The Trellis of Structure

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This is one of a series of articles about how deputies are making up their minds about the issues before their legislative committees.

By Katie Sherrod

As the work of the Committee on Governance and Structure was beginning, there has been more than one moment when the scale of the challenge before us seemed overwhelming. Where to start? If we change this, it moves this, and do we want that to happen? If we keep this, does it help or hurt this other proposal over here?

Then an image emerged in the discussion among one subcommittee that helped. One member talked about how, when he and his wife bought their new home, they didn’t have enough money to completely landscape the front yard. They discussed it with a neighbor, who suggested they come up with a plan of what they wanted the yard to look like eventually. Then, he said, plant two bushes. That lets the neighbors know the direction you intend to go. Then next year, plant some more.

We don’t have to restructure all the church’s governance at this one General Convention. We can’t, even if we wanted to. Some proposed changes will take more than one convention. Governance is a constantly evolving thing, as demonstrated by the history given by Governance and Structure Chairs Deputy Sally Johnson and Bishop Clifton Daniel at the joint session on structure. It’s helpful to think of restructuring in terms of an ongoing process.

Another image we have found helpful is that of a trellis. Our governance structure is the trellis upon which the vine that is the church leans as it grows toward the light. We get in trouble when we confuse the trellis for the vine. The role of the trellis is not to control the vine so much as to provide the vine support and direction as it grows. But if you put the wrong kind of trellis in place, you can harm the vine. Too small a trellis can allow a vine to overwhelm its trellis and begin to droop and perhaps even break as it grows. Too large a trellis can cause the vine to grow in ways that weren’t intended.

What is not helpful is something I’ve heard way too many times as discussion has unfolded in the wake of the report from the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) Report: “These folks spent three years working on this. We must honor that hard work by approving their recommendations.”

We honor their work by seriously considering it, by bringing the wisdom of our gathered bodies to bear on their proposals. TREC has caused the Episcopal Church to step back and look at its governance, to begin to learn the ways the structure has worked and to examine places where it might work better. It has allowed us to be reminded that any economic savings we might realize by shrinking our structure could turn out to be very costly in human terms.

Because, in the end, here’s the question we all have to answer: Do we like the vision of the church that will result if we adopt all the TREC proposals?

Katie Sherrod, a deputy and director of communications from the Diocese of Fort Worth, is a member of the Legislative Committee on Structure and Governance.

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