Thursday, October 29, 2009

Clericalism: An Institutional Challenge

I enjoyed my visit with the folks of the Diocese of Nevada. My new friend Rick has posted some generous thoughts about what I shared. Thanks, Rick.

When I arrived for their Annual Convention, I was somewhat surprised to see that I had overdressed for the occasion. There was only one other person in the room wearing a clerical collar. As I got to know them all a bit better, I came to realize that was not accidental. They didn't see themselves as "clergy" and "laity." They were simply the people of God, gathered for ministry. It was a very refreshing perspective.

I want to talk about that division between "clergy" and "laity" that we make in most places around the Church. Consider this a continuation of our discussion on bishops, which grew out of a previous post on authority.

I've been talking with a few folks about possible positions. I look at their "historic" buildings (which are often in need of immediate repair), take a look at their numbers, and am usually struck by that sinking feeling as the realization hits that they can't afford me. Most likely I'll accept a position somewhere soon, but it will probably be in a less than full time capacity.

And that's ok with me. Often it is not ok with the parish, though. To not have a full-time seminary trained priest is a loss of prestige. It means they have failed somehow.

We've got a problem. A serious problem. To explain the nature of the problem, I'll start with an example of the financial reality, even though I think the problem is rooted in something much more deeply troubling than money matters.

To have a full-time professional clergy person on staff costs a congregation about $75,000 to $80,000 annually, if you figure in health insurance and pension payments. That means, if you have 80 families ("pledging units") giving $2,000 a year, your clergy person is going to be half your budget, leaving you about $80,000 a year for maintenance of the physical plant and mission beyond your walls. In some places, that's enough to just get by, but you won't be putting anything away for the long-term maintenance projects that come with the territory when you're in an "historic" building.

Many Episcopal congregations have far fewer than 80 pledges. That's just the reality, especially if you are in a small rural setting. To keep on telling them that they need to grow is not the answer. That not only gives them an inferiority complex, it also makes "evangelism" be driven by trying to balance the budget.

The clergy who serve in these small congregations see the financial reality, and often carry a heavy weight of guilt around with them because they know that they are drawing half the budget. And here's where the bigger problem comes in.

Often, without realizing it, clergy in a small congregation will work long hard hours, feeling that since they consume so much of the pledge income, they need to earn it. They will not only offer the sacraments and visit the sick, but will also offer three classes, make a schedule to visit every member, attend every meeting, get involved in ecumenical events, do the newsletter, change the lightbulbs and mow the lawn.

There's nothing wrong with staying busy. But, much of what many clergy do on a day to day basis can just as easily be done by someone else. And by doing it all, the clergy person is actually taking away ministry opportunities from the rest of the members of the community.

Now, it may be the case that in some places the expectation is that the clergy should indeed do everything. Keep in mind that one of the three shifts we are witnessing is the move to a more "consumer society" orientation. When we begin to see the clergy as THE ministers, then the members become simply passive consumers of ministry. That is not a healthy model for a Christian community.

I've served in quite a few congregations, and, although the "consumer" mentality was not true for all of them, it was the norm. Often, it is during the interim period, when they don't have a permanent priest "in charge" that some congregations come alive. But, when the search ends, they sigh with relief, because now they can stop making those hospital calls, or chairing those meetings, or teaching that class.

Something is not right here.

The Diocese of Wyoming has this quote from Elton Trueblood on their Ministry Page:

If you are a Christian, you are a minister. This proposition is absolutely basic to any understanding of the Christian movement. A non-ministering Christian is a contradiction in terms. The Christian faith is not made up of spectators listening to professionals, and it is not for individuals who are seeking, primarily, to save their own souls. It is necessarily made up of persons who are called to serve as representatives of Christ in the world, and to serve means to minister. Ministry is intrinsic to the Christian life. Ministry is not something added or means to an end; it is central and ineradicable.
Is there a way that we can recognize the gifts of every baptized member of the Church, and allow the full expression of those gifts?

Yes, there is, but it requires some radical rethinking of our whole concept of ministry. Some, especially many of the professionally trained clergy, are going to buck against this rethinking, as it is going to require them to get out of the way.

I'm not suggesting that we simply eliminate seminary trained clergy. They have their place. But possibly that place is more along the lines of being a resource person for the ministry of all the baptized.

As a starting point to rethink our "consumer model" of ministry, I recommend that you consider some of the work already being done in the Dioceses of Alaska, Nevada, Northern Michigan, North Dakota, Montana, Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Western Kansas, Western New York, West Virginia, Vermont, Northern California, Minnesota, Oregon and several others. The concept that they are exploring is usually known as Total Ministry, but is sometimes referred to as Mutual Ministry. It's not perfect, but I think they are moving in the right direction. This idea was all the rage just a few years ago. We don't hear about it so much anymore. I think it is worth considering as one possible way for us to move into the future. Here is how it is described by the Diocese of Northern Michigan:

...we seek to honor the uniqueness of each baptized person and each local community in our diocesan community. We understand that the responsibility for mission and ministry in any place belongs primarily to the people of God in that place. In most settings, we do not send ministry to a community in the form of a professional, seminary trained rector or vicar who might minister to and on behalf of the baptized. Rather, we seek to develop the ministry of all the baptized in each community. Seminary trained persons serve as resource, offering support and encouragement, sharing in the ongoing formation and education of God's people living the Baptismal Covenant.

We use the term mutual ministry to describe this partnership. It is a partnership between God and God's people. It is a partnership among all God's people, among congregations on the regional level, on the diocesan level and beyond to the province, the national church and the world. In all arenas, we seek to extend this partnership beyond our denominational boundaries, working together with our sisters and brothers of other faith traditions as well.

The role of the missioner is not to deliver ministry, but to midwife the birth of giftedness already present in the baptized into ministry for mission. In each congregation a unique ministry development strategy is designed and pursued by the members of the congregation themselves, supported and nurtured by the regional missioners...
The Diocese of Minnesota offers some good links here and here.

The Diocese of Oregon has a Total Ministry site here.

The Diocese of Northern California offers a few links here.

The Diocese of Northern Michigan has been engaging this approach to ministry for over twenty years. You may recall that this innovative approach caused a few problems when they elected Kevin Thew Forrester as their Bishop/Ministry Developer. Actually, they selected an Episcopal Ministry Support Team, of which Kevin was only one member. The "process" raised more than a few eyebrows. Then, some of the more toxic blogs found out Kevin practiced Buddhist meditation (lions and tigers and Buddhists...oh my!) and the witch hunt commenced. Old sermons and iffy liturgies were dug up, and Kevin did not receive the required consents.

As you might imagine, the people of Northern Michigan were deeply troubled by all the ugly things being said about them and their choices for their Episcopal Ministry Team. Tomorrow, they will gather for their Diocesan Convention and plan for their future. Hopefully, they will be able to shrug off all the mud slung their way, and will not be tempted to abandon their ideals, which I happen to believe are the way of the future for us all.

Back in 1994 Northern Michigan made some significant changes to the way they run their Conventions. For example:

  • Every baptized person is entitled to seat and voice at Convention.

  • Each congregation (regardless of size) may send four voting delegates.

  • Clergy have vote if they are one of the four selected delegates from the congregation in which they worship.

  • No voting "by orders".

    This should be a fascinating Convention. I think I'll join them. But, for this trip, perhaps I'll leave my clerical collar at home.

    More tomorrow, from Escanaba, Michigan!

  • Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    Swimming the Tiber? I'll Pass, But Thanks for the Offer

    So, Rome has decided to stick their nose into the current Anglican unpleasantness. Apparently, some Roman Catholic spin doctors seem to be unable to resist the temptation to use this occasion to take a jab or two at various Anglican leaders.

    Now, will I use this opportunity to take a couple of pot shots at the Roman Catholic Church? I think not. My experience in local "Ministerial Associations" in which the Roman Catholic clergy participated has been that the Catholics told better jokes, served better liquor, and had a better grasp of sacramental theology. So, I'm not inclined to belittle their tradition.

    I know such a swim is not for me, or for most Anglicans that I know. It is simply not an option, for numerous reasons. But I also realize that it may be a real consideration for some folks. For those Anglicans who are so inclined to join Rome, my only response is to say "Go with God."

    But, for those who may be considering it, I hope that you take a look at Bosco Peter's commentary before making any final decisions. Here's part of it:

    ...Anglican orders are not accepted by the Vatican. Anglican “priests” joining Anglican Personal Ordinariates in order to function as priests will have to be ordained twice (or at least conditionally ordained twice). And they will have to be males. Anglican “bishops” joining Anglican Personal Ordinariates in order to function as bishops will have to be ordained thrice (or at least conditionally ordained thrice). And they will have to be males. And celibate...
    Additionally, if later on you get upset by something your bishop does, don't even think of trying to leave and take your building with you. Such "congregational" ideas might get some play in the "via media," but I can guarantee you that they won't find a friendly reception in Rome.

    In other news, I'm leaving for the Diocese of Nevada in the morning, to participate in their Diocesan Convention. The theme is "I Love to Tell the Story." I'm looking forward to it.

    My daughter lives about 2 hours away, so we'll have some time togther as well. Since that area of the world is closer to both my daughters, I've often thought about retiring there some day, so I'll also be checking out a couple of horse ranches that I have my eye on.

    Be back on Monday.


    Saturday, October 17, 2009

    Keith Ackerman Removed From the Ordained Minstry of This Church

    Press release is here, which states, in part:

    According to the statement, Jefferts Schori had thanked Ackerman in an October 7 letter "for your follow up note regarding your plans to function as a bishop in the Diocese of Bolivia in the Province of the Southern Cone. As you know, there is no provision for transferring a bishop to another Province. I am therefore releasing you from the obligations of ordained ministry in this Church.”
    A little background regarding the former Bishop of Quincy might be in order.

    He was elected as the Bishop of Quincy in 1994. As he has always been opposed to the ordination of women, there was some question as to if he would receive the necessary consents. Obviously, he did, with less difficulty than Jack Iker, no doubt because Keith strives very hard to be a "nice guy."

    My experience is that he is indeed a "nice guy." He does not say or do the rude and obnoxious kind of things for which some of his peers are well known. He is courteous and pleasant, saying little most of the time. I am told he is an excellent retreat conductor.

    However, following GC2003, he did attend the American Anglican Council's "A Place to Stand" conference in Texas, which was held in October, 2003. He supported the statement that came out of that conference, "Call to Action". Here's just a couple of points included in that statement:

    6. We redirect our financial resources, to the fullest extent possible,toward biblically orthodox mission and ministry, and away from those structures that support the unrighteous actions of the General Convention. We will support our partners in the Anglican Communion.

    7. We appeal to the Primates of the Anglican Communion to intervene in the
    Episcopal Church to:

    1. Discipline those bishops in the Episcopal Church who, by their actions,
    have departed from biblical faith and order;

    2. Guide the realignment of Anglicanism in North America;

    3. Encourage orthodox bishops as they extend episcopal oversight, pastoral
    care, and apostolic mission across current diocesan boundaries; and

    4. Support isolated and beleaguered parishes and individuals in their life
    and witness as faithful Anglican Christians...
    Redirect funds, punish TEC, start the "realignment" (code for replacement of TEC), and engage in border crossings. These tactics were all supported by Bp. Ackerman.

    Bp. Ackerman is also the President of Forward in Faith North America, which is an Anglo-Catholic group that rejects women's ordination as well as gay and lesbian ordinations.

    As President of this group, Ackerman has made a number of brief statements on various developments over the years, for instance;

  • How pleased he was to get invited to GAFCON

  • .
  • How disappointed he was that his friend, John David Schofield, was deposed for trying to steal an entire diocese.
  • How saddened he was when Robert Duncan was deposed for trying to run off with his diocese.

    So, as you can see, we have every reason to assume that Keith Ackerman, regardless of his pleasant manners, was one of the leaders of the attempted coup from the very beginning.

    Following GC2006, Ackerman led the Diocese of Quincy in their attempt to seek Alternative Primatial Oversight, since the new Presiding Bishop was, in their minds, of the wrong gender.

    On October 29, 2008, Ackerman announced that he would retire on November 1 (in three days). A week later, the diocese's annual synod voted to leave TEC and join the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. No doubt Ackerman felt that this manuever would protect him from being deposed.

    After "retiring," he continues to serve as President of Forward in Faith and on the executive committee of ACNA (formerly the Common Cause, the Network and the American Anglican Council...same individuals, different organizational names).

    One of his most recent adventures during retirement was to participate in exporting schism to other shores:

    FIVE English Bishops are to take part in the launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in London on July 6, expressing the breadth of support the fellowship, which had its roots in the Gafcon conference in Jerusalem last year, is experiencing...

    ...Bishop Ackerman, who is President of Forward in Faith in the USA, said: “One of the reasons I am really looking forward to being with my friends in England is so that I might be able to share with them the anointing of the Holy Spirit that has occurred at this gathering (of the installation of Archbishop Bob Duncan as Primate of the Anglican Church in North America at Christ Church Plano on June 24) here in Texas...
    Did you notice where he is headed next? Bolivia. Yes. He is teaming up with the notorious pirate bishop of Bolivia! Imagine that.

    It is sad to see such a nice guy having to renounce his ministry in this Church. But, in light of his record, and the company he's currently keeping, I think he's more than earned the same fate as the rest of the scoundrels.

  • Sunday, October 11, 2009

    The Emergence of the Hidden Wisdom of God's People

    In the last three posts, I've been talking about shifts that are happening in our culture, and how these shifts are impacting the Church. Authority, or the "freedom to act," no longer resides only with our institutional leaders, or even with the scholars. Instead, the authority rests within complex networks of relationships. Truth claims are refined and tempered as they run back and forth through this web of networks. While it is understood that scripture and tradition are part of this network, it is the living traditions, the people of God, informed through a discipline of prayer, study and action, that will discern the movement of God in the world today.

    Last week, Bishop Peter Selby gave an address at the Inclusive Church's residential conference. It is entitled When the Word on the Street is Resist. It is quite good, and contains much worth noting. Mark offers some commentary on it here. Tobias offers a slightly different take on it here. But, what really caught my eye, as it is directly related to our recent conversations, is the section that Richard chose to highlight.

    Here is that section again:

    ...First, though, a story: a colleague and his partner were to register their partnership, and a number of us were invited. There was no suggestion that there would be a blessing of this union, or anything else that might cause incongruity or unrecognisability. But it did so happen that the ceremony was arranged to take place closely after the usual time of the eucharist in the local Church, to which the guests were also invited. Not surprisingly prayers were offered for the pair, and the eucharist proceeded as usual - or not quite.

    When time came for the distribution of the Sacrament, nothing had been said about what was to happen. But the congregation knew what was to happen: they remained in their seats until the pair whose partnership was to be registered had received together. Where was this unscripted choreography learned? Obviously through the attendance of many in the congregation at wedding eucharists. But this was not of course a wedding - or was it? Might not this event in the distribution of the Sacrament have been a picture of what at an earlier time the Archbishop would have called 'The Body's Grace', the mediation of truth through the liturgical actions of the people, while the official Church was still struggling to avoid an affirmation it was unwilling to make.

    I tell the story not to argue against those others who have decided simply to disobey the rules. I tell it rather to show that while the Primates of our Communion labour at the question of incongruity, a different perception of the truth is being recognised in the actions of the people. Nor am I telling the story to suggest that actions of that kind can serve as a substitute for a just and faithful resolution of a conflict which has hurt too many and lasted too long. I tell the story because even as hierarchies struggle to maintain rigidities in place, even as persons are hurt and their ministries denied, something else is going on, namely the emergence of the hidden wisdom of God's people, a choreography of promise, a recognition which the official Church will surely have to take seriously. That will not be (as the Archbishop quite wrongly suggests) because the Church will have ended up conforming to social mores rather than critiqued them; it will be because truth has been discovered precisely in the context of biblical and theological reflection and acted out in worship; and what the pew sheet I quoted accurately called 'the current panic' will not outlast the God whose message is not to be afraid.
    Do you see the significance of those words? Here is the key line again:

    "...even as hierarchies struggle to maintain rigidities in place, even as persons are hurt and their ministries denied, something else is going on, namely the emergence of the hidden wisdom of God's people, a choreography of promise, a recognition which the official Church will surely have to take seriously..."

    This is an excellent example of the kind of "authority" I've been trying to find words to talk about.

    Listen for the Word of God. And expect that Word to come from the living traditions, who give voice to "the God whose message is not to be afraid."


    Tuesday, October 06, 2009

    The House of Bishops: An Institutional Challenge

    Let's talk about Bishops for awhile. Let's start by considering a couple of quotes. First, from our discussion of authorityin a post-modern world:

    ...The time of prince bishops and cardinal rectors has come and gone. Any authority as leaders they continue to express is granted to them, not by the nature of their office, but by the authority of the gathered community. And, if they fail to respond to the needs of the community, alternative authorities will be sought out...
    Then there is an essay by Tobias entitled The Coinherent Bishop. Here's part of it:

    ...The bishop acting outside or apart from the church as an episcopus vagans is like an electric fan unplugged from its source of power. Its blades may show some signs of movement in a strong wind, but are of no effect in actually generating a breeze. And the same is true of any minister, ordered or lay, who amputated from the body of fellow-believers attempts still to function as an organ of the body.

    We are, in the long run, all in this together. Lone wolves go hungry. And shepherds are nothing without their sheep.
    Now, before saying any more, it is time for some disclaimers.

    Most Bishops that I have known would probably admit, if pushed, that they are fully aware that their authority comes from the people. There a many highly competent and gifted leaders within the House of Bishops. Some I would even call friends. Others have been there for me as my pastor during very difficult times in my life. A few have even served as the voice that called me back when I wandered too far off the path.

    I am very comfortable being "a person under the authority" of a Bishop. In some ways, I find it liberating. I am free to function as a conduit of grace, as the Bishop's representative, knowing that there is someone to whom I am accountable, and one with the authority to tell me "no," even at those times when I hadn't yet sought permission.

    Having said that, there are also a few other things we may need to admit regarding our Bishops. I was at a conference last year at which one brave soul made a very interesting observation. If we consider the typical "career path" of most Bishops, they were a curate, then the vicar or rector of a small church, then rector of a large church, and then were elected Bishop. Along the way, there is no doubt that they refined many of their gifts. But rarely did they have the opportunity to create anything "new." So, when someone comes up with a "new" or "innovative" idea, especially one that might have some impact on the budget, some Bishops get nervous. To take that a step further, if you mention "church planting," you can bet you'll set off a few alarm bells. You see, unfortunately, planting new churches has acquired a big price tag. It doesn't require one, but that's what the "experts" have given it.

    Beyond the expected aversion to "innovation," we also have the constant "authority" pendelum swing between the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies at General Convention. The latest swing might be seen in the reaction to the way B033 was passed at GC2006. As you might recall, the actions of the House of Bishops at that Convention gave rise to a new crisis of trust.

    Sensing this swing, and concerned about further loss of their authority, at GC2009 there was a motion by the youngest member of the House of Bishops, and supported by a few other Bishops, to kill a somewhat controversial resolution, and replace it with a "pastoral letter" from the Bishops. Thankfully, some of the more reasonable minds present thwarted the attempt, resulting in the passing of the piece of legislation.

    So, there's just a couple of considerations regarding our Bishops for you to chew on.

    Based on the above, and your own experiences, here is the question that I want you to ponder:

    In your experience, overall, are Bishops a blessing or a bane?

    Be kind. We do have a few folks wearing purple shirts who drop in once in awhile.


    Saturday, October 03, 2009

    Three Shifts

    In the previous post that wandered around the issue of "authority," I spoke about "networks," which is but one shift in the way humans are perceiving reality today. I now want to add two more shifts that I think the Church must recognize, if we are to effectively continue our mission. These three shifts are:

    1. Networks - relationships are formed through complex webs of networks, often formed around leisure activities, family and friendships. Geography often plays a minor role. Network societies can both connect and fragment, as well as include and exclude.

    2. Mobility - as the "local" gives way to the "global" perspective, new options regarding where we put down roots have opened up. In some cases, the concept of "roots" (home) has been completely redefined, with "place" being given a lower priority. This can provide more freedom and opportunity, but also undermines long term commitments. It is also cause for some tensions between those who have the means to be more mobile, and those who feel "stuck" in a particular place.

    3. Consumer societies - previous generations found their identity in what they produced, but we now find our identity in what we consume. The core value of society has moved from ‘progress’ to ‘choice.’ We are moving towards a “personalized scale" in which ”it must fit me exactly” is an essential value. Among other things, this will affect the way people evaluate truth claims. “Truth” will be treated as a commodity. Consumer societies provide more choices, while also reinforcing the illusion of individualism.

    For further reading:
    Mission-Shaped Church
    (the entire book, from which some of the above content was drawn, can be found in pdf format here)

    The Great Emergence
    (some videos of Phyllis Tickle speaking about the content of this book and a study guide can be found here)

    Next: Some specific institutional challenges.