Monday, November 17, 2008

Quo Vades? Diocesan Convention (part II)

Once again the Diocesan Convention provided no substance to the ministry of Jesus Christ in Central NY. Previously, the prevailing negative attitude of the Diocesan office had not permeated the fabric of convention. Not this year. The first speakers on Friday afternoon began a harangue of the People of God that continued throughout the weekend. It was clear that the frustration of the Diocesan office has ‘trickled down’ to the tenor of the convention.

We had jazz, we had power point, we had utube, we had liturgy that was cutesy, but like most of the work of convention, the liturgy once again did not provide a focus and a theme for the whole convention. A good chorus of Christ is Made the Sure Foundation might have reminded us of the kind of togetherness that many remember in this diocese. For a liturgical church the liturgy of our conventions for the past several years have been real disappointments. It is as if the leadership is grasping at straws in trying to keep us entertained at convention rather than engage the people of God to celebrate Christ among us.

When I conferred with the Secretary of Convention she told me that 53 parishes were represented out of 93---hmmm I say. But when I spoke with the Bishop he gave me a total of 88. The actual number by Saturday afternoon was 83. Who is to say how many congregations were represented at Diocesan Convention this year and for what portions of the convention were they represented? There were clearly fewer people this year. We ate in a smaller room.

All the doom and gloom missives about budget cuts served to cut less than 1% of the budget. There were mouthings about dynamic programs and strategic planning, but it is impossible to see it. What I see is a stagnant and moribund organization, not a vibrant, faith-filled Church that is willing to cut the budget enough to bring about real change in the diocese. This does not mean that good things are not going on in parishes all over the diocese. The People of God have been doing Christ’s work for a couple of centuries in Central NY, but it seems that it cannot be celebrated by the leadership of our diocese. It is easier to shake fingers and tell us of our failings rather than give thanks for the work that is happening in our parishes despite the lack of leadership.

I must admit, I find it so hard to hang on to my temper when I listen our bishop berates us and remind us that we need to be a welcoming church when I am not included in anything in the diocese. I don’t even get the basic mailings, am not allowed to attend regional meetings in preparation for convention. I am not the only priest of the diocese who is kept from such meetings. Many senior and retired clergy have given up on the diocese. They no longer provide their well-worn wisdom to a diocese that is run by consistently younger men and women who have less and less formation. Yet we were chastised at numerous places in videos, sermons and reports for not being inclusive. The diocesan staff and leaders of programs need to be indicted by their own words and repent of their own exclusionary actions.

Play Dough? Give me a break! This kind of trivializing of the convention process is not what we need. Diocesan Convention is not a visioning time. The Diocesan Convention is not even a time to celebrate what we have done in the past year and chart how we are to be about mission for the coming year. It is a time to take seriously the democratic process that is the center of how the Spirit of God works in the Episcopal Church. It requires knowledgeable persons who understand the finances of their parishes, who understand the legislative process and who are willing to serve both the parish and the diocese by staying for the whole of the convention. That we cannot even field people to serve on the various committees should tell our leadership something. It should tell the bishop, the dean and their staffs that all in not right in the diocese. It should say that perhaps their leadership is found wanting.

Why do we come to convention? --To play or to take on the serious issues facing the Church today? The legislative process is one of the most sacred duties that we as Episcopalians have. At center is a democratic process that has set the Episcopal Church apart from both the Roman and Anglican manifestation of the Church Catholic. It also holds together the faithful by providing a system of checks and balances that has allowed the Episcopal Church to deal fairly and respectfully with all Orders—laity, bishops, priests and deacons. To trivialize that process with reports that report nothing or give no clarity as to purpose or mission erodes the confidence of the People of God.

I was thankful for the resolution on the acceptance of SLGBT persons either partnered or not for the ordination process—we have been ordaining LGBT persons partnered and not, for years. The resolution allows the delegates to General Convention to be able to speak the mind of the diocesan convention. I was not thankful for those who continue to beat a dead horse on the issue, but I do believe that they should have a chance to voice their concerns. That is the nature of our democratic Church. I am always amazed at the fear that the neo-conservatives admit. I often wonder why they cannot turn the Church over to the love of God and let go of their fear. But that is one of the temptations of the neo-conservative evangelical arm of the Church. It seems they do not recognize that salvation is God’s gift, not something that we earn by works righteousness.

There was no report from Lambeth. As a diocese we spent a considerable amount to send +Skip and Bonnie to Canterbury. Why was there no discussion of the issues and how he found the World Wide Anglican Communion? Why do we hear nothing about the House of Bishops? Why continue to keep the Diocese of Central NY in the dark about issues that affect us and the larger Church? What is the bishop afraid of? Instead we hear about icons, and play dough! Is there no one in the leadership of the Diocese of CNY who can develop an agenda for Convention that will lead the Church into a considered discussion of the issues facing us? The blogosphere is rife with bishops who do keep their dioceses current and if it wasn’t for them I would not know what is happening to my beloved Church. We are not a communion that is moribund or life-less. Throughout the Episcopal Church we have come through a schismatic event stronger and more committed to the ministry of Jesus Christ than I have known in my thirty years of membership. Yet the Convention is not informed of this vitality. Perhaps +Skip doesn’t feel that vitality and commitment.

There is one thing about this convention that is positive: I did see many old friends and they are becoming less frightened to acknowledge our friendships. I made some more friends in this diocese this weekend. I will continue to be a noisy voice in the diocese. I will continue to discuss on this website the issues that are too scary to discuss within our Church family.


Father Doug said...

Yes, Lauren, you're right about most of this. I didn't hear the berating you speak of, but sometimes I zone out. Moribund was loud and clear. Of course, I believe we are moribund because we are in fact sinking, not because some great new vitality is being hidden by Skip.

Why say "Neoconservative." I don't mind being called conservative. What's with the neo? And evangelical? Well, no, I'm not, exactly. Where you get the idea that I or Chip (were there any other conservatives willing to speak?) are trapped in works-righteousness is beyond me. We said nothing of the sort. Believe me, if being good gets us to Heaven, I'm on the highway to Hell.

Muthah+ said...

Agreed, Doug