Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Can a Zebra Change its Own Stripes?

I have a new appreciation for why it is difficult for an institution to reform itself.

I also have realized anew why it will be the “lower” levels of the church that will renew, reform, and reenergize this sacred body.

Throughout this General Convention, I have served on Committee 5 – Governance & Structure.  The work of that committee has been very demanding, with meetings each morning and each evening.  Some of those meetings were specially-called meetings, conflicting with other scheduled events and obligations.  That work continues but, sadly and reluctantly, I have removed myself from its deliberations.

There are good and gifted people of well-meaning intentions on the committee.  Many of them are very wise and know the structure and its many nuances very well.  Some are leaders in the church today.

But therein lays the problem.  I reached my limit after two-hours of meeting last night (again, a specially-called meeting, not on the schedule).  We had met for nearly four hours that morning, going to great lengths to hammer-out the essential principals of a comprehensive resolution.  A drafting group was to devise a resolution which the committee could approve that night.

However, last night we slowly – but not methodically – went through the lengthy resolution.  After two hours with no breaks, we were less than one-fifth of the way through the resolution.  Less than one-fifth of the committee was deeply immersed in wordsmithing the resolution – going sentence-by-sentence through the lengthy resolution, debating, discussing ad nauseum the legal fine points of words or phrases.

Some 30 members of the committee were sitting quietly as five members attempted to put a very fine point on each sentence.  

One thing I have learned in my 28 years of ordination is that two of the most precious resources we have are time and energy.  The work of this committee was not good stewardship of either the time or energy of its members.  But, I should say, I could be wrong. That is my perspective.

I had watched, since the beginning of convention, how the committee had squandered precious time and failed to reach decisions on important matters on which it was expected to act. Time began to get away.

I was honored to be appointed to the Governance & Structure Committee by the Reverend Dr. Gay Jennings, President of the House of Deputies.  President Jennings appointed many gifted members to this committee, and I suspect she felt good – and maybe still does –about her appointments.  However, we were not good stewards of the task before us.

Two things occur to me:

·         The task presented to the Committee on Governance & Structure was a daunting and maybe impossible one.  We were expected to take the intricate work of the Task Force on Reimagining the Episcopal Church – done over three years of intense focus – and the massive structure of the Episcopal Church, and then redesign it in just a few days.  This was with a committee – bishops and deputies – of 45 people.

·         The structure of General Convention – with its many interests, motives and voices – is not well-suited to reimagine itself.  The many canons, rules of order, personalities, and other variables make this undertaking impossible.  It cannot streamline itself.  It cannot make itself more efficient.  Unless there is a change of heart, or it is willing to let go of some sacred idols. Nothing will happen until that time comes.

The report of the committee is set for a special order of business at 5:00 p.m. this afternoon.  No doubt, there will be lengthy and detailed resolutions offered.  I suspect, though, that the floor of General Convention will become another wordsmithing exercise and that whatever ultimately emerges from the bicameral legislative process will remind us of the futility of an institution reimagining itself.

The genuine, transformative renewal of the church will come from congregations, dioceses, and provinces.  To think that it can come from anywhere else, especially the top-down, is folly.

More later.

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