You know, I really did want to support TREC.
After all, I live in a diocese that has been flying the airplane while we are building it in the wake of a 2008 schism when our former bishop and much of the diocesan leadership left The Episcopal Church but claimed –and occupied – most of our church property. We have been Reimagining the Church like crazy around here ever since then. So I was eagerly awaiting TREC’s ideas.
Others – Episcopal Café here and here, Tom Ferguson on his blog Crusty Old Dean here, commentors on the HOB/D list -- have done brilliant jobs of outlining things they like and things that concern them, and I urge you to read them all. I haven’t written a detailed analysis. Instead, I offer a view from the other side of schism, for what it’s worth.
My first reaction was - what business major wrote this and has he or she ever been to church?
My second reaction was - has this person ever been to a General Convention?
My third reaction was - did they really think through the implications of using Lazarus as a starting place?
And my fourth reaction was – did no one learn ANYTHING from what happened in San Joaquin, Quincy, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, and, most recently, South Carolina?
Full disclosure – I live in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. I am a lay woman coming at this from the perspective of a person who was confined to the margins of my diocese, and thus of General Convention, for more than 20 years. As an outsider I observed the workings of the church in ways that insiders don’t have to. For me, as for people of color, all women, for my LGBT sisters and brothers, learning the ways of those who held power was not a luxury – it was imperative if there was to be any chance of being heard in the councils of the church.
Tipping the scales of the balance of power in favor of those traditionally on the margins was not then and is not now easy in an institution still steeped in clericalism and mesmerized by the color purple. But it is possible, with patience and a willingness to understand how the system works, to learn where the ways into the system are, and where the system offers opportunities for anyone to speak up. All of this is true, by the way, of ANY institutional system, no matter how big or small.
In 2009, I suddenly was thrust into “insider” status. My bishop left The Episcopal Church, we reorganized the diocese, I was elected a deputy and, to my utter amazement, elected to Executive Council on the first ballot at General Convention in Anaheim. My work on the margins had given me enough name recognition to make that possible.
At home my diocese and other reorganized dioceses still are working to rebuild in the wake of a schism that should have been prevented. I see amazing creativity and openness to new ways of being church. I see clergy learning to value the lay people with whom they partner. I see lay people growing into the fullness of their baptisms. I watch feisty small congregations take on ministry projects that would make many large congregations cower. I see displaced congregations growing into being Welcoming Congregations. I watch valiant Episcopalians in congregations that have been locked out of their church homes faithfully creating church from scratch every single Sunday in rented spaces they have access to only on Sunday. I see growth, small, but steady.
Why? Because even though people are tired, they are not afraid. We are not into feeding the fears here.
Of course, I also see families split between those who stayed with The Episcopal Church and those who stayed with Bishop Iker. I see time and way too much money being eaten up in legal fights that Could. Have. Been. Avoided.
The schism in my diocese – as in San Joaquin, Quincy, Pittsburgh, and now South Carolina -- was more than 20 years in the making. The people organizing this move were almost to a man ordained (very few women were involved). They made no secret of their goals - read the Chapman memo and Jim Naughton’s Following the Money. Laity were disempowered. Those who protested were demonized and marginalized, and those who were compliant were used as tools to further the aims of the clergy. Purple reigned, with bishops taking the idea of “princes of the church” into new realms of virtually unchecked power.
The twenty years leading up to the schisms were filled with strife fulminated by these people intent on undermining The Episcopal Church. They wanted a very public fight in which they would be seen standing up for patriarchy, “traditional marriage,” and a vision of The Episcopal Church as it was in the 1950s, when men were men and women – and minorities – knew their place. This had the effect of running off folks who don’t like conflict, folks who don’t like bigots, and folks who bought into the idea that politics is a dirty word. All these added to the ongoing decline in all the mainstream protestant denominations, which led to calls for a more “nimble” church.
During this time, two presiding bishops and the House of Bishops worked hard to placate their brother bishops and fellow priests and their conservative allies in the Anglican Communion. This purple brotherhood did virtually nothing to stop the bishops who later would leave The Episcopal Church while laying claim to millions of dollars’ worth of Episcopal Church property. If you have wondered why the larger church should help pay the legal expenses of San Joaquin and South Carolina, it’s because the wider church’s inaction allowed this legal mess to happen.
What happened in my diocese and the others happened not because General Convention is too big and too long, not because the PB doesn’t have enough power, not because there are too many CCABs, not because the Executive Council has too many people -- but because the balance between clergy and laity was tilted mightily in the direction of the clergy, silencing and marginalizing lay people. There were no countervailing voices strong enough to gainsay what the bishops were doing. There was no will among the House of Bishops to use even peer pressure, much less what canonical powers did exist, to rein these men in.
And now comes TREC with a proposal to turn us into a Roman Catholic Church Light with our own PB pope, a much smaller role for laity in a smaller General Convention and Executive Council, and – has anyone noticed? No change at all in the frequent meetings and workings of the House of Bishops. Additionally, in a church full of small congregations, this proposal will insure that no one from a small congregation can be elected to anything, Episcopalians living west of the Mississippi will be invisible and church wide staff for the most part will be independent contractors, which absolves employers of any emotional investment as well as most of the financial investment made in regular employees.
And all this is supposed to make us nimble – because look how nimble the Vatican is.