Saturday, July 28, 2012

Parish Taxes

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.  It’s what you know for sure that ain’t so. (A staple of folk wisdom attributed to both Mark Twain and Will Rogers and repeated by Sachel Paige and Yogi Berra.)

We know for sure that we need over 100 dioceses, or else why would we have so many?  Just ignore our 47% membership loss in the last five decades and our closing of over 300 congregations in the last five years.  Turn a blind eye to the fact that comparable National Churches in the Anglican Communion average over 120,000 members per diocese while our average is under 16,000 members.  Overlook that the United Methodists, the Lutherans, and the Presbyterians all have more members and fewer jurisdictions (dioceses) then we do.  Yes, we know for sure that we must have over 100 dioceses.  Friends, it ain’t so!

We also know for sure that diocesan mandatory assessments are necessary for the survival of the Church. This must be true because over 95% of our dioceses “tax” congregations.  Only one actually uses the word tax but make no mistake about it, forced payments by any other name such as assessment, apportionment, tithe, pledge, or fair share, are still mandatory taxes.  The Bishop of a Diocese that uses the polite term tithe wrote “This 10% is the minimum that any congregation should do.”  Then he then asks for additional giving for five separate budget categories: youth, Latino, leadership training, the diocesan camp, and expanded support for the National Church. Diocesan mandatory taxes average between 15% and 22%. Is it shame or guilt that keeps most jurisdictions from publishing the rate or budget on their web sites?

That’s right, congregations must depend on voluntary giving from their members and the National Church has an asking but not a requirement; but not the diocese – they require!! And they are prepared to use penalties for non-payment.  Many dioceses do have a provision for congregations to come, hat-in-hand, asking for a tax reduction so that they can keep more of their own dollars; demeaning!  Again, it ain’t so that mandatory assessments are essential for the survival of the Church.

So when the Episcopal Church decides, or is forced, to reduce the number of dioceses - the key element is voluntary giving by congregations to the diocese.  This is the Bishop’s worst fear! Nevertheless, necessity will cause some dioceses to merge as local congregations decide on the best uses of resources to do ministry, provide pastoral care, be served by trained rectors, and support the bishop.  Congregations working together can provide most if not all the program ministries of the diocese.  We trust our people to give (return to God) out of their blessings to the parish.  We, in turn, should trust our congregations to give to the diocese the correct proportion of parish blessings.  It is incongruous to trust our members as individuals but not to trust those same people when they are acting as a parish.

Some will suggest that various Constitutions and Canons make such a plan impossible.  Nonsense!  If enough of us who care about the future of the Episcopal Church band together we can make this happen. “Be it resolved that it is the mind of this Convention that all parish giving to the Diocese be voluntary effective immediately.”  “And be it further resolved that it is the mind of this Convention that all mandatory congregational formulas and penalties be unenforced until such time as they are removed from Diocesan documents.”  Pity the bishop that would deny the will of the people by resorting to legalistic maneuvers.

Who is willing to join in the campaign to undo what we know for sure, but ain’t so?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A General Proposal for Reform

The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of  WhereEver have long and grand traditions of creative use of resources for Christian mission. Here locally we have *** years created a great number of parish churches, hospitals, schools, community services organizations and provided an environment to educate and deploy lay and clergy leadership locally, nationally and for the Anglican Communion worldwide.
We know we are immersed in a new era of national, local and congregational life that challenge us and require a new focus for a radical reallocation of our financial, physical and human resources. We know we have hit a powerful spiritual  downward headwind that causes us fear that we can no longer cope effectively. This fear is born of scarcity. Our fear causes us to see our situation and mission as fatally threatened.
However, the true compass of faith is the Word, Sacrament with the annual liturgical cycle which we know by experience and hope overcomes pain, suffering and death.  All causes of fear are finally transformed by casting our vision toward the resurrection to eternal life and 
full promise of life and love in the Trinity. When we review our diocesan and congregational histories and our personal circumstances, we are to be guided in faith and hope and lead by the the power and promise of Abundant Life.
Abundance is the real dynamic, overwhelming force of life. Therein we can find  renewal. We must see what we have and who we are by discovering the hidden pearls, the dust covered gems in our storehouse of mission lessons, our tales of joy and wonder, that are the vital aspects of our oral and written memories. To do so will allow us an imaginative and rational basis to make challenging and clear decisions about how we structure our circumstance and how we allocate our resources.  We need to become once again rigorous and impassioned disciples and the embodiment of hope.
To do so will require historic analysis and a full review of the success and errors of mission in our Anglican tradition, our Episcopal Church, of the Diocese of WhereEver and our local congregations over the last two hundred years. These are some of review tasks:
-the 20th century development of a postcolonial vision of national churches called Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence (MRI) and its organizational development from the 1960’s.
-the further evolution of MRI into the implementation of stewardship education, capital funding and planned giving and its ultimate success in Venture in Mission as the single largest capital funding in North American Church history by the mid 1980’s, 
our last period of recorded growth, and with it the reintroduction of the legislated leadership principle and practice of tithing.
-the rise of suburban mission development out of urban city  and small town/rural congregations and  the decline of all these entities over the last 50 years.
-a full diagnosis of our various corporate system failures that have inhibited our regrowth.
In the immediate circumstance and as a show of good faith, we should ask for and legislate a seven year plan to reallocate all but a basic 10% of diocesan assessments from congregations back to them for mission development. The plan would include the following:
1. A progressive decline of congregational assessments to 10% of net parochial income (not monies from capital funding and certain existing mission work) commencing in the third year of the plan for  five years so that the diocese  can deal with the change incrementally rather than all at once.
2. The first two year period as the implementation of the educational and organizational requirements as noted above.
3. A firm commitment and plan of each congregation to use their extra monies for mission development and their collection of personal or family tithing commitment statements at a minimum of 33% of the households by the end of two years at the latest.
4. A commitment statement of the Bishop(s) with a personal witness to tithing, to reduce the cost of his ministry and staffing by the end of the second year.
5. A collective statement of the Bishop, Staff, Council, Standing Committee, other official committees and commissions and Diocesan Convention to tithing and plan to provide on site, local leadership to facilitate the plan with the congregations.
6. A commitment of the  Bishops, etc. to a plan for discussion with Dioceses of X, Y and Z regarding the merger of as many jurisdictional and ministry functions as possible in order to free up all existing physical, financial and human resources for mission and supportive ministry and implementation.
7. At the end of sixth year, a full and open accounting of all work in progress to be in draft form for the review of Diocesan Convention.
8. At the end of seven years, the Diocese of WhereEver will report the changes extensively and be able to start the next seven year cycle of mission development and will state its next step in mission.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

It is Now Time to Restructure and Merge Dioceses

General Convention is over and some really good things happened.  The blessings of committed same sex couples is a blessing and permitting transgendered persons to enter the ordination discernment process are spirit filled decisions.  And the decision to study church restructuring and report back three years hence is indeed another blessing and long overdue.  Good work, General Convention.  Now it is time to turn our attention to merging and restructuring Dioceses.

The starting point for this discussion is still the now familiar refrain of church decline.  Already Dioceses are stretched financially to pay their National Church Assessment.  Parishes Churches are likewise stretched to pay their Diocesan Assessments.  Fewer people are attending church on Sundays and members are either leaving or dying off.  Based on this alone, there is a need to examine not only the number of Dioceses, but also the present funding of the Dioceses that we have.  This twofold approach is necessary.

But first there is a theological issue to be resolved.  Most Bishops believe that the Diocese is the fundamental unit of the Church.  Based on the Romanizing model of the late sixth century in England, it is popular for the hierarchy to assert that Augustine's organizing principle is God's Word.  Not so if we revert to Holy Scripture.  Among several descriptions of the New Testament Church, the two identifiers that impress me in this regard are the ecclesia, those called out to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, and the metaphor of the human body; the Church as the Body of which Jesus Christ is the head.  When Paul is writing about the church, he is not referring to a Diocese, he is referencing local groups of believers in major metropolitan centers.  In Paul's mind, the local congregation in a given place is the fundamental unit of the Church.

If it is true that the fundamental unit of the church is the local assembly, then it is true that the majority of resources should go to support that body.  While we may theologically debate the Episcopacy, and while we may agree as Anglicans that Bishops are important if not integral to our tradition, and while we may agree that some sort of central office is necessary to conduct the ministry of the Bishop, it is still true that resources devoted to that office are out of line when considered alongside the meager resources of the vast majority of Episcopal Churches.

We have way too many Bishops and Dioceses in TEC.  Therefore, the first step in restructuring should be to decrease these.  This would then allow more resources to flow downwards towards local churches.  Meanwhile, current Dioceses could trim their expenses, tighten their belts, and allow more finanacial flexibility on the local level.  This movement outwards from Dioceses would be then consistent with the biblical theology of the local church as the fundamental unit.

Diocesan Conventions are the places where these issues must be addressed.  But they first have to be supported by the Bishop of each Diocese.  Bishops, are you ready to have these discussions?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Episcopal Chaos

The National Convention has gathered, and we are probing into the future of the Episcopal Church. It appears that there is the growing realization that the Episcopal community is in a state of chaos. Yes, it is in chaos , but it has  from concepton been on the edge of chaos.

Indeed, the modern science of complexity and chaos theory teaches that any interconnected process always exists in a state of chaos seeking stability. People educated in western theology find it difficult to observe reality in terms of the science of chaos. The theological culture believes that God gives us a proper view of reality based on an all knowing, powerful and loving Being. The church, therefore, is designed to bring the God message of stability to a fallen world. It is a typical western Platonic metaphysics. Whereas, chaos theory is another expression of a process metaphysics.

 Chaos refers to an underlying interconnectdness that exists in apparently random events. Chaos science focuses on hidden patterns, nuance, the sensitivity of things and the rules for how the unpredictable leads to the new.

If there is one thing, we can predict it is that randomnicty is the fundamental driving force of the universe. God has created a world of chance events, where we must live in a constant state of adjusting and moving with the chaos of randomnicity. Consequently, every material, social and individual phenomena always exists in a state of chaos seeking constantly throughout the evolutionary process to maintain stability. Chaos theory holds that chaotic systems lie beyond all our attempts to predict, manipulate and control. Instead of resisting life's uncertainties, we must embrace them, go with the flow and become creative.

  The Episcopal church cannot escape the laws of choas. We are presetly in a state of high chaos that will lead to implosion. Unless we engage in a creative deconstruction and reconstruction of the organization. It is the high state of chaos and possible implosion of the Episcopal institution that is causing a current of anxiety at our National convention and thoughout every diocese and parish in the country.

In terms of chaos science, I suggest that the Episcopal Church led by the House of Bishops has become a Limit-Cycle system. A system, when faced with high chaos, cuts itself off from the flux of the external world because it targets its internal energy to resisting change and maintaining relatively rigid and mechanical behaviors. When we attempt to control or overpower limit cycle dominated systems, we end up reinforcing the cycle of increasing chaos. The result is the system becomes power obsessed and  implodes.

There is one way out of this cycle, and it is creativity. However, creativity can never come from the top of a system that is locked into limit-cycle management. It must come from the Trickster figures who show how creativity can overcome over whelming odds. Tricksters see beyond the limits of the system and bend the rules. The Tricksters make rigid organizations and hierarchial churches uneasy. However, it is such limit-cycle organizations that need them most.

I think I have defined an important new role dedicated to the realistic survival of the Episcopal community; it is the Celtic Trickster. I wonder if there where any really dedicated Tricksters at the convention. We have a House of Deputies. Why not have a House of Trickters?