Friday, February 24, 2012

     The basic issue for the survival of the church is to realize  that we live in a Postmodern culture. In this culture, hierarchical spiritual and theological authoritarian models are finished. By now this fact should be obvious to anyone living on planet earth.
     The question, therefore, arises why do we have a House of Bishops and local Bishops dedicated to the
 acquisition of power and central control? The majority of Episcopal clergy and laity are coming to the awareness that it is unnecessary overhead. It is for this reason that the Celtic model is the only viable option for an Episcopal future.
      Episcopalians have become addicted to a  nostalgia that we can no longer afford.
We must look to the creative explorations of an emerging Episcopal community.However, as we experience the implosion of a nostalgia culture are continuous prayer might be "Let Go and Let God." I suggest this prayer as a mantra for the House of Bishops.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Loosely Structured Church? Go Celtic

In today's paper I read an interesting column by New York Times author David Brooks the title of which is We're going solo more, but leaving more behind.  In the article he writes, A few generations ago, most people belonged to a major religion.  Today, the fastest growing religious category is unaffiliated.  The trend is clear.  Fifty years ago, America was groupy.  People were more likely to be emeshed in stable, dense and obligatory relationships.  They were more defined by permanent social roles: mother, father, deacon.  Today, individuals have more freedom.  They move between more diverse, loosely structured and flexible networks of relationships.

The key words here are diverse, loosely structured and flexible networks.  Let's take these words and think about doing "church."  The majority of the folks who attend Episcopal churches are old school.  Mostly over 50, they are groupy folks who like the idea of belonging to a fixed church community in one physical location with a set liturgy and good friends.  I belong to this group and hence, I am comfortable attending a traditional parish church.  But younger people tend to gravitate towards either mega churches where they can move in and out with ease or some sort of local community that is less defined and includes multiple networks of friends.  Social networking has, of course, contributed much to the situation. In addition, younger people are not tied to their childhood religious heritage and move easily between denominations. 

Emerging churches may be one way to go.  Virtual churches may be another way.  There are many examples of "doing church" differently to meet diverse and flexible networks of people, but at this point they have not been really mainstreamed into the functional structures of denominations. Until this is done, major denominations, including The Episcopal Church, will continue to decline.  While we still need to have traditional churches for groupys, at least until we all die off, but at the same time move quickly to transform church structures to meet the diversity of our loosely structured networks of relationships.

The New Testament church is a great example of an emerging church.  Leadership was loosely defined as elder/presbyter/bishop.  It was not hierarchical, but flat.  Christians worshiped in homes and synagogues, and as far as we know, did not have a special building in a special place set aside for worship and fellowship.  Jumping forward to Pre-Roman Britain and Ireland, the organization of the Celtic Church was originally tribal.  Tribes moved around. They were ministered to by a presbyter/bishop who acted like a spiritual helper to the people.  They were neither tied to locality nor to congregations, and were free to perform the functions of the office wherever Christian people might desire it.  Under the jurisdiction of no authority, they were found wandering throughout all Celtic lands, must to the disgust of the later Roman led bishops who wished for the discipline and organization of diocesan authority.

Here then, is my point.  Mainstream all emerging churches and creatively develop new ones.  The Episcopal Church should adapt to the realities of the diverse, loosely structured and flexible networks of relationships.  The Celtic model may be the way to go.  To do this we need to let go of the monarchical hierarchy and install presbyter/bishops who wander throughout the maze of post modern society, ministering to the post modern Christian who moves from network to network, depending on their immediate needs. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Parish Clergy Are Still My Heros

I know of a priest who took a huge cut in pay at the first of the year so his parish could pay their assessment to the diocese.  I know of a vestry in a big cogregation that told the staff that they couldn't guarantee any positions in 2012.  More and more congregations can no longer afford full time seminary trained priests.  So much for those of us who value a pastor who is theologically and pastorally effective. Many clergy are talking about the stress in their lives due to trying to keep their parishes alive while earnestly trying to pay the bills, and practice due diligence in supporting the diocese.  I know that inside the walls of many clergy homes, resentment is building out of frustrations arising from decreased membership, less folks in church, family distress and diocesan expectations.  That's why they are my heros.  Their necks are on the line.

The bishops are really no help.  While the Titanic is keeling over, they want the conregations to maintain them in their outdated top down structures, including their high salaries, multiple unnecesary staffs, and paying for time consuming trips outside dioese without benefit to neithhe clergy nor congregations.  When a bishop can't attend a major diocesan event because he has an outside speaking engagement, something is very, very wrong.

Ok then, where is hope in all this?  First of all, a deconstruction needs to happen very, very soon.  The national statistics of The Episcopal Church indicate a church clearly in need of either life support or hospice.  Restructuring the Church cannot be about putting new wine into old wineskins.  Radical surgery is required.  One idea I have, as well as others, is to drastically reduce the number of dioceses, thereby reducing the number of Bishop/Administrators.  After that, forget about a monarchical episcopate. Construct a system where bishop/presbyters work out of their homes, pastor a small area (this might be a parish bishop/presbyter) and make calls on town clergy and their people.  Theologically and financially this is a very sound idea.  Personally, I like the pre-Roman model in Ireland and England; tribal in its nature and itinerant instead of permanent (think Jesus).  Forget the Executive  Council and reduce the House of Bishops to seven, composed of administrative bishops representing different sections of the United States.  The Presiding Bishop has a national office, preferably in the midwest, from where the domestic and foreign missionary ministire are coordinated.   Hopefully this will support the parish clergy more compassionately and effectively.  I am biased, but this is really where my heart is.

This is because I have ben ordained 50 years, retired  11 of those years, and spent all my active years serving in congregations. I know what they do and what they are going through.  I know the stresses in their lives and I have shared their greatest joys and their deepest sorrows.  I'm lucky.  I did have a couple of bishops who really, really cared.  But they were pastors at heart, not organizational machinests.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Vapid Church Restructuring Schemes

I've been thinking today about the attempts made by the Presiding Bishop and one diocesan bishop on restructuring the church.  Both the Presiding Bishop and Bishop Stauls made stale comments and limp remedies to the malady afflicting The Episcopal Church in these times.  Basically it appeared to me as if they were simply trying to raise adequate funds (in their view) for the national church as it stands now.  I didn't get the impression that they were ready for the radical decentralization and cost reductions that I think are necessary as the church declines and available resources continue to be diminished.

A diocesan bishop recently devoted hours of energy for a massive data input program from the laity and clergy of his diocese.  Literally thousands of comments were duly recorded and distilled into major catagories.  Last week this bishop sent a covenant document to all clergy and asked that each vestry and bishop's commitee subscribe to this covenant.  The covenant was mundane and predictable:  We will support you and you can support us; sort of a quid pro quo that was singularly uncreative and which changed absolutely nothing, except a promise that the diocesan staff will be organized around meeting congregational needs.  I've heard that on before.

I say, "let's have another survey."  If we keep on conducting surveys and data collection schemes, we thus don't have to do anything  new or different.  Make sure in the process that we rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic in such a way that when the ship goes down, all bishops are given reserved seats on the lifeboats.