The Rev. Gay Jennings, who helped lead the charge for structural reform at the 77th General Convention and now serves as president of the House of Deputies, says this reform may lead to fewer church committees.
“This may be hard for some of us to accept, but I think that we are in the death throes of the current standing commission and committee structure,” Jennings told Executive Council June 7. “Both those who are on TREC [the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church] and those of us who aren’t need to begin imagining new ways of bringing together laypeople, clergy, and bishops to accomplish the work of General Convention.”
General Convention created TREC in 2012, charging it with developing proposals to reform the structure, governance, and administration of the church. The task force is not the only group studying change, Jennings said: “Different groups — deputies, bishops, and other Episcopalians across the church — are interested in change at the same time.”
Because of decreased funds Executive Council may sunset committees, decline to assign them work, and limit the number of times per year that committees meet in person. In place of meeting in person, many committee members have turned to web-based audio and video sessions. Some committee members have found that change challenging.
“Meeting online is a big change for many people, but the General Convention Office is providing intensive, one-on-one training to people who want to increase their computer and technology skills,” Jennings said. “As people adapt to this way of working together, many standing commissions are finding that they can meet more often and have more continuity in their work.
“It’s also important to recognize that many people don’t have the ability or inclination to attend face-to-face meetings. Thirty percent of the leaders I appointed are age 40 and under,” she said. “Many of those people are digital natives with little learning curve about technology, and many are in the process of building careers and raising children, so traveling frequently for church business can be hard. Online meetings make it possible for our leadership to be broadly inclusive.”
Resolution C095 has provided the teeth that has previously been lacking for structural change. “It is no longer business as usual,” Jennings said. “For those who want to contribute, it’s a great time to be an Episcopalian.”
Jennings reassured anyone worried that the church will eliminate every element of what leaders call CCABs [Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards of General Convention].
“We’re Episcopalians,” she said, laughing. “We’re always going to have committees and commissions, because we don’t believe that the headquarters should make all of the decisions. We believe in distributed authority that includes all voices — bishops, clergy, and laity.”