Bishop Sean explains the proposed canonical changes:
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At the Diocese of Bethlehem’s convention in October, delegates will consider a series of twelve changes to the diocese’s canons and one change to its constitution.
“These are changes that I signaled at our last diocesan convention, and which over the course of the last year have been endorsed by the trustees of the diocese and by Diocesan Council,” Bishop Sean Rowe says. “In one way or another, it’s important for us to streamline our governance so that we can spend more of our time digging deep into the mission that God has called us to in this place. I believe that these changes will provide a foundation for us to build on and free up our energy to do new and different things that God is calling us to.”
Four of the canonical changes are substantive, he says. The first would combine the functions of the diocesan trustees and Diocesan Council in a newly formed Diocesan Council, which would have twelve elected members and three ex officio members—the bishop, treasurer and chancellor.
Another would add a standard set of parish bylaws to the diocesan canons. This change, Rowe says, would ensure that all parishes function under the same bylaws, which would be kept current and in compliance with Pennsylvania state law by the diocesan chancellor and convention. Local rules, which could maintain parish traditions or address special circumstances, would still be permitted.
A third change would result in parishes being asked to give greater consideration to electing young people as regular voting delegates to convention in addition to what would become a separate, non-voting youth delegation elected by the youth of the diocese. “We’re going to seat as many or more young people as before,” Rowe says, “but to ensure appropriate representation for each parish, youth will need to be elected as delegates from their parishes in order to vote.”
The fourth substantive change amends diocesan bylaws to make it clear that people elected to office must receive a majority of votes cast. It also requires that deputies to General Convention receive a majority of votes from both clergy and laypeople, necessitating a practice that is called voting by orders. “We want to be sure that across both clergy and laity that persons we’re sending to serve the church as deputies receive a majority of votes by both bodies,” Rowe says. “We believe that this will raise the profile of this office.”
Other changes would streamline the process for parishes that want to buy, sell, or mortgage property; establish a process by which congregations deemed “at risk” can return to parish status; give the Standing Committee the authority to approve the bishop’s nominees for chancellor and Disciplinary Committee; and eliminate diocesan canons that duplicate the Episcopal Church’s Constitution and Canons. A final change would give the bishop the authority to nominate to the diocesan convention twelve people to serve one-year terms on the Commission on Ministry.
The constitutional change would reduce the size of the Standing Committee from ten members to eight. Constitutional changes must be approved by two successive conventions to take effect, Rowe says, so if this convention supports the measure, the convention will take it up again in 2017.
“We think that these changes are important for the overall life of our diocese and for our ongoing mission,” Rowe says. But they are not a foregone conclusion, he adds. “If you’re a delegate to diocesan convention, you will have ample opportunity over the course of the summer and early fall to study these changes and provide your input. At our pre-convention hearings, we will be talking significantly about these changes again, and we’ll be making changes to them based on your input.”
View a version of the canons with proposed changes and download the resolutions (proposed canonical changes (pdf)) (proposed constitutional change (pdf)).