Saturday, July 14, 2012

It is Now Time to Restructure and Merge Dioceses

General Convention is over and some really good things happened.  The blessings of committed same sex couples is a blessing and permitting transgendered persons to enter the ordination discernment process are spirit filled decisions.  And the decision to study church restructuring and report back three years hence is indeed another blessing and long overdue.  Good work, General Convention.  Now it is time to turn our attention to merging and restructuring Dioceses.

The starting point for this discussion is still the now familiar refrain of church decline.  Already Dioceses are stretched financially to pay their National Church Assessment.  Parishes Churches are likewise stretched to pay their Diocesan Assessments.  Fewer people are attending church on Sundays and members are either leaving or dying off.  Based on this alone, there is a need to examine not only the number of Dioceses, but also the present funding of the Dioceses that we have.  This twofold approach is necessary.

But first there is a theological issue to be resolved.  Most Bishops believe that the Diocese is the fundamental unit of the Church.  Based on the Romanizing model of the late sixth century in England, it is popular for the hierarchy to assert that Augustine's organizing principle is God's Word.  Not so if we revert to Holy Scripture.  Among several descriptions of the New Testament Church, the two identifiers that impress me in this regard are the ecclesia, those called out to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, and the metaphor of the human body; the Church as the Body of which Jesus Christ is the head.  When Paul is writing about the church, he is not referring to a Diocese, he is referencing local groups of believers in major metropolitan centers.  In Paul's mind, the local congregation in a given place is the fundamental unit of the Church.

If it is true that the fundamental unit of the church is the local assembly, then it is true that the majority of resources should go to support that body.  While we may theologically debate the Episcopacy, and while we may agree as Anglicans that Bishops are important if not integral to our tradition, and while we may agree that some sort of central office is necessary to conduct the ministry of the Bishop, it is still true that resources devoted to that office are out of line when considered alongside the meager resources of the vast majority of Episcopal Churches.

We have way too many Bishops and Dioceses in TEC.  Therefore, the first step in restructuring should be to decrease these.  This would then allow more resources to flow downwards towards local churches.  Meanwhile, current Dioceses could trim their expenses, tighten their belts, and allow more finanacial flexibility on the local level.  This movement outwards from Dioceses would be then consistent with the biblical theology of the local church as the fundamental unit.

Diocesan Conventions are the places where these issues must be addressed.  But they first have to be supported by the Bishop of each Diocese.  Bishops, are you ready to have these discussions?


  1. This post by Bob is excellent; it is time to get the "cart and the horse" in the right order. Congregations do the heavy pulling and dioceses get the ride. We have way more carts then we need plus many of the cart drivers are ill suited to the task.

  2. But - if you look at home much we gave the national church in the late 1960s and adjust for inflation, we are spending half as much on the national church as in the late '60s. Are we that cheap we can't afford a church that has programs for young people? How will moving to mega dioceses help us to God's work? Perhaps what we need are more - but cheaper - bishops who bring their work close enough to people in the pews to change lives?

  3. Tom, I think more very local bishops with a pastoral oversight for between six to twelve clergy and congregations is another way to go and deserves study. I experimented with something of that approach in Wichita, KS with the St. Columba Center for Congregational Development in the 1990's.
    My problem, as a seven year member and executive under two Presiding Bishops, with the national administration is what has been for a very long time lacking in local market sensitivity as to what is needed in congregations. Our Stewardship and Development unit came out of Venture in Mission and was highly locally mission sensitive. At one time, we had over $75K in R&R money coming out of our sales and our training of hundreds of lay and clergy leaders. The evaluations of our publications and conferences were universally superior. Many of the other units seemed to think that their materials and approach were simply correct with little to no market feedback. If the national structure was forced to "sell" their programs beyond the necessary administratively mandated costs of running certain of our necessary, canonical organizations, then fine; have the national structure live on what income it can generate!

  4. Tom, your responses above provide occasion to further the discussion. First, you suggest that in real dollars only half as much as in the ‘60s goes to the National Church -- of course, (A) we are only half the size, (B) when we spent more we still got less, and (3) there is no evidence that National/Diocesan spending or programs grow congregations. Next you question if we are so “cheap we can’t afford a church that has programs for young people?” Who in the world thinks that youth ministry at the National/Diocesan level is anything but a minor part of ministry with youth? Real youth programs happen at parish level and that is where we need to keep the resources. (Post of 2 June addresses this issue.) Finally you suggest that we need more and/or cheaper bishops who will work closer to home. The Episcopal Journey of Hope article on April 7th speaks to exactly this issue. Bob in today’s article reasserts that the focal point of the institutional Church is not National or Diocesan; it is the parish congregation and it is a must that we have the leadership and resources at the local level. To keep doing what we have been doing is a down payment on our Diamond Anniversary of Decline.

  5. In the fraternity/sorority world there are times when the national organization will come in, close a house and completely start over. A similar process happens with banks and the FDIC. pecusa has reached that point. pecusa should suspend all operations, allow the primates to come in, clean house, and start over.

  6. Perhaps we need to consider a few other options....

    Perhaps we ought to look at county level - what is the Episcopalian density in every county in the USA? Counties which are relatively sparse may need a missionary bishop and a crew of pioneer church planters more than they need usual diocesan programs, structure and staff.

    Perhaps in some areas it would make more sense to buy an old farm and put some Episcopal missioners on it to establish a presence and build a new monastic community (e.g. Commonfriars) rather than a church as the Celtic Christian missionaries did.

    And TEC has always had the reputation for being supportive of good education: maybe we could put together some schooling models for underserved areas and homeschoolers using technology...

    I believe that while our three fold holy orders are essential, I am not convinced that parish/diocese/province is a sacrosanct organizing principle - how else might we coordinate and cooperate to better spread awareness of the Kingdom?

  7. Small Farmer, very creative, innovative thinking; thanks.

  8. And btw, while we are on it...maybe we need to think about reinstituting "minor orders" for evangelists, pastoral assistants, worship leaders, almoners (fund raisers), church planters, etc.

    It gives lay folk some credibility and recognizes these important ministries particularly in mission areas...

  9. And btw,good farmer,as the Brits say, BRILLIANT!

  10. "Who in the world thinks that youth ministry at the National/Diocesan level is anything but a minor part of ministry with youth?"

    All of the youith who spoke at the General Convention.

    "the focal point of the institutional Church is not National or Diocesan; it is the parish congregation and it is a must that we have the leadership and resources at the local level."

    OK - so why can't a church that's members are wealthier than many denomenations suddenly not afford things? Might it just be that we are cheap? Seriouly: how many parionshers tithe in the Episcoapl Chruch as opposed to Evangelical churches?

    Cutting costs, merging dioceses, etc. miss the real points:

    (1) Our money follows our heart - not our words

    (2) Shifting our structure 'aint gonna grow the church. We could close down the national and diocesan struture tomorrow and it would not matter. we would simply do more of what is not working. We don't need moemny: we need change.

  11. In 1985, I published in Stewardship Report, the great success of what was in fact the work and product of VIM and its evolution into the national program unit, The Office of Stewardship and Deveolpment under Executive the Rev. Tom Carson. This unit had taken grass roots mission lessons and developed training for diocesan commissions, bishops and parish clergy in tithing, program and leadership development. We had become first among all the major denominations in per capita giving based on tithing. We were effective in knowing and giving the Church leadership success and actually made money on our product sales. We also tried to encourage the same grassroots approach by diocesan bishops to go to voluntary giving to support their diocesan operations. Few tried and most got reactionary. By 1991, the present and successive Presiding Bishops over the next trienniums cut stewardship operations to skeletal levels because they reverted to top down leadership style management and encouraged "the spiritual values" of giving over and against stewardship as gutsy leadership. These dysfunctional decisions were made in spite of actual and verifiable success. As of now, the national leadership has successfully negotiated many socially important issues while ineffectively coping with its own funding. Presently given the actual demographics of age and attendance, it seems rather difficult for national and diocesan structures to recover their power and will inevitiablely downsize. The questions we are addressing are about new leadership approaches, not really about pissing on the past and present because there are many pearls of great value to bag for the new adventure. . .

  12. Hmmm I find myself increasingly wondering if we are accurately reflecting on our reality?

    We are, I believe, in a post Christendom environment - think America c. 1820s...think missionary bishops and circuit riders...think small congregations, lay readers and monthly or quarterly Eucharist with Morning Prayer between visits from clergy....think church members focusing on supporting one another and lay pastoral provision...

    Start there and THEN worry about changes to diocesan, provincial and national church programs and budgets...serve local, learn global...thoughts?

  13. By the 1860's, mission congregations were being settled along railroad centers. If you look at the ecclesiastical map of Kansas Episcopal congregations by 1910, you will see congregations completely interfacing with the rail centers. Many of the buildings were Camden Society or later neocolonial designs put up by 1910 and certainly before the Depression. So mission for Episcopalians was related to a WASP Anglican vision and values along with industrial transportation development. After WWII, with the expansion of suburban development, roads and highways, congregations were established along the new routes again and again all over the USA. Leadership focused on maps of roads and population movement and were used to lay out the plans and have continued to do so until today. Now we have to re-search for the pearls, as I call them, that might just be useful in this new and strange technological and cultural frontier that has little to do with physical location and a dominant and formerly attractive cultural paradigm. I suspect, as Goodthunder thinks, that we will isolate into boutique communities, maintaining as a much as possible, a reflection of beautiful 19th and early to mid-20th Century aesthetics, values and organization and/or we will try some of the Small Farmer ideas wherever in whatever circumstance. However, right now, the pearls are now only being discovered, let alone whether or not they have immediate or long term value. It is chaos out there. . .

  14. I offer the thought that if rather than looking at church planting of congregations of 100+ families we consider neighborhood house churches of 15-20 folks for a weekly Evening Prayer, Dinner, and Study;

    or focus on community college ministries as proposed by resolution at GC77 - wouldn't it be cool if rather than spending 3 yrs in seminary we had folks spend two years at community college getting solid vo-ed training and then on weekends and summers get their theological formation so that after earning their Associates they could spend an internship year as a churchworker in tentmaker ministry? And then, if they were called to church planting, evangelism, or holy orders, they'd be well prepared.

    Heck, how wild would it be to open a branch of Society of Sacramental Socialists,, for young disaffected Leftists in places where the OWS movement flourishes(-ed)? Big grin

    We are only limited by our insistence on a model of church being in a box on Sundays...shall we get on with our calling and live into our baptismal covenant as Episcopalians?

  15. Some really good stuff here Small Farmer, very refreshing!

  16. I want to thank everyone for their excellent and helpful comments about this blog. They remind me that we have not said much about true congregational development in new and experimental ways. As Small Farmer said, we are in a post Christendonm world and we need to think creatively about ways to evangelize in the 21st century. Perhaps we need to think more about what local mission really is and therefore grow the church in new and dynamic ways. Then restructuring the Diocese and National Church makes more sense. Neverthless, the National and Diocesan organizations really must radically change and perhaps disappear altogether and morph into a more Celtic, circular and flat system.