Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Dreaming of Mutual Accountability: Do the Ed Lover Dance!

Crusty had an epiphany at the recently concluded Board of Directors meeting for the seminary where he teaches. (Frankly COD doesn't like "directors", he thinks "trustees" captures the essence of stewardship that being on a seminary board implies, but neither the state of Ohio nor the state of Illinois consulted with Crusy when they set up their laws for non-profit organizations, so to be in compliance we legally have a Board of Directors...hmm...maybe Crusty should call Fox News and have this be part of their "war on Christians" stuff?)

In case you're wondering where Crusty's been at lately, it's important to note blogging doesn't pay the bills.  COD has been kicking the reaccreditation process up to eleven at the seminary.  We are due for
Actual panel from AC unit COD owned.  Kicking it up to 11!!
our comprehensive visit from our accrediting agency, the Association of Theological Schools.  It's going to be a hum-dinger:  we have to a) deal with a seminary merger; b) update lots of things since one of the partners hasn't had a comprehensive visit in a decade; and c) incorporate all of the massive changes in higher education accreditation in the past decade.  Or, as Crusty likes to call it, the No Seminary Left Behind-ification of theological education.  Not to get too deep in the weeds of all of this, but until the 2000s, to get accredited, you more or less just had to say what you did, and prove you had the resources to accomplish that.  Yeah, we offer an MDiv.  Here's our curriculum, library, faculty, recent budget and audit.  Now accredit me and come back in ten years.  Since the 2000s, there has been introduced a third element:  OK, how do you know and measure how you're accomplishing what you say you're doing?  And herein there is a fundamental difference between a seminary primarily training people for ordained ministry and, say, being a nursing program or actuarial training program.  How can we demonstrate our program effectiveness to our accreditors for a program training people for ministry?  Emphases on data, outcomes, assessment, etc., are now essential elements of seminary accreditation. Can we determine how more spiritual students are at graduation than when they arrived?  Do they meet benchmark standards for homiletic effectiveness?

Needless to say, Crust has even more respect for his son's grade school teachers, who have been living this for over a decade, and sometimes whose salary, promotion, and school funding depend on the data related to their outcomes and benchmarks.

So the re-accreditation process is in full effect, much like Public Enemy, circa 1991 (PE in the house in full effect, yeah boy-eee!  Where my Brooklyn peeps @?  I'm taking a break right now to do the Ed Lover dance.  GenXers, you know what I'm talking about!  It's not the MC
God, I miss Yo! MTV Raps. Totally Pauly not at all.
Hammer and it ain't The Butt!)  Crusty briefed the Board of Directors at the meeting on the timeline and content of the self-study to be submitted as part of our re-accreditation process.  He wanted to give them a sense of the complexity of this project -- Crusty is essentially editing a book over the next few months and motivating a dozen or so staff and volunteers to help with this -- so he had a powerpoint which walked through all the different standards we had to be in compliance with.  Crusty, as usual, saw the eyes of the Directors start to glaze over as we discussed shared governance and the differences between qualitative and quantitative data.  Fearing he was beginning to lose the group, COD pulled his best Don Draper and went off the script of the presentation.

"Look," COD said, "when it comes down to it, this whole accreditation thing is, in essence, three things.  First we have to say who we are:  why are we here, what do we think we have to offer, and what do we do?  After that, we have to show how we actually do what we say we do:  faculty, curriculum, finances, etc.  Then we have to do a third thing:  how do we know if it's working?  How are we accountable to do what we say we do?  What systems do we have in place to make some corrections or changes if need be?"

Crusty then went on:  "And keep in mind nobody is forcing any of this on us.  The Association of Theological Schools is a peer-member organization.  The ATS doesn't 'do' anything -- member schools do.  Accreditation was started to ensure quality, so that a degree meant what it said, that faculty and staff are treated fairly and there are financial oversights.  Any member school can go to the meeting of the organization and propose a change to be discussed and voted on.  And when the team come to visits us, it won't be some technocrats, it will be people just like me, faculty from other member schools.  It's a peer-based system to be mutually accountable to one another." 

Once Crusty said that, the mood in the room shifted a bit.  They seemed to get what was going on.  One of the Board members said, "If we look at this from the right perspective, it's not a burden, but something that can help us articulate we are called to do, and do it better."  Heads nodding all around.

Then it hit Crusty:  Good God, what if we asked the church as a whole to do something like this?

Think about it.  What if we asked the church to do the three-fold process outlined above?  Hell, what if we asked the church to do any of the three steps outlined above?  What if St Swithin's Church sat down -- its Vestry, clergy, lay leaders -- and once every ten years asked, "OK, who do we think we are and what are we called to do?  How do we go about doing that?  And how do we know if we're actually doing it, what can we have in place periodically to review and revise what we do?"

Crusty has held to a kind of version a process like this.  Over the years, for every position Crusty has interviewed in to serve in the church, when asked if he has any questions, he always asks three questions:

--If this [church, chaplaincy, school, program] closed tomorrow, would anybody other than the people in that [church, chaplaincy, school, program] care or even notice?
Answer me these questions three, St Swithin's.

--What's the biggest challenge facing this [C, C, S, P] in the next five years?

--What resources (in the broadest possible sense) does this [C, C, S, P] have to meet those challenges?

COD is at times amazed and impressed at the depth of conversation those questions have opened up.

However, Crusty has at time winces at the utter inability of some of the C, C, S & Ps he has asked these questions to understand them, let alone answer them.

The first question is a way to get at mission and ministry:  what the hell are you here for?

The second is a reality check to get people to talk about how it ain't 1950 anymore and the church and the culture are in very, very different places -- and depending on local circumstances, that presents a varied number of challenges.

The third question is to think about how to accomplish that mission.  COD has often heard answers to the first question and said, "Do you realize you don't have any of the resources to accomplish that right now?" after discussing the third.  As a tangible example, back in 2000 Crusty was at a diocesan meeting where they announced plans to plant 10 new congregations in 10 years.  They asked if there were any questions and COD raised his hand.  "I have two," I replied.  "Where are these clergy going to come from and have you done any of the demographic research about where to plan these churches?"  They looked puzzled and I said, "The average church planter is someone under 40 with 5-7 years of ordained ministry experience.  We have no one in this diocese that meets that profile.  We have no training programs in any Episcopal seminaries, where about 80% of our clergy graduate from, that have any kind of training programs in evangelism or church planting."

That's kind of a digression to note that we certainly have conversations in different parts of the church about how to discern mission and ministry and effectiveness, how to establish aspects of feedback and reflection.

But I found myself looking at what our seminaries are being asked to do and thought, "My God, what would it mean to do this at all levels of the church?"

Crusty's not holding his breath that this may happen anytime soon; lamenting the inability or unwillingness of getting the church to address the massive changes and challenges facing us in any kind of systemic way is a recurring theme in this blog. Heck, when General Convention passed a resolution encouraging all churches to have websites, a handful of people voted against it on a voice vote.  But if it does, be sure he would do his best Ed Lover Dance.


  1. Or, even, build this into the "new" TEC structure?

  2. I feel the same way about the constant emphasis the ELCA has on becoming more diverse--just how do we plan to do it, and with what resources? Your Three Questions are excellent, and ones I need to remember.

  3. LOVE this. It's a good thing to ponder for any ministry, and if the answer to number one is umm..., then maybe we should admit to being self-serving.


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