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  While the Titanic is keeling over, they want the conregations to maintain them in their outdated top down structures, including their high salaries, multiple unnecesary staffs, and paying for time consuming trips outside dioese without benefit to neithhe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.


  1. Strange, all your post are about clergy, and clearly you all have some real agnst toward the Bishops of this church. What of the lay people? They could easily change the scheme of things by not voting in favor of the budgets in the diocese and national church. Or the lay people could actual give more in terms of time, talent and treasure. Why all the focus on the clergy and thier supposed sacrifice? This isn't Rome.

  2. If I may answer at least for myself, while certainly anyone is more than welcome to participate in this blog, we are clergy contributors and have specific professional and vocational concerns, not the least of which is our episcopacy.
    Re.change by funding, if any and all lay persons,who have governing positions, wish to vote with their personal and parochial pocket books, then do so; or in contrast, use stewardship as a means of self empowerment and mutual ministry by doing so.

    We are not Rome, nor are we your local free church. The clergy, specifically the vast majority of priests who have or do serve as vicars, rector, or chaplains have a place of responsibility and authority which is defined and professional.
    The sacrificial aspect of professional ministry is no different than it is for any serious professional group who dedicate (or at least should) great swaths of their active lives to serve those individually and commonly within their area of calling. Such sacrifice for all professionals is an ennobling dedication. And I also note, that the history of all Western professions are derived from that of Christian ministry, much of which evolved from monastic dedication to the common good of local household and community.

  3. Let us get to the real issue hierarchies are dead in a Postmodern culture! A hierarchy survives to the extent that we have become a community dedicated to nostalgia. Bishops are really just sacramental ribbon cutters. The only hope for the Episcopal community is in emrging forms of Anglicanism. Such creativity will never come from bishops and as a rule it will not come from clergy or laity over 50. It may come from younger epsicopalians who are inspired by creative leadership. The nostalgia church may have another 25 years left at best. Where do we go? Well,we have to begin immediately buiding emerging episcopal communities outside the entire structure.