For decades, Alaskan politicians have been looking for a way to develop the state’s natural gas resources on the North Slope. In 2007, the state legislature passed a piece of legislation called AGIA (the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act) that, it was believed, would at last lead to the building of the gas pipeline to transport the gas to market.
I can’t remember if I was in the legislative gallery at the time or not (I think not) but I do remember the palpable sense of excitement and enthusiasm that surrounded AGIA. Of the 60 lawmakers in the House and Senate, exactly one voted in opposition.
I’ve been thinking about AGIA in the wake of the General Convention’s unanimous approval of a resolution that creates a committee to overhaul the structure of the church. There is that same sense of excitement and enthusiasm that I remember from AGIA. People want change and they are pinning their hopes on this committee to bring it.
So perhaps it is time for a dose of reality: the way ahead for this super committee is hugely difficult. Committee members (whomever they may end up being) have a huge amount of work to do. They have to learn the ins and outs of the current governance structure to figure out what to change or whether and how to start over. It surely makes sense that committee members also explore how other denominations govern themselves. They’ll need to think and dream about what is needed from a national church structure in the twenty-first century. And they have to do all this (and much more) in just under two years, with uncertain staff support and while all of them have jobs and lives elsewhere that are competing for their attention.
At the same time, the hundreds of deputies who passed this resolution will be headed home. The enthusiasm will naturally dissipate as they re-engage with the work of ministry in their local contexts. When actual changes begin to be proposed, there will no doubt be stout opposition from defenders of the status quo. This could be difficult to overcome if people are no longer paying close attention.
Moreover, we can’t “save” the church simply by changing its structure. We need church members who are continually open to the transforming work of God in Christ upon them, people who are agents of God’s mission in the world, people open to following in the sacrificial way of Christ. If we don’t have that—and we don’t take our focus off it—the work of the super-committee will be moot.
All of this is to say that the resolution passed by this General Convention is not the end of anything: it is the beginning of what I hope is a process that transforms the church. While leadership of that process is about to be passed to a super-committee, the process itself needs the continued care, support, and guidance of the whole church. That’s why a group like Acts 8 is so interesting. At their meeting last night, they talked about ways to spread this passion for church reform to all levels of the church.
All that enthusiasm for AGIA? It soon passed. Before too many months, those who had voted for it were running for office against it. Mutual recrimination followed. Alaska is no closer to a natural gas pipeline than it was before AGIA passed.
Let’s make sure the same thing doesn’t happen with this resolution. Let’s stay interested and engaged in this process, in the hope that the holy way of doing business so clearly exemplified by this Convention can be carried into the important work of the next three years.