17 July 2009

budgets and visions

It all begins when the colonists actually win the War for Independence and suddenly find that the Church in England is not there anymore because they are not in England anymore. So layity and priests come together and elect a couple of bishops, one Samuel Seabury goes first to England and then to Scotland, eventually is consecrated, and off we go. In our day, we have a hierarchy, over 130 bishops, a national office center and over 187 employees. This brings us to the budget.

In about 200 years, we have had a huge number of Episcopalian leaders: Congressmen and women, Senators, presidents, and governors. I suppose being from Illinois I should point out that neither of our last two governors, prisoner Ryan nor defendant Blagojevich is Episcopalian. Sometimes I think of Wisconsin as paradise.

The national office structure with the offices in New York, staff positions and commissions, a national council that ignores, or as they prefer interprets what General Convention thinks it has done, and a laity and clergy in the West and Midwest that finds itself ignored and dismissed. In that context, the budget actions at General Convention are interesting.

The new budget cuts 37 jobs -- about 15% if my math is correct of the staff. Thirty of the posts will be laid off, seven will be allowed to lapse when incumbents retire. Whole departments and commissions are to be eliminated. National committees are now to meet efficiently via the web instead of undertaking junkets. Leaders who like their wine and cheese are in mourning.

The church grew, when it grew, not because it had a national center and bureaucracy, but because it had missionary bishops out where the people were, setting up churches, and actually doing ministry, missionary priests who lived in the communities and worked to spread the faith, and laity who cared and worked to advance the church. We did not even have a national campain director! The presiding bishop, rather than a national bureaucrat was merely the senior most bishop who was chair a the bishop's infrequent meetings.

It seems to me that our apparent poverty, the cuts are not because the national leaders seek to revise their mission or focus, but because they are not able to balance the budget, offers an opportunity. What if we cut the remaining 150 or so jobs? What if instead of national commissions, we said to the house of bishops: be bishops! What if we revised our focus outward instead of on the silly sexuality fights? What if, in short, we look at our poverty as an opportunity to refocus?

National Council and the presiding bishop do not need bureaucracies, they need ideas. Philander Chase built the Illinois Episcopal church not with staff but with sermons. We did it before and we can if we care do it again. If we do not care, then we are done anyway.

There would be an international benefit to re-visioning. We could hear from diocese like Virginian, Missouri and Chicago which are actively involved in the life of partner churches not by virtue of national bureaucracy but by direct congregation to congregation, bishop to bishop missions. And we would radically devalue the Anglican Communion Office, the primate's meeting and the other instruments of controversy.

I think it is time to stop bleating over the money and start praying and thinking about a new future. Oh it is also time to really help former staff to find new gigs. Decent conduct towards loyal employees demands that of us.



Christal said...

I don't know what else to say except, "wow, what a shame."

plsdeacon said...

Great post Jim!

As your bishop many congregations has your diocese planted in the last 10 years? 5 years? 2 years? If the number is less than 2 per year, ask why.

As TEC became more and more centralized and as 815 grew in size and influence and power, the ASA began to drop. I wonder if this is only correlation or if there is a causal relationship there.

To close, I am reminded of a joke:

What is the difference between a burro, a burrow, and a bureau?

The first is an ass.
The second is a hole in the ground.
The third is a place fill with people who don't know the difference between the first two!

Phil Snyder

JimB said...

Personal to Brad. See rule 3 above. If you want to comment on a thread here, that is one thing -- cross posting out of context from another blog is another. Sorry.


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