There is a scene in the Harry Potter epic where Harry and the gang are on the hunt for horcruxes (magical items protecting pieces of soul so as to offer the enchanter a form of immortality) in order to finally and definitively defeat Lord Voldemort, the archnemesis of, well, pretty much everybody. They break into the wizarding bank Gringotts in an attempt to find and destroy one such horcrux. In the vault of Bellatrix Lestrange, one of Lord Voldemort’s accomplices, there is an artifact, now a horcrux, which belonged to one of the founding women of Hogwarts – the golden cup of Helga Hufflepuff.
The Golden Cup, the entire goal of the expedition, was cursed with the Gemino Curse. Each time it was touched, it multiplied. Again and again, as more cups were touched, they each replicated until Harry and his companions were drowning in a volcanic rush of golden cup replicas in very real danger of losing the real one.
In the lead-up to General Convention 2015, the Episcopal Church was drowning in a complex system of CCABs (Commissions, Committees, and Boards). This infrastructure was crushing us under its weight. So, we tried to lighten the load. We got rid of all but two Standing Commissions and opted to do other interim business through task forces with specific tasks and a 3-year sunset date, unless recommissioned with more or continuing specific tasks. We hoped that this time we could avoid the Gemino Curse, but … POP! “Advisory Council” becomes a new term for a Standing Commission. Pop! POP!! The PHOD creates a Special Committee with 5 subcommittees! Pop! POP!! POP! Proposals emerge for 25 new task forces, and only a dozen task forces seem ready to close up shop after 3 years. POP! Here come the jokes you hear at dinner parties about Episcopalians needing committees to change lightbulbs.
Today, we stand atop a mountain of golden cups looking out upon so many tasks forces and committees and interim bodies and what-nots and wondering to ourselves, which one of these actually works? For this triennium alone, by today’s count, we have resolutions to establish 8 new staff positions, 25 new task forces, another Standing Commission or 2, and 11 other committees, boards, and bodies to help study, guide, and govern our church. That’s on top of the myriad other groupings of good Episcopal folks already at work as the result of previous gatherings of General Convention.
Are all of these necessary? How much is too much when funding is tight? The draft budget, envisioning committees of reasonable size with three in-person meetings each over three years, does contain $1.3 million for 20 interim bodies. Beyond that there is $1.2 million of, let’s call it “fun money”, allotted for the all of the resolution-based initiatives of General Convention (not yet covered in the draft budget), including the funding of our two Standing Commissions.
As we think about proposed committees, we might ask:
Does this task force have clearly defined tasks?
Can we imagine a reasonable timeline for the completion of these tasks?
If this committee or advisory group is connected to administering a grants program, is there a plan for them to hand that off to an organization designed to continue and develop new capacity for raising funds for that work?
Does the imagined work for the committee fit within the draft budget’s expectations of interim committees, or will it require more funding? (Note: not everything will fit, and that’s okay.)
Does this make us more nimble, more agile, more prepared to share the Gospel of Christ with the world?
Does this prepare us for a future where there are more churches than clergy, and more nursing homes than schools?
Should we perhaps be looking to use already standing structures to funnel this work more effectively and efficiently?
Should we be looking to filter the work in the opposite direction, towards dioceses and parishes instead of centralizing it at the (multi)national level?
The work of the people, the sharing of the Gospel, the “fun money” – it’s all wrapped up in these resolutions for structuring the church. What will our true Golden Cup be when we come out the other side? Are we in danger of losing it against the sea of legislation which multiplies seemingly exponentially? Or will the Golden Cup get away?