Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Wading in on the HOB/D

There is a listserv used by deputies to General Convention as well as Bishops. And "used" is an interesting word - not many "use" it, but many do read it. You can also be permitted "kibitzer" status, which allows you to read but not post on the list.
There are about 10 or fewer folks who constantly post on their. You are limited to 3 posts a day, and most of these use those up fairly often. Some of the interactions get...um...extreme and personal, but not too often.
I wander over to it from time to time. My Gmail system throws all the posts into a special label/folder which I usually ignore and clean out from time to time. I have posted myself about 3 times since 2006 when I first was eligible to the list (by virtue of being on the MS deputation to General Convention).
Last week I dared to post something that was a bit risky. It came from my ongoing frustration with our leadership in majoring in the minors. The Executive Council, which is kind of the vestry for TEC and "runs" things between General Conventions, and is also charged with budgetary items and implementation of resolutions passed at GC, met recently. They heard a report from Kirk Hadaway, who is the research statistician for TEC. The news wasn't good, and it wasn't surprising, reflecting on how our denomination continues to shrink. This follows up with the State of the Church report we got just before General Convention, a lengthy and well done document that highlighted much of the same, with more detail and some thought provoking and challenging questions for all of us.
Yet at GC 2009 this report was basically ignored - you know, we had to talk about sex instead. And when the E.C. received Hadaway's report, they had almost no response. Instead they passed a "lengthy resolution" about Israel and Palestine and another about Afganistan. Sigh. While important topics, I wonder why as a national denomination our leaders feel this is where they need to spend their time - in the political arena? I am convinced that those "in power" have completely lost their way but are unable to see it. So I finally had enough and had to say something.
I will post my email below. The responses were not surprising. Some of the "inside" folks were quite rude to me. Many other people wrote to me (not on the list but to me directly) how glad they were I said what I said and supported it completely.
Eventually a decent conversation about evangelism and church growth took place on the list. But after a few days, it's back to "normal". Meanwhile, we will continue to do everything we can to reach more people for the Gospel of Christ, to make disciples and to serve others.
My post:
We have lost our way......
Nero fiddles as the Titanic chairs are rearranged.... (yes, I know I am mixing metaphors)

There is no doubt in my mind that this opinion I am about to offer will irritate, and possibly infuriate, many folks on this list. I get it. I do. I am a two-time clergy alternate to GC and I know that those "inside the beltway" have a hard time seeing what I, and many others, see.
Isn't it true that an entrenched bureaucracy cannot heal itself? Or has a very difficult time doing so?
Many folks on this list have worked incredibly hard at some of the issues I am about to question, and I hope they know I do not do so at a personal level. I hope they will continue to work towards solutions to really difficult problems. It is their calling and I honor that. But, I want to try to share with y'all how our conversations on this list, and the time and energy of our leadership on certain topics, looks to many people in the pews - the people who are convinced that, at least at a "national" level, we have lost our way.
So here I go......please be gentile....

The most striking thing I heard /read leading up to GC 2009 was the State of the Church report. If ever we had a call to change business as usual and honestly take a look at the REAL state of the church, it was in that report. I arrived in Anaheim thinking surely we would spend a great deal of time honestly reflecting, thinking, praying, discussing, dreaming about the implications of this report.
Instead, I heard nothing - other than the dire budget cuts that came late in the gathering, which can be closely linked to the status the report gave us. Cuts that included the office of evangelism! Amazing! Instead, once again, the vast majority of time and energy and focus was on sexuality.
Then, the Executive Council, which includes some dear friends of mine, meets for four days and hears from Kirk Hadaway some distressing numbers and trends and statistics on our dear church. Surely this was not surprising news? After all, we renamed all of our standing committees of the Exec. Comm to have the word "Mission" in them, so naturally we are focusing on mission - on church growth, new church starts, exciting ministry opportunities, ways to turn this battleship around - right?
No - we get a very involved resolution on Israel - Palestine. They "Passed a lengthy resolution (WM009) on Middle East peace-making efforts". They also "issued the church's first statement on the war in Afghanistan."
We have lost our way.
Don't get me wrong. Those are important matters that all Christians need to pay attention to (all people, actually, not just Christians). And I know some of this was in response to GC resolutions - which leads to the conversation about how much time GC spends on these topics vs. evangelism and growth. But what folks are not understanding is, when these are the focus reports out of GC or Exec Comm, other than a few folks in our churches, our people are left wondering what our leadership is up to. WHY a lengthy resolution on the Middle East, and not one on how to grow our churches? Why a statement on Afganistan that, I am sorry to say, has no more impact on US policy than if our local Rotary Club said the same thing over lunch. It is exasperating to see us still acting like we are a huge political force in this country, the denomination of Presidents - those days are gone! And I hope and pray our last act as a vital and valuable denomination is to witness to the love of Christ and not to make political statements that will be ignored by 99% of the country, much less it's leadership.
This is what the folk in my neck of the woods say to me, when they talk about the "national" church. They scratch their heads and wonder, have we lost our way?
I rarely post on here. A couple of times I have submitted something to do with church planting or growth. The posts are always almost completely ignored. It's not that that hurts my feelings, it is just indicative of the way we have come to operate. There was far more energy and many more posts about the audacity of 815 hiring, GASP!, a non-union cleaning crew, than there has ever been about the State of the Church report.
Can we not see this? Or have we so lost our way there is no getting back?
I want to hear, see, participate in conversations on creative ways churches are reaching the unchurched. How they are making real disciples out of their people, who cannot wait to go outside the doors of their church and be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. I commend the E.C. on the support of Haiti and the wonderful goal of 10 million to support them. This is one way forward, but it has to reach to the local level somehow. We do these things because we are followers of a Risen Lord who taught us to love one another as He loves us. How are people making an impact, in Jesus' name, in their communities? Where are churches growing and what methods are they using? How are dioceses changing their COM in such a way as to recognize a new breed of entrepreneurial leadership that can start new churches and reach whole new groups of people? THAT'S a conversation to get excited about, and one I desperately wish would take place from the national level on down.
I left a comfortable job and very satisfactory way of life to enter seminary at 40 years old because I felt a call from God in Christ to preach the good news of salvation and to help make better disciples of those who believe, and because I felt I had a unique story to tell of reconciliation and hope. This is what I need my national church to help me do, and I pledge to help any others with my small contributions. For the sake of Christ and our church, I hope and pray we can focus our time, attention, energy, incredible brain power, love, and the unique things our church has to offer, to a world looking for Jesus, whether they know it or not.
Perhaps we can find our way, again.


donna lishen said...

Your words ring true. Are we as a church spending too much time worrying about Haiti (metaphorically speaking) and forgetting about our backyard?

Anonymous said...