September 10, 2014

Carts and Horses

I've held my tongue on the subject for a while now, but I find that proverbial fire burning within.

While there is much to commend in the TREC letter  (on the restructuring of The Episcopal Church) when it comes to practical streamlining and downsizing some of the superstructure of the Episcopal Church (including several proposals I've made myself over the years, such as trimming deputation sizes and retiring some CCABs) I still find myself wondering to what extent we are putting cart before horse — if the horse really exists and it isn't all cart, all form with no real handle on the function.

I raise this because it seems to me that the Great Unanswered Question is: What is this superstructure (PB, GC, EC, etc.) for? What are the ministries that can only, or best, be performed for the good of the church and the world by an [inter]national organ of the ecclesiastical body, so conceived and so constituted.

And I find I can think of precious few things that require or commend such an [inter]national structure: setting the law and liturgy of the church; engaging in formal interreligious and interfaith dialogue and work; [inter]national level mission programs and ministry. These are off the top of my head -- there is likely more; but however much is best or only done at this supreme level, it seems to me that the vast bulk of the work of the church is done in and by the parish, secondly by the diocesan and regional entities, and only thirdly at the national and international level.

And until it is manifestly clear just what work is best done at that level, arguing about how the workforce should be structured to accomplish it is premature — and very likely a waste of time and energy. “Form follows function” should apply to ecclesiastical structures as well as buildings.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Sarah Dylan Breuer said...

I found your analogy on buildings to be very apt. The curse of having buildings (especially for the church) is that they cost money to maintain, but once they are there, people find it nearly impossible to let them go. The assets of the DFMS and the DFMS's status as a nonprofit corporation require people to provide direction, oversight, and accountability regarding their use.

I think the disproportionate numbers of lawyers and accountants, both lay and ordained, we place in key positions of our governance might be saying something widely but implicitly understood about what we see as the primary function of bishops, canons to the ordinary, and diocesan structures as well as in powerful positions in DFMS structures. The widely used definition of Christian "stewardship" as meaning "giving money to the church" for church members and "managing the money" for church leaders also, I think, says something about this phenomenon. I suspect that proposals to reduce the size and role of Executive Council will be essentially to reduce it entirely to GAM and FFM, which get massively more GC resolutions and more work in general assigned to them than the rest of Council's committees do. Tacking the word "mission" on to job titles and committee names doesn't necessarily mean that we've shifted our focus or sense of purpose away from assets and controlling them.

The trickiest thing about this dynamic, I think, is how little we acknowledge it while we're engaging in it.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Good thoughts, and helpful! Thank you.