Monday, June 25, 2012

Making Church--its the process, stupid!

 News comes today from members of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church of some rather significant ‘failures to communicate’ in the development of conflicting budgets that are to be presented to the General Convention.  But what I hear is the ‘same ole-same ole’ regarding the way many bishops deal with ‘the rest of the church’.  I don’t know what they put in the House of Bishops’ sherry.  Or it might be in the purple dye in their shirts or something.  But it is as if that once they put on the purple, they cannot hear the voice of the people of the Church.  The secret handshake seems to convey abilities to know ‘all things and be all things.’  And even when they don’t believe this in their own private thoughts, it is the way that they act.  It is as if they really believe that they are “defenders of the faith,” and must protect the Church from us plebeian attendees or lower clergy.  And while I do believe that bishops should defend the Church from the greater society.  They don’t need to defend it from the Church.  These days, the bishops are feeding the greater society with their failure to listen to the needs of the people and making a mockery of the Church. 

Let me state clearly that I admire our Presiding Bishop.  She has done some things that have made great strides in helping the Episcopal Church respond to the aching problems of our Church, not the least what she has done for the Diocese of FTW.  But there seems to be something in the training of bishops in general that allows them to think that they should not only lead the Church but also fall into that ‘Father/Mother knows best’ syndrome. 

In an interesting conversation I had with a colleague who had spent considerable time in the Church of England, she found the many of the laity wishing to leave the governance to “me betters” part of the thinking that made change in the CofE difficult.  Is this the kind of thinking that is afoot in TEC?  I dearly hope not.

Part of what drew me to the Episcopal Church was its governance.  I was steeped in a democracy in which people were elected to represent the people of a local district.  They were to voice the needs of their areas.  We used to laugh at the pork barrel politics of Nance Garner and LBJ but we could see their work in jobs and public projects, good roads, and new facilities.  They did not line their pockets with public moneys.  ( I am sure that there were those who did line their pockets but it was not with gov’t money)

When I went to seminary, I soon found out that my working-class roots were not appreciated there.  One professor even said to me, wearing his tweeds and smoking his pipe and with a decided Boston brogue: “We Episcopalians do not do well with the poor.  The Roman Catholics seem to do a better job.”  The only students in this most liberal seminary who came from working or poorer class were former Roman Catholics who had gotten an education and wanted to help their people.  And nearly all of the candidates for Holy Orders came from large well-to-do parishes.

The first thing I realized as I entered the Episcopal college of clergy was that I was no longer perceived as working class.  I had become a WASP in the truest sense of the word.  And there was a bit of thinking that we were supposed to be better than others.  Yes, there was a compassionate desire to assist those who were poor, but never with the thought of becoming poor ourselves.  Poverty was seen as an evil, something to be avoided at all cost. 

Budgets seem to raise the ire of everyone.  We always have to deal with our poverty.  It is always about whose ox is being gored.  But in the case of the various budgets that have been proposed, it has to do with the mission of the Church and who should determine what that mission is.  I happen to believe that is why we send lay and clergy delegates to General Convention—to work out the directions of mission and the way we spend our resources for the 3 years between Conventions.  We have some very talented lay people who are quite capable (in fact usually more capable than those of us called to the ordained ministry) of helping formulate not only focus for ministry and prepare budgets for the various ministries.  And I do not doubt that the Executive Council has referred to them.

But when the PB and the COO have offered significantly different budgets, I am wondering if the PB and COO and the Executive Council are ‘making Church’ in their meetings.  They do not seem to be listening to each other.  And most likely the 815 leadership doesn't want the Executive Committee messing with their budget.  

But we practice Church—the living out of our Baptismal vows--in community.  Granted the Executive Council is a fairly large body.  Are they making Church when they meet?  Are they trying to live out their Baptismal vows?  I would hazard to guess that such meetings are seen as ‘meetings’ rather than Church.  If our meetings do not have the same quality as our liturgies—that sense of being open to the Holy Spirit—then we can’t really call it Church.  But knowing some of the members of the Executive Council,  I think that they probably try to make it Church as best they can.

Often times our bishops get in the habit of ‘doing for’ others rather than doing things ‘with others.’  And here lies the problem.  It is all too easy to for clergy to do something themselves that they think is a wonderful solution and present it to the rest of the church only to find that it isn’t accepted.  Then we are likely to think the people ungrateful when it is not received joyfully.  But it is the process that has been ignored.  It is the listening that has not been appealed to.  The process of becoming community in the production of that budget is what has been lost.  And most importantly the bishops and the Executive Council have not had to deal with their poverty together.  The process has not produced “Church” that sense of community that makes us all members in the same standing.

I do hope that this mistake by the leadership of the Church—both bishops and Executive Council can be learned from.  That is the point of haveing a Church in the first place.  It is where we can practice our Christianity, practice our Baptismal vows and work out the process of making ‘church’ so that we can all listen to the needs of the whole Church. We need to be willing to approach the poverty of our hearts, our souls, our budgets together in order to live into our Baptismal vows.

I do believe in the democratic system that allows all classes 'to mark, learn, inwardly digest' and speak on behalf of those who are in need.  It is a charism of our Church and we need to safeguard it from those who would ignore it.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

The whole thing makes my head spin and my stomach sick. I have said it before and I'll say it again, we clergy have fallen down in our role as Rabbis. An educated, empowered laity would never allow The Purple to get away with this.