In her opening address on Wednesday, the Presiding Bishop joined a conversation that began before Salt Lake and is ongoing here. What do we need to give up to become more faithful and effective followers of Jesus? In speaking of our life together as a garden, she acknowledged, Many of the older plantings have reached the ends of their lives. We need to find new ways of tending the birds of the air, show interdependent love of neighbor.
Bishop Breidenthal was asked this question on Wednesday afternoon. “What sorts of things would you be willing to surrender, renounce, or leave behind, to make a credible witness to the gospel in the 21st C?” He said, Good music, old buildings, fancy liturgy, the prayer book as I know it. All of these are things I love but they are not as important as the good news or the existence of a community able to demonstrate the importance of connection globally and locally. He said this slowly, with great seriousness, recognizing that letting go is hard.
Some have proposed giving up our bicameral system in favor of a unicameral house that combines bishops and deputies. I’m not sure about that myself. I’ve been observing the House of Bishops this time since I watched the House of Deputies last time. This has made me more aware of the gifts of both houses, and I’m concerned those gifts might be lost if we combined houses.
Budget conversations are by necessity exercises in giving up some things in favor of others. Program, Budget, and Finance is engaged in that difficult work even now.
Then yesterday, in a joint conversation with both houses on the structure of the church, small groups of deputies and bishops from two dioceses were invited to think together about what they would keep and what they would change at the diocesan, provincial, and churchwide level. They tweeted responses to #gcgas (a very unfortunate acronym – stands for General Convention Governance and Structure).
I read through all the tweets, and here are some observations.
#1 item mentioned over and over again was Episcopal Church Camps and Conferences. Of course, this was the day everyone was encouraged to wear a t-shirt from a favorite camp, so camps were on the brain, but I think they would have been high on the list anyway.
Other keep items mentioned often – youth and young adult ministry (many examples: youth presence at General Convention, EYE, diocesan youth ministry), transition system, the pastoral and administrative ministry of bishops, Safeguarding God’s Children and People, anti-racism work, digital evangelism, communication resources, Latino ministry support, parish dispute assistance, Anglican partners, Episcopal Public Policy Network, small church support, world mission, our good order and structure that support our work in God’s mission.
A few unique keep items worth repeating – toolkit for marriage discussions, “Kirk Hadaway and his great statistics,” diocesan legal representation, supply clergy, process for blessing same sex unions, clergy day retreats, cursillo, curates, college ministry, common worship
In our conversations about keeping and changing, it is good to remember that there is much to keep and celebrate.
The list of change items was much longer because there was not as much overlap in the suggestions, and because many of the suggestions were more specific.
A few change items were mentioned often. There were several comments about Executive Council – allow it to work on programmatic issues, ask them to report more often, communicate better before during and after General Convention, more interaction between Executive Council and General Convention, use more web based meetings.
Several changes proposed for General Convention. Choose GC work wisely, and don’t spend time on things that won’t change our lives back home. Change GC to reflect how long a work day is and how many days to schedule – more time for self care at GC. Consider new ways to support deputies for whom GC is a financial and time challenge. Add workshops for learning at GC and create a role for others during committee time.
Other change items worth repeating – more communication overall, more networking, lower diocesan and churchwide assessments, be creative about combining dioceses or sharing administrative staff, allow EPPN to inform church on many issues and not be restricted to issues approved at GC, church partnerships in church planting, redefine vitality not in terms of numbers, deepen relationships in a diocese that are strained by distance, use deacons fully, time limit on bishop terms, strengthen ecumenical and interfaith relationships, improve TEC website, and many more.
Suggestions for change were summed up well in this one tweet: Stop doing what doesn’t work.
Some items were on both Keep and Change lists. Some suggested strengthening Provinces and offered specific suggestions. Other suggested getting rid of them. Likewise, some wanted to strengthen deaneries and others were ready to let them go.
This process of keeping and changing is not new. It is part of the ongoing life of the church and world. The old plantings are constantly removed to make room for the new. I don’t know how the information gathered from this day will be used, but at least it helped people begin to identify their own answers to the question Bishop Breidenthal was asked: What sorts of things would you be willing to surrender, renounce, or leave behind, to make a credible witness to the gospel in the 21st C?
“Neon sign, “CHANGE”” by Felix Burton – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Neon_sign,_%22CHANGE%22.jpg#/media/File:Neon_sign,_%22CHANGE%22.jpg