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Changing the Structure of the Episcopal Church

Date: Fri, 13 Aug 1999 09:35:24 -0700
>From: Louie Crew <lcrew@newark.rutgers.edu>
Subject: Re: TOWARD2015 Digest - 12 Aug 1999 to 13 Aug 1999 (#1999-75)


I enjoyed your piece about the need to restructure the church, and I
agree with the importance you assign to  the local congregation.

I wonder whether in reducing the work of the diocese you would
acutally achieve what you want.  Most of the congregations with under
100 members (a huge chunk of ECUSA, and a few dioceses have a majority
of them at this size) cannot survive without the assistance of the
diocese.   Kevin Martin and Ted Mollegen have some interesting facts
and opinions about the optimum size of ECUSA parishes. 

I personally would like to see new models of congregations, not to
replace those which we have, but to augment them -- including, but not
limited to, store-front ministries, networked household eucharists and
other ministres, more intentional cyber spiritual communities
(especially as audio and video become more ubiquitous)....   When the
Standing Commission on Human Affairs met with the Asian MInistries
group in the Diocese of California in 1995, a Korean priest told us of
his gratitude that Bp. Swing had hired him to be on the scene before a
new community of Korean immigrants arrived, even bought him a
beautiful small church building in that neighborhood.  (Bp. Swing had
used the expertese of some realtors in the diocese to know in advance
what was about to happen.)  "Imagine my disappointment when I
discovered that try as hard as I might I could not get more than 15-25
people into that beautiful building for anyone service," he told us. 
"Then I reflected on the reason:  they were rarely the same 15-25
people at any one time. Most newly arrived immigrants are very poor
and rarely have the luxury of a given time off every week.  I realized
that if I wanted to reach these people, I would have to do so outside
that bulding much of the time.  I now have household eucharists with
over 100 families...."  Those people will not be poor immigrants
forever.  Imagine the loyalty that they will feel towards the church
that is present with them in this passage into the American culture.   

The sad part of that story is that so few dioceses are trying anything
like that; and much about our current structure puts in place systems
that don't leave much room for that kind of ministry.  All too often
"The Episcopal Church welcomes you!" means "if you are like the rest
of us here."  We have not yet begun the serious discipleship of
re-envisioning what it means to go 'to the highways and the hedges' to
share the good news that we know.

I agree with you that we need radical restructuring, but I am
pessimistic about that taking place at the constitutional level.  We
spent a major portion of the last two General Conventions on
structure.  Except for minor changes, I don't expect that body to be
open to the idea for at least another two conventions.  For better or
worse (in this case, I think 'worse') there tends to be a 'been there;
done that' mentality about issues for a while after major responses to

Jon Shuler and I went to GC in 1994 with major proposals.  His got
much more attention than mine; neither of us prompted the body to
change, however.   I sponsored a resolution calling for proportional
representation, to make General Convention more democratic, like the
US House of Representatives.  You can see some of the data that I used
to support my resolution at
http://newark.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/grow_die.html -- much of which
appeared in THE WITNESS ahead of that convention.   Some good
arguments were brought against the proposal, as well as many for it,
but it was basically 'dead on arrival' and for a different reason, I
believe:  to pass would have required deputies to vote to reduce the
representation of their diocese.  That is almost impossible to
accomplish on a scale large enough for the measure to pass.  I now
think all my energies for that resolution were a huge waste of time.

I suspect the same may be true of resolutions to make a major change
in the current structures of dioceses.  To pass would require deputies
to vote to reduce the control and order that they now have.  That is
almost impossible to accomplish on a scale large enough for the
measure to pass.

I have just ended two terms on the Board of Governors of Rutgers and
as chair of the University Senate.  As my gift to that body, I wanted
to use the advantage that I enjoyed as a highly popular chair to
promote badly needed restructuring.  Rutgers' constitution was
designed when we were a small school; we are now huge research
university, with 48,000 students.  The formulas for representation
worked well initially but are terribly inefficient now, with over 185
senators.  I appointed a high-level restructuring committee charged to
bring resolutions to revitalize the senate.  Even the chair of the
Board of Governors agreed to devote time to it.  All know that Senate
is much too large.  Results:  only cosmetic changes were recommended
and passed.  Why?  The Committee were consummate realists:  they knew
that few senators would vote to cut the authority of those whom they
represented.  Again, the process to restructure was a huge waste of

There is another reason that you and I won't likely be heeded in any
calls for restructuring we make in ECUSA. In my role as Senate chair I
was non-partisan to most of the major issues in that body; in ECUSA I
am partisan, and so are you.  We both are fairly clear about what our
agendas are, and any change in structure will affect those agendas.  
We cannot even begin to be perceived as neutral.  You and I will be
listened to in what we say about structure, but we won't likely lead
in any restructuring that occurs.  

That said, it still makes sense to reflect upon structure, I think, as
long as we don't put too much of our energy into futile legislative
initiatives.  I have published several of my on reflections in my
report Charting the Episcopal Church at 
http://newark.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/chartecusa.html, where I speak of the
need to Gideonize the church, to make us leaner and more fit for
ministry.  I suggest:
   <LI> We need a talent inventory of the whole church.
   <LI> We need more expeditious ways for people to share their talents
       without being trapped into over-commitment and burnout.
    <LI> We need an Episcopal youth corps like the Mormons', but focused
       servant ministry, with exchanges throughout the Anglican
       communion. (What a contrast to the client-focus of most parish
       "youth work." Small wonder that most college students I meet
       want to go near a parish....)
     <LI> We need to rid our church of classism. We could have members
       galore if we were comfortable with a catholic range of
     <LI> We need to organize 'church' more flexibly to accommodate their
       horrendous work schedules.
       We need
          <LI> more house eucharists.
          <LI> more neighborhood. gatherings, perhaps some store-front
          <LI> less captivity to mid-Sunday morning.
     <LI> We need to revitalize campus ministry, perhaps by establishing
       canons already serving in such places. John Worrell, retired
       chaplain at Rice University, has warned, "We've been eating our
       seed corn."
     <LI> We need to revisit property issues with a hard look at going
       of the museum business. Most rectors long ago talked parishes
       of putting them into 19th-century rectories, but we seem to
       that God won't mind being stuck in drafty old buildings that do
       not reflect the best space that our people move in....
     <LI> We need to reprioritize our ordination processes. We should be
       calling as ministers only those already active in ministry (see
       advice to aspirants), not those invested solely in
       into old hierarchies of institutional maintenance......
   At Denver we could surprise the world with an irenic, joy-filled
   gathering, for Jubilee's sake! Pray for Pentecost to begin in you
   in me.
Joy to you!<br>
Chair of the Newark Deputation
               There are 327 days left until General Convention.

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