It usually happens just around this time as rectors, wardens, vestry members and treasurers look at the calendar with furrowed brow in anticipation of the trickle of pledges that will come in over the summer months of July and August.
That anxiety will continue to bubble in the heat of the summer, finally reaching a full boil in September when Finance Committees begin to make projections about the budget for the end of the year and begin to develop a budget for the following year.
Meanwhile, Stewardship Committees begin to plan Campaigns that simultaneously encourage people to "catch up on their pledge" while trying to inspire them to increase - or at least maintain, please - their pledge for next year.
It also happens just around this time every year as newly graduating seminarians scramble to hear their first "call" to ministry - or, more specifically, to get a church or agency, school or hospital - somebody, anybody, please - to hear and validate their vocation by offering them a position on staff.
Otherwise, the canons of The Episcopal Church say that a bishop ought not ordain the candidate for transitional diaconate and priesthood. It's the final 'hoop' in a path that is so littered with "one more thing" that it looks more like a demonic obstacle course than a spiritual journey to ordained service in God's one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
Ah, I remember it well - without a shred of fondness.
Recently, over on HOB/D, the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv, the anxiety surfaced around the reported lack of jobs for newly graduating seminarians. Dire reports are given about bishops in otherwise financially secure dioceses releasing seminarians from their canonical ties to the diocese in order to pursue their vocations wherever they can.
That anxiety has always been with us, but the anxiety now becomes part of a deeper expression of the reality that curacies - those wonderful positions of ecclesiastical internship or residency in a large congregation or cathedral under the tutelage of a wise, older priest or dean - have now become almost as scarce as hen's teeth.
Assistant Priest or Assistant-to-the-Rector positions are also drying up and in danger of extinction.
One of the "orthodox" brothers on HOB/D - a curmudgeonly old chap who can regularly be relied upon to pull my last, poor, tired nerve - generously offered his opinion that perhaps "maybe, just maybe, if TEC returned to actually growing/planting orthodox and Biblically grounded congregations - there would not be a 'shortage' of full time positions for our clergy - new and otherwise. I know that this runs counter to the agenda of what many of 'those currently in charge' are following".
Funny, I thought the "agenda" of the church - including "those currently in charge" was the orthodox idea of the "mission of the church". It's in our "Outline of Faith", sometimes known as "The Catechism". It's in the Book of Common Prayer, beginning on page 845.
On page 855, we read about the church:
Q. What is the mission of the Church?Turns out, 'justice, peace and love' are thoroughly part of "orthodox theology" and are, in fact the 'agenda' of those 'currently in charge'. And, rightly so.
A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
Q. How does the Church pursue its mission?
A. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.
Q. Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
A. The church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.
Well, you know me. I had to respond:
Those churches that are doing the work of justice ARE growing and thriving. I can name at least ten of those churches without breaking a sweat. There are more. Many more.
Here's the thing: Over the last few months, I've been sitting with a few seminarians, looking over profiles of churches. Many of those profiles say the same thing.
They are a:
1. Vibrant community.They are looking for a priest who is:
2. Which is Christ-centered.
3. And known for taking care of each other.
4. Are "warm and welcoming".
5. And have established "outreach programs".
6. And have an "enthusiastic" youth group (of mostly unknown number).
7. And have an average Sunday attendance of 100 (with 2-3 services)
1. A good listener.Mind you, nothing about the mission of the church. Nothing about "justice, peace and love". Nothing about the gospel. Nothing about leadership. Nothing about their new priest being a person of prayer, much less having a strong spirituality.
2. A compassionate person.
3. An inspirational / outstanding preacher.
4. A good teacher - one who can relate to all ages of people.
5. Who can lead them into the future (which is not defined)
6. Provide them with / return them to" financial security".
7. Help them grow.
Nothing about their own vision of where God may be calling them. Nothing about why they want to grow - #7 - but one suspects it may have something to do with #6.
"All" they want is a pastor who can hold their hands, love them, listen to them, teach them, and/or be 'Superman/woman'.
At least, that's the way it sounds.
It's as if diocesan "deployment officers" - now known as "Transition Officers" among the many other titles in their portfolio - have been given a congregational version of one of those refrigerator magnet poetry games which they pass around to "churches in transition".
Just move around some words and phrases and make your own parish profile - or, three-fold leaflet, as seems to be currently in vogue - which contain links to the parish website which probably provide more information than many congregations realize they are making available about themselves.
Most of the seminarians I've spoken with look at these profiles, then look at me and say, "Really?" And then, they put those profiles at the bottom of the pile.
They come back to them, a few weeks later, because many of the interesting places are part time and they can't afford to work part time - or they would be willing to work part time as "Priest in Charge" for three years while the congregation gambles the rest of what's left in their endowment, but while the bishop in that diocese talks about mission and Jesus s/he doesn't have a vision, much less a plan for that congregation.
Or, for that matter, the rest of the diocese. Just a lot of God-talk that sounds good - almost poetic - but has no schedule of implementation, no mechanism of accountability, no evaluative tool for on-going assessment and adjustment. Were that bishop a CEO of any other corporation, s/he would be fired.
So, these seminarians suck in their breath as they fill out the application for anything they can get. If they do get a job, they are willing to do whatever is necessary - or not do what is necessary to
(1) get ordained, and
(2) keep their jobs at least long enough until something else is available.
Most of those churches would never call a transitional deacon or a newly minted priest, anyway.
And, when they 'get' those jobs? Well, here are some sobering statistics:
A Duke University study found that eighty-five percent of seminary graduates entering the ministry leave within five years and 90% of all pastors will not stay to retirement (Kanipe, 2007, n.p.). This study also found that the North Georgia clergy attrition rate ran as high as 90% for those having served 20 years or more. These ministers apparently left to preserve what was left of their families, their sanity, their health and their faith (Kanipe).Oh, there are some outstanding churches with committed lay leadership and a vision of where they want to be and the person they need to help lead them there, but they are few and far between. Those who will take the risk of calling a newly minted priest are even more rare - if their bishop will even allow that.
According to studies by the Alban Institute and Fuller Seminary, 50% of ministers drop out of ministry within the first five years and many never to go back to church again (Meek et al., 2003,p. 340). LifeWay Christian Resources’ Department of Pastoral Ministries conducts an annual survey compiled in cooperation with Baptist State Convention Church Ministry Relations Teams and Directors of Missions. Their 1984 study on forced terminations in the Southern Baptist Convention indicated 1,056 pastors were terminated annually; four years later totals increased to 1,392 (B. Self, personal communication, March 17, Keeping Your Pastor (Stewart) Journal for the Liberal Arts and Sciences 13(3) 113
What I'm saying is that the situation is both complex and complicated and we have an institutional system that is not equipped to tend to it.
I'm saying that we are trying to pour new wine into old wine skins.
I'm saying that this will not be solved by writing ten rules on the wall, following them closely, praying a prescribed way, using correct words, singing appropriate hymns and all will be well.
I'm saying that looking for simple answers/solutions to difficult questions/problems is killing the Body of Christ. We need a more systemic, holistic approach that involves collaboration among and between bishops, clergy and laity who have a vision of the Realm of God and a passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I'm saying that justice is orthodox theology and what we need is to be less concerned about churches and numbers and jobs and more concerned about cultivating and empowering Christians who want to live and do the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But, I don't have any strong opinions about this.
No, none at all.