[Episcopal News Service – Baltimore, Maryland] The House of Deputies on July 9 voted on six resolutions intended to help The Episcopal Church adapt to changes in society and find new ways of supporting the church’s mission and ministry, from experimenting with creative uses of technology to rethinking how congregations report membership and financial data.
The six resolutions were proposed by the deputies’ Committee on the State of the Church, and the votes were preceded by a presentation by the committee’s chair and vice-chair. The committee is appointed after each General Convention, and this roster was assembled in 2018. Its focus shifted significantly in 2020 as COVID-19 began spreading.
“Little did we know when we began this work that a global pandemic would place the church in the midst of the greatest adaptive challenge of our lifetimes,” the Rev. Chris Rankin-Williams, chair of the committee, told deputies. Rankin-Williams, who is not a deputy, spoke from home via Zoom. “The pace of congregational decline across the country has been accelerated by the pandemic, and there is great uncertainty about the future and financial viability of many of our churches.”
At the same time, many congregations and their clergy and lay leaders have opportunities to learn from the church’s experience navigating the pandemic, Rankin-Williams said, emphasizing the need to embrace “collaborative innovation” and resist “the urge to rely on familiar technical solutions or fear-based reactions.”
“We are truly navigating off the map. With the depth of challenges, the solution is not clear,” he said. The resolutions the committee proposed were intended “to position the church to address adaptive challenges and evaluate the experiments that are necessary to create our future.”
Louisa McKellaston, a deputy from the Diocese of Chicago who served as the committee’s vice chair, also spoke in support of the resolutions on the floor of the House of Deputies.
“Adjusting to the past two years of this quadrennium has shown what we as a church are capable of,” McKellaston said. She singled out how congregations had to quickly develop plans for online worship when in-person services were suspended churchwide at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
Going forward, McKellaston said, the church needs to formalize and expand its approach to implementing new online tools, researching their effectiveness and tracking progress throughout the church’s dioceses and interim bodies.
“We have accomplished a great deal together across differences,” she said. “We have the unique opportunity to look at the past four years, especially the last two years, and how we as a church respond to the pandemic. We owe it to ourselves to examine what we did well and especially what we could have done better.”
The following are the resolutions from the Committee on the State of the Church that were taken up by the House of Deputies on July 9:
- A097 calls for an evaluation of the 80th General Convention’s use of technology to hold all of its legislative hearings and meetings online, possibly offering a model for future church governance meetings.
- A098 creates a task force to study how communication and collaborative tools can enhance the work of the church’s interim bodies.
- A099 relates to the church’s capacity to collect and study data on its adaptive efforts. The resolution specifically cites the need to fund “significant professional research expertise and capacity.” This is the only resolution of the six that wasn’t adopted, as the House of Deputies instead voted to refer the proposal back to an interim body to study further, for consideration at the 81st General Convention in 2024.
- A132 creates a task force to study “indicators of 21st century congregational vitality and how The Episcopal Church can collect data that measures those indicators.”
- A155 creates a task force to revise the financial page of the parochial report, filed every year by dioceses and congregations. Updating the parochial report form to better summarize congregational life was a top priority of the Committee on the State of the Church.
- A156 creates a task force to consider ways The Episcopal Church can re-evaluate how it counts membership to better align with how people today connect with the church including “a wide range of cultural and regional contexts.”
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.