Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church of Detroit. Piety Hill refers to the old name for our neighborhood. The neighborhood has changed a great deal in the over 160 years we have been on this corner (but not our traditional biblical theology) and it is now known for the neighboring theatres, the professional baseball and football stadiums and new hockey/basketball arena.

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Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Monday, November 15, 2021

How the polity 'works' - Rector's Rambling for November 14, 2021

        Today we have our official visit from our Diocesan, which occurs every three years.  Recently I was asked how the Episcopal Church ‘works’ when it comes to parish/diocese/national church.  This is what is known as church polity.

At the base level is the parish or mission congregation.  A parish, like St. John’s, is self -supporting member of a diocese.  As a parish we have a Vestry which is an elected parish board. The election takes place at the Annual Parish Meeting. In accordance with church canons and constitution (the rules governing the church polity) the vestry has financial responsibilities (like any corporate board) as well as leadership in setting mission and ministry priorities.  They elect the Rector of the parish, who once the election is confirmed by the bishop, has a form of tenure in the position, which provided stability and allows the rector to make hard decisions concerning the spiritual and temporal leadership for the parish. 

The Diocese is a grouping of parishes and missions in a geographic area.  Sometimes the congregations were missions started by the diocese, but other-times, like in the case of St. John’s in the 1850s, they are started by individuals interested in a new parish, and then are ‘admitted to convention’ at the yearly Diocesan legislative gathering.

At the Diocesan level there is a Standing Committee, which functions similarly to a parish vestry in that it is the legal authority of the diocese in the absence of a bishop.  Additionally here in the Diocese of Michigan we have a Diocesan Council which consists of those elected at Convention, members from each deanery (smaller geographic groupings of congregations), and others appointed by the bishop.  This is the dioceses’ Board of  Directors. One more board is the Trustees which administers the trusts and properties of the Diocese.

The yearly convention of the diocese elects a bishop when there is a vacancy, whose election must also be confirmed by a majority of bishops and standing committees around the denomination. 

The Episcopal Church, officially the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS) is the grouping of dioceses that gather every three years for a General Convention to set budgets and mission priorities.  Although the ‘national church’ (which is actually international in membership dioceses) was originally configured as a lose confederacy of otherwise autonomous dioceses, the governance has become much more centralized in the last few decades, with the Presiding Bishop going from being the senior diocesan bishop acting as chair of the meetings of the House of Bishops to having a more archbishop type of full-time position. 

The Episcopal Church is the USA member of the world-wide Anglican Communion. Although the Archbishop of Canterbury has a leadership role, as does the Anglican Consultative Council,  there is no centralized authority system in place in the Anglican Communion to hold members accountable for actions affecting the Church at large.