Friday, January 31, 2014

My proposal to add Charles Gillette to "Holy Women, Holy Men"

The Rev. Dr. Charles Gillette, missionary
I’ve been preaching a lot recently on the theme of how our stories shape us. We come together every Sunday to tell the story of Jesus Christ. Our telling of the story of our savior shapes us in big ways, and sometimes subtly.

There are other stories we also tell.

You may not know this, but the Episcopal Church has a calendar of saints, although we think of these individuals a little differently than some other churches. They don’t have to done anything miraculous, but they are people whose stories still inspire us.

Many of these “saints” were ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Some you have heard of – like Martin Luther King Jr. – and others you might not be as familiar with, like Absalom Jones (1746-1818), the first African American priest in the Episcopal Church.

We add people to our calendar by a vote of our General Convention, the highest elected body in the Episcopal Church, which meets every three years. Among its duties is to consider nominations for the calendar called “Holy Women, Holy Men.”

I mention this because I’ve been recently promoting an individual who I believe deserves to on the calendar. I came across this story during my sabbatical last year. Let me tell you about the Rev. Dr. Charles Gillette (1811-1869).

He was a graduate of the Virginia Theological Seminary in 1843, and became a missionary in Texas, where he founded several schools and churches.

During the Civil War, the Rev. Gillette stood courageously in favor of keeping the Episcopal Church unified and stood against slavery. He came into conflict with his bishop, Alexander Gregg, who was a fervent supporter of the Confederacy. When their conflict became public, Gillette’s congregation convinced him he was in mortal danger, and so he fled north to Ohio. After the war, he became the General agent of the Episcopal Church’s effort to build churches for the freed slaves, and was instrumental in establishing schools in Virginia and North Carolina. He died suddenly on March 6, 1869 (thus I have proposed March 6 as his feast day).

Recently, I sponsored a resolution at our Diocesan Council that would have petitioned General Convention to consider adding Gillette to the calendar on March 6. The Council voted to refer my proposal to the diocesan Committee on Race and Reconciliation. I will keep you posted on how this goes.

As we look back through the mist of time, the idea has settled upon us that the split between North and South was inevitable, and that the split in the Episcopal Church was inevitable, and maybe that was so.

But at the time, the war and divisions of that war, did not seem inevitable to everyone. It did not seem certain to everyone. One of those who believed the Church needed to stand in unity was Charles Gillette.

Splitting the church was a close call. When the Diocese of Texas met in convention in 1861, it was a tie vote whether to split from the Episcopal Church. The tie was broken by the vote of the bishop.

Charles Gillette stood for unity in the church, and he stood steadfastly throughout the war. He also believed that it was a sin for human beings to own other human beings – slavery – and he was chastised for not standing with those who were defending slavery. He stood against the prevailing wind, at threat to his life. After the war, he tried to do something, however small, to wipe clean that stain by helping build schools for the freed slaves here in Virginia.

My proposal to add Gillette to the calendar is not about looking for bad guys or finding scapegoats. We don’t get to rewrite history. But this should be about remembering those who stood with courage and faith despite the odds. Charles Gillette is one of those individuals whose story deserves to be told because he stood bravely against the winds of war.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Imagining the future of the Episcopal Church

I haven't written much here about the Episcopal Church's task force to recommend reforms to our structure and governance. The task force recently issued an interim report and it is worth reading. I am re-posting this from Episcopal Cafe. Here it is:

Task Force imagines the future for the Episcopal Church

TREC Letter to the Church: December 10, 2013

In the last several months, the members of the Taskforce for Reimagining The Episcopal Church have been on a listening tour – in person and virtually. We have spoken with youth groups and bishops, the Executive Council and councils of local leaders; at provinces, at dioceses, parishes, and religious communities. We have asked people what their hopes and dreams are for our Church; what aspects of the Church they hope we cherish and strengthen; and what they wish we could be brave enough to let go of in order to make our Church more vibrant and mission-focused.

Our listening to the Church is an ongoing process. What we have heard is a deep, abiding love for our Church and its unique way of creating Christ-centered community and mission. The Book of Common Prayer and the beauty and mystery of our liturgy bind us together across ages, geographies and politics. We deeply love the intellectual as well as the spiritual life that is cultivated in our members (“you don’t need to leave your mind at the door”).

On many other issues, we disagree. We heard calls for the Church to be “less reactive to social issues,” and also calls to make the Church’s voice on social issues even louder. We heard calls for more diversity in our liturgy and music, and equally urgent calls for less. We would have expected nothing different! Many of us cherish the diversity of our community as much as we cherish the common beliefs and traditions that bring us together.

But there were several loud and urgent themes that consistently ran through our discussions: the Church is calling for us to reduce the bureaucracy and resource-intensity of our Church wide processes. The Church wants the work of General Convention and other Church structures to be more relevant and more life-giving to our local parish communities. And, the Church wants us to face and grapple with the tough issues and the “elephants in the room” that suck up our resources, time and energy and that block our growth.

As a taskforce, we have been reflecting on what we have heard, and the vision of a reinvigorated Episcopal Church is emerging.

A New Vision

Imagine a world where all of our Episcopal parishes are spiritually vibrant and mission-focused. A recent survey suggests that less than 30% would pass this test today. [1] Imagine a world where our parishes consistently are good at inspiring their traditional members and also are energized and effective in reaching out to new generations and new populations.

Imagine a world where the shape of our Church frequently adapts, as new parish communities emerge in non-traditional places and non-traditional ways, and as existing parishes merge and reinvent as local conditions change. Imagine a world where Episcopal clergy and lay leaders are renowned for being highly effective leaders, skilled at Christian formation and community building, at new church planting, at church transformation, and at organizing communities for mission. Imagine that Episcopalians easily collaborate with each other across the Church: forming communities of interest, working together to share learnings from local initiatives, and collaborating to pool resources and ideas. Imagine that the Church wide structure of The Episcopal Church primarily serves to enable and magnify local mission through networked collaboration, as well as to lend its prophetic voice.

Imagine that each triennium we come together in a “General Mission Convocation” where participants from all over the Church immerse themselves in mission learning, sharing, decision making and celebration.

Realizing this vision

It will take far more than structural changes in order to realize this new world. It will take resolved and capable leadership at all levels of the Church, and it will take broad and deep cultural change within the Church. We will have to work through a grieving process as we individually and collectively lose structures that have been critical parts of our lives and even of our identities. At the same time, we will also have to find a way of adopting a new and more hopeful mindset: we will need to believe—truly believe—that The Episcopal Church can, should and must GROW!

In our work, we will call out some of the non-structural changes that we believe will be critical to living into a new vision of a vibrant, growing and adaptive Church. We will give some suggestions for how we might go beyond structural reform to achieve these changes in leadership behaviors, culture and organizational capability.

We will focus most of our time as a taskforce on developing a set of recommendations for structural or “technical” changes that we think will be a critical part of reinvigorating the Church. These changes will play three important roles in the revitalization of our Church:
1) They will “clear the way” for innovation and adaptation, freeing up our time and energy, and speeding up decision making. 

2) They will give the leadership of the Church a bold and holistic agenda of change which, if adopted, will role model the kind of similar bold changes that must occur at every other level of the Church. 
3) They will reinvent the role of Church wide organizations and structures: away from “doing” mission and towards enabling mission; away from setting agendas and assigning resources and towards connecting local communities and individuals for mutual learning, support and collaboration.

What to expect from us

We have identified a number of key issues that we believe must be tackled through structural reform. We are working to develop proposals that address each of these issues. Some of these proposals will feel incremental, and many have been debated before. Some will feel bold and risky. Some of them will go beyond the scope of a narrow interpretation of the resolution that created our Taskforce (C095). Some of them go even beyond the scope of the authority of General Convention, and thus will take the form of “recommendations” or “prophetic proclamations” rather than legislative proposals. Taken together, however, alongside the many exciting, vibrant, and hopeful things already emerging around the Church, we believe that our proposals will be part of the ongoing work of setting the Church on a new path towards health and vitality.

Some of the areas in which we are developing recommendations include:
1) The role and mechanics of General Convention: Narrowing the legislative agenda and reducing the size of its legislative bodies, while expanding the scope of our get-togethers so that they serve not only as places where key legislation is debated and adopted but also as vibrant, open and inclusive celebratory Mission Convocations—bringing together passionate and active practitioners of every kind of mission going on around the Church. 
2) Roles and accountability of the Presiding Officers and of the Executive Council--particularly as related to Church wide staff: Establishing simple and clear lines of accountability and responsibility, reducing redundancy, clarifying confusions which can inhibit clear decision-making processes, and resizing the Council to function more effectively as a governance board. 
3) Breadth of CCABs (Committees, Commissions, Agencies and Boards) and the creation of alternative, fresh and creative models for Church wide collaboration: Recasting most of our CCABs into a new model of distributive and accountable collaboration. Creating on-line collaboration models that connect local mission leaders across our Church so that our collective “agenda” can dynamically adapt to local needs, and so that we tap into the greatest asset of our Church—all of us, sitting in the pews, doing great work locally but mostly disconnected from each other and from The Episcopal Church. 
4) Number of dioceses: Considering a one-time, objective process for establishing norms for a healthy and viable diocesan size and structure in order to enable mission and reduce the complexity of our organization. 
5) Capacity and leadership development: Establishing effective leadership formation and development approaches for all orders of ministry, grounded in our vows of baptism and ordination, as well as in the particular needs of the 21st century. Calling out the implications for clergy career paths and deployment, as well as the implications and opportunities for seminaries and other current leadership development programs. Encouraging the creation of new “centers of excellence” or other mechanisms for fostering ongoing learning and large-scale capability building, encouraging networking around existing nodes of great work.

It is also clear that there is a deeply felt need to develop some common understandings of how individual dioceses can best make decisions about, and provide the best support for, parish vitality and viability. Given how vastly different the cultural and demographic landscape has become since most of our congregations were founded and buildings constructed, how do we make the most faithful and strategic use of our resources as we make decisions about the number of parishes, locations, consolidations, new plants, etc.? 

This work is largely in the hands of local dioceses rather than the General Convention, but we hope that our work will contain some reflections and recommendations that may be taken up by the whole church around these pressing and critical issues as well.

What we need from you

We have a huge and complex scope of work, and we need your help! Please keep talking with us and giving us feedback and ideas. If you have not convened a discussion with our Engagement Kit, or completed our on-line questionnaire, please do so! If you have reactions to our Episcopal Identity and Vision paper posted on our website, please send us your feedback and ideas. We are revising it with the feedback we have already received and will continue to revise it as we gather additional input. Please send us your feedback and ideas regarding this letter.

Going forward, please watch for drafts of recommendations around the areas of reform that we have highlighted in this note. We will post installments around our ideas as quickly as we can, beginning in late January 2014, to enable as much discussion, debate and feedback as possible. We will continue to post updates to our evolving proposals through the course of the year, as we work towards finalizing our work in late 2014. In addition, we are in the process of planning a special gathering of the Church in the fall of 2014 to further discuss our proposals and to receive feedback. In line with our vision to live into new ways to “do Church” in the 21st century, this meeting will be virtual, so that we can involve as broad and diverse a group as possible, without restricting access to those who don’t have the financial resources to join an in-person gathering.

Finally, please pray for us and for all who are engaging with us, as we try our best to discern the right path for our Church. You might use the prayer that members of our Taskforce have written for us:

Holy Spirit, who broods over the world, fill the hearts and minds of your servants on Taskforce for Reimagining The Episcopal Church with wisdom, clarity and courage. Work in them as they examine and recommend reforms for the structure, governance and administration of this branch of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. Help them propose reforms to more effectively proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, to challenge the world to seek and serve Christ in all persons—loving our neighbors as ourselves and to be a blazing light for the kind of justice and peace that leads to all people respecting the dignity of every human being. Be with The Episcopal Church that we all may be open to the challenges that this Taskforce will bring to us—and help the whole church to discern your will for our future. In the name of Jesus Christ our Mediator, on whose life this Church was founded. AMEN

Thank you for the trust you have placed in us, and in the input you have already provided. Thank you in advance for the input and vigorous debate that we hope will mark the next phase of our work with you.

For more info, questions or comments, contact TREC members at

[1] David Roozen, "A Decade of Change in American Congregations: 2000-2010," Hartford Institute for Religion Research, 2011.
TREC Engagement Kit