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 While the Titanic is keeling over, they want the conregations to maintain them in their outdated top down structures, including their high salaries, multiple unnecesary staffs, and paying for time consuming trips outside dioese without benefit to neithhe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