Monday, October 15, 2007
Building on Sand
One of the things that I noticed about Clergy Conference this year is that there were so few senior clergy present. That was what I always looked forward to at clergy conference when I was a young priest. I appreciated the presence of the senior and retired clergy. They always carried the history of the diocese and the continuance of the ministry in the diocese that made much of the present issues clear. It was what gave balance and meaning to what was going on in my parish and kept me from being isolated.
Without Thornfield and having to pay for conference space now makes it difficult for the retired clergy to come. White Eagle Conference Center is also not accommodating for those who have difficulty with stairs, walking long distance, need easy access to bathrooms, etc. The cost of clergy conference is now becoming prohibitive for those living solely on their retirement or don’t have wealthy parishes that can pay for the privilege of comfy rooms. Oh, yes, they can ASK for assistance. But that is like asking Lazarus to beg outside of Dives door. For those who have served this diocese, it is demeaning. Perhaps we need to hold the clergy conference at a place where all of us can come and those in parishes pay for the retired clergy as well as their own attendance, like American dioceses pay for the impoverished African dioceses to send their bishops to Lambeth.
The continued strife in the diocese also makes it difficult for senior clergy to come. For those of us who have experienced the leadership of bishops who had a clear notion of what to do in difficult times, it is tiresome to attend clergy conferences which have no clear objective. This year’s conference had no stated goal. There was no speaker to bring us new issues to focus on. There was nothing to do but raise the same issues that have been confronting the college of clergy for the past 5 years. And when they were raised, they were shouted down as being too individualistic (read: not what the bishop wanted to hear) to be considered. What has happened is that there can be nothing addressed that is uncomfortable for the bishop.
Into this void of the senior leadership has come the young clergy appointed to their parishes by the bishop. The divide is palpable. “We are moving on”, the young say, “we cannot wait around and deal with OLD problems.” And they think that they CAN move on without the senior clergy—those who have been a part of the diocese for over 20 years ---those who hold the stories of the ministry of this diocese. Not only is their naiveté amusing, it is also saddening to think that we have raised up a group of young clergy that cannot listen to those who have sustained this diocese. They cannot listen to those who have experience in other dioceses either because their vision is limited to CNY.
The unwillingness of the bishop and the diocese to address major issues such as the expenditure of over $187K on a trial that the diocese could not even prosecute, the largess of newsprint yet still no action from diocesan leadership after 6 years and a calling process that is in total shambles should draw the attention of every Episcopalian in the diocese to note that something is NOT happening, and that is leadership.
What is also not happening is the continuing education of clergy. Not only was there no new material for us to talk over at our breaks, it is clear from the questions on the final day of clergy conference that the new clergy to the diocese have not had the kinds of education or preparation that is necessary for them to do ministy in their parishes. The mentor program, for those clergy that have been educated through ‘reading for orders’, seems not to be working. If the younger clergy had had the direction of the elders of the diocese, and if the idea that “we choose to move on” wasn’t indelibly imprinted on their minds, the division between experienced and inexperienced in the diocese would not be so marked. Granted, it is easier to control those who are inexperienced because leadership can make up the rules as it goes along. But that is not the kind of leadership who can approach the experienced, those who have known what good leadership is.
I have always understood Clergy Conference to be a time when mutual sharing of the ministry went on. It was a time when colleagues could sit down and discuss the issues that are facing the Church over a drink with the kind of laughter that salves the divisions and heals old wounds. That kind of discussion was conspicuously absent this year. “Moving on” is adolescent at best. It is dangerous at its worst. It means that we are trying to build on sand, the sand which does not carry the truth of the history of the diocese.