Did You Read the Report?

When trying to solve a problem or bring a variety of opinions together to make a decision, The Episcopal Church typically creates a task force. We study, take surveys, hold focus groups, and collect data. Typically a great report comes out of the study that appears three to six years (coinciding of course with the convening of General Convention) after its formation. The difficulty with these reports is once they are published they are often shelved and forgotten. Implications and learnings are rarely implemented – at least down to the local level. So we are bound to repeat the same mistakes and after ten years or so create another task force.

A lot can happen in the course of ten years and we need to be able to adapt. Some would say that things change even faster now due to technology and globalization. I believe we should always be in “evaluation mode” and constantly review programming, but we need to allow changes to seep into the ethos of the system – and have channels to speed up the communications.

Digging into my “archives” again, I share with you the findings of two task forces of recent years that I believe we can still learn from. Download the reports (not bedtime reading) and see what themes you can find that still relate to today’s church (and world). Each of these are based on resolutions that came before General Convention in relationship to theological education. At first, this meant a seminary education to prepare clergy. Then it shifted to theological education for all. Most of the time is was the issue of finances that drove the conversation – and need for a solution. Those financial issues still exist and are even more exacerbated during this time of student debt and the inconvenience (inability) to move one’s family across the country for three or four years of study.

Ministry for Tomorrow (aka the “Pusey Report”)

This “Report on the Special Committee for Theological Education” was chaired by Nathan Pusey (hence the name the report was known by) and funded by the Episcopal Church Foundation. Published in 1967 (a very similar political time as today’s), its purpose was to find out what the Episcopal Church was and was not doing about theological education. It called for action and improvement in how the denomination raised up and trained its leaders – clergy and lay. Written largely by Charles Taylor (then a seminary professor), it focused on the relationship of the Church to culture, technology, science, world population and poverty, and of course – theology.

The basic difficulty in our world is not rampant population growth, too much or too little industrialization, or the spread of metropolis, but the increase of doubt, doubt about the world of what we are doing, doubt about where we are going, doubt about the concern and power, even the existence of God.

Nathan M. Pusey, p. 23

Granted, this report was written when the Baby Boom was reaching its peak, when churches were filled with children and youth (along with their parents). Sunday was a day of worship as most businesses were closed. Children were set apart into Sunday school classrooms by age level. Reading the report you can see how the Church was fearful and unsure how to address what was occurring on the local level. Do we need more ministers? How should clergy be “deployed”? Where will the money come from? At the time there were eleven Episcopal seminaries, all residential and filled with (mostly white) men. It’s a fascinating look at what seminary education was at the time – very different than today, but is some ways still the same. It a nutshell, the Pusey Report recommended the forming of a Board for Theological Education and more opportunities for lay theological education.

Proclaiming Education for All (PEALL)

Another task force was appointed in 2004 by Executive Council to research a number of topics that were contained in the General Convention 2003 resolutions regarding theological education, ministry of all the baptized, local formation of clergy, and the training of lay leaders. I was privileged to serve as secretary of this group while also part of the Episcopal Council for Christian Education, a group of individuals (two per province) that worked with the Office of Children’s Ministries & Christian Education of the Episcopal Church. This group picked up where the Pusey Report left off: meeting with a number of constituencies across the church from clergy to lay, the Council of Seminary Deans, Province IX theological educators, Christian educators on the local and diocesan level, deacons, ecumenical partners, and many more.

One of the outcomes was the construction (and acceptance at General Convention in 2009) of The Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation. This group of diverse folks from all orders of the Church (who came to be known as PEALL – Proclaiming Education for All) offered the following documents in 2006:

Sadly, with cuts in budget and staff at the church-wide and diocesan levels along with the financial realities of most of our seminaries, many of the visions and recommendations of these reports went fallow. Today there is little institutional memory of both of these task forces and their work. Will history repeat itself? What will happen to the learnings and recommendations that go unfulfilled or forgotten? Perhaps some of these will spur a memory or give cause to reach out to a partner and continue the passion that many once had.

I post them now as websites that once contained them have disappeared. Hard copies are now boxed, waiting to be sent to the Archives of the Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas.

Images: Header Photo by Giancarlo Corti on Unsplash; Footer Photo by Malin on Unsplash.

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