By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
Structural reform is “urgently needed” in the Episcopal Church, according to last year’s General Convention, but a newly formed task force on the issue must first identify the problems to be solved. The 24-member Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church held its first meeting Feb. 14-16 at the Maritime Institute in Baltimore.
Members reviewed their General Convention mandate in resolution C095. It says 47 percent of the church budget covers administration and governance structures that “sometimes hinder rather than further this Church’s engagement in God’s mission.”
That does not mean, however, that the task force has specific guidance to help decrease the bureaucracy, according to co-convener Katy George, a New Jersey laywoman and director at McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm. Rather than set out to make the church leaner, the panel aims to figure out which type of structure would best suit the church’s identity and mission.
“There are a lot of points of view as to what the problem is,” George told TLC. “We are hoping to put more definition around that, as to what we are trying to solve for, and also to really understand what is working well.”
In an effort to clarify what needs fixing, the group asked for reflections from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori; the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies; and the Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe, executive officer of General Convention.
Jefferts Schori highlighted how structures can help the Episcopal Church work toward the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, such as improved health and education among the poor in developing nations. She also called for “a flexible and varied understanding of congregations/faith communities. For example, new monasticism (Episcopal Service Corps, intentional lay communities), congregations without permanent buildings, things like street and coffee shop ministries, or house churches.”
Jennings noted the panel is the result of a “politically fraught process” of debating structural reform through 2011 and 2012. Many of the energetic young people in today’s church “have remarkably little need for, or interest in, traditional top-down governance structures,” she said.
The task force will “absolutely not” answer to the presiding bishop or others in the hierarchy, George said. The panel is required to include members “with critical distance from the church’s institutional leadership.”
It will, however, draw on resources from across the Episcopal Church, other church bodies and secular culture in seeking to replicate structural changes that have succeeded elsewhere. If the group believes it would benefit by hearing from presiding officers in the future, then it will invite them to speak again, George said.
The task force expects to make recommendations by the end of 2014, and General Convention will consider those in 2015.