The realities of implementing General Convention resolution A177 are now before many dioceses - my own included, which has postponed the whole debate from our Annual Convention in January until a specially called convention in June, 2012.
Yup. It's that red-hot.
You can read the entire resolution by clicking on the link above, but the purpose of the resolution was to establish a Denominational Health Plan for "all domestic dioceses, parishes, missions, and other ecclesiastical organizations or bodies subject to the authority of this church, for clergy and lay employees who are scheduled to work a minimum of 1,500 hours annually".
The idea is to provide health care plans for ALL church employees - lay and ordained - by reducing the overall cost of insurance, over time, through the establishment of a denominational health plan.
I supported Resolution A177. Lobbied for it. Although, I had my own misgivings about this part:
"each diocese has the right to make decisions as to plan design options offered by the plan administrator, minimum cost-sharing guidelines for parity between clergy and lay employees, domestic partner benefits in accordance with General Convention Resolution 1997-C024 and the participation of schools, day care facilities and other diocesan institutions (that is, other than the diocese itself and its parishes and missions) in The Denominational Health Plan;".Turns out, my concerns were not without warrant. The reality of each diocese "making decisions" about "minimum cost-sharing guidelines for parity between clergy and lay employees" is beginning to hit the realities of tough budget decisions in a fragile economic climate.
AND: " . . . that Congregations within the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri and the Offices of the Bishop shall not reduce existing coverage or increase the cost of existing coverage to employees to comply with A177 or this resolution;".
Meanwhile, the Diocese of Oregon, passed a resolution during their diocesan convention, November 10-12, "that congregations and missions are encouraged to assume 100% of cost related to clergy and lay employee health insurance premiums as has been tradition, however, they may exercise a premium sharing arrangement with employees who shall assume a maximum of 20%".
Ya gotta watch those "however's" and "may's" in any church resolution.
Apparently, the good folks in that diocese followed the lead of A177 which allowed dioceses to practice "local option" and allowed individual congregations to do the same.
A very pragmatic approach. Thoroughly Anglican.
And, I would submit, places the church on a very slippery slope when She's already in very turbulent baptismal waters.
I grow very weary of hearing discussions which compare clergy to teachers or employees in a not-for-profit "charitable" organization.
I'm tired, as well, of the "professionalism of the priesthood".
Weary and, quite frankly, frustrated and yes, angry.
I must say that I grit my teeth when I hear clergy talking about how many "units" they are working in determining whether or not they can "make" a meeting or be on a committee or do anything on their "day off" (in some places, known as "Sabbath time").
I understand that there are courses in some Episcopal Seminaries that have titles like "Career Paths for Priests". The course seeks to help seminarians find the good "jobs" that will lead to the better "jobs" - and, although it's not said outright (although, I understand it is discussed over coffee in the refectory) - might get them elected Dean or Bishop.
Mind you, the premises of these books have been misunderstood and abused. I am always stunned to hear aspirants for Holy Orders tell Commissions on Ministries that they are seeking ordination because it is their way of working out their issues of.... oh, name an issue... adult child of alcoholics, their own addiction issues, their childhood abuse. They sometimes point to Nowen's "Wounded Healer" as the basis of their claim.
That's NOT what Nowen was talking about! It's not about narcissism dressed up in clerical garb!
It's about living a life of the sacramental embodiment of a heart so filled with gratitude for what God has done in your life, through Christ Jesus, that you commit yourself to the standards of excellence and generosity of Jesus, so that whatever personal sacrifice is made to achieve excellence and generosity, it is made from that place of gratitude.
A priest's whole life is to be that "outward and visible" sign of the inward and spiritual grace of gratitude so as to inspire the church to "go thou and do likewise". The life of an ordained priest is to be that 'sacramental presence' of the 'praise and thanksgiving' of the 'everyday Eucharist' of "ourselves, our souls and bodies".
A priest is a "parson" - a person - with a very public practice of ministry who has been ordained by the institutional church to, in all things, "nourish Christ's people from the riches of his grace, and to strengthen them to glorify God in this life and the life to come." (BCP 531)
How does one "compensate" that?
To be a poet - an artist - making the connection between a spider's web and the fragile but incredible strength of the interconnected web of the human community across lines of ethnicity and race, gender and sexual orientation, age and physical ability.
But, we don't want to think about actually paying for that service because, well, it's vulgar and it spoils the romance of the moment.
We're the church, for Christ's sake! Aren't we even a little different from public schools or local service organizations or even the Red Cross - good as they may be?
Neither Nowen nor Snow or even Underhill promote the sacrificial life of priesthood as something one ought to give oneself to until the very marrow of their bones had been sucked dry. Indeed, if that happens, something else is going on and it's terribly wrong.
I fear that the whole "sacrificial priesthood" has been so misunderstood and abused as to find itself on the other end of the extreme in some discussions about "Clergy Wellness" and "units" and "Professionalism" and "Career Paths for Priests".
It's an understandable defense mechanism against the abuses of the sacrificial nature of the priesthood - both imposed and self-imposed - but it is based on a more secular, pragmatic, "professional" understanding of the role and function of the priest and not on the theology of what "the priesthood" is - and who "the priest" is - in the church, which, as St. Paul tells us, is the Body of Christ.
Which brings me to my point: I think this whole conversation is really just a symptom - like a cough is not a diagnosis but a symptom - of a larger issue about the current state and the ever-rapidly-approaching future of the church.
The easy, pragmatic path is to compare the church with any other not-for-profit organization and talk about how the church ought to "model compensation" in terms of "parity".
It's easy. It's pragmatic. And, it's wrong. Dangerously wrong. It's much more complicated than that.
Parity, I should note, is not a biblical - much less theological - term. Justice, on the other hand, is. Justice, however, does not mean sacrificing anyone for the sake of the institution.
If anything, the institutional church - The Body of Christ - ought to sacrifice for the sake of its members. You know. The way Jesus did. Alas, it rarely does. Unfortunately, the institutional church is all about self-preservation, which is why She is so often beset by mediocrity and injustice.
If there is any "modeling of compensation" to be done, why not look at how priests are compensated from church to church and diocese to diocese?
And then, let's look at how deans and bishops are "modeling compensation" for the rest of the church. I'm thinking we'll find such wide variables to make our heads spin, our stomachs ache and our hearts weep.
Which leads to the questions that, I think, are central to this discussion about "clergy compensation": "What IS the reason for the existence of the church? Today? In this day? In these times? Right here. Right now. And, for future generations of Christians?"
Talk to me - please - about what it means for YOU. Where you are. In your life. And then, let's talk about that in ever-widening circles of community.
And then, let's talk "church as institution" and about power and authority.
And then, let's talk about how we describe the church in that amazing prayer we all say at the Great Vigil of Easter (BCP 291): ".....Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery...." and what that really means for us.
How do we "compensate" a mystery if we can not even acknowledge it except in a prayer said once a year in a service that too many are "too busy" to attend because it's "such a long service" and never held an a time that is "convenient"?
Perhaps we will discover that mysteries don't look like hierarchies. They are more circular and amorphous in structure - if they have any structure at all.
However will we deal with THAT?
I've gone on too long - much longer than I intended - and I apologize for that, but I'm not taking back a single word. Nope, not one. Indeed, I have more to say but I'll leave it at that.
I hope this post provides the stimulus for conversations in ever-widening circles about the great mystery of the church and how it is the vehicle for "the effectual workings of (God's) providence" - BEFORE we get into discussions about compensation for clergy.
Oh, and here's a book for today's generation of clergy and laity which I think ought to be required reading before any discussion about the "business" of the church: "This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers" by Lillian Daniel and Martin B. Copenhaver.
I hope we can build on what we've learned in these years of discussion about sexuality and begin to talk about intimacy and power and authority.
There's a reason that religious communities take vows of "chastity, poverty and obedience".
Sex. Money. And, power.
These three issues will always be central to any discussion about what it means to be "church" - the Body of Christ.
Let the discussion begin.
I hope it will set our hearts on fire with a passion for the gospel.