Monday, March 2, 2009

CDO: What’s the Point?

Today the CDO (Church Deployment Office) sent me an email to update my CDO file. The CDO is the way that Episcopal clergy put their name in for parishes and make them available to the calling process. The email was appropriate as I have not updated my profile in a number of years. I am very happy with the parish I serve. It is the most Christian group of people I have served in the past 20 years. I am not looking to change.

I have been a priest long enough to remember the CDO process before the internet. We had long application forms and someone in the diocesan office who knew enough to help you know what categories to choose to make your profile pop out of the computer in the kind of parishes that you were looking for. It was a long process to prepare your CDO profile and one that had real ramifications about the churches that called one to interview.

The origin and purpose of the CDO process was to tear down the walls of the “old boy” network that was prevalent throughout the Episcopal Church. It was largely through the efforts of the National Episcopal Clergy Association that saw to the creation of the CDO. It provided for a fair process by which all clergy who were looking could have their gifts presented to a parish. It leveled the playing field. If the CDO had not been in place, women’s ordination would never have gotten off the ground. It also allowed for clergy from different parts of the country to be viable candidates for positions across the country. The CDO tore down much of the provincialism that was common in many dioceses. It brought much needed “fresh air” into dioceses that had become parochial backwaters. It provided for mobility especially for women who often had to follow husbands to new secular jobs to be eligible for church jobs throughout the larger church.

The canons concerning the calling of rectors were much more the purview of the parishes rather than the diocesan office in those days. The CDO officer was less the agent of the bishop who controlled who was to get into the diocese and more the agent of the parishes who were trying to call clergy who would serve the members of the parishes. The position of rector, while not autonomous, was always held with respect by bishops because a rector was the agent of his or her own people. Times have changed.

Nowadays, the purpose of diocesan CDO officers is to insert the bishop’s vision for the diocese rather than the particular needs or visions of the parish. It makes the clergy more agents of the bishop in parishes than pastors to the people they are called to serve.

Historically, that WAS the role of the priest in the Church. In the ancient Roman configuration, the priest was the agent of the bishop. The canons evolved to maintain that role. But the Protestant Reformation confirmed the role of the pastor in the parishes. The pastoral role was to serve the people, to preach and celebrate and proclaim the good news to the people of God. The role of bishop was to maintain the Faith. The catholic formula of power and privilege was rejected by reformers.

In the present reality of the relationship of clergy and bishops, the bishop is no longer the pastor and colleague of clergy. The demands of insurance companies following the sex scandals of the 90’s ended that relationship. The bishops now see themselves as the autonomous power in the local church. Their role has become less the leader and person of vision and more the controller and punisher of perceived misconduct. The penchant for present bishops to control the calling process is a clear indication that the calling process is less about engaging the Holy Spirit and more about manipulating who can come into the diocese. This means that the “old boys’ network” is back in and provincialism reigns in a time when we are looking at global ideals.

The purpose of the national Clergy Deployment Office is called into question. Why do we sustain a large expensive networking agency in NYC if their service is not going to be taken seriously?

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