Did you know that the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (GC) is the largest elective legislative body in the world? Meeting every three years, the General Convention brings nearly 1000 lay and clergy deputies along with 300 bishops to do the work of the church over a 10 day period. This year’s GC will be in Salt Lake City, Jun. 25-Jul. 3. It is the 78th General Convention since the church was established in 1789.
The Episcopal Church has just over 2 million members throughout the world, not just in the USA, where it is the 14th largest Christian denomination. General Convention is both amazing and also overwhelming. Why would a 2 million member body need the largest legislative body? Is the cost of GC really the best stewardship of our church’s shrinking resources? How do we deal with seminarian debt? What do we offer to congregations that increasingly cannot afford a full-time priest?
In asking these hard questions, GC in 2012 formed the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC). I was excited as I looked forward to hearing the results of their work, and I was not alone. Many of us realize that the church of the 20th (or even the 18th) century may not work the same way in the 21st century. This was our chance to truly imagine new ways to discern the call of the Holy Spirit in our church today and in the future.
The report was published last month, and I was underwhelmed. While the report talked about reimagining, it did so in exactly the same type of bureaucratic, opaque, unimaginative language that we currently use in GC. Some of that language is necessary; it will take resolutions and canonical changes to re-envision the Episcopal Church.
The best parts of the report come in the form of word clouds. When asked about their favorite memory of the church, four words were used very frequently: liturgy, welcoming, love, and community. Rather than focusing on governmental structure, we should lead with these values, which are just as true for the church of the 21st century as they have been since the time of the apostles. This summer, I will “think about these things” (Philippians 4:8) and the ways we live them out in St. Michael’s, in the wider church, and most especially in the world.