An Interview with Bishop Barbara Harris on Restructuring the Episcopal Church
Q – When I talk to many Episcopalians in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, I think there is a fair bit of willingness to trust our leaders and bishops. Because of that, I think that people in my age bracket are open to considering shrinking the size of our governing bodies, trusting that a more centralized leadership will not compromise the church’s ability to remain diverse and move forward into whatever mission God has for us next. What would you say to folks about that?
A – I think that the structure we have, if it represents centralized authority, is basically a sound structure. We simply, as a church, need to find a way or ways to better utilize the structure we have.
Q – OK. Allow me to push here a little. So, a friend of mine who’s a deputy in his early 40’s says sometimes he’s surprised by how some in the House of Deputies seem to start from a place of distrust towards the House of Bishops and other church leaders. He feels like the starting point should be trust and collegiality rather than assuming that church leaders are power-hungry. What do you think about that?
A – I don’t think that the House of Bishops is power-hungry. I think there are others in the church who are power-hungry. And they want to make changes in our structure that will give them power that they think they do not have, and that the Bishops do not have either but are perceived to have. It simply is not true. I think as one wise person said to me, “As the whole society is moving horizontally, there are those in the church who want to move vertically.” In other words, they want to create something that would move us from governance to government.
Q – Are there particular pieces of this restructuring proposal, such as a unicameral house, smaller deputations and Executive Council, eliminating committees… anything that you find the most troublesome?
A – Well, there are troubling aspects to what is being proposed. I think that the TREC report needs to be looked at very, very carefully to search out the possible pitfalls. And many people with whom I have spoken have genuine and legitimate questions that need to be thoughtfully discussed and addressed. Also, if there was a clearer sense of the church’s mission at this time, then there would be more reason to explore changes positively.
Q – One of the most obvious concerns that people are talking about is around diversity. Do you think, if we had smaller governing bodies, we could, as a church, maintain a wide demographic array of leaders?
A – I don’t think power would be shared by those who have been traditionally disenfranchised. But rather we would create a new small elite clique.
Q – What am I missing that I should have asked you?
A – It is a little early. We’ve got to take time to have some real discussions that will raise additional questions that, at this point, I don’t know what they are.
Q – How do we do that? As a parochial priest, I often feel like I personally do a poor job of inviting members of my parish into these sorts of questions and discernment in the wider church.
A – I think we need to focus on the specifics not concepts, such as who reports to whom, before any vote is taken.