By Matt Townsend
General Convention’s Structure Committee heard testimony July 6 suggesting a reimagined role for the presiding bishop, a unicameral General Convention and markedly younger leadership.
Resolution B013, proposed by Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut, would eliminate the need for the Presiding Bishop to resign from a diocesan role upon election — a requirement enacted by General Convention in 1947.
“This is a fairly simple resolution with, perhaps, profound opportunity or consequences,” he said. Douglas said it may be time to imagine a new model for leadership in the church, and that reducing canonical rules regarding jurisdiction would free the office to change.
“I submit that the constitutional confederacy, the corporate model, and the regulatory model no longer hold. We need something different,” the bishop said. “We have a wonderful opportunity to reimagine what is the role of just this one particular office, the presiding bishop, as we look at electing our next presiding bishop. We have a window.”
Such an approach also would affect European members of the church, as the presiding bishop would no longer have jurisdiction over their bishop. “This just might encourage and assist our Christian sisters and brothers to no longer have to remain, if you will, an adolescent, but to grow into the fullness they want as a diocese.”
The 78th General Convention will elect the church’s next presiding bishop in 2015.
Bishop Michael Smith of North Dakota, a member of the committee, asked how the role of primate would be affected by the resolution.
Douglas said all other primates in the Anglican Communion maintain jurisdiction. “There’s no reason why, in fact, we need to say the primate and the presiding bishop are one in the same. What would it look like if we began to think about, perhaps, that General Convention might even elect a primate to represent us in those bodies? This just opens up the conversation.”
Bishop Larry Provenzano of Long Island, who proposed Resolution B015 calling for a unicameral General Convention, told the committee it was not a power play by bishops. “It is, however, in the context of our present system of governance, an attempt to further the witness and effectiveness of our church being in prayerful church council together,” he said. “We need each other. We need to hear each other.”
Provenzano said that all other Anglican bodies meet in unicameral bodies. “It’s pretty clear that we are a unique body in the Anglican Communion.”
The Rev. Canon Neal Michell, member of the committee and deputy from Dallas, asked Provenzano what he found to be broken about the church’s current system.
“Wow, that’s a great open door,” Provenzano said. “I can speak for myself. I need to hear the voice of elected lay leadership and elected clergy in the leadership of the church. It seems strange to me that when we talk about the church being ‘in council’ that we meet in separate rooms and separate places.” He explained that this stirs animosity and suspicion.
“I find it difficult to make decisions as we are here now about resolutions that come, say, from the House of Deputies to the House of Bishops without being able to have conversation other than amongst other bishops,” the bishop said. “What I think is fundamentally broken is that we can’t hear each other.”
Provenzano also said he believes the meeting body of General Convention is too large. The resolution, he said, could open the door to more frequent and less expensive meetings by limiting the convention’s duration and inviting only jurisdictional bishops.
“We would gather for five days every two years, with the primary focus on mission and ministry of the church. I know I will become very unpopular by saying this, but it would eliminate all of our partying and all of the dollars that are related to that. Now, that may be a downer for some, but I think it’s a serious consideration given where we are as a church.”
The Rev. Alex Dyer, deputy from Connecticut, expressed concern about whether this change would be too sweeping. “I welcome this conversation and think it will be lively. I don’t think this convention is necessarily the right time to make such a dramatic shift,” he said.
Lisa Fox of Missouri said that giving separate and equal power to the deputies and bishops has been beneficial to the church but added that defining which bishops have a seat and vote could be a welcome change.
The Structure Committee also heard about Resolution D043, which would require at least one third of the membership of any restructuring-related commissions, committees, or consultations to be 40 years old or younger. The discussion drew a larger crowd of young Episcopalians, many of whom spoke about their experiences in leadership.
The Rev. Jason Emerson, deputy from Nebraska, said young people are committed to leading the church, not leaving it. “I’m very excited and energized to be a part of a church that’s going to restructure itself,” he said. “But I’m concerned about who’s going to be at the table for that conversation.” Emerson said younger Episcopalians will be in the church for decades to come and are well-suited to shape the church for current and future generations.
Only 1.1 percent of deputies at this General Convention are in their 20s, according to the Rev. Amity Carrubba, executive director of Episcopal Service Corps. “Only 6.3 percent of deputies are in their 30s. Less than half are 59 and younger. This was quite shocking to me, particularly because I work with so many people in their 20s who are excited to either serve with the church of their birth or are excited to learn about the Episcopal Church,” she said.
Carrubba said older leaders need to make a specific place at the table for younger people who will and are leading.
The Rev. Ernesto Medina, deputy from Nebraska, spoke of being ordained in his 20s and finding a path into leadership at that age. He said he supported the resolution because of the gifts he received when he was young.
“When my children were born, I began to understand a vocational call that all my work would be to provide a church that my children would find healthy and viable,” Medina said. “I now find myself in a point of transition where my children are adults and the church is not necessarily viable for them. I want them to have a place at this table.”