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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Kudzu of Mission Creep

Cabin and trees covered by kudzu
The Presiding Bishop and her CEO, Bishop Stacey Sauls, have been making the rounds of all the Provincial Synod meetings before General Convention in July.  The address given by the Presiding Bishop at these gatherings is titled "The Episcopal Church's Opportunity". 

That address has been causing quite a buzz. So much so that some have requested it be published. 

It has. You can find it by clicking the link above or here

I understand the buzz. It's a fine address. It is well written and was, no doubt, well presented in our Presiding Bishop's signature measured, careful manner. She is quintessentially intelligent, eloquent and even, at times, poetic. Even though we may disagree on some issues, I always appreciate what she has to say and I remain an ardent admirer. There are many, many good points and I found myself agreeing with much of what she said.

It's what she didn't say that concerns me. 

There are two paragraphs which caught me up short. The first is this:
Our churchwide governance work is largely based on parliamentary democratic methods.  We have evolved a system that gives great attention to the details of process and structure in how decisions are made.  We have a representation system that has at least something to do with interest group politics.  We have made legislative decisions over the last few decades that have done great good in opening us up to the movement of the spirit.  We have also done damage in voting, by creating winners and losers about several hundred issues at every General Convention.
There's a lot to comment on, but let me say a few words about "creating winners and losers". 

First of all, I will say what many of us are too polite to say out loud. The legislative system did not produce "winners and losers". That was set up by "the orthodox" who were apoplectic about the ordination of women and LGBT people, human sexuality and reproductive rights. 

The set up was "our way or the highway". I remember Kendall Harmon, the Canon Theologian from the Diocese of South Carolina, repeatedly asking for "clarity". 

What he and the other "evangelical orthodox" were insisting on was a clear vote - up or down. No "Anglican Fudge". Got it. Understood and understandable, given the "black and white"way they read and apply scripture.

When you do that, however, you set up a situation where there will be winners and losers.  "Nice" Episcopalians were scrambling to find the "via media" - the middle ground - but it was harder and harder to find because it had become the battle ground in the "Holy War to Save The Church from The Evils of Homosexuality."

The "orthodox" left the high ground and had seized the middle ground, making it a battle ground without any room for compromise or the possibility of reconciliation.

It wasn't the process. It was the people. 

I agree with our Presiding Bishop and Bishop Sauls that the church needs some restructuring. We can become much more effective as well as cost efficient by utilizing technology available to us. We can also make some painful but necessary cuts and trim some of the fat we've acquired over the years as a sort of insulation to the pain of the discussions we've been having and the decisions we've made. 

We have been in "red meat mode" for the past thirty years. We've been fighting over "issues" for so long, we've forgotten that there are people - human beings, children of God - behind those "issues".

We've hurt each other. Terribly. Deeply.  

When that happens, institutions often become afflicted with "mission creep" - the tendency for a task, especially a military operation, to become unintentionally wider in scope than its initial objectives. It can be very dangerous because each success can breed more ambitious attempts, only stopping when a final, often catastrophic failure occurs.

We're creeping up on that catastrophic failure. You can see it clearly reflected in the budget. But, I'll have some more things to say about that at a later time (Until then, the blog of Susan Snook A Good and Joyful Things shares her perspectives of the budget which I think is spot on). 

So, yes, let's address the mission creep.  Let's retreat and regroup and rethink this. Let's consider our identity and our mission - which the Presiding Bishop's address does beautifully - and then, by all means, let's "restructure for mission".

I have no problem with that. 

Here's my problem. It's in the very last paragraph:
If we want to save the life of this Church, we’re going to have to lose it.  If we want to find life within this body, we’re going to have to give it away.  We are once again being invited to let go of our idols and turn to God – to drink from the well and join the dance.  This is kenotic work, self-giving work, what God does in pouring out the divine self into human flesh.  We are here to serve God’s people and God’s creation, rather than ourselves.  The Episcopal Church will learn who it is in this age when it learns how to give itself to the dance, to drink from the well and be spun out into the world – for the life of the world.
I am sick - ye verily, unto death - of hearing people in power talk about 'sacrifice' without demonstrating even a willingness to model that for the rest of the people of God. 

Have you noticed that this administration is very good at asking others to do things that they, themselves, are not willing to do?  They are very good in talking about "sacrifice" but I don't see a shred of evidence that they are willing to make any for themselves.

We'll cut down on General Convention and CCABs (Commissions, Committees, Agencies and Boards) but the bishops will continue to meet as they always have - twice a year, flying all around the country, many times to Camp Allen, which is in a diocese which does not - has not, for several years now - given it's money to The Episcopal Church. I know. Go figure, right?

Let's cut the POHD's (President of the House of Deputies) budget and remove her staff, but let's allow our Presiding Bishop to travel the world so she can "represent The Episcopal Church" to "dance into the world" and not touch her budget. At all. In fact let's increase it.

Never mind that the Presiding Bishop is supposed to "preside" over the House of Bishops. That's the job, historically. Why isn't anyone talking about "restructuring" the role of the Presiding Bishop to its original intent?

Same thing with the budget: Cut structures that support the participation of laity and clergy but the administrative costs actually increase.

In the present budget, there’s more money for the Presiding Bishop’s office, more money for the General Convention office, more money for the Chief Operating Officer’s office. Meanwhile, funding for formation, youth, and young adults, is slashed. These things, the budget documents say, can better be done on the diocesan, provincial, or local levels.

We talk about "mission" - which everyone knows is best done at the local level - but continue to feed the institutional church.

General Convention is obscenely expensive - on average, about $3,000 per deputy in most dioceses. (Note, please, that no one is saying how much the bishops spend for their twice yearly gatherings.)

In order to be cost-effective, much of the work of conversation and consensus building must be (and is) done BEFORE the legislative sessions of General Convention. That's why Executive Council, CCABs and Provincial gatherings and the HOB/D listserv (which costs the institutional church $0) are important.

Can it be done more efficiently and cost effectively? No doubt. Can we use technology to help us achieve those goals? Absolutely.

Here's the thing: I don't want to hear any talk about that without parallel discussions about how those same methods can be used to make the meetings of the House of Bishops more effective and cost effective.

Many are saying that not only does the legislative process at General Convention set up winners and losers, it doesn't allow for 'Holy Conversation' that is informative as well as transformative. The current buzz in some circles is that we should limit the voting and have more time for bible study and conversation and prayer.

Here's my unvarnished take on that: To spend three grand per deputy - plus the other expenses to the institution - to have the luxury of sitting around in prolonged conversation and prayer sounds like a grand idea but unless there's productivity and results, it's just a big, expensive junket.

The purpose of General Convention IS legislative. That was its purpose. It's the only place where dioceses can be called into being. It's the one place where canons can be created, adapted, changed and put into place. It's the one place where the budget can be passed.

And, all of this must pass both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. It is then enacted by Executive Council and the CCABs - which have equal representation of laity, clergy and bishops.

So, if we limit discussion and voting at General Convention in the House of Deputies, let's also limit it in the House of Bishops.

And, if we make time for 'Holy Conversations' ..........yep, you're getting the hang of this now..... let's not just have Deputies talking to other Deputies and Bishops talking to other Bishops but (gasp!), Bishops and Deputies talking with each other.

Kudzu flower
Wait a minute! We already have that. It's called Executive Council. And all the Committees, Commissions, Agencies and Boards. And, Provincial Synods.

Look, I'm a good Anglican. I'm not saying either/or. I'm looking for a balance here. I think we've basically got it but the past 20 years have been so contentious that it's called the process into question. I'm saying that we're asking the wrong questions.

Let's give ourselves some time to see what we do when we're actually focused and not distracted by meanness of spirit and derailed by a group of people who are intent on destroying the church if it isn't a precise, exact reflection of "their Jesus". 

Oh, and by the way, what no one is saying but is as obvious as the Iberian nose in the middle of my face is that, if we cut General Convention, that also makes it less expensive for the diocese.

Guess where 815 wants that "excess" money to be applied? Right.

Let's name the demon in the institutional church: Mission Creep.

Let's admit that we've become unintentionally wider in scope than our initial objectives (mission).

It's become a bit like kudzu - that climbing, creeping, invasive plant found primarily in the South, which I'm just really discovering here in parts of Delaware.

The flowers that bloom in late summer have a very pleasant fragrance and the shapes and forms created by kudzu vines growing over trees and bushes can be pleasing to the eye in the summer months.

However, it becomes a noxious weed that grows so rapidly it kills trees and shrubs, either by heavy shading or strangulating the roots.

The Presiding Bishop has done a masterful job of calling us to our identity as Christians.  She wrote:
".... our primary identity (is as) – beloved siblings, created in the image of God, made for conversation and intimate community with God and each other.  That image we bear is a community image – we don’t just reflect Jesus, or the Spirit, or God the Father – we reflect that dynamic, relational Trinity.  The ancient church likened the trinity to a dance, a moving, dynamic, interdependent community – that is at the same time one.  It’s a circle dance (perichoresis), but not simple revolution.  It’s more like a transformative and evolving spiral in multiple dimensions.
Yes! Brava! Well said. Lady Gaga was right: Just dance (doo-doo-doo). Just dance!

But note that the Presiding Bishop also rightly observed that it is a 'circle dance'. 

And perichoresis in community calls for Circle Leadership.

Not top down. Not bottom up. 

A circle. 

So, if we're going to dance, don't ask me to put on high heels and dance backwards while you continue to lead in your comfortable shoes.

That may have worked for Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, but it doesn't work in the Sacred Circle dance of the Realm of God.

And, don't ask me to take off my shoes while you continue to wear yours and then wonder why I yelp so loudly when you step on my toes.

Give me your hand, not a handout. 

Don't look down on me, look me in the eye. 

Let's meet in small circles and talk about Jesus. Then, let's talk about how we, as beloved children of God through our baptism in Christ Jesus, can do and be His mission in the world. What is our unique gifts as Episcopalians who are members incorporate of the Body of Christ? What do we have to give to the world that no one else can give? 

What is our particular dance step in the circle dance? How can we teach each other to dance? How can we make room for people who create variations on the dance step?

And then, together, let's cut back the kudzu of mission creep and clear a space on the dance floor for everyone to join in. 

God has been filling our ears for centuries with the inviting, inspiring music of the Gospel.

Let's cut down the kudzu and dance. (Doo-doo-doo) Just dance!


Bishop Daniel Martins said...

"Never mind that the Presiding Bishop is supposed to "preside" over the House of Bishops. That's the job, historically. Why isn't anyone talking about "restructuring" the role of the Presiding Bishop to its original intent?"

I'm with you on this much. And there are others. It got talked about informally at the last HoB. Personally, I think the PB/Primate should have a diocese. Seems to work for Canterbury and Rome.

Muthah+ said...

As always, Elizabeth, you hit the nail on the head.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Bishop Dan. I'm delighted to find an area in which we both agree. I also think bishops ought to be deans of cathedrals and/or rector of a church - depending on the size of the diocese.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Muthah+. I really have the PB's address to thank for the inspiration. Suddenly, it was so clear. It's 'mission creep'.

Sister BJ Brown said...

BRAVO!!! I have been wondering this same thing for ages. Why don't the Bishops meet once a year instead of twice??? If the work of the Church is to be done on the local level, it would be wonderful to have the Bishops working WITH us... be out front and lead us in that work.

Sister BJ

June Butler said...

I am sick - ye verily, unto death - of hearing people in power talk about 'sacrifice' without demonstrating even a willingness to model that for the rest of the people of God.

As I am, Elizabeth. In times of tight budgets, are we to send more money to the higher levels, even as we cut the flow to the lower levels, lower meaning a 'lesser' role than that of a bishop? Is it Rome, or is it Rowan who influences the folks in the top tier?

And let's not forget the words of Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies:

I also told her (the PB) that I am concerned about the use of churchwide resources to lobby General Convention on only one side of a legislative issue.

Yes, the PB should have a diocese, and bishops should serve in a cathedral or in a parish.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

BJ - Actually, why don't bishops Skype the way AF does every Monday night? Whether you know it or not, y'all are modeling a new way to be church. I think they call it "emergent church". Who knew that a religious order would lead the way? Wait a minute. Isn't that part of our history? Why yes, in fact, I think it is. Thanks for the visit and the comment, BJ.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mimi - I had the same thought, reflected in Bonnie Anderson's quote, about the PB's address. It's lobbying, is what it is, and on the church's dime - which, of course, is your and my dimes.

If our bishops spent more time leading the churches in their dioceses and less time worrying about how to keep their purple shirts, we just might see more vibrant congregations, healthier dioceses and a stronger church.

Mission creep. Time to cut back the kudzu.

David said...

dearest Elizabeth:

powerful post today about +Katherine’s address.

powerful because it open up spaces for reflection, thought, exchange and reflection in what threatened to be what i sense to be pre-mature and reactive legislative process.

the Church has been through a lot in the past couple of decades- i would even call it trauma- and it is my sense that there is a ton of deconstruction, discussion and discernment which needs to take place before the Church is anywhere nearing being able to ‘recasts’ itself for the future.

the sort of issues and history i’m talking about are not the ‘headliners’ i.e. the election of an honestly partnered gay or lesbian priest, but rather the deeper issues: how the Church dealt-with/failed-to-deal-with what in retrospect was Ruach’s sacred process; how the Church fails to engage dissent and public contempt; how the Church is so legislatively minded that it has to resort to secular courts to settle its disputes, and perhaps even, why the ‘official Church’ is feeling so threatened by the prophetic voice of OWS that she effectively ducks out on the discussions and reduces it all to the issue of an unoccupied lease on empty Church real estate.

such a process, if it is to be honest and profitable can only be from-the-ground up, where the ‘official Church’s role’ would be to listen, to provide the technological resources to maximize both participation and transparency. the current budget would appear to be a reflection of the crisis the Church sees itself to be in, and my suggestion would be that rather re-acting, we need open ourselves up to what is really going on, the issues appearances disguise and our dreams for the Church Ruach calls us to be.

to quote Mother Linda Grenz:
I think the postmodern age moves us from machine (linear, rational, atomistic, mechanistic "fixes", etc.) to the network (organic, circular, connectivity/relationships, etc.). Trying to fix a broken machine (modern age solution) will just get us a 1950's machine running a bit better. I believe we are called to be brave enough to step out and allow a new way of being church emerge. Can't do that, though, without letting go of much of the old ways of doing things. If we don't stop what we are doing now we will not have the time, money or energy to discern, much less follow, God's leading into the future.

dearest Elizabeth, thank you for this post. my sense is it is only the first of ....... several

Unknown said...

Thank you, Elizabeth. IMHO, the two dates associated with the greatest number of "losers" in The Episcopal Church:

1940: The Presiding Bishop required to resign all jurisdictions.

1982: The Presiding Bishop given the title "Primate of The Episcopal Church."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I tend to agree with you, Unknown. Please leave your name next time.

tom gibson said...

You are a hoot! And a wonderful boon to this church I so love and despise.

Tom Gibson
St. Mark's Cocoa, Fl

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks Tom

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

David, Thank you for your visit and your wonderful comments.

I notice that the PB's address has been taken down and the link in this post no longer works.

Curious, that.

Or, was it something I said?

Bill Joseph said...

Looks like they just cleaned up the url. Here's the new link (working as of 9am on 5/9):

J. Michael Povey said...

Many thanks Elizabeth for your pertinent comments on Dean Ferguson's blog. You are "right on".



Elizabeth Kaeton said...

J. Michael - It's a great blog post, isn't it?

Rev. David Justin Lynch said...

Why not a unicameral governing body elected at large from each Diocese with no fixed number of lay or clerical members, proportional to Diocesan church membership numbers, one person, one vote, majority rule.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

David - That proposal is one of many already on the table. One bishop has actually submitted a resolution to that effect.

Question is: What majority? Simple? Super? 2/3?

I like what the UMC does: Everyone of the 1,000 delegates (not deputies) - which includes bishops - gets a vote but Bishops can only speak on the floor if 2/3 of the convention approve it.

Anonymous said...

Camp Allen is, I believe, in the Diocese of Texas. Are you certain that this diocese hasn't been making a pledge to the national church for years? I don't know for certain, but was surprised to read that. I was under the impression that the Dio of Texas wasn't as conservative as some of the other dioceses in the state.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous - Your post went to my spam folder. I almost didn't open it. Please leave your name next time. And yes, the DioTX has not paid its pledge to 815 for years.

Anonymous said...

The Diocese of Texas, does, in fact, contribute to the national church. Not as much as is asked of it, but they do give regularly/annually. For proof:

Steven Thomas
New York, NY

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for the link where I found this piece of information: the Diocese of Texas. . . . gives 5% of a $7.9 million budget to the general church.

That's a little like leaving a nickle tip at a fancy restaurant. It's insulting.

Anonymous said...

Yes, they should give more, but it's different than claiming they give nothing. Just trying to keep the facts out there and not let everything get "rounded to the nearest 0 or 50,000.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It's next to nothing and it's still insulting. It's meant to be. Which gets to my point about why oh why do bishops meet there in the first place?

J. Michael Povey said...

. Michael - It's a great blog post, isn't it?

Amen Elizabeth. I have forwarded to so many others.