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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What's stoppin' ya?

I've been having some interesting conversations with some folks about the Committee on the Structure of the Church which came into being via resolution C095.

The resolution creates a special task force of up to 24 people who will gather ideas in the next two years from all levels of the church about possible reforms to its structures, governance and administration. Their work will culminate in a special gathering of people from every diocese to hear what recommendations the task force plans to make to the 78th General Convention. Its final report is due by November 2014.

The resolution passed the House of Deputies unanimously and sailed through the House of Bishops.

When Tom Ely, the bishop of Vermont, asked who was going to pay for these gatherings, several bishops responded, "Vermont". Once they stopped laughing at their own joke, and Bishop Ely started breathing again, it was reported that structural reform had been allocated $200,000 in the budget.

So, our answer to changing the structure of the church was to create another structure and to fund it at approximately $67K per year. General Convention also voted to return to a 10 day schedule for the 78th Convention, verses the 8 day structure we worked with at the 77th Convention. Oh, and we voted to look at relocating our national headquarters at 815 Second Ave, including the possibility of selling off that piece of property.

Bishop Samuel Johnson Howard of Florida, who chairs the committee on structure, said that the committee: “is so thoroughly convinced of the process of the Spirit, that it will be blessed. We believe $200,000 may become half a million, like the loaves and fishes that the Lord will provide. Don’t let the money stop you right now."

On one hand, that's a thoroughly predictable episcopal response: Got an issue? Create a task force and throw money at it. On the other hand, if the Spirit is, in fact, moving over the face of The Episcopal Church, we need to put all of our best resources - including people and money - into making certain that nothing impedes the working of the Spirit. 

As I read the resolution, the committee is charged with "gathering ideas from all levels of the church about possible reforms to its structures, governance and administration". They will then make "recommendations", three years from now, to the 78th General Convention.

The composition of that task force has not yet been revealed, but we do know that more than 750 people nominated themselves or were nominated for 150 positions in the church. I'm thinking that a large part of those volunteers wanted to work on that task force.

The purpose, of course, is - ostensibly, at least - is so that we can become more "nimble" for mission.

As my friend, Byron Rushing likes to say, "The church doesn't have a mission. God has a mission and a church to help realize that mission." 

Think about that for one red hot second. What I hear him saying is that God’s expansive love and extravagant grace are so much bigger than the agendas or mission statements of any one group, religious or otherwise.

As I've been talking with groups of folk, lay and ordained and some not involved at all in the church, much less The Episcopal Church, I've gotten some interesting insights about the way the institutional church works - or, at least, is perceived to do the work of - the gospel.

I've listened to both clergy and laity register deep disappointment with the leadership of their bishops. They hear bishops calling for a "missional church," whilst encouraging clergy to be "entrepreneurs" and "bivocational", and asking everyone to live a "sacrificial life" (often translated to mean: work full time for part time pay and increase your pledge to the diocese).

Meanwhile, there is not a shred of evidence that the bishop is acting to make the diocese more "missional" - diocesan staffs stay in the same configuration, with salary increases - and the bishop is not considering becoming an "entrepreneur", much less "bivocational". any time soon. Many often note that the budget lines for the bishop's salary, expense and travel continues to increase.

One lay woman, who used to be very active in her church but fell away after the "politics got to me" and now works in an amazing community-based organization that helps the unemployed find work, said, "What we need to be a more missional church is the one thing a structure task force - or any church structure - can't give us: COURAGE."

She continued, "Sometimes, when I see church leaders - especially bishops - walking around the church in their finery or driving cars that I've never been able to afford, all I can think of is the Cowardly Lion. They puff themselves up in their finery and roar from their pulpits or their chairs about mission, and maybe they go, once a year, on a "mission trip", but they aren't living it. They talk about it, but they aren't doing it."
Cowardly Lion: Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the "ape" in apricot? What have they got that I ain't got? 
Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman: Courage! 
Cowardly Lion:  You can say that again!
The consistent theme in all the remarks I'm hearing seems to be "If we want to be a more missional church, we need more missional bishops who will fill their dioceses with missional priests - both of whom are so passionate about the work of mission that they do it themselves and call others to work with them."

That may sound like a top-down strategy that is doomed to fail, but, you know, I think we have to face facts: Like it or not, we are a hierarchical church. It's going to take more than 24 people, $200K and two years to change that.

Indeed, if you read the canons of our church, the underlying assumption in all of them is that the bishop is the "Chief Missioner" and "Church Planter". One of the reasons that, after a rector leaves a church - resignation or retirement -during the interim period, the bishop is the rector. Or, in a church which does not have parish status, the priest is either the Vicar or the Priest-In-Charge. Unless otherwise noted in the diocesan canons, the bishop is the rector of all "mission churches".

How many bishops support their clergy who are taking the risks of the gospel - even when the congregation objects so strongly they want to rid themselves of "this meddlesome priest"? How many bishops spend time in their congregations - sleeves rolled up - doing the work of mission side-by-side with the people, inspiring them and encouraging them to "go and do likewise"?

Seems to me, that's what Jesus did. What's stopping us? Is it that my friend is right? Do we lack the courage of our convictions? Do we need to spend less time "talking the talk" and more time "walking the walk"?

Do we have the courage to restructure the office of the episcopacy as well as the priesthood to make us better able to do the work of the Gospel?

I hope one of the things the Structure Task Force considers is how it is that a hierarchical church structures itself for mission. What role do bishops and priests play as leaders in this movement? From whence will the institutional leadership arise to inspire the institutional, hierarchical church to do the work of the Gospel? What will that require of us as a people who are members of that institution?

As the institutional church lumbers its way through selecting 24 people who will structure themselves around the question of the structure of the church, I thought I'd ask a few questions for your consideration and ask that you leave your comments here.

Here are three questions:
1. What in the structure of TEC is preventing it from being a more meaningful witness to the Gospel as we interpret it in our particular work?

2. What does it mean to Progressives to change structure? Might Progressives and Conservatives be operating under different assumptions about what it means to be a "missional church" and how church structures support or impede mission? Are the two assumptions reconcilable?

3. What are you doing - in your church, in your place of work, in your life - that is remarkable in terms of providing what you consider to be a meaningful witness to the Gospel? 
For my part, I will take your responses - anonymously, of course, unless you indicate otherwise - and send them on to a group with whom I'm working which has access to some of the leadership of the structure committee.  If you'd rather send them to me privately, leave me a note and a way to get hold of you and I'll send you my email address. Or, message me on FaceBook. 

If we're ever going to put on our ruby slippers, step out on the Yellow Brick Road and get to "The Emerald City" of the vision of the Church, I think we need to know that we already have what we need: A heart, a brain, and "da noive".

And, an awareness that there really is "no place like home".

Everything else - including how we structure ourselves - is just details.


susankay said...

I would like to see actual or virtual timesheets for all persons employed by TEC from Parish Administrator to PB. I'm pretty sure our previous (and much loved) rector spent a good 50% of his "on-clock" time networking on-line and reading FB posts (once FB was invented). We didn't realize it until he left and the Interim found she didn't have enough to do. Just as how money is spent tells one what priorities REALLY are so also does how time is spent (would love to see time sheets for bishops)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I hear you, susankay, but, as for me, I think that issue might come down the road a bit, especially when we hit the inevitable bumps. What I want right now is for folks to take some responsibility for God's mission and finding the leadership with the courage to inspire others to do it!

susankay said...

I was mostly suggesting that we figure out where we actually are now. Need to know that, I think, in order to figure out how to get to somewhere else.

it's margaret said...

Dio. of California is doing some interesting work in neighborhood/deanery ministry. If parish churches worked together more it would be a good sign, and get us out of the rut of like-minded 'boutique' congregations.

I think we need to do more work together on the Regional level.

We need to re-think our buildings. They're killing us.

Most dioceses have pay-scales according to the number of years served. Bishops ought to submit to those same pay-scales.

Priests (rectors or any variation there-of) ought not to be able to be run off their jobs. They should be employed by the church and not be self-employed. And they should have employee rights --and not be able to be 'fired' without due process and proof of wrong.

We should be teaching that baptism IS ordination.

We should organize the structure to recognize two basic fundamentals of the church: pastoral care and care for the world with liturgy as central to both.

That's all I can think of right now.... Now, off to teach!

I would love to see a broad chart of some sort of the suggestions you receive.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Got it susankay. It's one snapshot of the institutional church.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Margaret - Great ideas - esp. the part about teaching that baptism IS ordination. And, I love your idea about pastoral care and liturgy. I've never heard it expressed exactly that way but it's good, solid theology.

Bill said...

Bishops by and large have cushy jobs, with grand offices, equally grand residences, and large travel and expense budgets. That’s one boat they don’t want to rock. Their assistants and advisors share in their largesse. Again, no boat rocking.

Individual priests may want to do the right thing, but when their Vestries insist on business as usual and the Bishop doesn’t want to back the priest or rock the boat, especially in Cardinal Parishes, nothing gets changed.

The office of the Bishop needs to be answerable to oversight by people not beholding to the Bishop.

The priests need to have access to an ombudsmen group that has oversight authority.

The Vestries need to be answerable to somebody period.

Tom Downs said...

Back in 1993-5 a bunch of us in Michigan had a vision for a new diocese; eventually it was called Eastern Michigan. In 1995 we became the 100th diocese.
Since we were mostly small rural congregations we wanted a diocese that was designed to support us as we pursued our mission in our particular locales.
Our vision had several key elements. 1)diocesan overhead was stripped down to the barest minimum: salaries for a bishop and a bookkeeper, and a rented office. 2)the bishop's job was to spend most of his time out of the office and in the congregations as missioner (not flying hither and yon to advance national church committee work, nor organizing projects out of the diocesan office, nor chairing meetings). 3)we would combine Executive Council, Standing Committee, and Commission on Ministry in a single 12 member committee--the bishop ex-officio with voice and no vote (but leaving the actual work of clergy recruitment, training, selection and deployment entirely to the bishop) It's amazing how much time is squandered in meetings instead of mission work. Moreover, human capital is limited and best used where the need is--in the local setting 4)This would allow the bulk of the diocese's resources to be invested in the congregations. The actual decisions about where and how they would be used was given to the clergy and laity in each deanery. In other words, each deanery had a substantial budget for mission work. 5)parish apportionments were fixed at 10% and diocesan apportionment to the wider church was set at 10% (the idea was to leave most of the money in the congregation and available for mission there). 6)this structure was to be set in our Constitutions and Canons and made difficult to change.
We actually managed to enact most of our vision and make it work. Our first bishop, Ed Leidel, lived with most of the constraints (he insisted on a conventional commission on ministry) and we did flourish as a diocese (growing ASA and incomes in the parishes and a balanced budget at the diocese) for the first 8 years. We even raised 4 million in pledges for an endowment dedicated to new mission work. Then we started to plateau and loose ground.
While we, like everyone else, have suffered the effects of a changing society and church, still I think a large part of our problem has been a loss of our vision. Almost from the beginning those elements of our structure that made us unique have been nibbled away by our bishops and those who weren't around when the diocese was formed. Also there is a tendency in the wider church structure to grab our attention and energies and pull us in several directions at once. They don't know how to deal with a diocese where authority and responsibility is dispersed. Certainly the wider church steals a lot of a bishop's time that could be used locally. All of which makes it harder to stay focused.
Sadly, today we are very much like all the other dioceses; we have lost our grassroots missional focus and are in decline.

Sagewoman said...

Ya know, Elizabeth, the church just makes me tired. Having been part of a clergy/spouse dynamic duo, I have seen over and over that many churches really don't want to get more missional. We likes what we likes and that is what we likes. Seeing my spouse beat up by both congregations and bishops when the only thing I can track it to is trying to get congregations grow and change and actually BE missional - Imma just tired of it. What would Jesus do? In the words of the infamous, "drink gin out of a cat dish." We practice our mission from the home front now - feeding the hungry and clothing them, telling our evangelical story, sending money to organizations that care for women and children, etc. Churches have become so very afraid of change - will it cost us and what and how much? Something earth shattering needs to happen - as a friend of mine used to say - "It ain't happening til the Man from Galilee splits the Eastern Sky."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bill - You remind me of something a now retired bishop of this church said during the Q&A before the election. The question was, "Why is it that you all sound so brave and bold about the Gospel now when, once you're elected, chances are that you will hide behind it?"

His answer was: When you're the captain of a ship, the one thing you want to avoid is turbulent water.

He was elected. He never went out into turbulent water.

We got what we voted for.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dear Tom - Your story is a real cautionary tale that needs to be told widely. May I re-post it elsewhere?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Sagewoman - Again, another cautionary tale that needs to be shared widely. I know y'all post here at your own risk, but I would still ask your permission to re-post this - anonymously - in places that need to hear your story.

Thank you so much for sharing it here.

Tom Downs said...

Thank you, Elizabeth. Use it as you see fit.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Tom. I most certainly will.

Matthew said...

I think www need young people on this commission. I don't think you'll change the structures without the voice of the youth. I hope the proposal to reserve two spots for youth happened.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I hope that's true as well, Matthew. I trust there will be gender parity and racial/ethnic diversity. I hope we also get some voices of people who are "at the margins" of society - like people who are poor or working poor who aren't normally invited into circles of power and authority like this. You know. Like youth.