This weekend is the 235th annual diocesan convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. Though many of you will read this Sunday, I write this Friday morning, so the convention has not yet begun. The major thing that will be discussed and decided at this convention, besides the budget, is the proposal to legally incorporate the diocese as a non-profit entity and establish, according to state law, a board of trustees to manage it.
By American standards, we are a very old diocese. Led by Bishop William White, we were organized in 1784 before there existed any of the current laws governing corporations, or non-profit entities (before there existed the Federal government of the United States, in fact).
If the resolution before diocesan convention is adopted, the board of trustees that will govern the incorporation of the diocese will consist of 13 members. The bishop shall be the chairperson, and there will be three lay people appointed by the bishop, three clergy and six lay people elected by diocesan convention. Everyone besides the bishop will serve three-year terms. The extensive responsibility and power to manage and maintain the property and assets of the diocese will be consolidated in the board of trustees. Currently, this power is vague and dispersed between the standing committee, diocesan council, and the bishop. Those who argue for incorporation point out that the current system is confusing, ineffective, and has lent itself to lack of transparency in the past. On the whole, for these reasons, I think that incorporation is a good thing. However, I am concerned that we, the universal Church, as well as particular local embodiments of the church always remember that we are not simply a non-profit organization, nor are we primarily a business whose only concern is efficiency. In theological terms, we are the Body of Christ, and that must be our first and foremost consideration when thinking about how we structure ourselves, even as we recognize that deliberate, transparent, and effective management of the Church’s temporal resources is absolutely necessary.
Beth Johnson, Marilyn Freeman and I are Church of the Holy Apostles’ delegates to diocesan convention. Together, we will listen carefully and represent our beloved congregation to the best of our ability.