I haven’t said anything on this blog about restructuring.
Partially because this is my first General Convention as a deputy, and while I am overflowing with many opinions, it’s one thing to talk about whether we should pass a resolution advocating an end to the Cuba embargo. It’s another to come up with a plan to reconfigure the entire freakin’ Episcopal Church.
And also, there are times when I’d be happy to let someone else fix the church. I understand that the young people will save us, the young people are our future, and we shall live off their blood and youth as do the vampires, etc. but there are times when that expectation (and reality) becomes a not-inconsiderable amount of pressure, and I’d just as soon let some Baby Boomers or GenXers deal with this one, ok?
I will sit this one out. I will sit in the corner, pop some popcorn, and cheer on the players with half-paid attention while I knit. Let me please, please, have the luxury of not getting all wound up about this one issue. PLEASE.
But that happy thought collides unhappily with several realities:
1.) Who is going to be President of the House of Deputies after Bonnie Anderson retires?
Because unless this is happening incredibly quietly, I’ve not seen a great crowd of nominees putting themselves forward. Unsurprising, since this position is full-time, very demanding, comes with unending criticism, and is not paid.
Thus, it requires, as several wise minds have already pointed out, a candidate who is either retired with a huge pension, or married to a wealthy and working spouse. (Hi, class bias! How ya doing!)
In succeeding in making the PoHD a position with visibility and power on par with the PB, we have also succeeding in making it a position nearly no one can take.
This might be a problem.
2.) We can’t do this all again in 5-10 years.
Or at least, I really don’t want to do this again in 5 years. And right now, it looks like that’s what will happen.
Right now, the restructuring plans that are on the table (the more complete ones) would make Rene Girard hold his head in agony.
Each one tends to scapegoat something different. We scapegoat the CCABs. We scapegoat the House of Bishops. Or the whole General Convention. Or 815. (It’s in New York City; ergo, it is evil, and must be killed with fire.)
But eliminating (or drastically scaling back) any one thing isn’t going to fix the problem. The House of Bishops isn’t responsible for our humongous overhead, and diminishing and aging population. Neither is our denominational headquarters either existing at all, or being located in New York City.
And I’m convinced that if we don’t do a full-scale restructuring now, if we just scapegoat something and don’t reconsider the basics of how we are church in the world,
we are going to have to do this again in 5-10 years, and it will go even worse then. More anxiety in the system, more desperation, and more fear.
So, against that cheery thought, I propose the following:
None of these things are our problem by themselves: not HoB, not Convention, not 815, not CCABs.
Our problem right now, is that The Episcopal Church was set up to be first a government, and then a corporation, when in truth, we are meant to be neither.
The fact that in the 1950s and 1960s, denominations began to imitate corporations has been well-documented. That part explains our plethora of committees and commissions, and our denominational headquarters in that nifty cement building on 2nd Ave. We expanded, like we were supposed to. We got our CEO in the Presiding Bishop, gave them more oversight power, and held a lot of meetings so that we looked busy and important. And it worked fantastically well, smack dab up until the point when “supposed to” didn’t cut it any more, and people started wandering off in the other direction.
But prior to that expansion, right back in the beginning, the lauded William White constructed this church’s governance system on that of the United States’. Starting in 1789, we were a bicameral government, with the assent of both houses needed. Laity and clergy included, the virtues of democracy upheld, …and bishops given special powers–just not too many. A via media compromise in America. The government of the baby Episcopal church paralleled the government of the baby United States, compromises and all.
It was Christendom and Constantine come to America: the Anglican church was still established in Connecticut (right up until the passage of the Bill of Rights). The governance of the Episcopal Church was as it was to echo and reinforce the brand-new status quo.
It was the same thing we would do in the 1950s with corporations, only we were doing it here with the government. William White essentially made a shadow version of the government, and The Episcopal Church became an Americanized version of the Anglican Church we’d just fought a revolution against.
The de jure establishment vanished, but in its place, came the de facto establishment. For the next two centuries, the Church held on to wealth, power, and status, and commanded an outsized influence that always belied its actual numbers. And so we could have a governance structure that operated like the political one, because that’s pretty much who we thought we were. It’s who we acted like we were. We were kings of the Heavenly Realm. Congress and the President could take care of the Earthly Realm, they’d clearly consult with us from time to time, and everyone would get rendered unto him what was necessary. (Women weren’t allowed to do anything yet, so everyone was definitely a king.)
But this is not a system that works any longer. No part of it works. And while we’ve discerned that we can’t act like a corporation any longer, neither can we act like the US Congress. Aside from the fact that the US Congress currently acts like a crowd of angry, sleep-deprived toddlers high on birthday cake, we aren’t in charge of the realm anymore. We aren’t sitting in smoky back rooms, sipping whisky, deciding how to run the world.
We aren’t in power. We aren’t in charge. Our job is not to do that.
Our job is to be a church.
I suggest that so far, in our history, we have not yet begun to do that.
How we might go about doing that is the next post.
Because, hey! It turns out I have opinions on this issue.