That would be an amazing commitment, right? Imagine what we could do to further God's mission in the world. The Episcopal Church would begin to come alive with possibilities.
People would give long speeches about how this was long overdue and how this resolution was a manifestation - A 'showing'. An epiphany! Indeed, the very incarnation! - of the justice of God.
Others would express concern about mandating ANYTHING at the congregational level by the UES (Upper East Side - aka "the elite") folks at 815 Second Ave in NYC and would raise questions - important questions - about monitoring and accountability.
Still, we would all agree - in principal - with the resolution and canonical change and then take it to the local level to work out the details.
Ah, and we all know that the Devil is in the details, right?
So, how do we define mission? How is that different from 'outreach'? Or, 'inreach'? Or, for that matter, how is mission different from 'evangelism'? Or even 'stewardship'? If we can't define mission except in the broad brush strokes of the Cathechism of the Church, is there at least a list of criteria which gives us some context and, perhaps, a few parameters so we can all be in compliance with canon law?
Some congregations would simply ignore the resolution - aided and abetted by diocesan staff who are already stretched too thin to monitor or police congregational compliance levels. Except, of course, when parochial reports are turned in and someone at the national level begins to do a random diocesan study and - oops! - someone calls "the suits". Who would, no doubt, tsk, tsk, and tut-tut but nothing would really change. As an institution, we just aren't built that way.
As difficult and frustrating as that would be, it really wouldn't be any different from many of the resolutions passed by General Convention. Even those that create canonical change - including the canons that prohibit discrimination in the ordination and deployment processes.
There are ways to get around the resolutions and canons. We've seen of late in the Diocese of South Carolina, which recently amended their diocesan canons to say they won't be in compliance with national canon if said canon is against their diocesan theology.
There are also ways to make resolutions do what you couldn't otherwise accomplish in the diocese - which may or may not be what the canonical change intended.
Take, for example, General Convention Resolution A138 which established the Lay Employee Pension System as well as A177. This resolution addressed social justice issues around adequate benefits for the Church's lay employees by canonical requirement that each diocese establish a "cost-sharing policy" and that it be "the same for clergy and lay employees who are scheduled for at least 1,500 hours of compensated work per year".
The deal was that, in those diocese which did not subscribe to the CPG (Church Pension Group) "Medical Trust", at least some of the "cost-sharing" would be seen in the diocesan subscription to the options in the Medical Trust through "lower annual premium increases".
Stay with me now. I know how I get when folks start talking finances and insurance policies and diocesan budgets. It can cause a severe case of MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over). This is really about as detailed as I'm going to get.
You can read the stuff for yourself at the Church Pension Group FAQ site concerning these two resolutions/canonical changes.
The canon is effective January 1, 2013.
I'm curious to know how other dioceses are handling the implementation of these two resolutions.
At the Clergy Day in the Diocese of Newark, where I'm still canonically resident (but licensed in the Diocese of Delaware), it got pretty hot. And, I'm not just talking about the weather.
So, just to give you some background information, turns out, the Diocese of Newark has been - like everyone else - struggling with the justice issues involved in parity and cost-saving.
After our Clergy Day gathering, I went and checked the minutes from the October, 2010 budget hearing. Here's part of what I found:
"The diocese has a defined benefit pension plan for lay staff at Episcopal House. While it is now closed to newly hired employees, it is still in place for a number of staff. It has not been funded through the budget for too many years -- this preliminary includes the annual cost in the salary/benefits lines. The Lay Pension Fund Contribution line shows an amount to begin to fund the previous underfunding of this plan."A second slide showing what was "out of balance" that Diocesan Council would need to address in finalizing the budget indicated $100,000 as "lay pension plan current year and partial back funding."
It looks to me that the diocese decided, very sensibly, to put a freeze on offering a defined benefit pension plan for any newly hired employees so that it might begin to address the serious arrears in pension payments for lay staff who are already in place. I assume this means that the diocese would not offer positions that involved more than 1500 hours per year, so as to avoid the canonical requirements.
However, this was not the recommended course of action given by the Bishop's Advisory Commission on Human Resources (BACHR), which took a very interesting turn.
After a careful study of the impact of Resolution A177, the BACHR determined that there were approximately 17 congregations in the Diocese who would experience an adverse financial effect from having to provide pensions for their lay employees who work more than 1500 hours per year.
Their idea of "cost sharing" and "parity" (read: "justice") is to treat all employees of the church - lay and ordained - the same. So, the resolution being proposed by the BACHR for diocesan convention in January is that the new recommended diocesan standards for all newly hired clergy and laity (after January 1, 2013) who work 1500 hours per year (approximately 30 hours per week) be required to pay 10% of all health insurance costs.
Some of you are yawning now, scratching your head over your coffee or tea and asking, "Yeah, what's the big deal? It's happening all over the place. Been happening for a while. This is the real world. More evidence of the rapidly shrinking middle class. Suck it up and get used to it."
I understand. However, I have a few observations.
First of all, as I read it, this is NOT the spirit of the resolution of A177. Rather, I think, what the diocese has done, in its own house, is. Stop what you're doing until you can pay what you owe and then, going forward, stay in compliance with the canons.
Or, as I've taught my Vestry and all of my seminarians, "If you can't afford to pay for a lay employee, you can't afford a lay employee." That means that, if the church determines that this program or mission is a priority, the clergy and folk in the pew need to roll up their sleeves to get 'er done.
That's cost-sharing the cost of discipleship.
This proposed diocesan resolution is being draped in the mantle of "justice". Well, as Fanny Lou Hammer observed, justice is not about "just us". It's about God's justice. It's not a selective thing which is done for the convenience of the institution. It's a corporate thing which is done for the Realm of God.
What does this resolution mean, pragmatically, for clergy and clergy families? Well, some of the folks from the Newark Episcopal Clergy Association (NECA) have done a little analysis of the situation and found that, depending on whether there is a single or family plan, as well as the type of insurance plan selected, this could range from $0 to $21,547 per year.
Not to worry, we were told. This would come right out of your pay check in easy monthly or bimonthly payments and - hey, here's an added benefit - actually LOWER the amount of taxes you have to pay. What a deal, right? You can be righteous AND save money while getting less money in your paycheck!
Don't ask us to explain it. It's just one of the mysteries of God's work in the church.
So what, right? Things are tough all over. Get used to it. This is the cost of the justice of parity and cost-sharing in our post (or pre or actual) recession/depression lives. It's the ecclesiastical manifestation of the amazing shrinking middle class.
Well, let's look at that for a moment.
On one level, a very basic, one-dimensional level, the obvious is that clergy and lay employees are both . . well . . .employees. I would submit to you, however, that everything after that is like comparing apples and spaghetti.
First of all, clergy have to meet certain very rigorous educational requirements which, unlike other professions, do not immediately guarantee employment. In almost all dioceses, aspirants and postulants and candidates for Holy Orders must attend and graduate from a three year, master's level seminary.
In some dioceses, like the Diocese of Newark, if the candidate has not graduated from an Episcopal seminary, an additional year of "Anglican studies" is required (referred to with no small amount of sarcasm as "Anglican finishing school").
Mind you, none of these requirements are subsidized by the diocese. Well, not the Diocese of Newark, anyway.
Indeed, according to statistics compiled by the Pew Research Center, the average seminarian leaves seminary with over $100,000 in debt in the anticipation of an average annual clergy salary of $36,000. (In the diocese of Newark, the average annual salary for full time employment is $42,000. The medium - the middle of the lowest of low and highest of high - being $64,000).
Lay employees have no similar educational or canonical requirements for employment.
You do the math. Is this justice?
Besides which, more and more seminarians are graduating and being ordained only to discover that full time positions are drying up and only part time positions are available. The old (sick) joke among clergy is that there is no part time work, just part time pay. That's a very accurate statement in my experience. No matter how many hours you actually work, you are - officially or unofficially - "on call" 24/7/365.
So, what is the effect in the Diocese of Newark? I mean, what is the actual impact on how many clergy and laity?
Well, according to a diocesan spokesperson, there are 105 clergy in 107 churches, 66 being full time and 39 being part time. Twenty-nine of the sixty-six full time clergy are paid at or near the minimum diocesan standard.
Let that last fact sink in for just a moment. Twenty-nine of the sixty-six full time clergy are paid at or near the minimum diocesan standard.
There are approximately 161 lay employees in the diocese, 85% of whom work less than 30 hours per week. This means that that there are 25 full time lay employees in 13 churches. We were told that there are, approximately 17 churches in the Diocese of Newark with lay employees who need to come into compliance with the canonical requirements.
To my ears, this is a congregational issue which can be addressed in a similar fashion as the diocesan plan: Freeze hiring of any further employees. Pay what you own. Figure out how you are going to move forward to do the programmatic, administrative and missional work of the church in the midst of a recession/depression.
When I asked a diocesan representative how it is a manifestation of justice to balance congregational budgets on the backs of clergy, the answer I was given was given in the form of a question: "Well, what about those 17 congregations?"
Look, I believe what I say - without crossing my fingers - in the Nicene Creed every Sunday, that we are "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church". Not only do I believe in the catholicity of the church, I have seen it.
I also believe that my call to serve God through the church means that I am called to live a life of sacrifice. I went into the ordination process with my eyes wide open. I knew I was never going to get rich at being a priest.
But, my momma didn't raise no fool, either. I'm a priest. Not a doormat. Besides, my grandmother always taught, "If it's not yours, don't pick it up." In Friedman's system theory, this is defined as "the self-diferentiated self" - something that bishops love to quote when they want clergy to figure out the solutions to their own congregational problems.
Looks to me like this is a congregational issue which the diocese ought to be helping congregations figure out how to do. That's going to take a lot more creativity and imagination than taking red pencils to the easy target of clergy compensation packages.
I believe in God's justice. With my whole heart. I am yet to figure out how this proposed plan of "cost-sharing" is evidence of that justice.
How is it justice that we pay for lay pensions by compromising clergy health care benefits? Really. That's a serious question. I'd love an answer.
What is our concern for clergy families and the children in those families? Do we compromise health care insurance for them? Is that justice?
Everybody is seeing their benefit package dwindle these days. Clergy are no exception. Except we say that the church operates on a different, higher standard than the rest of the world. We love to say that, especially during the Season of Stewardship. But we seem to forget that when it comes to clergy compensation packages. Is that justice?
How are we going to attract the best clergy to positions in the Diocese of Newark when our salaries are lower than other dioceses in Province II and will be, effectively, even lower if this new resolution is accepted? Is that justice?
I must say that I was most disturbed by the attitude displayed by the diocesan spokesperson for this proposed resolution.
Two comments struck me. Hard. "Well," this person said, "we've been trying to get you (clergy) to pay attention to this and it looks like we've finally gotten your attention, which is a good thing."
Oh, clergy have been paying attention. This "cost-sharing" scheme is not new. Indeed, it surfaced long before the 2003 resolution which established the lay pension system and the 2006 resolution which called for parity and cost-sharing. By which - please pay attention - they meant subscription to the Medical Trust plan.
We clergy just haven't said anything because we didn't agree and wanted to be polite. Politeness is an occupational hazard of ordained leadership. Sometimes, it's a form of institutional suicide.
The other comment was, "Well, if you (clergy) have to start paying at least a small part of your health care costs, maybe now you'll start paying attention to the particular plan you choose and begin to contain costs."
Like we're all narcissistic, mindless idiots who just select the most expensive health care plan without any regard for the impact this will have on the congregational budget.
I fear these two comments have more to do with the sense of the "justice" of this proposed diocesan resolution than any real sense of God's justice. But, maybe, after 25 years of ordained service in the institutional church, I've just become the jaded cynic I always said I wouldn't be.
The battle is on in the Diocese of Newark. The conversation was heated and, already, some clergy were being identified as "good clergy" and "team players" who "understand the catholicity of the church" and "the principles of justice".
It's the old triangulation routine. Sigh. We've seen this before. In the battle over the ordination of women, there were the "good deacons" who waited patiently for the church to "regularize" the ordination of women. No one said it, of course (we are polite, after all), but this meant, of course that the 11 deacons ordained in Philadelphia and the 4 in Washington were not. "Good". "Team players". Who "understand the catholicity of the church".
I don't know where this will lead. I trust it will lead, eventually, to God's justice. It usually does in the Diocese of Newark. Which is why I love it so and remain canonically resident there. It's also why I think this is a battle worth fighting - even from afar.
I was told by one clergy person to "Chill". He said, "Hey, look, this doesn't affect you or me. I'm fine and you have health insurance coverage and collect a pension. Just let them do what they are going to do - because they'll do it anyway - and let those new people figure how to negotiate their own compensation packages."
Except, I'm haunted by that little parable about God's justice which Jesus told about the workers in the vineyard. Seems to me that Jesus said that whether you show up for work at 8 AM or 12 Noon or a few hours before the whistle blows, you still get the same wages.
That's not fair. That's God's justice.
I'm not sure what scriptural basis the BACHR is using for their "justice" position. I didn't ask. Perhaps someone ought to. Maybe that's my next question.
So, I'd love to know what YOUR diocese is doing about the canonical change requirements. How is your diocese handling "cost-sharing" and "parity"?
See, I really do believe in the catholicity of the church. I think we can learn from each other about how to really share the cost of discipleship. We're so much stronger when we share our creativity and imagination about living into and out of the principles of the Realm of God than when we march, lock step, to the same institutional rules.
That's my resolution, and I'm sticking with it.
I hope to hear from you.