Saturday, June 30, 2012

Episcopal Church - Golden Anniversary

You will not see banners marking our “Golden Anniversary of Decline” when The 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church convenes this week in Indianapolis.  Nevertheless this is the reality of the last 50 years.  For all practical purposes the Episcopal Church stopped growing in 1962 with a membership of 3.6 million persons.  The Episcopal News Service recently reported membership is now 1.951 million; this is a 47% loss in half a century.  But the numbers are even worse when compared to the total United States population.  In 1960 there were 19 Episcopalians per 1000 Americans and now the number is less then 8 Episcopalians, a loss of 58%.  So why not be honest and festoon the Convention with “Commemorating 50 Years of Decline” or “Golden Anniversary of Decline”?

The 1950s were filled with religious energy and worshippers overflowed our buildings, but that changed when we were confronted with the tumultuous Age of Aquarius.  Our bishops in the 1960s sought to identify the Church with the culture’s needs but were ‘out at first’ by half a step and the decline began – 50 years ago.  

The House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church published report to this General Convention details the loss of membership numbers noted above and the fact we also lost over 300 congregations between 2006 and 2010.  We will lose twice that many in the next five years because, as the Committee reports, 72% of Episcopal congregations are in financial difficulty. This would equate to shutting down 20 dioceses in a fifteen year period.  Considering the ageing of our membership and that most of our congregations are small with low average Sunday attendance, the number of viable dioceses in ten years could be calculated at 25 to 30 rather then the current 100 domestic dioceses.  The time to pursue mergers and/or partnerships is now and not after scores of jurisdictions have sunk in a sea of red ink.  For example, it is not that difficult to imagine six or eight jurisdictions forming together to become The Diocese of the Heartland. 

Readers should be aware of our other marks of decline as reported to an Executive Council meeting this past January: child baptisms down 36%, adult baptism down 40%, confirmations down 32%, Church school enrollment down 33%, and marriages down 41%.  Equally as troubling is that our number of clergy has jumped 80% during our half century of decline; when we were 3.6 million members strong there were 10,000 clergy and now that we are 1.9 million members we have over 18,000 clergy – more clergy is obviously not the answer to stopping decline. 

The General Convention will this week consider a great number of important but secondary issues all the while believing that our diocesan and national leadership, both ordained and lay, must be on the right track and that if they ‘keep doing what they have been doing’ -- divine intervention will turn a dying denomination around.  The last fifty years suggest otherwise.

Many of the entries in Episcopal Journey of Hope by my fellow bloggers and comments from our readers provide insight to the issues that ought to be on the floor of Convention but won’t make it.  As a responder wrote this past week, about all we can expect is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.  

Friday, June 22, 2012

Professional Drunks. . .

On June 13, the front page of the Kansas City Star, there was the following:  "Professional drunks, is what Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe calls drivers who habitually consume alcohol before getting behind the wheel." What got my attention was the attribution of  professional to qualify driving drunks!  “Sir, you are now a certified professional drunk.” Congratulations?-reminding me about the devolution of that word professional as to be applied to any specialized and skilled job. However now the devolution is to a habitual activity. Wow, I suppose defecation is professional!! Of course, I have known some professional sh**s. . . but, as they say, that is a whole other story.

In its origin, professional as in profession, comes from monastic life: to profess to a spiritual life and its discipline in a specific religious community way. The word profession has as its necessary precedent, vocation. To have a vocation or calling assumes the sacrament of baptism as the gift of entry into the general community of Christ’s Church from which lay and ordained vocations are realized in a personal lifetime discovery of who we are as God’s children maturing in body, mind and spirit. Vocation is to the word inspiration as expression is to profession. We are inspired as we receive the Holy Spirit as to breath in or ingest the fullness of the gift of eternal life. We profess existentially as we come to express our spiritual gifts in a life style and ordered discipline of those gifts into communities needing our well honed and disciplined categories of educated and trained abilities. So hence we have the classic professions of teacher, lawyer and pastor, etc. The baptismally derived vocations of lay, deacon, priest and bishop come alive as they are expressed professionally. The indelibility of vocations gets expressed in what can be multiple and consecutive professions so that a priest can also be a lawyer and doctor and as Jesuits, for example, do frequently even before they are ordained as priests.

But, alas, now in the Church and society, ordination is  about having a job, a set of skills to learn effectively to be a parish pastor, mission executive, canon to the very ordinaries, etc. So for about thirty years in my hearing, new assistants may ask the rector/CEO about “comp time,” as if they punch a clock so many times weekly. Then there is  the necessary negotiation of a benefit package well ahead of paternity or maternity leave, sabbatical, continuing education and so on. Not that these are not good and necessary things; yet they are not for us “job benefits” but necessary attributes of how professionally we maintain and grow our well being and spiritual gifts for the community.

Is this just all wordplay?  I beg to state, “Not,” as real and true professionals know. We are paid and compensated not to work but to set aside our whole lives, our time and talent, our personhood to be able to see, discern, lead and act authoritatively for the good of the community.  We use the set of ordered gifts we have so assiduously developed and practiced with a savoir faire born of full focused devotion. Being rector of a church is to be able to take excellent actions according to the required commitments made at the time the parochial call is accepted and licensed. It is not about putting in  the time and getting compensation to use some set of job skills and certainly not about doing something  out of rote, necessary habit or  emotional or financial dependency.
Can a car mechanic, ditch digger or plumber be a professional?  Has that computer programmer, grocery clerk or hotel maid given over their time, talent and treasure to express their sainthood in a life of perfecting service for the good of Christ’s Body?  Has the CEO of a major corporation? Has the deacon, priest or bishop?  Have you?

Friday, June 15, 2012

New Hope for Congregations and Their Leaders

If you have ever planned great programs and had them fail miserably, you may want to make a fresh start in congregational development.  If so, take a look at the work of Fr. Steve Rottgers, D.Min.,  Assistant for Congregational Development in the Diocese of West Missouri.  Based on his own near death experience at age sixteen and his subsequent surrender to the power of God in his life, Fr. Rottgers combines "Biblical Theology and Quality/Systems Theory that exists in the mentor ship of Jesus and Paul for the modern Church."

Complete manuals for implementing his process are found in three self published books:  The Quality Questions, Ripe for the Harvest, and I am Yours.  Instead of struggling with self-designed vision and mission statements, Fr. Rottgers believes that all congregations should adopt the universal mission statement of Jesus: The Great Commandment to love God, neighbor and self.  Then all parishes should adopt as their mission statement The Great Commission; "go into the world and baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit...".  Thus biblical theology forms the basis of all congregational development.  He then pulls them together in a number of ways, including the Trinity, the Pareto Principle (80% of resources applied to 20% of the leaders effects 80-90% of church members), and systems theory applied to "Paul's analogy of the church as consisting of many parts, united in the one Spirit, possessing unique gifts."  Instead of a linear and divisive model of church organization, he proposes a different model where clergy and laity cooperatively work together to discern needs and develop programs to respond effectively.

In a classical definition of sin as "missing the mark" and the Hebrew notion of "tearing apart of close relationships," Fr. Rottgers connects sin with the Taguchi Loss Function, which essentially means that we sin when we put the parish system above  the voice of the congregation.  When this happens, the people lose confidence in the very system they are attached to.  On the other hand when people are valued, it is probable that they will function more enthusiastically; a modern words with ancient Greek roots that means "to be possessed by the spirit of God."

The heart of the process is the distrubution of  3x5 cards where data is gathered from the congregation in areas of Celebration, Pains/Concerns, and Dreams.  Over the three week period the data is gathered and then put on the wall as "wall paper."  People are then asked to put three ranked sticky notes on their favorites.  This is an anonymous and inclusive process the result of which is to elicit program commitment.  The value here is that neither the Rector, the Vestry, or any other top down group is making program decisions. While this method of data collecting may not appear to be remarkably different, when you examine the process closely you will find out that it is more precise, democratic and accountable. 

It is important to the author that the leader has "the capacity and goal to be Theo-Centric.  He writes, "The Transforming power of Christ at the center of an Entheos Leader enables him/her to be Christ-centered, a servant, a visionary, knowledgeable of their limits, dependent upon God, authentic, and able to give power to others."

Rottgers approach is different from the church organiational gurus of the past 50 years.  The value lies in his unique ability to draw together the Holy Scriptures and fundamentally sound organizational procedures.  His data collecting is different in that he gives adequate time to elicit opinions from the hearts of people, and it is anonymous.  Of course the anonymity gives way at the time of making a commitment.  You can buy his books at: or google Steve Rottgers Consulting.  Quality Questions sells for $15.  Ripe for the Harvest is $35.  I am Yours sells for $25.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

An Over Heated Episcopal Liturgy

I am a real disciple of the Canadian scholar Marshal McLuhan. I had the good fortune of knowing him as an adviser in my graduate studies in the seventies. A leading figure today in  Postmodern philosophy is Graham Harman of the University of Amsterdam  who finds great agreement between Heidegger and McLuhan.

Harman finds McLuhan's greatest achievement is his last work Laws of Media,where he establishes his famous culture and media theory of the tetrad. Harman suggests that the tetrad is the single biggest intellectual discovery not only of our time, but of at least the last couple of centuries. McLuhan's culture theory of the tetrad holds every medium can be described in terms of four polarities; enhancement, obsolescence, retrieval and reversal.

The law of reversal means what does the media function enhance, intensify, make possible or accelerate e.g the computer made possible the speed of calculations, transmission and retrieval of information.

The law of obsolescence is a consequence of extension. When a medium fulfills the function of extending the body or replacing another medium. For example, when the car replaced the horse, it did away with blacksmiths, saddle makers , harness menders, hitching posts, horse troughs, carts and stage coaches.

Retrieval is when older structures and environments or older forms of action, human organization and thought are revived by the introduction of a new medium. For example iphone texting retrieves communication by touch, the telegraph.

Reversal is when technology is pushed to its limits, and the media is overheated or over extended. It, in turn, creates the opposite of its intended function. McLuhan was a very devout and conservative Roman Catholic, but he was also a postmodern scholar. He said that he probed into media because he found it disturbing. Yet, he maintained if the Church was to remain a dynamic force in the world, it must probe into the relationship between culture, media, and religion. When he explained the law of retrieval, Bishops and theologians squirmed. For example, he predicted the Catholic mass lost its sense of mystery when the microphone was introduced. The electronic microphone was to enhance sound and extend the human voice, but it had the opposite effect of taking away mystery. The Latin mass worked until the microphone was introduced.

Before applying the tetrad to  Episcopal worship two other McLuhan concepts are important. One, McLuhan has a broad definition of media. All media are an extension of the human nervous system, the body. For example, eye glasses are an extension of the eye, cars are an extension of movement, the pen is an extension of the hand and written words are an extension of thoughts. Get the idea. Second, media rub and blend together. It is the an invisible phenomenological hybrid that works on our senses. For example, when we celebrate the Eucharist there is a hybrid of media such as vestments, table, written words, books, bread, wine, instruments and regimented bodily movements etc.

Okay, after this brief explanation of the McLuhan model, let's apply it to Episcopal worship. I refer to our style of worship as Print Dominated Liturgy because in our liturgical media hybrid print is by far the most dominant medium.

The Tetrad of Episcopal Worship

Enhance: Print liturgy amplifies the notion of a personal relationship with God. It nurtures the individual spiritual capacity for discerning scripture though critical reason and analytic sermons. Episcopalians love to sit quietly in worship in an extremely individualistic and private space with God and wonder if the sermon was relevant.

Reverse Into. Print liturgy taken to an extreme reduces the gospel to a gospel for one and turns it into abstract propositions to be believed. It also creates the illusion that we can see the truth with perfect objectivity.

Retrieves: Print liturgy retrieved Paul's epistles for the Church. The stained glass windows used prior to print were ill suited to convey the abstract and highly rational prose of Paul. When we introduce screens into worship, we return to gospel narratives and testimonies.

Obsolesces: Print liturgy has a tendency to obsolesce communal faith. It erodes the intuitive and feeling aspect of faith along with our appreciation for mystery.

Using the tetrad, I suggest that our print dominated liturgy is over heated. Here is a metaphor. When we over heat vegetables they lose all their nutritional power. When we over heat the liturgy, we lose spiritual energy.

Well, where is the hope? Where is the solution? Well, let's look again and reconstruct our liturgy around the Lord's Supper and the Celtic model. By the way, do not look for leadership from a print dominated House of Bishops and print dominated seminaries. Furthermore, I doubt if the issue of liturgical deconstruction and reconstruction will really come up at the coming National Convention. I mean talk about an over heated gathering where Episcopalians will discuss abstract propositions.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Quality Clergy Need Necessary Resources

Last Saturday a nationally recognized leader said, "I believe this: There is
a lot of discipline to be derived from freedom. When you are working with a
highly professional, motivated group that is accountable, the more freedom
you give that group, the more discipline you're going to get in return."

We priests believe that we are 'a highly motivated, professional and
accountable group (at least most of us) and we can attest that freedom and discipline go hand in hand; it is a matter of trust.  Vestries, acting on behalf of the congregation, display that trust when extending a call for a rector.   Priests exhibit that trust when they accept the call.

Freedom and discipline maybe what Saint Augustine meant when he said, "Love
God and do what you want"

Nevertheless, many of the email responses to my article, "Where have all the
rectors gone?" speak to a breakdown of freedom to do the job they are called
to do.  It is not just the lack of rector positions nor the fact that forced
terminations now confront a third of our clergy; it is the lack of resources
at the parish level that is the most debilitating followed closely by
diocesan micro-management.

Dr. Corwin Roach, former Episcopal Seminary Dean, once prayed, "As Thou
knowest, we have done so much for so long with so little that now we are
qualified to do anything with nothing."
   This is the prayer of many of our

Also this past week, the Council of General Synod of the Anglican Church of
Canada met to address the same issue.  The primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz,
complained that all he heard were tired old answers; nothing new, and he
said he wasn't "convinced that members were grasping the urgency of our

Two imperatives present themselves: (1) our clergy leadership must be a
highly professional, motivated and accountable, and (2) it is time to stop
diverting resources to the diocese; in fact it is time to reduce the number
of dioceses by 50% or more.

The truth of the opening quotation is obvious and as you can guess, it is
not from someone in Episcopal Orders, it is from Joe Maddon, American League
Manager of the Year in 2008 and 2011 and now manager of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Your questions and comments are most welcome.