Kansas City is getting its very own IKEA on Wednesday, and this is a very big deal for our little Stars-Hollow-goes-big town. To that end, TREC sounds like a particularly enraging shelving unit that you’d buy at IKEA—one that’s missing half its hardware, where the allen wrench breaks twice in the process of constructing it, but that looked so damn nice on the showroom floor that you even sprang for some cheap throw pillows in the hopes that this one shelving unit would solve all your organizational problems forever! You, too, could live a clutter-free life like in the catalogs!
But no. Dust, allen wrenches, and reality intervened.
That’s pretty much how it’s going with TREC. It started out so hopefully: the Taskforce to Reimagine the Episcopal Church was given an unanimous mandate by General Convention 2012 to go and figure out how we needed to restructure ourselves.
Nothing happens unanimously in this church—I once saw a resolution on whether or not we agreed to read the Bible voted down at diocesan convention. (There were extenuating circumstances, but still.)
TREC had the wind at its back, a song in its heart, brilliant people working together, and all of that I say in sincerity.
So what they’ve managed to put out so far has been… puzzling and disappointing.
Some of it has been good. Clearly, they realize that we need to change. Yes, the church wide structure is unwieldy, and no one knows quite who’s directing who, and we spend quite a lot of money that we no longer have on this whole system.
Clearly, this mess of books lying here on my floor calls for a shelving unit.
But it’s here, after having sniffed around the problem, that TREC seems to spazz out a bit, as in their latest open letter.
After having determined we need to change, they’ve proposed the following:
1. Changes that aren’t changes.
This suggestion that the Presiding Bishop should have all the 815 staff report to her/him, and be able to fire and hire at will?
Technically, that is exactly the situation now. There’s nothing written anywhere that prevents that—aside from the notion that it’s generally thought to be a poor leadership move to have the people you’re in ministry with afraid of you 100% of the time. But, YMMV.
If there’s a sense that the system, as it stands, lacks accountability, that might be a problem with personality, rather than logistics.
2. Changes that don’t make much sense.
General Convention is crazy enough as it is, with its countless legislative committees. Why, in the name of all of Baby Jesus’s tiny teething toys, would you want to cut the number of legislative committees? For starters, that makes the workload more, not less. Also, that disenfranchises deputies, because it will be harder than ever to get on a committee. If you’re worried about the strain on Convention (and yes, we should be.), fast track the resolutions that are important: that have many sponsors, and that come from Executive Council. And empower legislative committees to kill resolutions that are ridiculous and have no chance at passing, or (in the case of Constitution and Canons) are clearly uncanonical.
3. Changes that might be fantastic ideas, but they’re so cloaked in buzzwords, that I’m not sure what’s going on, or why we would implement them.
Look, I understand that shifting all your workers to “contract” employees is the hot new thing in the secular world. I know this because many of my friends had it happen to them, and as a result, they have no healthcare, no pensions, no 401(k)s, and are paying self-employment taxes, yet are doing the exact same job.
There’s no good explanation given about why shifting the program staff at 815 to ‘contractor’ status would help things. Again, there’s already accountability in the system, since they can all be fired—no one’s got tenure or anything. And the bulk of our staffing costs isn’t in program staff anyway—it’s in administration staff, which would be untouched in this shift.
So what it looks like is happening is that TREC is proposing doing a pretty shady thing that til now, has been very popular mainly with the major cubicle-dwelling corporations, chiefly to save a small amount of money. Come on, y’all. We can do better than that.
There are a few other things too (I remain unconvinced that TREC has read, learned, marked, and inwardly digested, the canons, because the only canonically required standing committee is Constitution and Canons. Which TREC just got rid of. Awkward.)
But here’s the bottom line:
TREC is not going to be the golden savior shelving unit that we thought it was going to be. It will not solve all our problems in one fell swoop.
We probably pinned too many of our hopes on them to begin with. We got caught up in the moment, in the excitement of the swedish meatballs, the tiny pencils, and the artfully arranged decor.
But I’m relatively okay with that, because now we’ve started to have these conversations; we are learning what we like and what we don’t. What fits in here, and what doesn’t.
How to build our own set of shelves.
We will never clean up all the mess; we will never have a catalog-perfect house, but maybe one day, we will just make it liveable again.
Nice analysis Megan!
This is the first I’ve heard of TREC since I don’t really follow church politics at the national level. I agree with the general idea of reimagining what it means to be the church, but none of what you’ve described sounds like what I would call reimagining.