Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Blog on Furlough

This Blog, Episcopal Journey of Hope, desires that the American Episcopal Church will reverse 50 years of decline, not end up a boutique church, and remain a meaningful part of this Nation's religious landscape.  We have written about our history, theology, philosophy, and our ecclesiastical leaders plus our institutional structures.  We trust our Blog has been thought provoking and a catalyst for change.

Gary Gilbertson

Our mutual effort with Episcopal Journey of Hope has been for me a very satisfying team effort.  As with every aspect of life, this initiative by our mutual decision has finished its purpose for now.  I am very grateful for any and all readership and for any number of comments, including critics, as we are all in a free community of conversation.  And most especially I will always be grateful for so many kind and great leaders of the past in the Episcopal Church whose witness inspired me in leadership and spiritual courage.  May we all go forth in peace.  Thanks be the God.

Ron Reed

I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this blog.  Episcopal Journey of Hope, while recognizing the spiritual and theological realities of eschatology, has nevertheless spoken more often to the hope, or lack thereof, for the future of the Episcopal Church.  This is because our colleagues, as former leaders and containers of wisdom through a broad and deep experience in the life of the church, have believed that we had something to say that is both critical and positive about the life of the church.  We trust that our musings have fostered an interest and willingness for change so that hope may emerge and the Episcopal Church might grow in the future and be a strong witness in American Christianity.

Bob Terrill

Contributing to this blog has allowed me to clarify some of the major issues pertaining to the Episcopal Church.  I have really come to two major conclusions about the future of ECUSA.  One, we will continue to decrease in membership, consequently, for the greater part we will be a denomination of small congregations, i.e., ranging from 25 to 300 in terms of weekly attendance.  It will demand a radical change in life style.

Two, I fear that progressive Episcopal theology is really grounded on the Romanticism of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's world vision.  We have fallen into the tendency of modern and postmodern intellectuals elitists to emphasize ideas such as subjectivity and spirit and reduce theology to the transcendental history of subjective spirit.  It is a progressive liberal theological homogenization where the passionate love of humanity blends all ideas of tolerance, duty and truth into a vague oneness.  Consequently, we attempt to feed our community on liturgical practices and a humanitarian ethics of social progress.  In other words, we are becoming a community of liturgical practitioners without a sacramental or evangelical theology.  These are the final thoughts of an Anglo Catholic scholastic.

A. William McVey

Saturday, January 18, 2014

 Pogo and Common Sense in an Age of Skepticism


            I suggest that today we are living in an age of skepticism because we have such high hopes for the future; yet at the same time we have such great fear and skepticism. When we have the combination of great hopes and fear, then we enter into a state of skepticism. We have become a people who  live with expectations of continuous economic growth in personal income. We have been told that we are able to achieve the American Dream. We have been defined by our consumer hopes of comfort and various levels of affluence. We have become a people of risk takers who look at the future with little concern for failure. We have been taught by teachers and preachers to believe in our own abilities to achieve in a land of hope.

            However, this secular-driven hope over the past few years has begun to appear somewhat tenuous.  An election came and the streets were filled with hope again. This time the hope was placed in a new type of political system. But since those celebration days, the world’s economic and terrorist dilemmas continue to cast a veil of skepticism over the world. The Western hope of material ease and progress has been challenged. These new days of anxiety fueled by a culture of skepticism are now being experienced by wealthy nations as well as the emerging poor nations. We are struggling to rekindle our hope, and we turn to political rhetoric comprised of convoluted logic presented by media commentators, clerical and academic skeptics.


             A real problem exists when we simply believe in a hard driven postmodern rational mind. We must, therefore, not see hope as a mere wish for the gift of a hopeful future based on a solely rational mind. In the spiritual and moral life, hope is a cardinal virtue, and it is also a habit of the soul and an action. Dante wrote that on the entrance to hell it is written, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter herein.” What does it mean to abandon all hope? It means that we have lost all sense of action. When we lose hope, we are unable to move; we are unable to become. The root cause of depression and anxiety is the loss of hope, and we have entered into a type of hell of skepticism.  

            As a preacher and a parish priest, I cannot change the present American culture; I cannot change the economic system. I cannot change academia. Nevertheless, I would like to offer some solid common sense advice for living as a person of faith in a skeptical age. I will call it the common sense philosophy of Pogo taken from the cartoon series of Walt Kelly who, I see, as a common sense satirist. The cartoon series is about the allegorical characters of the Okefenokee Swamp.

1)    Pogo:

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” Yes, we are immersed in in a skeptical culture. Yes, we live in a media skeptical Okefenokee Swamp, but as Christians we do not have to become skeptical. We live by the life of the Spirit that allows us to overcome all shades of false and unnecessary skepticism. I remember talking to a businessman when the late recession began. Everyone was so negative and skeptical about the future of the American economy. At the peak of the recession in a small town, he purchased a local Ford dealer ship. A local radio reported asked him, “Are you not nervous about buying a Ford dealership when we are not even sure in this recession if and when the car market will return.” He answered, “No, at Bob’s Ford we’re not going to participate in this recession.” He was using common sense and was really saying that there is reason for caution and fear, but it does not have to become skepticism in  mind and heart.

2)    Porky Pine:  “The best break anybody ever gets is bein’ alive in the first place. An’ you don’t unnerstan what a perfect deal it is until you realizes that you aint gone be stuck with it forever, either.”

Here, Porky Pine speaks as an insightful common sense existential philosopher. He calls our attention to a basic common sense principle that should shape our attitude towards life, “The best break anybody gets is being alive in the first place.” Then Professor Porky Pine explains that we must avoid skepticism and understand what a perfect deal its. It is by understanding and interpreting the potential and opportunities that life offers that we avoid skepticism. It is for this reason that Mortimer J. Adler wrote the book The Time of Our Lives and teaches that we must interpret, judge and plan, “A certain amount of experience in the business of living and a certain seriousness of purpose are required for anyone to understand the problem of making a good life and to judge whether this or that proposal for its solution is practically sound.” (Adler, Mortimer J, 1996, P.9)  It is no wonder that the preacher Joel Osteen has thousands of people listening to the constant motif running through his sermons, “Your Best Life Now.”

There is a skeptical colloquial expression that I really dislike because it is an attack on a balanced and common sense approach to life. It goes something like this, “Hi Harry, how are you doing?” Harry answers, “You know same old, same old!” Harry responds from the attitude of a skeptical belief system. I have a friend who is a joyful and happy devout evangelical. He is a country western disc jockey on radio, and he loves to share western ballads that enrich life. He is very different than Harry. When I meet him, I ask, “Earl how’s it going?” and he answers, “I am blessed!”

3)    Pogo says: “Eventually Porky, I figger every critics heart’s in the right place.”

Porky responds: “If you gotta be wrong bout somthin’, that’s ‘bout the best thing they is to wrong bout.”

 Again, we see Porky acting like the common sense philosopher. Pogo has made a statement that he believes is true that every critic’s heart is in the right place. Porky has read Mortimer Adler on the milder forms of skepticism and knows that common sense calls for cautious restraint, “The fact that we differ in our judgments and change them from time to time should awaken us to the wisdom of a cautious restraint not to regard our judgments as certain and secure, as infallible and incorrigible.” (Adler, Mortimer J. 1981)


It is important to note carefully how Porky responds. He may sound skeptical, but he is actually a common sense realist. We must first note what he does not answer, “Well, if that’s your opinion Porky, I guess it is okay. I have my opinion, so I guess we are both entitled to our opinions.” This statement expresses a popular postmodern common attitude, but is an exercise relativistic skepticism. It is based on the great skeptical article of faith that the truth is there is no truth.  Porky may disagree, but he wants to examine the topic without being skeptical. He approaches Pogo’s opinion with serious reservation. Even though much of life is unclear, if we approach every perplexing issue with a skeptical mind and heart then we remain in the Okefenokee Swamp of skepticism.


4)    Beauregard is sleeping under a tree, and he hears a scream, “The Dam is Bus!”

He answers, “Is we runnin To it or From it?”


Skepticism makes us spiritually and mentally lazy. Initially, we think our cool modern skepticism identifies us as a cool, with it type person. In our skepticism, we only find meaning and truth within our own subjective consciousness. Like Beauregard, we lie under our comfortable shady tree in the Okefenokee Skeptic Swamp. It is as if we find a type of mystical spirituality in the skepticism.


Suddenly there is a catastrophe, and we wake from our slumber. As skeptics, we must confront a harsh objective world, “The Dam is bust.” We cannot say, “Oh, that is only your opinion.” No, it is real the dam has bust, and we must have a real response, but we are skeptics, and we don’t know if we run to it or from it. As the old saying goes, we don’t know if we are coming or going.


Beauregard freezes because skeptics in life are only good at working the problem; it is the common sense realist who knows how to work the solution. Beauregard is a skeptic, and he is not in the habit of facing the real catastrophes of life. The skeptic is not able to face reality, especially at catastrophic moments, since he only knows his inner skeptical perceptions. In a sense, Beauregard does not know the Swamp; rather the Swamp knows and owns him.


5)    Miz Beaver: “I’ll tell you son, the minority got us surrounded.”

Skeptics are somewhat loud, arrogant and militant in their belief system. They become petulant when anyone does not buy into their skepticism. They are strongly given to proselytizing their skeptical attitude and beliefs, covering them in a veneer such as it is the only way an enlightened person should think. Fortunately, there is an innate common sense in most people that skepticism is a dismal approach to life. The common sense person must constantly avoid this militant voice that milks the beauty and innate moral longing for goodness of the person and God’s creation.

6)    Porky Pine:

“That’s only two possibilities. Thur is life out there which is smarter than we are, or we’re the most intelligent life in the universe. Either way, it’s a mighty sobering thought.”


Unfortunately, it is not a sobering thought for the true skeptic. There is only one sobering thought for the true skeptic: i.e. be skeptical about everything. If we are skeptical about any universal truth then we just have to wake up, dress up and show up. For a common sense realist, a basic axiom is there is a God, and I am not big and smart enough to sit on His throne. That is real common sense.













Friday, January 17, 2014

Good Rectors Grow Churches -- Archbishop of Canterbury

“The reality is that where you have a good vicar (read rector in the USA), you will find growing churches,” the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, said on BBC Radio this past month.  The Archbishop then told his radio audience that he was “extremely hopeful” about the future of the Church of England because many local congregations were increasing in numbers.
There you have it! Good rectors grow churches!  The American Episcopal Church Official Report titled “Episcopal Domestic Fast Facts Trends: 2008-2012” declares that over the last 5 reporting years, 20% of Episcopal Congregations experienced at least a 10% growth in average Sunday attendance (ASA).  Congratulations to those 1400 “good” rectors for leadership in growing the Church!
But what about the rest of the story?  What about the 3500 rectors leading congregations where ASA decline by 10% or more during the same period?  Would the Archbishop call them “poor” rectors?  What about the 2000 or more congregations that can’t afford any rector – good or bad?
The flat out truth is most bishops are remiss in human resource management of the Rector Corps.  They make no personal effort to recruit, appropriately educate, evaluate/mentor, or guarantee adequate compensation for rectors.  Instead they generally delegate one of their most important responsibilities and dissimulate the results. 
When our Church was 3.6 million members strong we had 10,000 clergy; now we are down to 1.8 million members and have over 18,000 clergy.  An analyst at the National Church observed, “The problem with the clergy being ordained today is that most of them can’t grow churches.”  We agree.  Where is there evidence of non-parochial and/or non-stipendiary clergy ordained late in life ever being a true factor in Church growth?  Look around, a diocese many have only one or two anticipated rector openings in any year but they will have 15 aspirants in the ordination process with not a single one capable of leading a growing parish as rector.
Dioceses are proud of their “home schooled” clergy but rectors need a full seminary education.  Rector candidates also need progressive assignments so they can be ready to lead larger growing congregations.  But those progressive assignments are not available, often due to late-vocations “homesteading” in their one and only assignment.  Of course, we all know the covert secret - many of those assignments a rector needs to gain experience are closed because the congregation can’t afford the stipend or medical costs for a younger person – even one that could help them grow.
The New Testament is clear: “A laborer is worthy of his wages.”  The cost to an average congregation to have a rector is around $90,000 per year; this includes, stipend, housing, medical insurance, pension and expenses.  Rectors testify they work an average of 50 hours a week with some time off for vacations or about 2400 hours per year.  The average work year for most secular employees is between 1900 and 2000 hours so our rectors are well above average. In other words, full-time rector positions cost congregations about $37.50 per hour.  The rector’s actual spendable compensation will be around $20.00 per hour. Many rectors are well below these numbers and a few are above.  It is the bishop’s responsibly to work to ensure rectors are fairly compensated.
It is equally true that rectors should work to see bishops are fairly compensated.  Let’s check.  The average cost to a diocese to have a bishop’s position is $175,000 per year.  Assuming the same number of work hours per year, the cost per hour to have a bishop is $72.00 per hour – almost double the cost of a rector.  Some suggest adding the cost of the bishop’s staff into the mix because the staff is doing what the bishop would be doing, if no staff were available.  This could add another $400.00 per hour to the cost.  The nearly $500 an hour to have a bishop and staff is mostly raised by assessing congregations who are already stretching to afford a good rector to help them grow.  No matter how much we love our bishops and respect the professionalism of the staff, collectively they are a non-factor in congregational growth.
As the Archbishop says, we need good rectors to grow churches.  Time to recruit, appropriately educate, evaluate/mentor, and guarantee adequate compensation for rectors. This is certainly a critical challenge being faced by the Church.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Another Term?

Recently I received an interesting rumor regarding our Presiding Bishop's plan to run for a second term.  Bishop Jefferts Schori, having been ordained and employed for twenty years,certainly must find employment in the Episcopal Church for at least ten more years to receive her full pension. Another term as Presiding Bishop would certainly make a full term period very simple with no job search, disruption of her personal life or professional career trajectory. Such an eighteen year, two term,period would put her third in tenure to +Tuttle and +White in the succession of Presiding Bishops. 

I note this rumor because its origin was reliable, the idea of such a possibility historically significant and for its implications regarding the culture and politics of the House of Bishops, General Convention and the Church at large interesting. If Bishop Schori can get herself re-elected, she has managed to gain very substantial power over the years, and/or few other bishops may actually desire this "godly call."  In any case, if another nine years is gained by Bishop Schori, what might we expect? Reviewing the activities of her first administration, we can predict more law suits, gyrations of organizational reform and the normal administrative and visitation schedule continuing. In other words, while the numbers regarding Episcopalians and their financial commitments are projected to decline with greater rapidity, the Presiding Bishop will enjoy good pension funding, many interesting trips and sipping gimlets on the pent house balcony facing the East River where this redundant building holds up her apartment. . .

However, except for the name change of the actual occupant of the Office of Presiding Bishop occurring via the normal nomination/election processes of General Convention, what difference would it make? The future of the Episcopal Church is not much in the hands of the Presiding Bishop, General Convention or most the denial of most dioceses as demographic studies indicate all too well. Organizational culture inertia of the Episcopal Church and similar Christian denominations are pulling the institutions down. So as one wag reportedly stated on the deck of the Titantic, "Everyone, grab your drink and watch us hit that big iceberg!!"

Where is the hope here?  I hope I am wrong. So prove me so, please. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Clergy: Beware of Parish Profiles

The other day I was looking at the positions open that were listed on the Episcopal News Service website.  I decided to take a look at one particular parish profile to see if I could discover something about the parish that might be interesting if I were still in the business of looking for a job.  I found a parish in a Southwestern Diocese that met that requirement.

From the November financial report of the parish, I estimated an annual budget of $313,500.00.  They have a mortgage of $439,771.00 and endowments of $981,529.00.  They had cash on hand of $84,891.00.  I thought that this was a pretty stable financial picture and I found myself wishing that all my parishes had that kind of a cash balance when I was serving full time as a parish priest.

237 communicants were eligible for the survey.  In addition to the Rector, there are 8 staff members, no clergy assistance, which tells me that the new Rector should have staff management skills.  There is a Saturday evening service with contemporary music, an early and late Sunday service, the latter of which is a traditional choral Eucharist.  The parish has two cursillo reunion groups and multiple bible study and prayer groups.  So this is probably a "renewal" parish.  On the surface it looks like a pretty good job; possibly well paying for one priest, but I found a distinct issue in the profile that needs addressing up front.

The profile repeatedly mentioned that they wanted the new Rector to attend all functions in the parish.  At the same time they want a spiritual leader, a person active in the community, be energetic, focus on growth and encourage parish-wide outreach to the community.  69% of those completing the profile would welcome visits from the clergy and 40% reported that the parish provides adequate pastoral care.  Naturally they want great sermons, a priest who ministers to all people and provides counsel to those with spiritual needs.  They want their new Rector to love and care for the parish, grow the parish by being active in the community, to foster growth in the parish and "provide guidance for and be a lighthouse to the parish."

Per the norm, the parish profile tells us a lot about what they didn't like about the former Rector.  Most parishes say that they want someone unlike the priest they had before.  It looks like the former Rector may have been a bit of a recluse because they emphasized the point that the new Rector should attend all church functions and be active in the community.

Herein lies the problem.  As written in the profile, this is an impossible job.  I look at the parish calendar and I found 90 parish events during the month of November, including worship services.  Is the new Rector to attend all of them?  This is what the profile says.  There were 20 liturgies during the month of November.  Who is supposed to plan all of them and do them well?  The new Rector of course.  In addition to all that, the new Rector is supposed to be active in the community, foster evangelism and church growth, and preach great sermons.  Where is the new Rector going to find the time to do all of this?  This profile is a trap and the job is impossible if you believe the profile.

Any Rector, with or without a family, is going to have a very tricky time management problem.  How do you take time off, be involved with family and friends, and do everything the profile expects you to do?  The profile reads like this parish has a boundary problem and wants to consume the new Rector into a whirlpool in which the priest is swallowed up and sucked dry.

The job probably pays pretty well and the parish probably has solid lay leadership.  It is an interview that I would probably accept if I were looking for a job.  But I would be prepared to ask pertinent questions that speak to the issues of boundaries and job expectations.  When it comes to discussing a contract, I would insist on clear and definite expectations and provisions for time off from the job. I would ask them to prioritize their expectations.  I would ask them how they would expect me to attend 90 parish functions, plan and preach excellent sermons, provide pastoral care, visit the sick and shut-in, make parish calls and plan and develop education programs, foster evangelism and outreach to the community.  If I were to be called as Rector, I might say no and tell them why.  The parish wants a priest who will allow him or herself to be drawn into a vice and squeezed to death.  Anyone who takes this job without setting solid boundaries is bound to burn out and have other personal relationship issues.  Buyer beware.