Saturday, August 31, 2013

Part III: Where's the Hope (Now)?

About 1990, then five years after the final closure of the Venture in Mission Office in the Office of Stewardship Development, as Executive for Stewardship, I began to realize that there was waning interest in supporting stewardship as the main work of the Church from the Office of the Presiding Bishop (Browning). Ellen Cooke, the Vice President and Treasurer of the Episcopal Church and later awarded with five years of prison for her embezzlement at 815, removed from us The Stewardship Report newsletter with the never fulfilled promise of comparable space in Episcopal Life. Then we lost the income from our materials that had been held in a special fund from which we did research and development as we actually made income and were market driven by selling products that congregations actually wanted and used. Through a rather complex organizational/political maneuver the office of stewardship was broken up and dissolved into “offices” controlled by the Rev. Bill Caradine who came in with Bishop Stowe as VP for Mission under Browning about the same time. While the changes were not especially obvious publicly at first the key element that was removed was the source theology of stewardship out of MRI and its replacement by an evangelical theology based on “making a safe place” for people to come to tithing or at least percentage giving. That model prevailed inside the facade of a year round stewardship approach for many years and was finally incorporated into the fine work of The Episcopal Network for Stewardship.

The importance of the change is that stewardship as the main work of the Church had at its core a deep commitment to leadership development based on personal and systemic transformation of the institutional church into “new creations,” and ones that by bringing hope could help the local, diocesan and national bodies become capable of maneuvering into mission projects that had local authenticity and effectiveness. Unlike most of the work of the staff offices of  the Church Center, the Office of Stewardship was itself constantly able to be responsive to defined needs we got from our “customers,” the clergy and people who were leading stewardship and needing our support. One our products, a video which people asked for to help them understand what “815” and the general Episcopal Church actually did in missionary efforts was nominated for an Emmy in the early ‘90’s. We had discovered that no one at 815 actually had consolidated a full listing of all mission projects in one way or another sponsored by “our dollars” because the staff was more interested in their own programs.

Once the center core of leadership development and commitment was removed and an evangelical approach inserted, then stewardship education slowly became more and more about personal giving and just a few steps later about institutional maintenance. When the statistics are  compared to the timing, it is becomes clear that MRI/VIM modeling of mission growth where new projects, new people and new money emerged was replaced by an increasing cascade of losses, institutional angst, “issue” orientation and demands for greater conformity around them. In short, the Episcopal Church became very self absorbed, much like an ill person who is less able to focus on anything or anyone except themselves. The hope was gone.

So now, in the chapel of the Episcopal Church Center, the following program is being offered: It’s All About Money! Fund Raising Symposium-- September 26 and 27, 2013 designed to meet survey results. Perhaps it does not sound that noxious until the whole core theology is seen in historic perspective. . . Where’s the hope???


  1. Ron, I've been working on the question of hope for the church from the point of view of "Membership"....and a recovery of the word for the emerging church. Check this blogpost and let me know what you think.

  2. Looking right now! Thanks Paul.

  3. Ron, thank you for lifting up the failure of leadership at the highest level; stewardship is to faith what flame is to fire – so what’s left – smoke and mirrors?

  4. As you say Ron, personal giving and institutional maintenance is not total stewardship at all. It is limited in its scope and narrow minded in its approach. A stewardship program that is complete is one in which the gospel motivates the church to reach outside itself in mission to the world. The fund raising conference in the chapel at 815 is a travesty of the total stewardship concept. Stewardship is not about fund raising. Its about being a just steward of all the gifts that God has given to us.