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Saturday, April 28, 2012

A really bad haircut

There was an interesting article in this week's HuffPo entitled "Silent Clergy Killers: "Toxic Congregations Lead to Widespread Job Loss".

Somehow, this all got tied into the United Methodist General Conference and the proposal to end all "guaranteed appointments". In case you didn't know, when Methodists are ordained "elders" - sort of the equivalent of Episcopal priests - they are guaranteed a position for life - not at all like Episcopal priests. Well, as I understand it, not a position, exactly, but a salary.

As a side note, I've also learned that, during their General Conference, it takes a 2/3 majority vote before bishops can speak on the floor. That's something I could definitely get used to.

Anyway, I found the article interesting in that the argument seems to be based on a focus on the "denominational mission". So, the counter argument, which I suppose makes sense, is that there are "toxic congregations".

Indeed, the article goes on to report that 
An online study published in the March issue of the Review of Religious Research found 28 percent of ministers said they had at one time been forced to leave their jobs due to personal attacks and criticism from a small faction of their congregations.

The researchers from Texas Tech University and Virginia Tech University also found that the clergy who had been forced out were more likely to report lower levels of self-esteem and higher levels of depression, stress and physical health problems.

And too few clergy are getting the help they need, said researcher Marcus Tanner of Texas Tech.

"Everybody knows this is happening, but nobody wants to talk about it," Tanner said in an interview. "The vast majority of denominations across the country are doing absolutely nothing."
The whole argument makes me so sad. I mean, it's not that either of these two issues are not important. They are. Quite. 

But, what does any of this have to do with "denominational mission"?

The analogous situation in The Episcopal Church is that we are talking - a lot - about "restructuring" and becoming "more nimble" in order to do "mission".

What that means, near as I can figure, is to centralize power and authority in the episcopacy and begin to pare down the structures in which the clergy and - especially - the laity have voice and decision-making authority.

But, what does any of that have to do with "denominational mission"?

As I said, it's not that these issues are not important. They are. Quite.

It's like the quote I heard recently about The Anglican Covenant - another attempt at circling the wagons and centralizing power. 

Someone (wish I knew who so I could give them credit because it's a brilliant analogy) said that it was like being attacked with a knife by someone with a very bad haircut.

You keep your eye on the knife, but you keep thinking to yourself, "That's a really bad haircut".

Yes, we need to restructure the institutional church. Jesus warned about pouring new wine into old wine skins. We need to pay attention to that.

We need to take care not to create change just for the sake of change 'lest we end up looking like we did in the 80s.  (Remember how 'cool' we thought we looked?)

And...and...AND... while we're temporarily distracted by that bad haircut, we need to remember that some folks are talking about 'change' and 'trimming budgets' and being more 'nimble' while they are wielding a knife which is aimed directly at carving out more power and authority for the institution.

I, for one, am not at all interested in any restructuring where the lines of power and authority go in an upward direction.

Talk to me about circular structures and shared power and authority and I'm all ears.

Talk to me about what you mean when you say 'mission' ... FIRST... and then we'll talk about all that other stuff around toxic congregations and burnt out clergy.

Until then, I think we should all just take a seat in the hair salon and look through some more catalogues and spend a bit more time in conversation.

I lived through the 80s.

I know what I'm talking about.


Bex said...

OMG, the Farah Fawcett look gone WAY wrong!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I have one daughter's 8th grade prom picture and her hair doesn't look too far from that one.

And THAT's what will happen to the church if we concentrate on being "cool" instead of "real".

susankay said...

The problem is when people DECIDE to be cool they are invariably not authentic. And whenever a person or an institution decides to "reinvent" itself, there is almost always a resultant lack of authenticity. And what people are hungry for is authenticity.

susankay said...

Trying to suddenly be something you aren't (and, worse, trying to get someone else to be something s/he isn't) results in a boat load of inauthenticity.

Malcolm+ said...

The bad hair analogy is from Archdeacon Alan Perry from the Diocese of Edmonton (Canada).

Anonymous said...

I have heard our reactor say similar things but I do not understand the concern. Is the proposal just for a bit more uniformity in how things are handled? Wouldn't uniformity bred stability? Is the concern that TEC will become too much like the RCC with a Pope, that is not in touch with the laity, making decisions in areas he/she does not understand?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Susankay - I think one of the few truly unforgivable sins is dishonesty and lack of authenticity.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Malcolm. I'll be happy to attribute it to him when next I use that line. And, there will be a next time.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Maria - The centralization of power in the institutional church has always, always, always led to disaster. It is antithetical to Anglican ethos. That's why there is such resistance to even a sniff of it in The Episcopal Church. This is why the Anglican Covenant failed in the CofE and why it will fail in TEC

Anonymous said...

ok, thanks

JCF said...

[@ pic] Oh, 1988, no one misses you... :-X

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - I most certainly don't. It was the era of Big Hair for men and women. Oh, God, remember Motley Cru? Arrowsmith? Oh, God. My daughters drooled over them. We were hypertensive the whole time. Now, they look back and say, "Whaaaaaa?". I just smile and try not to smirk.

Hutch said...

Part of what gets in the way of mission is the mess the instituitional church finds itself it - churches that are very wed to keeping things as they were, instead of moving forward with Christ. A lot of that fallout ends up on the priest - it can be pretty scarey in the desert places. I am a little touchy about the toxic congregation stuff, having seen it in action. The "body of the church" needs to address this problem - if you are shitty to your priest, you will probably be shitty to your brother and sister as well.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hutch - you are preaching to the choir.