Presiding bishop warns Executive Council of 'suicide by governance'[Episcopal News Service -- Salt Lake City, Utah] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori challenged the Episcopal Church's Executive Council Oct. 24 to avoid "committing suicide by governance."
Jefferts Schori said that the council and the church face a "life-or-death decision," describing life as "a renewed and continually renewing focus on mission" and death as "an appeal to old ways and to internal focus" which devotes ever-greater resources to the institution and its internal conflicts.
"We need some structural change across the Episcopal Church," she said. "Almost everywhere I go I hear dioceses wrestling with this; dioceses addressing what they often think of as their own governance handcuffs, the structures that are preventing them from moving more flexibly into a more open future."
Later in her remarks, Jefferts Schori said "we need a system that is more nimble, that is more able to respond to change," calling for "a more responsive and adaptable and less rigid set of systems."
The presiding bishop, who also chairs the council, issued her challenge during her traditional opening remarks to council's first plenary session, which came in the middle of its Oct. 23-25 meeting.
House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson, council vice chair, said during her opening remarks that Executive Council has the responsibility to address important big-picture issues.
"Fortunately God has called us to this ministry and has given us the gifts to do what needs to be done," she said. "It is all of us, together -- bishops, laity, clergy -- who govern the Episcopal Church. Make no mistake about it: our form of governance enables our mission."
Anderson suggested that "a choice between governance and mission is a false choice," adding that the choice is a both-and, not either-or.
For example, the ongoing work of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to respond to General Convention Resolution C056's authorization to collect and develop theological resources and liturgies for blessing same-gender relationships is what she called the work of mission. It is "another example of governance and mission as a 'both-and,'" she said.
Jefferts Schori said that research shows that when the Episcopal Church tells its story well, it attracts young adults for its liturgy, social-justice stances and passion for mission; immigrants and women at transition points in their lives.
"However, I think we're in some danger of committing suicide by governance by focusing internally rather than externally," she said. "Dying organisms pay most attention to survival. Our Haiti initiative is a positive counter-force to that. It's an example of what's possible when we turn outward rather than inward."
Council is due Oct. 25 to reaffirm its February challenge to the church to raise $10 million to help begin to rebuild the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti.
Meanwhile, Jefferts Schori said, there is what she called "a sometimes rather adversarial attitude" in the council that is the result of "confusion about roles."
"Sometimes committees try to do the work of staff," she said. "Council sometimes forgets that its job is about policy-making and accountability, and we live with the challenge of having 40 people challenged to make decisions together. There's a reason why Jesus called 12 disciples, it's a manageable group for conversation."
Jefferts Schori also described "an adversarial attitude between bishops and deputies," saying that bishops' vocation is "their ability to do big-picture work, care for the whole flock" and to invite others into the big-picture, long-term conversation. Deputies, she said, are elected to represent the interests of their dioceses.
"That does present tension," the presiding bishop said. "Our job here is to hold that tension and not resolve it to one end of the spectrum or the other."
Jefferts Schori warned that "the trajectory of churchwide funding is downward" and that the trend is shared with all mainline denominations.
Some of the leaders of the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and their equivalents in Canada have been discussing how they might share both churchwide mission and administration functions, she reported.
She urged the council to claim its "rightful function" to help the whole church focus on the "big-picture, long-distance view, not just bean-counting."
"The budget needs to be managed, personnel need to be treated justly; that's not our primary focus, those are vehicles for mission," she said. "We do have the capacity to think bigger and more strategically for life in the future."
Jefferts Schori said "we don't know what the future will look like ... but what we do know, if we're honest about it, it will look different than it did last year or 10 years ago."
"Are we willing to choose life and new possibility or are we going to choke on a microscopic, regulatory, restricted focus?" she asked. "Can we help the whole church choose a more open future?"
She suggested that "choosing life is going to mean wandering in the wilderness for a while because we haven't done it before."
Jefferts Schori said that some of the issues the council might face include questions of whether the church still needs a large office building in Manhattan, whether the church can share ministry with other denominations, whether dioceses be challenged to do more together and whether seminaries can collaborate to serve the wider church.
"I hear murmurings out there about what there isn't anymore," she said, citing a recent conversation with a priest who asked about a pastoral ministry desk that existed at the Episcopal Church Center in Manhattan decades ago.
"The murmuring isn't necessarily bad, but we have to test whether it's born out of fear," she said. "God's calling us in to a new future. Are we going to chose life? I want to invite us all to lift our heads and look into that future. It's not going to look like the past. It's going to take courage and perseverance because there will be abundant fear. There will be abundant resistance. There will be many cries for the leeks and watermelons and fleshpots of Egypt. What will we choose?"
Also on Oct. 24, the council:
- heard the reports of from its Advocacy and Networking for Mission, Local Ministry and Mission, and World Mission committees. The two remaining committees, Finances for Mission and Governance and Administration for Mission, will report to council on Oct. 25.
- met in executive session to receive an audit committee report. At their June 16-18 meeting, the council also met in executive session and later approved a request (via Resolution FFM022) from the Joint Audit Committee of Executive Council and the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society to retention McDermott Will & Emery as outside legal counsel to assist in the evaluation of employment and personnel practices and provide an update to council at this meeting.
Council members, Church Center staff and guests then went on to celebrate an early evening Eucharist Oct. 24 at the Diocese of Utah's St. Mark's Cathedral in downtown Salt Lake City, followed by dinner with some of the members of the diocese and diocesan staff.
The Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4 (1)(a). The council is composed of 38 members, 20 of whom (four bishops, four priests or deacons and 12 lay people) are elected by General Convention and 18 (one clergy and one lay) by provincial synods for six-year terms, plus the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies.