Saturday, July 18, 2009
Money, money, money
Hands down, the winner in the category "The most stunning thing to have happened at GC" is the Budget.
Thirty seven positions (of 180, including 7 retirements that won't be filled), evaporated in front of our very eyes, leaving no support staff and no program development at the national level for mission, evangelism, stewardship, education, anti-racism training, etc., etc., etc.
Additionally, the face-to-face meetings of the CCAB's has been reduced to one per year, and the PHOD's expenses have been sharply reduced. (I was shocked to see how many deputies were shocked to discover that the PHOD is not a paid, salaried position.)
At least there was consistency between the message of the budget and the message of the rest of our resolutions.
Not only is the budget a descriptive statement of our (painful economic) reality, General Convention put things like discernment of vocation to the episcopacy and the 'design" of liturgical rites for marriage equality right along side mission, evangelism, stewardship, education, anti-racism training, etc., in the very same place: directly at the responsibility of the local level.
It will now be the challenge of churches, dioceses and, hopefully, provinces, to work collaboratively on those things which we previously had depended on national staff.
We will have to take the resources already developed by competent national staff and tailor them for our own uses. It will be a difficult challenge in many places, but one that I trust we will prove we are capable of meeting.
We will become, more and more, 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic church' that works best at the local level. Besides, the best evangelism I know is mission. And, as the old adage goes, "Money follows mission." I have never seen that to fail.
There was, however, a shocking inconsistency between the resolutions and the budget.
While many of the resolutions revealed a church which is focused on the prophetic nature of the Body of Christ, the budget revealed a decidedly different image: We are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a hierarchical institutional church.
Last November, as I sat with the budget committee and my staff to develop the 2009 budget, we were anticipating the worst from the financial crisis. We were all very concerned about the fact that, before the program year was out, someone might lose their job.
So, we crunched some numbers and came to a community decision as a staff to voluntarily freeze our salaries for 6 months, and reevaluate our situation once the pledges were all in and counted and we had a better handle on the financial forecast of our global economy. Three of us who were able offered to cut our salaries, if need be, so that everyone could keep their full or part time jobs.
Thankfully, none of that was necessary, but we did it as an exercise and demonstration of our theological understanding of the gospel imperatives of doing ministry together in community, in the Name of Jesus.
As deeply saddened as I am about all of the lost jobs at 815, I am even more distressed that the very ones who have called "the least of these" to "stand in a crucified place for a season" could not have exemplified the same standard for themselves.
We will survive. The next few years will be lean (and probably even mean), but we will survive. And, I suspect, thrive. When the currency of the world fails us (as it often does), Jesus gives us the currency of heaven: our intellect and our religious imagination.
The truly good news is that we are blessed with an abundance of both. Already, I am told that one deputy figured out that if each deputation gave $1,000 each (8 deputies = $125 each, or responsible for raising that amount from 'back home') we would have more than enough to restore a few line items (read: positions) to the budget.
Imagine what we'll be able to imagine when we're not sleep deprived and have actually had a few days of good nutrition to sustain and fuel the gray matter of our brains!
At times like these, I remember Parker Palmer's sermon on the Feeding of the Five Thousand - the only miracle story told in all four gospels. He said that gospel story was the first recorded evidence of community organizing.
Jesus actually got people to sit down - Palmer imagined in small circles - and got people to begin talking to one another. Jesus said to his disciples, who were anxious to know how they were going to get enough money to even go the local White Castle and get a 'Bag of Burgers' to feed everyone, "What do you have? Go and see."
The disciples pooled their resources and came up with five loaves and two fish. At that, Palmer imagines, seeing the leadership of the disciples, people began to open their travel bags. And then, wonder of wonder and miracles of miracles, Jesus blessed them and they began to share what little they had brought so that, not only was there enough for everyone, there were leftovers in abundance.
We need a time to lament and grieve the loss of so many wonderful talented people who have meant so very much to so many of us in the church.
We also would do well to hear the ancient words of Jesus to those of us who are his modern day disciples: "What do you have? Go and see."