that TREC was considering how to streamline church-wide structures in a way that aided mission work at the local level and that gave those larger structures greater clarity in terms of their responsibilities and accountability.

Jonathan Elliot, Diocese of New Jersey’s director of communication, asks members of the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church, what they will recommend about evangelizing young people like himself. Elliot got a round of applause when he announced that he was being baptized Oct. 5. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Jonathan Elliot, Diocese of New Jersey’s director of communication, asks members of the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church, what they will recommend about evangelizing young people like himself. Elliot got a round of applause when he announced that he was being baptized Oct. 5. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

“I was actually surprised by reactions to our letter concerned about centralization of power because I think what we’re doing is actually clarifying responsibility and creating the platform for us holding our leadership and our church-wide staff accountable for specific things,” especially between meetings of General Convention when the staff and the Executive Council are responsible for carrying out convention’s mandates, she said.

TREC member Dennis Sullivan added that TREC is not making any recommendations about centralization of power but rather about “how the checks and balances would be understood and followed.”

George also cautioned that the debate about structure “doesn’t get in the way of keeping our church healthy and vital for our children and grandchildren.”

She also noted that church-wide structures “while they seem cumbersome and big are only about two percent of our total resources of the church” and thus cutting costs is not a priority of TREC but that “better use of our resources against the things that really matter is a priority.”

TREC’s work began after General Convention in July 2012, by way of Resolution C095, which called for a task force “to present the 78th General Convention with a plan for reforming the church’s structures, governance, and administration.”

Of the almost 400 resolutions submitted to General Convention in 2012 more than 90 related to structural reform. Most of those resolutions were similar in nature and it was the work of the structure committee at convention to consider the legislation and make its recommendations to the house.

The driving force behind those resolutions was a proposal in September 2011 by Bishop Stacy Sauls, the Episcopal Church’s chief operating officer, calling on dioceses to submit versions of a model General Convention resolution he offered asking for a special General Convention in 2014 to begin to make structural changes to the church.

Some members of the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church listen Oct. 2 at Washington National Cathedral as co-convener Katy George, on monitor, speaks about the organizational perspective of TREC’s work. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Some members of the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church listen Oct. 2 at Washington National Cathedral as co-convener Katy George, on monitor, speaks about the organizational perspective of TREC’s work. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Applause and cheers erupted July 11, 2012, at General Convention as Resolution C095 sailed unanimously through the House of Bishops. A day earlier, deputies also had passed the resolution unanimously.
Resolution C095 called for a “special gathering to receive responses to the proposed recommendations to be brought forward to the 78th General Convention, and shall invite to this gathering from each diocese at least a bishop, a lay deputy, a clerical deputy, and one person under the age of 35.”

The Oct. 2 gathering was the only time that the task force met face-to-face with members of the church. TREC’s five meetings to date have been held almost entirely in private and the Oct. 3-4 portion of its final meeting will be closed as well.

TREC has also asked for feedback from the church via its website by encouraging church groups and individuals to use its engagement kit. Those 327 responses are available here. The group also released study papers on identity and vision, Episcopal networks, and church-wide governance and administration. Those study papers are here. Each of those papers elicited responses on various social media and on various church observers’ blogs, as did TREC’s September Letter to the Church.

TREC’s Facebook page is here and it is here on Twitter with @ReimagineTEC, where the group is using #reimaginetec. Tweets from during the meeting using that hashtag are here. During the meeting, many people tweeted using #TREClive. Those tweets are here.

TREC also created its own website here.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


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Comments (9)

  1. Oh dear friends! These are good people. They are really trying hard. But, turning around a battleship is very slow and very hard work indeed. I don’t think we should get our hopes up for “Re-Imagining The Episcopal Church” on the churchwide level. Fortunately, TEC is being re-imagined every day ‘on the ground’ in creative parishes and dioceses. That’s why Jeff Lee, Bishop of Chicago, describes his job as “lighting fires and giving permission slips!” Don’t be afraid to take risks, beloved. It’s the only way real renewal and reformation has ever taken place.

  2. Barbara Snyder says:

    I’m not so sure, Christopher Epting! Being included in a churchwide discussion is a first, in my own experience; I thank TREC for doing that, first on their website and now with this gathering. It’s the first time anybody’s ever asked for my input on such matters.

    For me, these things by themselves are “re-imaginings.” (I think it might be a good idea to have discussions like this one more often, in fact; perhaps to hear more about the “re-imaginings in creative parishes and dioceses” you mention? To share ideas and learn more about one another? To talk with and listen to other members of the Anglican Communion?)

    Turning the battleship around is only one aspect this this, I’d say. Many thanks again to TREC for your willingness to include us, and for listening.

  3. Sister Mary Winifred says:

    Please — get editorial help with grammar!

  4. Thank you, Bishop Christopher. I hope that the 40% of the elected deputies who are new to GC will understand that the resolutions coming from TREC are designed to jolt us into crucial conversations we need to have about how we are as ‘church’. I pray we don’t act precipitously. That takes real courage.

    1. Martha I. Richards says:

      Remember, change takes time, lots of time, and we need to remember that we need to change things for the better. I’ve been a life long Episcopalian and I know its hard to change anything. Remember when we went through all trial phases of the Prayer Book. Its hard work and sometimes not appreciated, but keep up the good work. God’s Peace, M

  5. It is wonderful to see our church leaders work toward making crucial changes in our larger church. This is a long process and all egos need to be put aside to think about how we can best be the hands and feet of the Living Christ. We know what we need to do to reach out to those in our communities and our world, but in order to do this, we must be bold and brave and have the ability to say and do what Christ has called us to do. I understand, money is always an issue, however; if we are truly the hands and feet of the Living Christ and doing the work we are called to do, the money will follow. People have kind hearts and want to see that those who are suffering around the world are taken care of. Our church needs to really feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisons, because until those needs are taken care of people will not be able to look to the church. It is wonderful to call ourselves spiritual and Christians, but until children no longer go without food, families can have a roof over their heads, jobs for those without jobs, etc. in other words social justice being done as Christ spoke of us doing….the church will always need money and people because in the eyes of the other, we are not doing our job. I continue to pray for the leaders of our church and for the church in the world. I ask each of us to have the courage to open our hearts, minds, and souls for the Holy Spirit to work within us to truly be the hands and feet of Christ.

  6. Doug Desper says:

    One canonical change that is long past due is to redesign General Convention. Every 3 years is not only expensive, but also very counterproductive to progress, albeit some may disagree. The timing may have been appropriate in a bygone age but it is now excessive. The premise to meet so often is flawed in that the entire Church gears up to do everything from critique, lard onto structures already questionably necessary, and to meddle with faith and practice with demands from pressure groups such as Integrity. The self-imposed obligation by delegates to be profound, prophetic, and radical often brings increased tension to a Church that has decreased in membership by a further 6% in 2013. At this juncture do we really need to test the good will of the pews even further by pronouncements that have often shown them the exit doors?

    1. The Rev Donald Heacock says:

      Doug is exactly right. Groups with a special agenda always try to capture the process. I felt totally misled when the Liturgy was “reformed”

    2. Earl Curtis says:

      Let us not blame it all on the gays (Integrity) or women priests. We knew a significant amount of people would leave if we did what was just, right, and fair. The extreme right of our church just went berserk and left with people, money and church buildings/property. I do feel that now that we no longer have such extreme right churches with us, we should seek reconciliation with justice.

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