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!"


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thank you, COD. This is just what the doctor ordered...I hope people are reading and listening.

    ~ an Anglican-educated Baptist minister, SWTS '04.

  3. I just said to someone... let's Occupy GC. I am glad someone else said it too

  4. Just as an experiment, I wonder what kind of budget would arise if we tried an online wiki approach, letting the church as a whole set the spending levels and such. (Just for the record, I'm not advocating this as a way to write the budget but simply as an experiment to see what happens.)

  5. Stay tuned -- Crusty Old Dean is actually setting up a Wiki to be part of the discussion that needs to happen in the lead-up to Convention.

  6. Please don't just wiki -- participate and/or host in some of the unconferences and other gatherings leading up to a rumored General UnConvention in which ground surrounding the halls in Indy get the 'Occupy' treatment for a creative free-for-all!


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