Monday, March 2, 2015

BLOGFORCE Challenge: What's a Diocese For?

This is a response to the second of a three-part series of questions the Acts 8 Moment is asking about subsidiarity in The Episcopal Church. This time: what's the mission of diocese, and how should it be structured?

I recently served on a task force to reimagine the Diocese of Indianapolis. We spent a year asking ourselves this very question. We wrote a 14-page report about it, which you can read here.

The crux of our report dealt with this question: the hierarchical structure of our Episcopal structure, which has bishops at its center, makes an awkward fit for the networked model of leadership that is all the rage these days. I'm kind of sick of the word "network"...I fear it's becoming the new "missional" in churchspeak, but the fact of the matter is that many of the big things that have happened in our diocese over the last few years have been ideas originating from lay and clergy folks from around central and southern Indiana latching onto an idea and making it happen, with the diocese signing on to many of these ideas to help them achieve liftoff. Examples have included a multi-parish operation to build and provide sustainable funding for a school in Haiti, and providing a home and technical resources for dailyoffice.org, which originates in Lafayette, Indiana and has helped thousands of people around the world exercise the habits of prayer to develop a closer relationship with God.

So if these ideas are starting at lower levels in the hierarchy, what's the role of the diocese, anyway? In addition to the sacramental offices of the Bishop, we came to the following conclusions:
The role of a hierarchical leadership structure in such an environment is to:
● Recognize itself as a node in the network rather than a central hub, albeit a node with special
authority and responsibility;
● Encourage experimentation and highlight successes;
● Facilitate clear channels of communication and dissemination of data;
● Mediate conflicts where needed;
● Provide correctives for deviations from Christian teaching;
● Deploy resources where doing so can help an exciting project achieve liftoff.
As for how we structure for this? Well, that's harder. An array of choices our task force laid out as an illustration for Indianapolis proved controversial. But there's a lot of conversation and a lot of experimentation going on around the church these days, and I'm confident that with God's help we'll get there.