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Monday, November 14, 2011

Occupy General Convention?

I keep hearing rumors of a movement to "Occupy General Convention".

The impulse, as I understand it, comes from the desire to raise some of the issues of church governance which have surfaced as critical to the life of the church that have some startling parallels to the issues of our national governance which have been raised by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Some are supportive and others are appalled by such proposals as Bishop Saul's proposal to call a Special Convention to "engage the laity and clergy in their dioceses in conversation in support of a potential structural reform that he said could shift the church's focus toward mission."

Isn't that a bit like putting the organizational cart before the horse of mission, some ask? One organizes and builds structures to support mission, not the other way 'round. Let mission spring up from the grassroots, not be imposed by the institution.  Others point to the decline in membership and finances and think we need to take action now. 

Many are also concerned about the direction of the proposed changes in Title IV concerning how we deal with "clergy misconduct". Indeed, the dioceses of Dallas, South Carolina and Western Louisiana have expressed concern because they feel the revised Title IV grants greater authority to the church’s presiding bishop over other bishops, and to diocesan bishops over their clergy, amid accusations of misconduct.

Still others are concerned about the ramifications of General Convention Resolution A177 which establishes a Denominational Health Care Plan for all clergy and laity employed 1,500 hours per year (30 hours / week).

The idea was to lower costs of health care insurance so that ALL employees (lay and ordained) would be covered equally. The problem comes with implementation in dioceses and congregations, some of whom are either reducing hours below the required minimum (and thus avoid the cost entirely) or proposing that clergy "cost share" by contributing 10-20% of the cost of an individual health care plan so congregations can better afford to pay the now mandated health care costs of their lay employees.

And then, there's the Anglican Covenant which also centralizes power within the institutional church in general and with the Archbishop of Canterbury in particular.  This piece at "Eruptions at the Foot of the Volcano" pretty much sums up some the concerns.

These are just some of the tips of the iceberg in the church sometimes known as "God's Frozen Chosen".

This is being discussed in some places on FaceBook as well as in the comment section on some blogs.

Just as Occupy Wall Street and other "occupy" movements in other cities are about calling us to examine and reexamine the institutions that are foundational to democracy - government, health care, education, banking and taxation (for starters) - the rumored OGG movement seeks to call us to examine and reexamine the institutional church and the programs and personnel that are foundational to our faith: the four orders of ministry, General (and Diocesan) Convention, as well as ways to do the mission of the gospel.

That's just for starters.

Some are asking questions like,

"Is the church 'just' another not-for-profit organization?

Are those we hire and pay for their services - bishops, priests, and some deacons and laity - simply employees who are analogous to teachers, social workers, and other employees in not-for-profit agencies?

What about 'sacramental grace'? Does that make a difference? How is the sacramental grace of baptism different from the sacramental grace of ordination?

If the church considers herself 'not-for-profit' organization only and structures herself accordingly, how long will it take before we become 'not-for-prophet'?"

Here are some comments from a thread on FaceBook about a proposed OGC:
"I don't experience GC as the money changers in the temple-just as a big celebration of how lame we can be."

"Wouldn't that be kind of like occupying a funeral?"

"The occupiers of Wall Street and their compatriots have a better chance of getting Fortune 500 executives to give half of their stock options to charity than GC occupiers would have at getting deputies to forego this triennial, multi-million dollar, quad-legislative debacle and donate the savings to efforts addressing just one of the Millennium Development Goals (remember those?)"
I know what you're thinking but the essence of this rumored, proposed OGC movement is not about complaining and whining.

It's not about 'hijacking' GC or The Episcopal Church or making a "pro-union" point or spending thousands of dollars to counter the millions of dollars it costs to have GC.

No one I've heard propose a OGC movement "hates" TEC. Indeed, they would OGC because they love it but are disgusted with it at present, in the same way that people who get involved in the OWS movement love democracy so much they want us to return to it.

Like OWS, there is no OGC "Bill of Particulars".

I'm hearing folks say that people will come and create an emergency-style alternative community of justice, live out what they say they believe and practice aspects of what they dream, and from that, a new vision of The Episcopal Church will emerge.

I'm hearing folks suggest that it might be done in tents, hallways, the property of The Cathedral.

I don't know if these rumors will find their way into reality but I, for one, find myself excited by the possibility.

I think it's a brilliant idea, calling us back to the foundations of our communities of faith which is not about institutions but about serving the people of God.

We've lost sight of that vision, of late. It's been easy to do, given all the internal struggle we've been through as an institution and as a people of God.

Perhaps a movement like "Occupy General Convention" is just the thing we need to get us to refocus and revision ourselves.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Muthah+ said...

OGC is really a non-starter. It is too expensive to do a sit-in in St. Louis. I am hearing the questions and they are important ones.

GC is way too big anymore to run us. We have cut our national staff to the bones but it still isn't enough. We have gotten the "small gov't" message, but we haven't gotten the message that without professionals to do the work, we have to live with volunteer help. We haven't stepped up to the plate that we can't have it all now that J P Morgan doesn't support the Church.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lauren - This is not a "sit in". (You're dating yourself). It's not just a 'protest demonstration'. It's an "occupy" movement. It says, "we're going to stay here so you can SEE what we mean about change."

It doesn't "cost" a thing. Everything - food, tents, people - are all volunteered.

I think we need to get the message you mention out loud and clear and the only way to do that is with our bodies and our lives.

Matthew said...

I'm not opposed but I also think we need to act locally (and think globally). Many people don't have the money to travel to GC. Great for people who live there. In my diocese people did protest when the diocese cut staff positions (but still kept asking the exact same percentage as before). Maybe we need to occupy dioceses, even parishes that don't pay their staff a living wage (or don't pay clergy at all). Some of our partitioners don't pay much attention to GC. The movement needs to be bigger than GC. Maybe we should occupy St. Martins in Houston. They are mostly the 1%.

Avenging Turtle!!! said...

Make a complete list of every cleric in America... the salary of said cleric, the church etc. Then do a breakdown of male wages vs. female wages of every Episcopal priest... all public information.

Total male priests -- income
Total female priests --income
All races --- then do a survey of all the staff, the secretaries, the women serving the males for peanuts... get it all on a public list. When all of this is fully disclosed and the outrage at the hours, wages and benefits of males vs. females in the Episcopal churches out there are on full display.... well, then we can decide to occupy or not. But first, start with data. If this denomination has equal pay for equal work, good show. But if they reveal themselves to be the slave owners of women, the paymasters to peanuts to women in that church.... what say yee? Tar and feathering of the males scarfing up the money? Stoning to death of male bishops? Hey, we'd let them live, that's mercy right?

walter said...

No! I do not think that Church should continue to grow into another not-for profit institution. I work enough years in the States to understand a fundamental difference that should center on the empowering distinction of the Sacramental Grace of Baptism versus the sacramental grace of ordination. The distinction of sacramental grace of baptism vs. sacramental grace of ordination opens a vision that goes beyond conflicts among denominational ordinations, this we see clearly now also because the help of Elizabeth. If there would not be a void what would then be the objective of occupying? Do you feel, 4, the constructive void of the many denominational ordinations? What about soaring in the gorge? I am a theologian so this is my small contribution: the Vitale Kaeton Grace is the truth to power the distinction of the Sacramental Grace of Baptism vs. the Sacramental Grace of Ordination. In the the name of One God I hope on your Good Hearing.

Walter Vitale

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - One diocese I know is $100,000 in arrears in lay pensions. They let that figure stand and did not budget anything toward it for the next year, hoping to sell some property and pay it off. That hasn't happened as yet. It's disgusting behavior for a church.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I was with you, TW, until you overreached your argument at the end.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Walter.

it's margaret said...

I'm still thinking....

heheheh --wv: selfier