June 25, 2012

Storms and Structure

First, an observation on yesterday’s Gospel: the disciples rock the boat as much as the storm and they forget that Jesus’ presence with them, even sleeping, should be a blessed assurance through the storm and the night.

Second, application: it seems to me that a kind of manic panic has set in at the governing level of our church. From an Executive Council that doesn’t have the time to discuss important issues and frame a coherent budget, to battling proposals that seem more intent on the deck chair arrangement than on the reported mishap down below -- or is it on the bridge? -- and focus only on what is happening at 815 or GC sessions instead of the life of the church in its growing edges and root-tips; we seem to forget that though the church is not immune to the realities of politics and polity, that is not its primary goal or mode of living and working.

So my appeal, brothers and sisters, is that of Jesus, “Peace, be still.” Most importantly, can we focus on actual proposals and legislation free from any attributions of motive or power-play, and judge them on their merits? Could we take a breath , count to ten, and refocus our attention from the ad hominem to the substance of the tasks actually at hand, with less of a sense of urgency and panic and apocalyptic? Think for a moment about just how much the decisions on the budget, and the resolutions of General Convention will touch your parish, or your ministry, for good or ill. Stop trying to solve all the problems and save the world. Jesus did that already. He is asleep in the stern. We can do our part to assist in that ministry and mission, but our efficiency at that task is seriously encumbered by panic and busyness that accomplishes little work. Can we begin by trusting each other rather than assuming the worst? Can we approach our work as colleagues rather than as adversaries?

On the other hand...

I think we are right not to trust “the institution.” It is in the institution that the powers and principalities lurk — as the late, great Walter Wink reminded us. Whatever ill lies in human hearts — even the ill that persuades us its intentions are good — is amplified by the institution.

My suggestion is that we trust each other, or at the very least start from a position of assuming good intentions. And even at that, I think the wise words, “Trust, but verify,” ring true. I by no means intend that we should curtail the debate — just that we should be debating the actual issues, not the personalities or alleged agendas of those who advance one position or another.

That being said, there are the practical problems of our system, and this is where some restructuring is in order. I’ve been around long enough to remember when Executive Council was blind-sided and manipulated in the financial area much to our corporate detriment.

So I think another wise saying is apposite: Measure twice, cut once. We seem instead to have a proliferation of budget cuts being proposed, but some very dicey measurements on which to base them, particularly on the income side. I would not want to live in a house constructed on such a regimen.

One of my concerns is that the Executive Council has too many committees that seem to me to duplicate the work of a number of the standing committees and commissions of the church. This takes them away from their principal work, which I regard as being the Board of Directors of the corporation arm of The Episcopal Church. As a practical matter, as I look at restructuring, this is an area ripe for change. This goes against the proposal to do away with the other committees and commissions or trim them back and let Executive Council do more. I think that is a mistake. I’d be very happy to see the Executive Council focus on administration and let the other busy bodies concentrate more on Mission and Ministry issues. It seems to me that’s what a wise Board of Directors would do.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

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