Saturday, November 17, 2012

CCABs: Let the Holy Spirit Blow!


I've just returned from a gathering in St. Louis of the Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards of The Episcopal Church, where some 200-250 people gathered to advance the work of the church.  I serve as the Executive Council liaison to the Standing Commission on Mission and Evangelism (SCME), and I found myself in the room with some very bright and passionate people.  Here's a nice picture of them! This group was ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work empowering Episcopal evangelism and mission.  When you gather so many talented people together, it is always an opportunity for synergy, for the Holy Spirit to begin to blow.

Yet we immediately ran into a roadblock, and that was the very nature of our mandate. Pay attention here, Restructure Task Force Players-to-be-Named-Later, because I heard a similar frustration coming from members of at least four other CCABs. That frustration is this: CCABs are not actually supposed to DO anything.  All we are supposed to do is think up ideas and draft legislation for the next General Convention to approve or reject.  Here is the stated mandate of the SCME:

CANON I.1.2(n) (4) A Standing Commission on the Mission and Evangelism of The Episcopal Church. It shall be the duty of the Commission to identify, study and consider policies, priorities and concerns as to the effectiveness of The Episcopal Church in advancing, within this Church’s jurisdictions, God’s mission to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ, including patterns and directions for evangelism, Church planting, leadership development, and ministries that engage the diversity of the Church’s membership and the communities it serves, and to make recommendations to General Convention(emphasis mine)

Get it? You gather a group of bright, talented leaders in the church, experts in their various fields, representing the diversity of the church in age, ethnicity, ordination status, etc., get them excited about a particular area of mission, and then tell them they can't actually DO anything. You pay $1,100 per person for an in-person meeting of hundreds of people, to be repeated at least once and maybe more during the triennium, and the end product of all this work is ... The Blue Book?

Look, I am a General Convention nerd, and I like the Blue Book (whatever color it happens to be) as much as anyone. But is legislation really the appropriate work product for such an amazing and talented group of leaders spending that much time and that much money?  

If so, let's follow a chain of events through to their natural conclusion. Last triennium, at the end of its three years together, the SCME proposed several resolutions, including A072, (to see the resolution, click here and scroll down to A072, then click “English current” on the right-hand side).  A072 adds a canonical requirement that new ordained and lay pastoral leaders be trained as missional leaders in evangelism, cross-cultural competency, non-profit leadership, empowering lay leadership, etc. Terrific, right? Such training could provide great hope for a new generation of leaders now emerging.

But how are dioceses and seminaries supposed to provide such training? Should each one reinvent the wheel in its own way? Under our polity, they certainly have the right to do so (and some will choose simply to ignore the new rules). But maybe it would be helpful to overworked leaders to have some common resources to draw from should they choose to do so.  And in fact, there are a number of groups working on missional leadership development across the church. Wouldn't it be a great idea to get them together and encourage them to share or even create a set of common resources, even possibly a curriculum, in missional leadership training, that dioceses and seminaries could draw from?

When this idea was proposed, it got a lot of energy. Yet then someone reminded us of our mandate: we're not supposed to DO stuff (like gather people together to follow up on A072 and share resources), we're just supposed to write a Blue Book report.  The only time a CCAB is allowed to DO something is if past GC legislation specifically directed them to do it (and there were no specific directions in A072). 

So if the SCME thinks a leadership development gathering should happen and a curriculum should be developed, we should, I guess, write a resolution, hope it passes in 2015, hope it gets funded sometime, hope it gets put at the top of some 815 staff person's priority list (should there still be an 815 staff person at that time), and hope the gathering happens by 2018 so we can start training the post-Millennial generation to be missional leaders by about 2022.

It was at this point in our group's discussion that I made the following point, which I subsequently tweeted:  We are not over-burdened in The Episcopal Church with too many people doing evangelism. Let's go ahead and do it now.

(For the benefit of those who are concerned about the "rules," we found a way to make our gathering fit within our mandate. It could be possible if we get grant funding from outside the TEC budget, which we will apply for.  And the end product of the gathering can certainly be "advice" to General Convention. I'm sure we will write a resolution of some sort. But how silly, really, that a proposed resolution is the only acceptable outcome of our work.)

Here's the point: if we are appointing members of CCABs to talk about a subject, and they have some helpful ideas and the energy to accomplish them, why not use this set of talented and passionate leaders to take action right now?

I'll tell you why not. Because we have somehow gotten ourselves to the point where we think that legislation is an effective form of ministry.  That if something is important, it should be decided by a cumbersome and expensive legislative process, complete with officially sanctioned committees, proposals, amendments, rules of order, and majority votes. That the proper function of General Convention is to micro-manage every aspect of our common life, and that nothing can be done until General Convention agrees to do it. 

(Which is why, for instance, Convention had to vote last year on many supplemental but unnecessary liturgical resources created by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, which some 1,000 deputies and bishops had to read, critique, and vote on.  The SCLM couldn’t just create lovely resources  and submit them to Forward Movement or Church Publishing for people to use if they wished.  Their work could ONLY result in legislation of “official” resources.)

There ARE things that legislation is vital to achieve. Ordination of women, a process for Title IV disciplinary proceedings, ordination requirements, blessing of same-sex unions, revision of the prayer book (but please God, not anytime soon!), funding and budgets - all these are vital issues of church policy that our legislature should decide. Legislation is necessary to decide what the rules are, what the boundaries are, how much money we have, and what we are NOT allowed to do.

But the belief that legislation is necessary before anyone can do any actual ministry is, I believe, a sign of high anxiety in our church.  If we don’t believe the Holy Spirit is calling us to do something, or if we have no idea what God is calling us to do, we fall back on administrative permission-giving, rules and procedures.  Don’t know how to do evangelism?  Let’s write legislation about it!  Until the legislation is passed, though, no one better take an unauthorized step to empower evangelism!  It might be against the rules!  (Which was not a concern of Philip’s in Acts Chapter 8, I might add.)

Of course that is absurd.  Legislation is not necessary to accomplish ministry. What is necessary to accomplish ministry is the Holy Spirit's call and the human being's answer.

Restructure Task Force, pay attention. Let's restructure ourselves to encourage ministry, not limit it and frustrate it and shut it down when it threatens to appear, like in the CCABs that are yearning to take action, not write legislation. Let's limit the legislative work of General Convention to matters that require it, such as finances and boundaries.  (Hey, maybe we could even reduce General Convention's length!) Let's gather leaders in CCABs, yes, but let's empower them to do non-legislative ministry. Especially as we move away from a strong-staff structure (because budget cuts will mean more staff cuts are coming), let's let the volunteers who are passionate about the work of the church DO the work of the church. Let's let the Holy Spirit blow.  Because this time in our church is a time for the Holy Spirit. Not a time for legislation.

12 comments:

  1. I read your headline as "Bowl" - agree with much of what you say - have said it since I first served on an SC called Urban Affairs in 1979. (me as token "rural")

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  2. Haha, thanks, Ann. I am sure the Holy Spirit would empower my own bowling score past my personal best of 36. :)

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  3. Going to add this to Episcopal Café -

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  4. Part 1 of my comment:

    I regret having to comment anonymously. I'm sorry to say that expressing opinions, however reasonable, in public these days even by elected and loyal deputies have been met with brutal and personal retaliation. Some of us have decided not to pay that cost to participate in conversation.

    There's an oft-repeated maxim that to the person whose only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Perhaps the converse is also true:

    To the person who really wants to be driving nails, it's hard to see why anyone should want, need, or fun anything other than hammer production, distribution, training, and use.

    But bodies of people need some kind of governance. Even the Occupy movement has a set form of governance. People choose whether and how they want to participate in a movement's "front lines." governance, and other roles, which usually aren't (and in TEC definitely aren't!) mutually exclusive.

    You chose to be a church planter. That's one role you play. You choose to be an evangelist. That's something we all ought to strive for.

    You also chose to be nominated, run, and serve on a structure (Executive Council) that is about governance. It was clear before you ran that you wanted to exercise a strong influence on the budget, and Executive Council and PB&F are great places to be to do that.

    Other CCABs do that as well, though they don't have quite as much power in the process. They are bodies of governance. Governance has to happen somehow, and I think it's great that we have all of these bodies that bring in the creativity of people from all over the church -- people who are all appointed by democratically elected officials, but the POTHOD, at least, is free to appoint creative folk who have never run for or been elected to anything if s/he thinks their input would be helpful.

    CCABs are by definition bodies of General Convention. They are bodies of governance to support the whole church's engagement with God's mission. Some team-building time can be helpful for governance bodies to get their job done more efficiently and with greater faithfulness to mission. But it would be a waste of General Convention's resources to take bodies of governance and gather them with a primary purpose in mind other than governance.

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  5. Part 2 of the comment:

    It's clear you want to change the structure and function of General Convention's interim bodies. I'm betting that you'll get appointed to the special governance body charged with studying this (because I guess it's not enough and not wasteful to have a Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church charged with this, a special study committee appointed by President Anderson charged with this, and then have a third and very expensive body get the same charge. Maybe the other two structures appointed didn't come up with the answers people wanted to hear. So we'll have another go.

    And you'll be right there with them, I think, gathering with people to talk about how other people should gather in the future and for what purpose.

    In the meantime, I'll note that Executive Council is itself a CCAB with executive power in governance, and I'm very glad you decided that doing such work was important enough for you to seek and win election to it! Those of us who take the time to attend Department of Health and Human Services policy meetings don't go hoping to get or give a physical. We go there to get government money and/or logistical support for a community health care effort, and to advocate for pI regret having to comment anonymously. I'm sorry to say that even elected and loyal deputies have been met with brutal and personal retaliation for expressing even the most reasonable of views if they upset anyone. Some of us have decided not to pay that cost to participate in conversation, and are returning to anonymity on the Internet. Now to the point:

    There's an oft-repeated maxim that to the person whose only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Perhaps the converse is also true:

    To the person who really wants to be driving nails, it's hard to see why anyone should want, need, or fun anything other than hammer production, distribution, training, and use.

    But bodies of people need some kind of governance. Even the Occupy movement has a set form of governance. People choose whether and how they want to participate in a movement's "front lines." governance, and other roles, which usually aren't (and in TEC definitely aren't!) mutually exclusive.

    You chose to be a church planter. That's one role you play. You choose to be an evangelist. That's something we all ought to strive for.

    You also chose to be nominated, run, and serve on a structure (Executive Council) that is about governance. It was clear before you ran that you wanted to exercise a strong influence on the budget, and Executive Council and PB&F are great places to be to do that.

    Other CCABs do that as well, though they don't have quite as much power in the process. They are bodies of governance. Governance has to happen somehow, and I think it's great that we have all of these bodies that bring in the creativity of people from all over the church -- people who are all appointed by democratically elected officials, but the POTHOD, at least, is free to appoint creative folk who have never run for or been elected to anything if s/he thinks their input would be helpful.

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  6. Part 3 of the comment:

    But by all means let's build and support networks, raise funds, and get all of the rest done too!

    There is no point in TEC C&C suggesting that the lay, diaconal, priestly, and episcopal ministers of this Church must work only through policy-making bodies. There is no reason to suggest that the VERY compressed times our governance bodies convene should spend time doing the stuff that most members of those bodies -- active evangelists and ministers that they are -- do throughout the rest of their lives.

    I'll also note that there is no reason at all that members of a CCAB or anyone else cannot decide to gather others and get done all of the kinds of things you envision. I encourage you to join with others of us interested in organizing grassroots movements to do just the kinds of things you seem to wish the SCDME did.

    I hope you will pick up your hammer and other tools. You do in your congregation, of course, but why not also do it building networks that WORK!

    I'll be shoulder to shoulder with you in that. Should you decide that the policy-making and budget-setting CCABs are indeed worthwhile, we'll be working together through those as well. Let's all spend less time talking about what other people should be doing and more time doing it -- forming ad hoc networks to do the work to which we are called in the moment!

    In short, I don't think we can or should expect one body to do everything -- and especially not everything on a topic such as evangelism or church planting. Let's build networks, raise funds, and get it done!

    There is no point in TEC C&C suggesting that the lay, diaconal, priestly, and episcopal ministers of this Church must work only through policy-making bodies.

    There is no reason to suggest that the VERY compressed times our governance bodies convene should spend time doing the stuff that most members of those bodies -- active evangelists and ministers that they are -- do throughout the rest of their lives.

    I am confident that you will very soon get even closer to the institutional centers of governance and power in TEC than you already are. Please try to be patient.

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  7. If you think this is "not a time for legislation," why did you run for two different legislative bodies (the HoD and Executive Council)?

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  8. Hi Anonymous, thanks for the thoughtful comment. I don't know who you are, but I would be surprised if we weren't acquainted, so I'm sorry you were not willing to sign your name. I really don't like anonymous comments on my blog, by the way, and considered the idea of deleting yours just as a matter of policy. But I'll let it stand for now.

    I am VERY curious and VERY disturbed that you are concerned about retaliation for your comment, which seems like a reasonable contribution to the discussion to me. I certainly know that in expressing my own opinion in this forum, I am opening myself to some possibly hurtful comments, but that is the risk I take in stating an opinion. I hope that we as a church are not cowed and stymied by a few loud and strident voices - I would not like to see us turn into something like the US Congress, for instance. Reasonable discussion is always a good thing.

    I admit that I closed the post with a rhetorical flourish - Not a time for legislation. But here's what I mean and don't mean by it. I DON'T mean that legislation is not necessary at all in our church. It is. (I refer you to the paragraph that begins "There ARE things that legislation is vital to achieve....") I do, however, mean that legislation should not be required for EVERY expression of ministry. Sometimes the Holy Spirit calls us to non-legislative action. If you are going to pay the money to gather a whole bunch of action-oriented, passionate, capable leaders, let them go ahead and lead. Legislation is not the only form of leadership.

    You say that bodies of people need some form of governance. I completely agree. I am not arguing that CCABs should not exist, or are not necessary to achieve the work of General Convention. Given how expensive they are, it would be easy to throw a financial firebomb, express outrage at their expense, and try to get rid of them altogether. But that's not what I am arguing for. Instead, I am arguing for a broadening of their mandate beyond governance. Yes, CCABs are an instrument of General Convention by definition. Does that mean we shouldn't trust them to do non-legislative work? Surely there are some forms of ministry that are better achieved outside the legislative process.

    To answer your last question, I ran for two different legislative bodies because I wanted to make a difference. And because I believed God was calling me to do so. I haven't discovered God's reasons for it yet.

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  9. Some time ago, I mentioned to a mentor that I was interested in putting my name forward for a CCAB I thought I might have something to contribute to. In a tone of such seriousness I had never before heard from him, he said, "Don't waste your time" and then told me about his experience on a CCAB much like what you describe. So I didn't. And I don't regret not doing it.

    -Jesse Zink

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  10. I do think we suffer from an ether/or mentality in this area. Yes, I think that there is a role (especially in liturgy, discipline, and administration) for legislative action and permission-giving. I don't think, for example, one should simply be allowed to come up with one's own baptismal or Eucharistic rite, put it out there on the web, and have parishes feel free to adopt it. By the same token, however, things like evangelism and Christian formation are not things that need legislative mandate to happen--they can happen through networks of people who have a passion for the work. I think expanding the role of CCABs beyond simply being legislative committees makes complete sense. In fact, some CCABs are not primarily legislative committees--for example, the Church Pension Fund.

    I also join you, Susan, in being VERY disturbed that voices are silenced in our legislative process. Not every viewpoint will prevail, but the momentum for restructuring is an excellent example of something that started of as a push-back to "the way we've always done it" and ended up with unanimous support.

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  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  12. Susan,

    I wholeheartedly agree with your perspective, and would like to add a slight twist to it. Specifically, we get so caught up in legislating that we lose sight of the forest for the trees.

    The extent of this first struck me as I was rummaging around the Methodist Book of Discipline. As I did so, I wondered, "What is their equivalent of the Dennis Canon?", which of course has gotten a lot of attention here in Virginia due to the property litigation. (It's the provision that says that the diocese and national church both have an interest in all local church property.)

    Turns out, there really is no equivalent for the Methodists. Intead of a one-paragraph assertion of a trust, there is a 39-page chapter on church property that includes:

    - A discussion of the Methodist trust.
    - A discussion of the reasons for the trust.
    - Specific trust provisions that must be included in all deeds and coveyances.
    - Specific language that must be included in the articles of incorporation of local churches.

    In short, the Methodist provisions appear to be much newer, written by experts, and with an eye to heading off the sorts of disputes we have faced. So, my question is, "After spending an estimated more than $11 million on property litigation, why is this not a hot-button topic? Why are we not focused on improving our governance and ensuring that our canons are current, well-written, and effective?"

    Please don't get me wrong. I am not in any way criticizing any of our committees or persons with responsibility in this area. I am merely saying that this is worth our time and attention, that I fear we have lost sight of the issue, and that we should urgently address it at the next GC. And if we are to do so, we need to get started NOW.

    By the way, our canons are at http://www.episcopalarchives.org/pdf/CnC/CandC_2009pp11-60.pdf.

    The Methodist property provisions are at: http://www.nyac.com/console/files/oFiles_Library_XZXLCZ/2008BookOfDiscipline_Chapter6_KTXDHEXK.pdf

    If anyone wants to work together to come up with specific recommendations, let me know and I will be happy to help.

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