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Toward Columbus: Structure Commission looks to streamline church

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
4/11/2006
[Episcopal News Service]  The Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church (SCSC) will propose that the General Convention make sweeping changes in the way the church organizes itself to carry out its policies and mission concerns.

The commission spent the 2003-2006 triennium studying the committees, commissions, agencies and boards of the General Convention (CCABs).

"We found that over the years the CCABs have evolved into a Hydra with overlapping parts, inconsistent names, and unclear mandates," the commission wrote in its Blue Book Report.

The details of the SCSC's work can be found in its Blue Book report. Its report also includes an appendix that describes the CCAB system in detail. (The Blue Book, which has a green cover for this convention, is the collection of the reports to the General Convention of the work of the CCABs during the triennium, along with resolutions they will propose to convention.)

The commission suggested a number of resolutions that are "an attempt to regularize the Committees and Commissions where differences seem to be unnecessary," including making all standing commissions consist of 12 members.

"Guiding our work is the belief that the structure of the church should promote and serve the mission of the church," the SCSC wrote. "We also believe the Church must be structured in a way that facilitates the flow of ideas and energy, and that promotes accountability, flexibility, and good stewardship."

The Structure Commission proposes that:

  • standing commissions consist of 12 appointed members (three bishops, three priests or deacons, six lay persons);
  • each standing commission have an Executive Council liaison and a Church Center staff member, both with seat and voice, but not vote;
  • appointments be made in a timely manner;
  • each Church Center program office should be specifically linked to a standing commission;
  • the Standing Commission on Health, re-established in 2003, should be fully funded;
  • the Executive Council continue to organize committees related to its work, but the work of committees which report to Executive Council be moved to appropriate standing commissions or discontinued at the end of each triennium;
  • at the end of each triennium, standing commissions be encouraged to evaluate the work that it will undertake in the new triennium and make recommendations as to the structural, human, and financial resources needed to accomplish it.

The SCSC proposed a uniform size for standing commissions because it found that the commissions "vary greatly in size from 11 to 24 with little rationale for such disparity." The commission also said that having Executive Council and Church Center staff liaison for every standing commission "would enhance the flow of information, reduce redundancy, and expand the wealth of expertise and experience on Commissions."

John Wood Goldsack, vice chair of the SCSC, said the commission also thinks that having 12-member commission will save money, thus allowing the church to do its work in a "leaner way."

He said that some of the larger standing commissions, such as Ministry Development and Liturgy and Music, would be able to set up a sub-committee structure that would allow them to bring in the experts they need to advise them but not have all of those people travel to every commission meeting. Currently it takes a "major, major financial commitment" to gather the larger commissions, Goldsack said.

The SCSC estimates that, depending upon how the subcommittee structure ultimately works, its 12-member proposal would save in the neighborhood of $50,000 per year.

The existing standing commissions are: Anglican and International Peace With Justice Concerns, Small Congregations, Constitution and Canons, Domestic Mission and Evangelism, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, Liturgy and Music, Ministry Development, National Concerns, Stewardship and Development, Structure of the Church, World Mission, Episcopal Church Communications and the unfunded Health commission.

The SCSC proposed a new Standing Commission for Youth and Christian Formation because it said those program areas need their own way to make policy proposals to General Convention. The commission also said that the 75th convention needs to pay for the Standing Commission on Health that was formed by the last convention but given no money to do its work.

The SCSC said it was concerned about groups that report to the Executive Council, but do not have the ability to make a Blue Book report to convention. "Important work is lost" in this arrangement, the commission said.

The Executive Council carries out programs and policies adopted by the General Convention and oversees the ministry and mission of the Church. The council is composed of 38 members, including bishops, priests or deacons, and lay people, 20 of whom are elected by General Convention and 18 by provincial synods.

"Work on issues that are long-term, if not permanent, should find a home in a Standing Commission," the SCSC suggested. "Work on issues that develop between meetings of General Convention should be managed by Executive Council until the next meeting of the General Convention."

The commission also suggested resolutions to align more clearly the names and mandates of the committees of the Executive Council. The SCSC said it hopes that such clarity will help the council determine which committees need to continue and which need to have their work placed elsewhere in the structure of the church.

Another important resolution proposed by the SCSC is Resolution A112, entitled "Directions for the Future." In it the commission asks that the convention require all commissions and committees to reevaluate their mandate and placement within the church structure and communicate their findings and suggestions to the SCSC a year before the 76th General Convention. The resolution also asks for permission to "review and correct" the CCABs' defined terms and propose structural changes to the CCAB system.

The resolution also proposes that the commission consider the question of any possible proposals to the 76th General Convention to change the preamble of the church's constitution with reference to the official name of the church, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, "with particular consideration of being inclusive of our overseas dioceses and parishes."

Finally, the resolution asks that the convention reconsider the way it elects the church's Presiding Bishop. It asks that it be given the job of recommending to a future meeting of the General Convention a way to have the Presiding Bishop elected by both houses of convention.

"As we elect a new Presiding Bishop, now is the time to examine the current process and make recommendation for the next election, nine years hence," the SCSC wrote.