A friend of mine on the Episcopal Church Executive Council, for whom I have an immense amount of respect, has been consistently calling on the Episcopal Church to revision its structure by consulting not with voices from within, but with today’s leading authorities on non-profit structure and empowerment. Her point is that we tend to want to tweak an already outmoded system in the Episcopal Church rather than listening to what is working already in the 21st century.
When we talked about the national church structures in our diocesan convention this past Fall, there were voices from the diocese who were calling for the same thing. We even amended our “structure” resolution which was submitted to General Convention to include similar language.
But the more I think about it, the more I’m concerned that a top down approach won’t ultimately work. I wrote this and shared it with others involved in the conversation about structure:
I’d be very happy to try this [sort of top down, expert driven solution]. Seriously. I’ll vote for it if given a chance.
But I’m not really optimistic that it will work. Even with the best intentions and state of the art solutions, it’s going to be an imposition rather than an organic development. And I guess I’m not all that optimistic that such a thing will succeed any better than what we have now is doing.
There’s a story that the groundskeepers at Princeton were growing increasingly frustrated with the way students were walking across the lawns and ignoring the paved walkways. In desperation they asked Prof. Einstein how to solve the problem. He told them to “pave the paths the students were making through the grass”. The students had already found the best solutions to moving about on campus. The University needed to “bless” that and stop fighting it.
What would it look like for us as the Episcopal Church to be willing to give a bit more freedom to dioceses and congregations to find structures for governance that make sense in local contexts? Our context in the center of Phoenix is different than context of our congregation in Winslow AZ, and is different than the context of the native people’s communities on the reservations. Here in Arizona we’re trying to understand what is essential and what is adiaphora in our polity so that we can be part of God’s mission most effectively in those various places.
I’m starting to wonder what that would look like for the Episcopal Church.
So I’m curious, what do all of you think about such things?