Monday, November 12, 2007

Diocean Convention: A Contact Sport

I have always enjoyed going to diocesan conventions. It is the time when all the clergy and laity of an area gather to claim our common heritage, catch up on long-lost relationships, hear new concepts and work for the common good in the diocese. In some ways Diocesan Convention is like a large family reunion, but it does more than just play soft ball.

Since General Convention 2003 it has been difficult to attend our diocesan convention. The family is separated by the same feud that is affecting the whole of the Church. The paucity of leadership creates a need for the gathering into factions to find safety. Friendships are strained by political issues. Faith is stretched almost to tearing. For many the ministry is only satisfying in our congregations. Attachment to a diocese is pro forma at best. Convention is like going to a family reunion when the soft-ball game becomes a way of working out the family feud.

I expect this Diocesan Convention to be no different. I have yet to see the resolutions that are being presented. I know the ones I am presenting. I also know the changes I have suggested to the Canons. They are difficult ones, to be sure. But if we treat them as the soft-ball game, they will never do what they are intended to do.

I have proposed a couple of canonical changes: One to help the failure we have had had in the diocese with regards to the search process for new rectors. I have commented a couple of times on this blog and are available if one scrolls down.

There is one change in the diocesan canons calling for the reinstatement of all who are considered “priests in good standing.” This means that a priest member of the diocese who was not under any disciplinary charge could be considered for a parish, as supply clergy, or interim (if they were so trained). This status of “priest in good standing” was an important one when I graduated from seminary. It allowed parishes to call clergy to serve in their parishes without interference from the bishop. It allowed parishes the freedom to develop their own directions, maintaining that balance between being diocesan and being congregational which has so characterized the Episcopal Church in CNY.

Being a “priest in good standing” meant that bishops had to respect their clergy as being somewhat free agents and adult contributors to the mission and ministry of the diocese. Bishops could not reign by fiat and neither could clergy. It required the best of all to work together for the benefit of the entire diocese.

Nowadays, the status of being a “priest in good standing” means nothing because the bishop has ways of excluding a “priest in good standing” from the work of the church without due process. Technically this should be against the canons of the church. But at some point in the revision of Title IV, the term “priest in good standing” has been lost. Consequently the bishops may do as they please with the clergy that are listed in their dioceses. They can prohibit a priest from working in their home diocese by fiat rather than by any kind of legal process. It makes the priest, not a prophet but a pawn. It conflicts with every concept of the balance of powers in the Episcopal Church. It is also demeans the position of clergy and especially that of rector.

In the canon I have proposed, I have merely asked for the reinstatement of the position of priest in good standing.

I have also offered a resolution asking for the publication of the Shaffer Report. The Shaffer Report is the document produced by the investigator into the entering of a priest’s retirement fund, and the changing of his pass code by diocesan personnel. It was a report that figured significantly in an ecclesiastical trial in which the bishop refused to make the report available. Since the Diocese paid for the investigation, it is appropriate for the Convention to direct the bishop to make this report public.

Will this report show misconduct by diocesan officials? I don’t know. That is not the point. But when a bishop is willing to allow this document to undermine the whole of his case against Fr. David Bollinger, and waste $187,000 of the diocesan budget, it is time for us as a diocese to call him to account. The lack of trust of bishop AND of clergy by the bishop needs to be addressed. It needs to start being addressed by the Convention. Bishops, clergy and laity must be accountable to the Convention and it is time to call for it.

The sad thing is that our family soft-ball game has turned into tackle football in the diocese. The penchant for maiming one another professionally and spiritually is great. We must take back the dignity of our Diocesan Convention and remind ourselves we have a sacred trust to run the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Central NY.

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