Walk into the clubhouse of your local golf course and you’ll find three types of golfers. First, you’ll see the golfers who play for money. Whether it’s a few bucks per hole or serious cash, many golfers play for the wager. The next type of golfer are those who are seriously competitive. After each round they compulsively recalculate their handicap to assuage their egos. Finally, you’ll notice the golfers who play for the sake of golf. They play because they love the game, the outdoors, and the pure challenge that golf gives round after round.
This last category of golfers, the ones who play for the sake of playing, are the backbone of the game; but they are not the ones who run the game. Your local golf course is operated and managed by the serious gamblers and the golfers who hand out penalty strokes to their buddies during a friendly round. These operators and managers will always make decisions that benefit themselves (greens fee increases, high stakes tournaments) over and against the golfers who just want to play.
The similarities between the Episcopal Church and the private golf club, therefore, go beyond exclusivity and wealth. The governance and polity of the Episcopal Church is for the insiders and those vested with authority, though the mission of the Church (and of Jesus, for that matter) has always been outwardly focused.
Wishing to streamline the Church and to refocus on mission, TREC has three crucial recommendations. First, TREC proposes to reduce the number of Standing Commissions from 14 to 2 (creating two newly renamed Standing Commissions on Governance, Constitution, and Canons and Theology, Liturgy, and Music). Second, TREC wishes to trim the size of Executive Council from 42 to 21 in order “to improve its effectiveness.” Finally, the TREC report recommends the creation of a unicameral legislative body at General Convention and for only three clergy and three lay deputies from each diocese to attend (rather than four). The full TREC report can be found here.
When General Convention gathers in Salt Lake City next week, there will be resistance to TREC from many corners of the Episcopal Church, even though Executive Council, General Convention itself, and the Standing Commissions are terribly inefficient and costly (as the TREC report identified). The insiders who run your local golf club do so not because they love the game, but because they love what they can get from the game. The resistance to the changes offered by TREC show that those who manage the Church come dangerously close to falling in the same trap of self-preservation and privilege.
For the Episcopal Church to thrive in the future, the authority and money given to the rigid structures of General Convention and the interim governing bodies will have to be dismantled. The Episcopal Church must reorganize for gospel proclamation and TREC is a great place to start.
In order to go forward, we must go back and heed the words of Jesus: “the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27).” Golf was not made for those who gamble and compete, golf was made for those who delight in the game. The Church was not commissioned to serve structures of governance, the Church was commissioned to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.