Wednesday, July 4, 2012

One Millennial Perspective on Restructuring

One of the tricky things, I've discovered, in being a younger priest is the assumptions that go along with it. It never ceases to amaze me how, in so many aspects of the life of the church, people assume all sorts of things that "my generation" wants when it comes to Christianity—things that often have little to do with my own interests and desires or with those of my friends.

A few days ago, one of my friends on Facebook posted an observation about the ongoing General Convention budget debacle. In case you haven't been watching this closely, the budget submitted by Executive Council is largely a train wreck. (For a particularly good take on this, I commend anything written by Tom Ferguson—otherwise known by his blog "Crusty Old Dean"—particularly this post.)

Then, just days before General Convention begins, our Presiding Bishop released her own budget. (Once again, Tom's take on this is also pretty good.) I agree with Tom that Bishop Katharine's budget is light-years better than the Executive Council budget. It restores funding to important areas and it creates grant work to fund church-planting and other mission imperatives. Indeed, the whole budget is organized around the Anglican five marks of mission. It still cuts the staff at the church-wide office, but it does so in consultation with the current staff and in a much more thoughtful approach than how those cuts have happened in recent years.

Most importantly, to me, it seems to get rid of the rather obvious (and embarrassing) contest between the PB and the President of the House of Deputies. The Executive Council budget had increased staffing for both offices. Bishop Katharine's office still gives one more staff person to the President of the House of Deputies.

Of course, there has been some complaints raised about the process that led to Bishop Katharine submitting her own budget. This returns me to where I started—the observation my friend posted on Facebook. She said,
It seems to me that people over 40 are concerned about the process that led to the submission of this budget and that people under 40 are concerned with the actual merits of the budget itself.
This rings true for me. And I think it raises a larger point about structure and restructuring in the Episcopal Church today.

I get the sense that much of the restructuring debate is happening within the terms of the Boomers currently leading this church. When I hear them talk about cutting a bloated bureaucracy and expressing concern about the Presiding Bishop's exercise of her office, I think it's coming from a very distinct perspective. What I hear in that, to be honest, are the vestiges of the anti-institutional, down with the man, question the powers, Boomer mentality.

And it makes absolutely no sense to me.

I know I don't speak for all Millennials, for every person in the church who is from my generation. But I want to try here to speak authentically for myself at least.

If our church is truly going to move into the twenty-first century, we will have to move the conversation beyond the late twentieth century concerns with powers and institutions. I have no problem with institutions, with authority, and with people exercising the authority they have been given.

Our canons do set up a system of shared governance, but one in which orders to play a particular role. The Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies are not co-primates. The Presiding Bishop's role in the canons is significantly larger than that of the President of the House of Deputies—and I'm OK with that.

A significant part of the Executive Council's budget was the cutting of program based upon something they called the "subsidiarity principle." That is, basically, we'll cut something the church-wide office at 815 used to do and trust that it happens better locally and in dioceses. To me, this principle comes from the Boomer anti-institutional bias.

There are things that happen better at the national level. The subsidiarity principle will result, I fear, in gross inequity between richer dioceses and poorer dioceses. If youth ministry or ordination exams are done solely at the diocesan level they are going to vary dramatically—and I don't think they will vary fairly.

To me, if there is a bloated bureaucracy in the church right now it is General Convention and its attendant CCABs. That is a place I think we can slim and shrink so as to be better poised for mission and ministry. I affirm the idea behind resolution B015, seeking to create a unicameral General Convention (instead of our bicameral model). I do think it should be amended so that a vote by orders would be three-fold (laity, clergy, and bishops) rather than two-fold (laity/clergy together and bishops together)—that way the laity always have their own voice and nothing can be passed without their consent.

To me, our bishops sitting in one house with their diocesan deputation, with one or two lay people, one or two clergy (instead of the current four and four deputation) makes much more sense. And, it emphasizes the shared nature of ministry much more than the competition often engendered by our current bicameral model.

I would rather cut General Convention, get rid of the multiplicity of CCABs, and then have a well-funded and staffed church-wide office, one that can create resources and programs that we can draw on from across the church, one that can ensure there is a level of commonality regardless of diocesan resources. I am comfortable with the Presiding Bishop leading our church as she has been—and leading our church on a strong national level. I simply do not buy the questioning of authority and institution that seems rampant among my older colleagues.

General Convention has begun meeting in Indianapolis. Their website is up and running and has several real-time resources. I hope that as they begin considering restructuring, as they engage in questions surrounding our national finances and budget and program, I hope that they will not simply follow what often feels to me like the knee-jerk reactions of one particular demographic voice within our church—boomer or millennial or other.

Instead, I hope that the various generations of our church will speak up and will listen to each other. The church of the twenty-first century is coming together, it's the church in which I will exercise my own priestly ministry for the rest of my life. It needs to be structured for mission and ministry—not dismantled by any one generation's biases.


  1. Speaking as a 50-something your statement "we will have to move the conversation beyond the late twentieth century concerns with powers and institutions" is essentially where we are stuck as a church. The paradigms of the past no longer work - but we *the church) have been taught only the ways of the past.

    It is rediscovery time! Our liturgy is powerful, our approach to the faith is powerful, our desire to remediate the brokenness of our society is commendable.

    What we are clearly lacking is leadership that will address the things we are missing: a container, a veicle, an apparatus through which we can deliver what we do the best without all the administrative overhaead

  2. Whether or not an anti-institutional, anti-authority bias is couched in any particular generation (mind, I agree that Boomers seem to have a double share), it's remarkable what happens when a champion of that camp lands in a position of authority over an institution. Typically, the words are egalitarian but the actions are dictatorial. "We are all equals and we all share decision making, so long as you decide MY way, which is the only RIGHT way!" Sigh.

  3. From a layman in the pews: Perhaps, just perhaps, we need to stop thinking one size fits all and let individual parishes find what works best for their time, place and people? Perhaps we need to expect team ministry rather than rector/vicar/curate leadership be the new standard in parishes? Perhaps we need more bivocational elders and less MDivs? Perhaps we need to ask how we can meet people as they are where they are rather than who gets what piece of the pie?

  4. We are an *episcopal* church. The concept of "episkope" (oversight) and the leaders who exercise it (the bishops) are an important part of how we formulate ourselves. As a result, the individual parish for us is the diocese. A fundamental part of our structure is built into how we name ourselves. Given bishops and dioceses, we will never be as organizationally simple as a congregational church; but given a sacramental theology that sees us as an organic body (of Christ) rather than a clump of like-minded individual groups I can't see how the more organizationally simple route would cohere with what we believe.