Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Being Without Communion: Thoughts on Communion of the Unbaptized

Crusty Old Dean was at an international gathering, having dinner after the plenary discussion, when a Church of England bishop started talking loudly of something just dreadful he had heard about in the Episcopal Church. In usual English passive-aggressive style, he had probably wanted to grill me about this but chose instead to make it a topic of conversation with the person to his right instead of me, sitting one over from him on the left. He said he had heard that at a St Francis day pet blessing, at an Episcopal Church (no diocese or congregation mentioned), the priest had given communion to the pets after blessing them. How could any church consider themselves Christian who could do something like that? Then he turned smugly and looked at me.

"Gosh, bishop, I never heard that story," I said, "but I just have one question."

Tension rising at the table. Some people had been shooting glances as the English bishop told the story, obviously uncomfortable. Now a good 20 people or so were listening in on the conversation.

A broader smug smile. "Oh, really? What is that?"

"Did they baptize the pets first?"

Loud peals of laughter breaking the tension, the smug smiled turned to a glare and he looked away.

The question of communion of the unbaptized has returned, or perhaps we should say it has never left us. Perhaps it is a good sign the diocese of Eastern Oregon is bringing a resolution to the General Convention asking that the canons be changed to permit communion of unbaptized people: maybe it's a sign that we are ready to fight about other stuff than human sexuality, like going on your first date after a breakup can show you're ready to get back in the game. A previous resolution in 2003 died of "non-concurrence" (that is, the House of Bishops and House of Deputies didn't pass an identical resolution before Convention ended) and a 2006 resolution was referred to the House of Bishops Theology Commission.

At this risk of belaboring things -- many other bloggers have occupied mountains of server space on the topic -- COD will give his bullet points as to why he opposes it.

--We are already radically inclusive. We baptize anyone.
--When Jesus ate with outcasts, tax collectors, and practiced radical hospitality, that wasn't the eucharist.

Instead, COD would like to focus on a couple of other, perhaps oft less discussed, elements of this question. Instead of those talking points above, here is why COD is really opposed to communion of the unbaptized.

1. Anglicanism has a tendency to process things through liturgy. Here's a good example: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church spent most of the decade of the 2000s in a kind of extended debate about the role and place of openly gay and partnered persons as clergy and blessing same sex unions. How did the Episcopal Church handle this? Why, focused around sacramental and liturgical matters: ordination (confirming Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire) and liturgical rites for blessing those unions -- filtered through the meat grinder of polity. OK, how did the Lutherans handle it? By going through a years-long process of theological study coordinated through their churchwide offices, culminating in the release of a statement laying out the theological reasons, which was approved by their Assembly, along with constitutional changes based on that theological statement.

Episcopalians: process through liturgy. Lutherans: process through the theology. Same subject, same arguments (COD was ecumenical officer and had to sit through TWO denominations' worth of hearing the exact same arguments for and against for nearly a decade). An oversimplification to be sure, but one which speaks to some deeper ways in which Anglicanism frames how we have discussions.

Communion of the unbaptized, as we are dealing with it, feeds this tendency to process things through liturgy. All well and good, you might say, but it also means we can short-circuit the larger conversations we have to make. For example, the crisis in the Anglican Communion is more about ecclesiology than human sexuality, which is the presenting issue. Do we want to yoke the deeper issues around how we create community solely to how we give communion?

We have missed numerous opportunities in mission, evangelism, Christian formation, church planting, and so on. Not just in the past decade; for the past 200 years! 12% of Episcopal Church have been founded after 1968, after all; we are overwhelmingly Anglo in an increasingly multicultural country, to give another -- given massive shifts in demographics, we simply are not where the people are. Going to our liturgical place -- we'll bring people in by giving communion to all! -- will just result in half-formed Christians who have taken communion a couple of times unless we are serious about mission, evangelism, and formation.

2. The question of communion of the unbaptized has laid bare a climate of complete disregard for any sense of community or communion beyond our own. Some parishes feel completely free to make this decision on their own, despite the fact it is explicitly forbidden in the canons of the Episcopal Church. Some dioceses apparently feel free to do the same. This speaks to the deeper issue of people believing that so long as they are convinced something is right, then f**k everybody else. This lays us open to hypocrisy and insularity. Hypocrisy because people only choose to obey the canons they want and cry out against those who do not. "How dare Quincy and Forth Worth take these uncanonical actions! Us? But we're right." Or: "How are they ordain openly gay persons! I am justified in ignoring whatever I feel like because of a particular interpretation of a few biblical passages."

This kind of insularity reinforces the tendency to surround ourselves with like-minded people and assume our particular adaptation of Anglicanism -- in our parish, in our diocese, in our province -- is somehow normative. The fact is we belong to a broad, large, diffuse, and diverse religious tradition. Is there anything that holds us together, or so long as you have a majority in any expression of the church -- a committee, a parish, a seminary, a diocese, a province -- should you be able to do whatever you want?

3. It is part and parcel of a tendency to lay all of our theological freight on the eucharist. Two quick examples of this in other areas.

One time, COD was planning a graduation ceremony for a diocesan local training program for ordination. This was to take place on a Sunday afternoon, and the planning committee starting planning for a eucharistic service. COD gently suggested, 'Since we will all have communed early that morning at the Sunday liturgy, and since this service is at 5pm, what about a celebration of Evening Prayer or Evensong?' One of the planning members said that wasn't really "church". COD specifically chose a service of Solemn Evensong for his installation last fall precisely for these reasons -- since, due to scheduling, the installation was held on a Thursday right around dusk, Evensong seemed appropriate. We can, at times, think the only way to "do" church is to celebrate the Eucharist. While that is central, we also have a rich tradition of many kinds of other services as well. Is the only way to welcome someone to worship to welcome them to the Eucharist?

We also, at times, seem to equate the ministry with our eucharistic functions, making the sole criterion for whether someone is called to the priesthood to be whether they feel called to celebrate the Eucharist. In my interviews for ordination, nobody asked me about how I preached, or my understanding of evangelism or mission -- it all focused around why I felt called to celebrate the Eucharist since that's what separated priests from deacons and lay persons. COD replied that he felt called to be a presbyter, not a priest, since the ancient term (and one used in the Book of Common Prayer) encompassed other elements of the office, including teaching, leadership, and pastoral care, in addition to presiding at the sacraments.

Communing the unbaptized seems to reinforce aspects of this paradigm: the only time we are "really" church is when we celebrate the Eucharist, so unless we can welcome people to that, we are somehow not welcoming. There are lots of ways to welcome people to lots of different kinds of worship. In fact, from some of the earliest Christian times one of the primary ways to experience Christ was to be baptized into Christ, as evidenced in Paul and some of the earliest Christian sources. In part we are dealing with the fact that we have shorn baptism from its radical nature and for 1500 years or so made it your membership card in Christendom. If we truly are committed to baptismal ecclesiology, we should continue to place it at the center of what we do.

4. The whole question is moot, anyway, and will just become another flashpoint as we organize ourselves into our little mini-communities, desperately trying to find the people who are like us, and, hence, the true Episcopalians. Whether the General Convention approves this resolution or not, the diocese of Eastern Oregon will continue to do whatever it feels like. And I don't mean to pick on them; this is another part of the problem. I quite like a lot of what the diocese of Eastern Oregon does, I have family there, have been there a number of times. Being opposed to communion of the unbaptized doesn't make me some kind of uptight liturgical law enforcement officer who wants to restrict the church to the frozen chosen. I disagree with it based on the reasons noted above. I don't think anyone who practices it is stupid, revisionist, or whatever terms people come up with. They're people who have come to a different conclusion than me. Just like not everyone opposed to Gene Robinson's consecration are vile, hate-filled homophobes (but some are, and COD has repeatedly called out the conservative movement for not disavowing the hatred within their own community, for instance in this post.).

We just need to be careful that the way we discuss this does not just reinforce tendencies which are destructive to the church.

When I was in seminary, we sat around late one night and moved past seminarian snark and sneer and, heaven forbid, actually started to talk about our faith instead of internalizing the vocabulary of faith we were picking up. One of the things we talked about were books that had fundamentally altered and changed how we thought. I happened to have just finished one when that conversation took place: Being as Communion, a collection of essays by John Zizioulas. Completed reoriented how I thought about myself and the church -- how individuals are incorporated into the body of Christ, which, in turn, is linked throughout time and space to other local communities.

Have to say Metropolitan John's title came to mind, along with my encounter with the smug English bishop. John and Paul (the apostle) have some wisdom to offer as we move forward in these discussions.

One is that while something may be lawful, does it build up? Yeah, theoretically, we could change the canons and permit this. But will it really build up the church? Without broader commitment to formation, mission, and ministry, I don't see how it would. If we give someone communion and then never talk to them at coffee hour and don't empower them in their baptismal ministry, we will have accomplished nothing.

One part of the body cannot say to the other, "I have no need of you." Paul says this in Corinthians, Metropolitan John laid out in his book the complex interweaving of person, local ecclesial community, broader ecclesial community. Just as we bristle against any increased centralization in the Anglican Communion, can we not see the other side of the coin, that utter and complete localism is just as heinous?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

You Read It Here First...

Crusty Old Dean could not help but notice that he happened to suggest precisely this here.

Crusty Old Dean could not help but notice that he happened to suggest precisely this here. From Episcopal Cafe:

"We don't have much by way of details yet, but scuttlebutt from the House of Bishops suggests that it may be worth discussing whether the Episcopal Church would be better served if General Convention abolished the Houses of Bishops and Deputies and met unicamerally."

Read the post in its entirety here.

As I noted, and which Jim Naughton also suggests, if considered, such a reform in polity must needs take into account other elements as well. I'd go into them, but you can get my opinion by clicking on the link above.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

COD on Archbishop of Canterbury in Washington Post

Crusty Old Dean readers may have missed this over the weekend...appeared in Friday's online version of the Washington Post. As you can see, COD can be quite restrained and refrain from ranting when the situation calls for it. Stay tuned to this space for some additional reflections on Archbishop Williams' tenure.

Anglicans after Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, announced Friday that he will retire at the end of the year to become Master of Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge. This transition will mark the end of a turbulent decade-long tenure as archbishop.

Williams was appointed in 2002 and confronted immediately with the issues of human sexuality that had been at issue for more than a decade in the Anglican Communion. In 2003, Dr Jeffrey Johns was appointed as Bishop of Reading. Dr. Johns, a senior cleric in the Church of England, was an openly gay man in a committed relationship, which he claimed to be a celibate one. However, amidst a storm of controversy, Dr. Johns asked for his appointment be withdrawn, at the request of Archbishop Williams. Later in 2003, the Episcopal Church would confirm the appointment of V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man in a committed relationship, as bishop of New Hampshire.

In response, the archbishop formed a commission of bishops and theologians to consider the issues raised by this decision. In 2004, the commission released its findings in the Windsor Report, calling on provinces to refrain from ordaining non-celibate homosexual persons as bishop. The report also proposed an Anglican Covenant, an agreement member churches would be asked to adopt. This Covenant, drafted over the next several years, would include a disciplinary process that could potentially lead to some being excluded from full membership.

Dr. Williams also faced numerous problems at home. For over a decade, the Church of England has been debating a proposal to permit women to be ordained as bishops (women first began to be ordained as priests in 1994). This has raised opposition from evangelical groups within the Church of England, opposing the question on biblical grounds, and from the more Catholic wing, opposing saying it was against the tradition of the church and would impact dialogues with the Roman Catholic Church. In 2010, Dr. Williams and his counterpart, John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, suffered what some in the English press called a “humiliating” defeat when their proposed compromise on women bishops - allowing for a male bishop to serve alongside a woman bishop to minister to conservatives unable to accept a woman bishop - was defeated in the Church of England’s governing body, the General Synod.

In addition, the proposed covenant, which Dr Williams has strongly promoted, is receiving decidedly mixed reviews within England itself. Needing to be endorsed by a majority of the Church of England’s dioceses, it currently faces steep odds. With over half the dioceses voting, only about 40 percent have voted to endorse the Covenant. Dr. Williams was also stung when Pope Benedict, apparently with little formal consultation with the Church of England, announced a new initiative in 2009 to receive Anglican clergy and lay persons into the Roman Catholic Church. Dozens of clergy and about 1,000 laity accepted the offer.

There has been considerable speculation about Dr Williams’ potential resignation in recent months. Some have seen the rejection of compromise on women bishops in 2010 and the lackluster reception of the covenant as almost a referendum on Williams’ leadership.

Dr. Williams will leave behind a complex legacy. His efforts to try to hold the worldwide Anglican Communion together have had mixed results. The majority of bishops from Africa and Asia did not attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference, instead setting up a different meeting. In addition, many Anglicans in Scotland, England, the United States, New Zealand, South Africa, and other places expressed dissatisfaction with the Covenant, arguing that the Anglican Church had held together for centuries without these kinds of formal agreements in place. In addition, many liberals have felt betrayed, as Dr. Williams expressed support for gay and lesbian persons as an academic and later as Archbishop in Wales.

Many in the Episcopal Church greeted Williams’ appointment as archbishop with enthusiasm, and continue to admire his scholarship and seek inspiration in his spiritual writings. However, his attempts efforts to seek a middle ground were felt by some to come at the expense of the Episcopal Church’s efforts to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians more fully in the life of the church, and many resented his unwillingness to speak against dioceses that broke away from the church and forced it into costly litigation. His removal of Episcopal Church representatives to some international Anglican bodies -- but not the initial removal of representatives from churches which interfered in the internal workings of the Episcopal Church by setting up rival churches -- was seen as yet another double standard.

This summer at its General Convention, the Episcopal Church is likely to approve rites to bless same-gender relationships and reject the Anglican Covenant, while also continuing its partnerships with Anglican provinces, dioceses, and churches throughout the world. This determination to pursue both full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and robust relationships with Anglicans in Africa and beyond suggests that the Episcopal Church has chosen a path different from the one down which Williams has been trying to lead. His successor is likely to be greeted by Episcopalians with both a warm welcome and a healthy dose of skepticism.

The Very Rev. Dr. Thomas Ferguson is dean of Bexley Hall, a seminary in Columbus, Ohio affiliated with The Episcopal Church. He was previously The Episcopal Church’s ecumenical and interreligious officer.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Stop the Navel Gazing: It's Not Just Us

One thing we need to keep in mind as we look at how to prioritize what the Episcopal Church should do and how we should be doing it, and how to structure and fund those priorities, is that it's helpful to have some perspective: this isn't just us.

At its General Conference next month, the United Methodist Church -- nearly four times the size of the Episcopal Church with around 8,000,000 members and over 40,000 clergy -- will be debating a wide ranging restructuring proposal.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has gone through two major restructurings in the past decade. (Oh, and by the way, even through these painful restructurings at the churchwide level, the ELCA still managed to fund youth and young adult ministry and get over THIRTY SIXTH THOUSAND registrants to their triennial youth event in 2009. Don't say we can't or shouldn't do it, just that some don't want to. All it takes is five minutes to look to the ELCA and see that youth and young adult ministry has a place at the denominational level.)

Unlike the Episcopal Church, the UMC and ELCA restructuring plans were a product of discussion and debate, presented to the church for consideration, and voted on at their churchwide bodies. For the United Methodists, this has been a multi-year process of discussion throughout the church; you can read it about it here. As the website dedicated to this process notes, "Thousands of leadership conversations. Three years of research, never done by a mainline denomination. Hundreds of ideas considered.These recommendations encompass the best thinking of bishops, clergy, and laity of our church." Looking over this process the United Methodists have gone through makes COD wants to cry. I mean, couldn't we have done something like this?

Moreover: The ELCA itself is an example of a process of discussion and deliberation. As Lutheran churches in this country moved towards merging into a single church, they began to ask what a church should like look for the 20th century. They combined some elements from Lutheran polity of their predecessor bodies but also created some new forms of organization and structure in the inauguration of the ELCA in 1988.

And it's not just our ecumenical partners. The National Council of Churches is going through a complete meltdown and implosion, feel free to get the latest here (though this announcement does little to convey the complete free-fall the Council is in). For much of the past decade, it has struggled financially. In 1999, it needed a bailout just to keep from going bankrupt. For most of the 2000s, it has gone through repeated financial crises. It has slashed stuff, cut program, and moved its annual governing Assembly from meeting yearly to every two years. Essentially it has tried to run smaller versions of the old model, doing less with fewer resources. None of this has worked, and it is facing another massive financial crisis. It is calling a new General Secretary, but only on an 18-month contract, to help see it through this reorganization. Any of this sound familiar?

Here's the problem, and here is why looking to our partners might be helpful. Some of this is the NCC's fault. Some of it isn't.

Brief interlude (and this is important because it speaks to larger structural issues denominational organizations are facing): as COD mentioned in a previous post, the way Christians "did" stuff in the 1800s was to form member-based organizations focused around specific issues and causes, many of these crossing denominational lines. However, by the late 1800s society was getting more complicated. There was a move to create an organization which would help coordinate some of the initiatives -- and in 1908 the Federal Council of Churches was formed. (Interestingly enough, the Episcopal Church did not join until 1940 -- because the Episcopal Church was committed to Christian unity, not federation for the sake of coordinating our separate mission.) In 1950, the NCC was formed as a successor body to the Federal Council. It's important to note the NCC was founded as kind of an umbrella organization, collecting a whole bunch of these voluntary organizations under its roof to coordinate them on behalf of the churches. Some took their time in joining - Faith and Order, the body which coordinated theological dialogue between churches, didn't come under the NCC until the 1960s.

OK, end of interlude. If you really want to know more, COD wrote about 10,000 words on this in the fall and you can find some postings in the November archives, or click here for Part 1 of 3 of those postings and get some more detailed exposition on this.

So what part of this is the NCC's fault? Put simply, it got disconnected from the churches at times and kind of started doing its own thing. For example, one of its restructuring plans presented involved cutting out Interfaith Relations. When presented to the Governing Board for approval, the churches rebelled, telling the Council it was one of the things it should be doing, since this was something the churches wanted to do together -- were Methodists, Lutherans, and Episcopalians all supposed to now set up bilateral dialogues with Jews and Muslims? To give another, it was in such a financial crisis in 1999 that it had to go begging to the churches just to keep its doors open. It sent out a fundraising letter asking for donations so the NCC could lobby on something that about a third of the members communions are adamantly opposed to. To give another, only about half the member churches even give a cent to the NCC for operations. These are signs of an organization disconnected from its core constituencies.

Which leads to another point. The churches also have their own share in this blame: when the churches get distracted by our internal issues, when we do not stay engaged and connected, of course the NCC will start doing its own thing. The NCC was founded to be a way for churches to coordinate its mission, not to become its own entity doing its own things apart from the churches.

So what part isn't the NCC's fault: you better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone, 'cause the times they are a changing. The last century of the ecumenical movement has been one of centralization, consolidation, and professionalization. Instead of groups of lay people and clergy forming organizations, we have centralized these in national and regional structures and hired professional staff to coordinate them. This is part of a larger move towards institution-building: after all, the UN General Assembly building, the brand-new Episcopal Church Headquarters on 2nd Ave, and the NCC headquarters on Riverside Drive were all built and dedicated in New York City within a few years of one another. Times are a-changin. This arc from 1920-1990, this drive towards consolidation and centralization and building buildings and institutions, is over. Has been for quite some time. It's not the only way ecumenism is done. What is the place for a denominational-based organization in a post-denominational world? For centralization in a time of flattening? For an institution when the huge bulge of millennials think post-instiutionally?

In 2002, when COD was EYEO (Eager Young Ecumenical Officer), he went to his first Governing Board meeting of the NCC. Saw his first budget restructuring in what was then considered a dire time for the Council. Looked at it, in in his small group discussion said, "What if we made this a membership based organization instead of a denominational based organization?" The other members of EYEO's small group, all over 45 at the time (EYEO was 33 years old) look aghast. One finally said, "What could possibly be the advantage of that?" EYEO replied, "For one thing, it would foster and force connection with your constituencies." COD admits he said that as much to shake things up as for anything else (you might have guessed that already about COD) -- to challenge that organization to think about something other than preserving a current model, to try to get just that small discussion group to consider to stop privileging a single way of doing things and realize there's no foreordained reason we have to structure ourselves in a certain way. That, of course, didn't happen and in 2002 they began the cycle of rolling out successive models of running the same organization on less, with no strategic vision, no acknowledgement that the fundamental way people do things ecumenically is changing.

So if the NCC needs to die, let it. A new ecumenical body will be born, because we need to have one. You know, the WCTU, Anglo-Catholic Congresses, Evangelical Alliance, Anti-Saloon League, and Congress for the Advancement of the Interests of Labor were all wildly popular church organizations at one time, mobilizing thousands of people and lots of funding and doing all sorts of program. And NONE of them exist anymore. Times changed, the causes they stood for changed, society changed, the churches changed.

We need to look outside ourselves and realize this is happening to a lot of other religious based organizations. A way forward is going to be partnering and collaborating more intentionally, as appropriate, and specifically with the ELCA. After ten years as ecumenical officer, coinciding with ten years of full communion with the ELCA, COD is simply heartbroken that we have not done more at the denominational, churchwide level. In terms of staffing, right now we have a single, shared churchwide staff position, someone who is sponsored by both churches and works for the Washington office. That is simply, completely, and utterly pathetic result to show after ten years. And for once COD says that with no snark. It depresses me to no end, and it was not for lack of trying.

Look around, friends. What is happening in our own church is partially our own fault, and partially a result of massive changes in our society that is impacting religious organizations. As COD keeps saying, we have never had a churchwide discussion about what our priorities are and how different levels of the church can come together to live into those priorities. Instead we seem to be setting down the path of trotting out gutted versions of the old structure, simply doing less with fewer resources. This is a path to institutional death.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

An Ecclesiological Response to the Budget

Perhaps in reading previous installments of Crusty Old Dean you might think he was an accountant or a canon lawyer. Previously he has plunged his deanly elbows into the numbers, spending some time with a nice glass of scotch reading through all the budget line items. In his most recent post, there was a quasi-resolution to offer as a counter proposal to whatever budget emerges at General Convention.

Crusty Old Dean actually did quite poorly in math in high school, and the few times he has literally wanted to tear his hair out has been dealing with canon lawyers (it's not their fault, the ones COD has worked with are delightful people -- it's the canons' fault themselves, they are such a mess). Thankfully, because of the title of this blog, you know he is a Dean. One of COD's loves (apart from CODW and Official Son of COD and the Boston Red Sox and the aforementioned Scotch) is the history of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, with a particular emphasis on ecclesiology, or the theological underpinning of how we understand church. So COD will offer some ecclesiological and historical responses to the direction the Episcopal Church seems to have been taking in the past two budgetary cycles.

We have heard continually that we need to rethink on what level the various ministries and commitments of this church can be best accomplished. All well and good. If this means, however, that one level of the church should have responsibility to the exclusion of others -- for instance, cutting Youth Ministries by over 90% and telling dioceses they have to do the work -- then, put simply, that is both ecclesiologically and historically contrary to the fundamental principles on which the Episcopal Church was founded.

The great vision of the founding of the Episcopal Church was that different levels of the church -- parish, diocese, province, or General Convention level -- have common interests, which are best approached through these different levels coming together. Historically, because of the way denominations developed in our American context, this has also involved networks or organizations apart from formal church structures.

Take an example from the very founding of the church: bishops. In adapting models of episcopacy from the Church of England, the Episcopal Church developed a model of a shared involvement in a relational episcopacy. Bishops were elected by representative gatherings of clergy and lay persons. However, these bishops in turn needed to have their elections confirmed, either by the General Convention or by diocesan Standing Committees and other bishops. Thus a layering of participation of the church. Indeed, some of the earliest founders of the Episcopal Church saw such an episcopacy as being part of the deposit of the early church itself, with people like William White claiming the Episcopal Church was re-establishing an "apostolic episcopacy" from the first centuries of the church.

To take another: every parish has the right to call a rector. However, a bishop must license that rector to serve in the diocese. In turn, the General Convention has reached down to the parish level and set guidelines about the way in which rectors may be employed, by enshrining the principle that rectors may not resign without mutual consent from both the clergy person and the Vestry. Despite having a voice in hiring a rector, the General Convention has dictated the fundamental nature of that relationship and the bishop is given a role in that process as well. A layering of participation and involvement in the church. We don't simply say, "Hiring a rector? That's best done at the local level!" because we realize the way in which we are bound to one another in a relational manner through different layers of structure.

We can see a similar process with the birth of a denominational structure. In the 1800s, the way Christians in America got stuff done was to form so-called "voluntary associations". There was little to resemble a diocesan structure or staff; well into the 1800s many bishops held day jobs in addition to being a diocesan. These voluntary associations were focused around domestic and foreign mission work, publishing (American Bible Society), social causes (Temperance and Abolition), and on and on. Denominations didn't "do" much of anything, but individuals within and between them formed organizations to "do" things, often raising dizzying sums of money to help support these causes. Some Episcopalians joined; many tended to form their own: instead of joining the American Bible Society, the Prayer Book and Bible Society was formed (and still exists to this day, as does the ABS). Instead of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission, the original Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society was formed. And so on.

These organizations themselves often reflected the involvement of parish, diocesan, and GC involvement: the best example, perhaps, being the Board of Missions. In 1871, a Board of Mission was established by Convention to help coordinate the various domestic and foreign missionary work being done. In 1877, the canons were amended to embed this Board of Missions into the structure of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, founded in 1821 and more or less re-founded in 1835 to include all members of the church. You can see the process: prior to 1871, a lot of mission work being done at diocesan or parish levels with involvement of voluntary organizations. After 1871, an effort to coordinate this work. After 1877, formally incorporating this into the "official" structure of the church.

However, this work would not have been possible without the Women's Auxiliary to the Board of Missions, under the able leadership first of Mary Emery Twing and later Julia Chester Emery. The Women's Auxiliary served as a network to reach into parishes and dioceses to raise awareness of the mission work of the church, and, perhaps most important, to raise money. In thirty years, the amount raised by the United Thank Offering (in its current incarnation, it is a grant-giving organization; in its original incarnation, it was a fundraising arm for program and mission work of the Church) of the women's auxiliary grew 5,000% in actual dollars, from around $2100 to over $108,000. Yes, five thousand percent in thirty years. Or, put another way, from the equivalent of $36,000 to $2,800,000 in today's money (using Consumer Price Index estimates from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis found here).

Thus another example: something the church as a whole was committed to (missionary work), with involvement, cooperation, collaboration, organization, and fundraising stretching from the parish to diocese to General Convention level, and involving other organizations dedicated to the same cause, like the Women's Auxiliary (which in turn formed more networks, like the Girls Friendly Society and Daughters of the King, to assist in this work).

This is why the current understanding that one level of the church needs to hand off ministry to another level is not only wrong, it's contrary to our history and ecclesiology.

We are facing significant problems as a church: our average Sunday attendance -- real members, dedicated members, the ones who come regularly -- has plummeted 23% in the past decade. Crusty Old Dean believes the reasons for this are complex, see a detailed post on this here. Guess what? We have faced incredible problems before; Anglicanism nearly died out in this country in the decades after the American Revolution. Bishop Samuel Provoost resigned as bishop of New York in 1801 to become a gentleman botanist on his farm in part because he figured Anglicanism would die out with the last of the colonial families. The Church faced staggering challenges after the Civil War with emancipation, industrialization, immigration, massive population shifts west, just to name a few.

What will our response be this time? General Convention deciding what level ministry should take place? This is not devolution: it is restructuring by defunding. Further, as COD noted in a previous post, this is compounded by making it an unfunded mandate. The diocesan giving has been reduced only from 21% to 19% but Women's Ministries, Theological Education, Liturgy and Music (not an exhaustive list of what was determined at 2009 should be done at other levels of the church) and now Youth and Young Adult ministries (proposed 2012) have all been eliminated or are being proposed to be eliminated by determining they should be "done" elsewhere. Fund all of these with a 2% reduction, dioceses. And, apparently, for our current cycle these decisions are based on a 2011 online survey. We all know how scientific an online survey is, after all, thank God Survey Monkey is setting our mission priorities. At least this is a step up from 2009, where there wasn't even a pretense of justifying which things should be cut and dumped, they were simply promulgated.

Facing previous challenges, we didn't get everything right, to be sure, but the church survived because differing levels of the church -- individuals, parishes, dioceses, the General Convention, networks dedicated to certain causes -- came together to address these questions and figure out how best to do the mission to which we felt called.

We must come together again as we have in the past; we must intentionally include our ecumenical partners with whom we share many, many of these concerns in common. In the proposal put forth in COD's last post, he calls for a detailed and thorough conversation in 2013-2015 to reshape our church, with input from all levels, networks, and organizations.

COD says again: Reject this budget. Reject these efforts to dump mission on whatever level GC sees fit. Reject efforts to divide the different levels of the church and different mission and program emphases against one another to preserve shares of a supposedly ever-reducing pie.

In 2012, at General Convention, let our focus be the ministries of the diocese of Indianapolis and Province V, those doing the ministries of the church in that region. Let our focus be on the Exhibit Hall, where many of these networks gather, the ones who come on their own dime and because of their commitment, passion, and expertise - the same ones being asked to do what Convention decides to dump on them.

Dare I say it? Occupy General Convention!

In the words of Jabari Jabari Binko: "I ain't shuffling no more. It's revolution time!"

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Counter Proposal to the Less Than 1%

Crusty Old Dean is on Facebook. Find me there at www.facebook.com/CrustyOldDean

What follows below is a counter-proposal in the form of a quasi-General Convention resolution (Relax, COD knows the following is not in proper resolution form -- it's a conversation starter, people). You can look through the archives of this blog and see that COD has proposed lots of different options and possibilities for adapting our governance and polity to be in the service of how we do our mission in the church and in a world which is not changing, but already changed (check out the Pew Research report on the millennial generation). However, the truth of our budget realities give greater urgency to this whole matter of how we structure ourselves to do what we are called to do. (FYI -- COD uses the acronym DFMS a lot -- that stands for Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, which is the actual legal name of the Episcopal Church and is used as a catch-all for things like PB staff, General Convention, etc.)

--We need, as church, to have the conversations about prioritizing the mission and ministry. Emphasis on conversation. A conversation where all levels of the church and all orders of ministry have input. Bishops, priests, deacons, lay persons; provinces, dioceses, and parishes -- and including the dizzying array and variety of organizations outside our formal structures that are engaged in mission. Things like the Episcopal Public Policy Network, National Association of Episcopal Christian Educators, and on and on.

--Even with full buy-in and best intentions, it will take anywhere from 6-12 years for the General Convention to make any kind of institutional reshaping at the national level. In the quickest process, calling a Special Convention in 2015 that makes recommendations to a 2015 regular General Convention that acts on them at that Convention and then has a second vote at the 2018 General Convention for any constitutional changes needed. Of course, in 2015 we're also electing a new Presiding Bishop, so "people" may want that PB to have a say, so "people" may put things off until 2018, which means no second reading until 2021, and things don't come into effect until the next calendar year, so no real changes until 2022. That's a decade. And that's assuming buy-in and best intentions, and not those who derive power and authority from our current system digging in their heels to do anything to prevent losing that power and influence.

Since constitutional changes take two successive General Conventions, our recent track record shows there is no reason to believe anything could be accomplished at all. After all, it's been over a decade that we have endlessly debated removing the vote from retired bishops (which nearly every other episcopally governed church in Christendom does except the Episcopal Church, including the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and other Anglican churches have done) and have voted on this question in 1997, 2003, 2006, and 2009 and have been unable to do get two consecutive conventions to pass the same legislation in both houses. If we can't even get something like that through, really does make one wonder how we would ever pull of sweeping change and reform.

It is therefore time, as Gram Parsons once sang, "to stop pretending things are real." With the actions taken in 2009, and with this budget proposal before us for 2012, we are setting ourselves down the path of GC dumping different program areas every three years without consultation, discussion, or conversation with the networks supposedly picking up that work. In 2009, the budget that was adopted dropped staff with responsibilities for theological education & formation, women's ministries, liturgy & music, and anti-racism, with no discussion. In 2012, it is youth & young adult ministries slashed almost to nonexistence, shifts in funding from historically African American colleges and domestic dioceses to Province IX, from the Anglican Communion office to individual provinces, increases in staff to administrative offices, again with no discussion.

This happens because of the way the budget is developed, drafted, and presented. At Convention, it is presented in a joint session where Bishops and Deputies gather together, where questions are asked; then, in each house where it is voted on. The message is clear: the budget is presented is a fait accompli; adopt it, or else. It can't be revised because it has to be balanced so any increase in one area has to be offset. Oh and any changes have to be approved by both Houses. Oh yeah and we only have 72 hours before we adjourn and we can't leave without a budget. So everybody hold you nose and vote for it because there's no other options.

To be honest, this at times reminds COD of the words out of Lambeth Palace on the Anglican Covenant to the Episcopal Church and the rest of the Communion: adopt this Covenant, or else. Or else the Communion as a whole will fall apart. Even though it's not perfect. Even though you may not have been consulted in its development or will be consulted in its implementation. Or else, in the words of Bill Murray from Ghostbusters, we are "headed for a disaster of biblical proportions. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!"

There is tremendous resistance to this line of reasoning when we hear it from Lambeth Palace -- yet why do we accept it in our own budgeting process in our church which we always say enshrines democratic process?

It's time to end this dysfunction. There is something we can do.

Reject this budget.

This summer, in Indianapolis, give the General Convention and national church a provisional skeletal budget to do only what is absolutely necessary for the next triennium, and spend those three years having the discussion we should have had years ago. Have the kind of discussion, conversation, and consultation that takes into account the WHOLE church and not just the less than 1% that put this budget together.

Here is a proposed substitute:
Resolved, House of ______ concurring, that the following be substituted for the budget presented by the Joint Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance

i. Canonical and program work be funded by the draw from endowed funds; voluntary contributions from dioceses in an amount at the sole discretion of the diocesan convention; and that each Episcopalian be strongly commended to provide a voluntary $25 per person annual contribution to the work of the DFMS and GC. These monies will be given as a block grant for Executive Council to distribute, with preference for canonical over program expenses as outlined by canon.

ii. The canons affected by section i above (we'll list them here) are suspended for the 2013-2015 triennium while new models for budgeting and mission work are developed; the suspended canons will be replaced with substitute canons in 2015.

Be it further resolved that

a) Dioceses are asked to hold special diocesan conventions in the first six months (Jan-June) of 2013 in order to identify priorities for mission and program. These special conventions are to be funded in part by monies which would have gone to the the former 19% assessment to the triennial budget.

b) Provinces are asked to hold special provincial synods -- or regional convocations in larger provinces such as Province 8 and 9 -- in the second six months (July-Dec) of 2013 to reflect on priorities identified by dioceses and consider what may be done at the Provincial level. These special synods are to be funded in part by monies which would have gone to the the former 19% assessment to the triennial budget.

c) That representatives from all non-DFMS and General Convention networks that do mission and program work (NAECED, seminaries, EPPN, Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers network, etc.), chosen by those bodies in a manner according to their own governance and structure, gather in late 2013 to coordinate how these networks will work with dioceses, provinces, and parishes in carrying out the mission and program of the church. This meeting to be funded in part by monies which would have gone to the the former 19% assessment to the triennial budget.

d) Representatives from the ELCA and their cognate networks shall be invited to all of these gatherings; other ecumenical partners as best suited to local circumstances.

Explanation: This church takes seriously the call to do the mission of the church on the level or levels that are most appropriate. The church, however, needs to engage in sustained reflection on what should be prioritized, and how different levels of the church should collaborate with other agencies and networks.

OK, that's the draft resolution. If we are really going to devolve mission and program to the appropriate level, let's mobilize the entire church in a conversation on that for the 2013-2015 triennium. Restrict the DFMS, Executive Council, and General Convention solely to governance while we try to figure this out. Let the dioceses, provinces, parishes, and networks have real input and decision making, not the less than 1% that have an inordinate say in the governance of the church. Currently we spend about $50-55 million for the triennium on administration and governance (yes, this number can be argued in different ways, this is an estimate based on the proposed budget, using their categories).

This funding proposal above would give $25,000,000 in endowment income for the triennium (in the current proposed budget). We currently count about 1.9 million members and approximately 700,000 in average Sunday attendance. If we can get 400,000 Episcopalians (a little more than half the people in the pews on a given Sunday or about 20% of our members) to donate $25 per year, that's $10 million per year or $30 million for the triennium. Would any rectors out there try and run a parish based on about 20% of the congregation giving? Why try to run a denomination-wide organization if we can't get 20% of our members to support it?

Voila! There's $55 million for the triennium for the DFMS and GC. If the DFMS can convince people of all the wonderful things it is doing and get folks to give more, or get dioceses to give voluntarily or to specific programs, or get more than 400,000 people to give, then they will be able to do more. Like in a parish: if you can't raise the money, maybe it's something you shouldn't be doing, or maybe you need to communicate better.

Reduce the diocesan giving to being purely voluntary. This will let dioceses actually have funds to do the mission and program work they are now being asked to do instead. I mean, good God, think about it: in 2009 the GC dumped program work on the dioceses and will be dumping more in 2012, and has reduced the diocesan assessment from 21% to 19%. Do all of this additional work we're telling you to do after we've cut it without asking you, and by the way only reduce the money you're sending to us by 2%. This makes absolutely no sense: is it nothing more than a enormous unfunded mandate the Convention is passing on to the dioceses and networks?

This proposal will require massive and radical restructuring instead of trotting out an ever more gutted version of the old system every three years, which is the pattern we have set ourselves on, a pattern which will end up in a DFMS and GC that does only governance, anyway, in another 9-12 years or so because they've cut everything else. What would this massive restructuring look like? GC meeting once every 4 years and dealing only with constitutional and canonical questions? Selling the Church Center and moving out of New York? Being forced to collaborate more intentionally with the ELCA? Radically rethinking how we can do mission and program instead of just dumping a different program area every three years? Maybe all of these, maybe none of them. COD is under no illusions this proposal will lead to anything other than stunning, widespread, and at times traumatic change. But it will be change that we consciously set out to do, involving the whole church, and not one which we stumble through every three years, with consultation and input only when the power structures permit.

Radical change is coming, no matter what we do or don't do: do we want to have a hand in shaping it or be shaped by it?

COD is also under no delusion that anything even remotely like this would make it through the parliamentary shenanigans at the General Convention. But we need to stop thinking the only alternative is the one we have.

PS: Crusty Old Dean notes that, strangely enough, he consistently has readers in Russia. You can track these things on blogger. After the US and UK, Russia is third in traffic to this blog. Since COD took 8 years of Russian, majored in Russian History and Literature, lived in Moscow for six months, and has a master's degree from an Orthodox seminary, here's a shout out to those on the East Side who may have celebrated Торжествo Православия this Sunday:

за дружбу и мир! будь здоров!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Hollow Church

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
TS Eliot, The Hollow Men

COD must break his Lenten fast from writing about Episcopal Church structure. It's not his fault, it's the Episcopal Church's fault, and he is only responding the hue and cry from the people demanding that he respond. Kind of like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky V.

The proposed triennial budget of the Episcopal Church was publicly released on March 1, and these words from Eliot's poem came to Crusty Old Dean as he looked over the budget. And, keep in mind, this is best-case scenario: this one is based on the current 19% request for giving from dioceses. If the nonsensical bickering between bishops and deputies and the PB and the PHOD continues, we may end up getting the alternative budget proposal presented to Executive Council which called for a 15% request in giving, which would reduce the amount available for this budget even more.

Allow me to start off with some disclaimers.

1) Anyone reading this blog should know Crusty Old Dean is all for reshaping how we think about what the church is, and have our structures be in the service of mission. Critiquing this budget should not be read as criticizing the need to change, which is often a strategy used by some to dismiss criticism.

2) COD worked for ten years on denominational staff and attended several General Conventions. He knows a little bit about how both work, and has friends and colleagues who are a part of both. None of this critique is fueled by any kind of axe to grind against anyone or anything; I don't think 815 is somehow inherently evil or useless, neither do I think General Convention is inherently evil or useless. I don't think bishops are evil or lay people are unable to take their place in the governance of the church. There are great people who choose to serve the church in these capacities and COD has nothing but respect for those who do so. This is not a critique of individuals, or of any order of ministry, but a reminder that structure needs to be in the service of what we claim we are called to do and the values we claim to hold dear.

That said, COD has some thoughts about this budget. These focus in two areas:

1) Process
2) Priorities

Process: For a church that revels in self-adulation at our supposedly holy and sacrosanct democratic process, and often thinks we are the only church in the Anglican Communion which has shared governance (simply not true) the reality is the budget is utterly lacking in transparency and consultation and democratic process.

The numbers don't lie. Income is down. Income has been down for more than a decade. When has the church ever decided to face this reality and call for a conversation about how to prioritize what we do and how we do it? The narrative to the budget, of course, speaks of a survey distributed to gain input. But this survey was on the level at which certain ministries and mission should take place, and not about the prioritization of what the church as a whole should be emphasizing. There's a call for a churchwide consultation in the secondary budget narrative, and a line item for this in the budget. But the discussion will come after two successive General Conventions will have gutted our denominational ministries almost beyond recognition. And a churchwide consultation can always be ignored by the governing structures that in the end control the budgetary process. These are just a couple of flaws in the budget narrative that speak to the multiple flaws in the budgetary process.

This budget, like its predecessors, will be crafted by a small group of people and submitted to the church with eventually the only option being to adopt it or else. The budget will be tweaked, to be sure, and will again go through the prism of the pointless bickering between the PHOD and the PB and their various parties in the lead up to Convention. But the budget will still be presented for perfunctory approval by GC as part of the usual triennial budget presentation farce more becoming of a banana republic than this organization that supposedly enshrines democratic principle. Crusty Old Dean wouldn't be a member of a parish where a small group of people came up with the budget and told the annual meeting to take or -- well, take it because there is no other option. But yet that is what GC does, meeting after meeting.

We essentially are restructuring the church by de-funding program, without any discussion beyond appointed committees and unelected staff. This should sound familiar, because it's exactly what we did in 2009, when an appointed, unelected, unaccountable Chief Operating Officer had more input into the budget than the entire General Convention as a whole. Crusty Old Dean thought it was wrong then and said so then.

As a recap to the 2009 budget debacle:

--Anyone should have known a massive budget disaster was coming. Yet a series of overly optimistic draft budgets were prepared which were revised again, reducing $141 million in expenditures from 2007-2009 to about $118 million from 2010-2012 when all was said and done.

--This budget was presented with two statements which were completely and utterly ludicrous.

One was that these were just raw numbers, not people, and implications for staffing would be fleshed out. This was a complete and utter lie, COD refuses to believe there was not a list of positions to be eliminated down to a person. Staff were fired, after all, before the budget was released publicly. Leadership announced they were walking away from a union maintenance contract at 815 without any discussion or negotiation before the budget was presented to Convention. Yet we are the church that seems to think we have a moral leg to stand on and lecture Apple and Wal-Mart and Scott Walker when we treat our own employees this way?

The second lie was that the budget presented to the 2009 Convention reflected a need to do ministry at the most effective level, which may mean at the parish and diocesan or provincial level rather than national level. COD has no problem with this in principle, and believes we will be doing more and more of this. But the problem is that this was dumped on networks and organizations in 2009 without any warning or discussion. Example: COD was assistant ecumenical officer at the time. There is a diocesan ecumenical officers' network. The day after this budget is passed was I now to ask a network I have no control over, no accountability from, no idea of their training or interest, to help work with me on things which General Convention has mandated the church do? This is not meant as any slight; many people in this network are passionate, committed, dedicated, and talented people. But you can't ask an organization overnight to do something it may not be ready or trained to do. Repeat as necessary for other elements of mission and ministry and related organizations. It would take time to morph into a network of networks. Rather it was dumped on the church.

It was dumped because that was simply a ruse. 2009 was reorganization by getting rid of people nobody had the guts to fire and by defunding certain offices decided on by a small group of people, many of them appointed and not elected to anything or accountable to any of the structures of our democratic process. The lack of transparency and vision clouded the 2009 budgetary debacle. Sadly, this budget is little different. Despite the survey and the verbiage, this is the product of an Executive Committee, with strong input from appointed staff members, which presented it to Executive Council, where it will then go to GC, where there will be public comment, but again a committee behind closed doors with strong input from appointed staff will come up with numbers that will be implemented by even a smaller group of staff.

Sidebar: We didn't use to do it this way. The Episcopal Church spent over 20 years debating the formation of the Executive Council (then called National Council) and the proposal to make the PB an elected office, centralize scattered ministries into a denominational staff headquartered in New York, and to create provinces. These issues were discussed from 1901-1919 at every single General Convention. A major survey and poll was taken to get input from dioceses and church organizations. We had an extended conversation about structure that sought input from a number of parties. The Executive Council used to publish detailed line item budgets on a regular basis for ongoing financial disclosure rather than having people see the budget only once every three years. Oh and by the way we also established the Church Pension Fund concurrently at the same time.

2) Priorities

The numbers don't lie. This is a reduction from $141 million total over three years from 2007-2009 to $118 million over three years from 2010-2012 to $104 million for 2013-2015. As Jesus once said, where you treasure is, there you heart will be also. However these priorities were determined, where we are putting our funding is where our emphasis will be.

The pie charts at the end of the proposed budget shape these numbers in a way, showing how much we are spending on mission. One could argue that depends on how you define mission. Putting it another way, you could say we spend $54 million of the $104 million on the PB's office, the GC and GC office, and Finance and Administration. You could say we spent over 10% on General Convention alone. 10% of our budget on an organization that meets once every three years and spends a good deal of its time passing resolutions like this and this and this and this, not including resolutions passed expressing this church's ardent concern for things we have eliminated through the budget process. Not that Crusty Old Dean is not in favor of some of the things GC resolutions advocate for. But do you think the world gives a s**t that GC supports the teaching of evolution? Isn't this the kind of thing, you know, that should be dealt with on the local level? Unless that whole local level thing is a ruse that only applies to programs that are deemed expendable; it couldn't be possible that things the PB, PHOD, and GC do could be done on the diocesan or local level...

Back to the numbers. Let's start with the obvious one. Youth, young adult, and formation ministries are slashed about 90%, from about $3 million to $286,000. No more EYE or national Episcopal youth events. No more children and youth ministries, and on and on. Is there a person alive who is not completely delusional who honestly thinks that if GC consisted overwhelmingly of people under 40 instead of overwhelmingly people over 40 that this would happen?

Granted, one could and should argue that parishes and dioceses need to have good youth and young adult programs. Well and good. But here are some of the drawbacks of that: often these programs needlessly reduplicate efforts and resources. Often they search for models of best practices to adapt to their particular contexts. There are networking, communications, and curriculum resources that this cluster could provide in conjunction with dioceses and parishes. Instead it is slashed and all the worked dumped on dioceses, who will now struggle to do these ministries, resulting in a lot of hand-wringing as to why there are no young people in the church. There will be no young people in the church in part because for more than a generation we have consistently cut those budgets first.

And let's look where there are increases. In all of the usual places, naturally. The Office of the Presiding bishop has $364,000 in additional staff. The President of the House of Deputies has $212,000 in additional staff. Neither of these offices lost anybody in the 2009 bloodletting, and they get increases here. The Controller's office at 815 adds $421,000 in staff, Human Resources at 815 (despite laying off a lot of people on the national staff the past four years) adds $271,000 in staff, the Treasurer's office $120,000. That's $1.4 million in added staff costs.

There is no transparency on any of these staff questions, yet it is over $1.4 million in increases when we are cutting $4.6 million overall. Likewise, there is no transparency on our debt: there is an increase of nearly $1 million in debt service and repayment. Add that additional $1 million to the $1.4 million in staff added costs, and there's $2.4 million of the $2.8 million of our eviscerated youth and young adult programs. Maybe they need $421,000 in additional staff in the finance office to manage our additional debt, but there's no way we would know because there's no transparency here.

To take another example of how badly this budget is put together: General Ordination exams are eliminated. COD has no real love of the GOEs. As an exam, they can be improved. They are costly, cumbersome, and difficult to administer and grade. He is all for radically rethinking them. But simply throwing it all back to the dioceses, with only a year to plan (we have people getting ordained in 2013 and a canonical requirement that they show competency in certain areas), borders on nonsensical.

It gets back to the whole ruse disguised as process. This is not doing ministry at the proper level -- it is General Convention telling the church where things should be done. This is not collaborative. This action with the GOEs is telling dioceses, not partnering with them, on what should be done at the local level. This is a place where there needs to be people coming together to co-create something, because theological education is a place where local and national both have interests. That's the core problem with dumping things on diocesan and parish levels. The reality is there needs to be a collaboration between local, diocesan, provincial, and national levels -- not 815 dumping things it wants to cut and telling the church it now needs to do them. How is this democratic? Who is the General Convention to be the arbiter of what should be done on what level of the church?

The GOEs are canonical, representing the required competencies as outlined in the national canons. We will now see how over 100 dioceses will devise 100 different ways to show competency for the same canons, and, in the end, we will probably spend more in terms of aggregate time and money letting over 100 dioceses design and implement ordination exams instead of fixing the one we have. Another way in which this is 2009 all over again: restructuring and power struggles under the Trojan horse of devolution to dioceses. Because people bitch about the GOEs and they are a pain to administer, let's just get rid of them and pretend it's in the service of throwing things back to the local level -- which, in the end, will cost more time and money than trying to fix the current situation.

There are other curious choices made: curious in its strictest sense, in that you really wonder why these were made. On the one hand, funding is slashed to the Anglican Communion Office. On the other hand, funding is increased directly to other provinces of the Anglican Communion. Is this a policy shift of some kind? On what basis? Who made this decision? If so, could we be informed of it? Or is it just coincidence? Likewise, aid to domestic dioceses and the historically African American colleges of the Episcopal Church is significantly cut. However, funding to Province IX dioceses is increased dramatically. What is the policy behind it? Who made these decision shifts in policy? How were the decisions made? Are we doing something other than telling dioceses with strong Native American constituencies (Alaska, North Dakota, and Navajoland among the cuts) to go f**k themselves while we give more money to Province IX? If not, please explain the rationale.

In general, there needs to be more detail and discussion. Apparently the various committees and commissions of GC are going to get a massive restructuring and shrinking, but we wouldn't know, because we only have the numbers. The Washington office gets a whopping $700,000 increase in anti-poverty programs. What programs? Why? Under what mandate? Research and statistics gets an increase. Put together, it's nice to know we'll be a faith-based NGO doing social action while we accurately know how many members we are losing.

It's not all bad -- there are exciting things which COD would love to have more detail about, too. There are massive increases to Episcopal Service Corps and mission personnel. Since ESC is one of the few things the church is doing which is getting some traction and brings together a number of different emphases (discernment, young adult ministry, etc.), it would be nice to know more about this. Similarly, there is this Co-Op line item here which talks about setting up various shared services with dioceses. Again, without more information, COD has no idea whether this is another idiotic idea someone thinks will make money and will be implemented poorly (when was the last time the DFMS turned a profit on the many failed ventures it has tried to set up? how's are those savings from the denominational health plan coming? No? Yours is going up as much as mine is?) or whether it truly is something innovative and with potential.

In some way, in some form, we also need to see opportunity here. Church and society are changing rapidly. As COD has repeated on numerous occasions, when the way the world works shifts, the church shifts, too. People in 2100 will be astounded to know in 1970 people sat on endless committees and financed churches through weekly pledges, just like people in 1850 who paid pew rents and established volunteer organizations outside formal church structures would be astounded to tour 815 in 1960. The way the church looks, its structures, and how it organizes itself for mission has changed dramatically over the years. We're heading that way again.

Yet we can also make decisions to help shape these changes. COD felt in 2009 that the Episcopal Church was going to botch and bungle a once in a lifetime opportunity to rethink what a denominational organization should be and look like. Indeed, we have wasted more time on power struggles between individuals in the church than in any systemic discussions, spent more time determining whose side someone was on than what we all stand for in the end.

We missed that chance. We need to see the current opportunity: to do the things we need to do without the dysfunction of our denominational structures. To come together in grassroots organizations focused around missional goals. This was how the ecumenical movement started: concerned lay people and clergy formed organizations like the Common Sunday School curriculum to the World Student Christian Federation to a host of other groups that brought Christians together across denominational lines. Then, in the post WW I era, the church started a long arc from 1920-1980 when the way you did things was by setting up structures. The ecumenical movement did the same; the National Council of Churches and new Episcopal Church offices on 2nd Ave were inaugurated only a few years after the United Nations. We used to work through local networks coming together before we centralized, organized, and over-professionalized everything in the 20th century. The church of the future is going to look a lot more like 1850 than 1950.

In the end, perhaps this budget is too timid. In a previous post (click here), Crusty Old Dean thought Chief Operating Officer Stacy Sauls' proposal for a Special General Convention in 2015 was too timid. Maybe this budget is, too. If we're going to embrace turning things over to the level of ministry which is best suited to it, why does General Convention get to decide that? Maybe we should get rid of the 19% asking, publish these line items, and let dioceses direct 100% of their giving. Instead of the people who make this budget deciding where our heart is and our treasure should go, what if we really let the church decide that? That, of course, will never happen because the power structures would never give up that control.

We are in a new way of being. Let those things which need to die a whimper die a whimper. The rest of us have much to do. May God's blessings be on the endeavors of those who will continue to do what we need to do in spite of the collective failings of our church. God isn't dead, but the church as we know it is. Let the dead bury their own dead.