#EpiscopalResurrection #G78 – Postlude: “Autoimmune Church?”

imageBy the Rev. Ken Howard

For the last week or so, I have been writing and posting a series of blog posts on the Episcopal Resurrection movement: one post on the Memorial to the Church and ten on the enabling resolutions. No small feat, that, considering that my “day job” is leading a still-growing, mature church plant.

Last night I put the last post – and then myself – to bed. As I drifted off into dream land, I realized that I had two worries:

  1. That the resolutions would not pass.
  2. That the resolutions would not be sufficient. 

In either case, it would be a sign that we are suffering from “Auto-Immune Church Syndrome.”

The medical definition of autoimmunity, one of the least-understood of human pathologies, is when the body mistakes perfectly healthy cells, tissues, or organs of the body for pathogenic threats, causing the body’s immune system to attacked the perceived “invaders,” and either kill them and/or expel them. Examples include, Chrone’s disease, Type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Auto-Immune Church Syndrome happens when a church has been sick for so long that its begins to think of its condition as normal, simply because it has become the status quo: one that feels like homeostasis, even though it is really an almost imperceptibly slow slide into death. When agents of healthy change come into an autoimmune church, they are perceived (correctly) as a threat to things as they are, which activates the church’s immune system, which removes those threats from the body.

So my first fear is that the body that is the Episcopal Church will (rightly) view the enabling resolutions sponsored by the Episcopal Resurrection movement as a threat to things as they are and eliminate them: voting them down before they the can do any “damage” to current, longstanding yet not quite healthy, status quo.

My second fear is that the Episcopal Resurrection resolutions will pass but the church’s antibodies, now alerted to the perceived invaders, will weaken them (with “to the extent possible” language) in the process of passing them, or find ways to co-opt them after the fact. To some degree, this is what happened with the Taskforce for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC), to the point that the final recommendations were not substantial nor specific enough to turn the Titanic away from the iceberg. And while these nine resolutions are a great start, they do not cover all the things that currently hold the people of the church back from taking the risks necessary for the church to move from death into life.

One example: the Title IV disciplinary process badly needs amending. The categories of offenses (e.g., “Conduct unbecoming a clergy”) and complainants (e.g., family members of alleged victims) are big enough to drive a Mack truck through. The conditions of the investigation (e.g., the accused is sworn to confidentiality but the accuser is not) are way out of balance. And there is no easy way to identify and dispense with specious accusations, and no provision for penalizing those who make specious accusations. Which means that those of us who push boundaries, experiment, and explore new ways of doing and being church are much more likely to find ourselves dealing with specious charges of “conduct unbecoming” than those who place a premium on playing it safe and offending no one. I can tell you from personal experience that it can be a huge distraction and enough to make on think twice about sticking out one’s neck.

Ultimately, changing structures, processes, and rules, while necessary steps, in themselves are never sufficient to make change. That will require thousands of leaders – and their people – opening their hearts to change. As I and others have said elsewhere before the church can experience resurrection, there is much that we must let die.

Still, for all it’s faults, I love this church, and I pray for its resurrection…


A Letter to the Church

How baffling you are, oh Church,

and yet how I love you!

How you have made me suffer,

and yet how much I owe you!

I would like to see you destroyed,

and yet I need your presence.

You have given me so much scandal

and yet you have made me understand what sanctity is.

I have seen nothing in the world

more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false,

and yet I have touched nothing

more pure, more generous, more beautiful.

How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face,

and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.

No, I cannot free myself from you,

because I am you, though not completely.

And besides, where would I go?

Would I establish another?

I would not be able to establish it without the same faults,

for they are the same faults I carry in me.

And if I did establish another,

it would be my Church, not the Church of Christ.

And I am old enough to know

that I am no better than anyone else.

– by Carlo Carreto, from The God Who Comes

#EpiscopalResurrection #G78 – D011: Eliminate Provinces – “Keep Calm & Defeat Bureaucracy”

keep-calm-and-defeat-bureaucracy-5

By Ken Howard

If approved, Resolution D011 – Eliminate Provinces, will eliminate an entire layer of the Episcopal Church‘s bureaucratic structure.

At first blush, this may sound like a drastic measure. And it is. It is radical, serious, far reaching…and absolutely essential.

I assume that this century-old structure was set up with good intentions. I assume that there must have been a time when the provinces served a beneficial purpose in our denomination (or the system would not have survived its infancy). But IMHO, that day has passed.

Bureaucracies have a way outlasting their purpose – their reason for existing. No organization wants to be without a purpose and the power to achieve it. So rather than terminating their existence, they create a new reason for being. Once in a while, this new purpose is a logical extension of the reason for which it was created. Occasionally, it may even be beneficial. But more often than not, when a bureaucracy has lost the power to proactively benefit the greater organization, it instead resorts to exercising the power to obstruct.

That is where we are with most of the provinces in the Episcopal Church today. The few that are doing positive and beneficial work are the exceptions that prove the rule. One has to ask whether the good done by the few, justified not only the existence of the many but the time, effort, and resources that go into propping them up, especially when those resources must be appropriated from the dioceses to the denomination before being disbursed by the denomination to the provinces. I am a strong proponent of networking and collaboration for the common good, but speaking for myself, I would rather those dioceses use those funds directly to experiment with more creative, responsive, and purposeful ways of networking.

As the authors of this D011 also point out, eliminating the provinces has other benefits, including the ability to adjust the numbers of members on certain committees once provincial representation is no longer required. Specifically, they propose the following membership changes:

  • Decreasing the size of the Executive Council from 38 to 30,
  • Decreasing the size of the Joint Nominating Committee for the Presiding Bishop from 29 to 20, and
  • Increasing the size of the Official Youth Presence from 18 to 24.

Let’s do the right thing here: Have the organizational equivalent of a memorial service. Honor all the provinces for the purposes the once served. Hold up the few that are still doing beneficial work for the great examples of networking that they been to us. And then give the entire structure a proper burial.


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#EpiscopalResurrection #GC78 – Rez D010: Clarify Officers – “Alright, Who’s In Charge Here?”

leadershipteam

By Ken Howard

Resolution D010: Clarify Officers of The Episcopal Church, proposes to clarify the roles of the officers of the Episcopal Church, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and General Convention, providing clear lines of authority and accountability.

By-and-large, it is a clean up, but necessary.


#EpiscopalResurrection #GC78 – D013: Budget Process – “Budgeting Is No Joke”

By Ken Howard

Budgeting is serious business. It process of budgeting needs to be clear, consistant, fair, and just.

Our current canons contain a number of unclear, conflicting, and outdated budget procedures.

Resolution D013: Budget Process for the Episcopal Church proposes to amend our budget process to conform with current practice regarding budget development and budget oversight. It also promoses to amend the process by which dioceses are assessed, in order to clarify that the full assessment is expected and to provide reasonable consequences for not praying the full assessment.

I generally support this resolution. But I’d be less than honest if I did not say admit that I do that I have a little trepidation about the assessment piece, specifically, about how the assessment would be calculated. Is it based on normal operating expenses? Does it also include capital gifts, designated but unrestricted gifts, endowments.

If language were inserted to address these concerns, I believe this resolution would garner broader support.


#EpiscopalResurrection #G78 – Rez D004: Episcopal Elections – “Bishops Move Diagonally”

bishops-2

By Ken Howard

Back before the earth cooled, I served as a seminarian at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill.  Verna Dozier was a member of my lay advisory committee and became my mentor. When it was almost time for my ordination to the diaconate, Verna said to me, “Someday someone is going to ask you if they can submit your name for a bishop search. I want you to promise me that when that happens, you will not say ‘No.'”

I was a bit taken aback, and I said to her, “But Verna, you know I don’t want to be a bishop. I have no desire to wear the funny hat and, more importantly, I don’t want the power.”

But she was insistant. “Ken,” she said, “that’s exactly why you can’t say, ‘No.’ One of the biggest problems we have with the leadership of the church is that too many people who are elected bishops really want to be bishops.” Then, as only Verna could do, she instructed me: reading to me the “Examination” question from the ordination services for deacons, priests, and bishops, and asked, “Did you notice the difference? Candidates for Deacon and Priest are asked if they believe they are ‘called‘ to the ministry of the diaconate or the priesthood. Candidates for Bishop are asked if they are ‘persuaded.’ There’s a reason for that: You aren’t supposed to want to be a bishop. You are supposed to be persuaded.

Vera’s comments have stuck with me. As a result, over the years I have allowed my name to be submitted in three different Episcopal searches. And my ambivalence toward the office gifted me with an odd kind of freedom: the ability to speak the truth without fear of losing something that I badly wanted. I’d like to think this freedom to speak the truth without fear was a gift to those conducting the search as well, even though it may have resulted in them hearing some things they did not want to hear.

This is why I believe resolution D004 – Create a Task Force to Study Episcopal Elections and Appointments of Bishops is so timely. We need to find a way to extend our reach beyond the usual suspects: people whom we all knew, as far back as seminary, already had their sights already set on the Episcopacy. We need to find a way to identify those servant leaders who are ambivalent about the trappings of the office and persuade them to at least allow themselves to be considered, as was the case with this one, who was so ambivalent the people had to resort to a little subtrafuge to persuade him…

384328_romanesque-icon-of-st-martin-and-the-beggar

Now I’m not saying that some of those folks who really want to be bishops can’t become good bishops. As another mentor of mine, who spent many decades on staff at 815, once said, “Quite a few of them turn out to be trainable.” It’s been my privilege to know a fair number of those whom God had trained…and also a few more who could answer that final question of the Examination with the words, “I am so persuaded.”

There’s an epilogue to the story above. Several years after my ordination to the Priesthood and not long after the we planted the church I now lead, our former bishop was visiting our mission congregation. After the reading of the Gospel, he sat down on the chancel steps to have a little Q&A-style sermon with the children.

After they had gathered around his feet, he asked them, “Do any of you know what a bishop does?”

Most of them shrugged their shoulders and gave him quizzical looks. But one, already nerdy at the age of seven, started bouncing up and down, waving his hand in the air, and saying, “I do! I do!”

“Yes, Jeffrey,” bishop Haynes asked, “What does a bishop do?”

Jeffrey, who could already beat most of the congregation at chess, fairly beamed at bishop Haynes and said, “A bishop moves diagonally!”

“There’s truth to those words,” our bishop said, in a wistful aside to the congregation, “More truth than you know…”

I urge you to support this resolution.


#EpiscopalResurrection #GC78 – Rez D008: Amend Article I – “Come reason together… (Joint Sessions)”

CartoonBishopDoyle_GeneralConference

By Ken Howard

Sometimes it just makes more sense to come reason together. But presently, though it has been done on rare occasions, our canons to not allow for it.

Proposed resolution D008 Amend Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution of TEC, simply makes it canonically lawful for the Presiding Officers of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies to call of a Joint Session at Genera Convention, if approved by a majority vote in the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies (and also if provided for in the canons).

It’s a no brainer, IMHO…


 

#EpiscopalResurrection #GC78: Rez D003: Amend Title V – “Merging Dioceses Ahead”

rumors-over-merger

By Ken Howard

I’ve interviewed for many executive positions in my day, both before and after my ordination. Once they’d finished interviewing me and it was my turn to ask them a few questions, I would often ask, “What would you suggest as priorities for my first year?”

Almost inevitably, they would day, “Don’t move too fast. Wait 12 months or so, and get to know us, before you make any significant changes.” Ironically, while this sounds like sage advice, it is actually a recipe for maintaining the status quo. Because while you are slowly considering the changes you think need to happen, the organization is doing one of the things it does best: organizing itself to sabotage any changes.

I learned the hard way that the only way to make significant change in the organization was to do my homework before I ever got there, meet with and listen to a lot of the people there, get a feel for the one or two most important changes that needed to happen (not that I wanted to happen but that they needed to have happen). Then on day one focus intently on those one or two changes, running as fast and as hard as I could in the direction of those changes, until the organization re-solidified around them, and the changes became permanent.

As Rabbi Edwin Friedman points out organizations are naturally predisposed to maintain homeostasis: they resist change and, consciously or unconsciously, they sabotage it (this is not good or bad, it just IS). The time that an organization is most open to change is when its homeostasis has been disrupted, such as in a time of leadership transition. Dioceses, for example, are perhaps the most open to change – especially big ones, like the merger of two struggling dioceses into one stronger diocese – when they are between bishops.

Under Article V of our church’s constitution, as currently written, merging two dioceses requires the written approval of the bishop of both dioceses, which make it specifically impossible to merge dioceses at the time dioceses are most open to change.

This resolution aims to amend this article of our constitution to make such mergers possible. And it just goes to show how tweaking a few legislative words can have a big impact. This resolution, obscurely entitled “Amend Article V of the Constitution,” strikes exactly 24 words from Article V and places them with 6, allowing the ecclesiastical authority – generally bishop or standing committee – of each diocese approved the merger.

Otherwise, it leaves all other checks and balances intact.


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#EpiscopalResurrection #GC78 – D007: Diocesan Collaboration – “Collaboration is Everything”

collaboration

By Ken Howard

Permit Dioceses to Explore Shared Ministry and Collaboration (D007 is in many ways a “cleanup” resolution, but it is an important cleanup.

Part of the aim of all of the Episcopal Resurrection resolutions is to eliminate structural, bureaucratic, or turf impediments that might impede the church’s ability to remain rapidly adaptable and responsive to the needs of a rapidly changing and uncertain world in order to broadly share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This resolution aims to make it easier for dioceses to explore creative ways of collaboration, including:

  • Bishop Sharing. Making it easier for dioceses to go beyond the current transitional provisional bishop process to share bishops on an ongoing basis, and
  • Joint Commissions on Ministry. Making it possible to jointly share a single commission on ministry (a potentially useful strategy as formation begins to shift away from traditional, three-year, residential seminaries).

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#EpiscopalResurrection #GC78 – Rez D019: Digital Evangelism – “Church Marketing Sucks”

By Ken Howard

Face it, people. If the fact that we have a group called “Church Marketing Sucks” is any indicator, we’ve got a lot to learn about digital evangelism. I know I do.

Granted there are a few who do it well. But most of us are not digital Jedi. Some of us don’t even want to be Padawan apprentices (I still have a sneaking suspicion that my former assistant left because I told her she had to be on Facebook). Even though I’ve been working at it for years, since most of what I have learned has been through revered ancient technique of trial and error, I still have to dedicate time each week just to learn what I am doing wrong.

There are so many digital channels to keep up with, each with their own protocols, etiquettes, and user bases. It’s hard to know which to use for what to reach who.

And we are each on our own for setting up our platforms (websites, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and who knows what else). We are each on our own for developing content. Each on our own for finding or constructing graphics. Because there is no central “place” in our church charged with doing that works. Just think what it would be like if we had access to training. Just think what it would be like of there were a central group that negotiated for discounted web services, a central repository of graphics and design services. Just think what it would be like if all of our websites could link.

This resolution proposes to spend $3 million to conduct a three-year online digital evangelism test to reach new people and new populations with the gospel of Jesus Christ and to connect them to local expressions of The Episcopal Church. So that we can: 

  • Take advantage of the millions of “micro-moments” which happen online daily, when people ask deep and important questions of search engines like Google (“Does God love me?” “Who is Jesus?” “Will I go to heaven?”);
  • Develop the editorial operations necessary to answer those questions in creative and compelling ways, informed by the worship and the theology of the Episcopal Church;
  • Develop relationships with key bloggers and social media influencers in target categories;
  • Build capacity (technical and staff) to create and nurture a database of prospects for referrals to local ministry;
  • Work with dioceses to develop a network of local churches, church plants, and ministries to receive these referrals;
  • Fund the advertising needed to attract and build an online audience.

The $3,000,000 proposed to enable this resolution is largely focused on building the kind of infrastructure to develop and provide the kinds of necessary help and resourcing I described above, including: ddownloadable, “evergreen” content to develop prospecting lists ($525,000 or $175,000 per year), daily content to cultivate prospects ($360,000 or $120,000 per year), original images and art work ($200,000), original video ($200,000 or $66,666 per year), audience development ($360,000 or $120,000 per year), staff ($1,707,750 or $569,250 per year), strategy consulting ($20,000 for first year only), and software ($150,000 or $50,000 a year).

Is it a lot of money?

No question.

Is it worth it?

Did I mention Church Marketing Sucks?


Sources:


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#EpiscopalResurrection #GC78 – Rez D009: Revitalize Congregations – Death Before Resurrection

By Ken Howard

This is the third (or fourth, depending up how you count), in a series of blog posts on the Episcopal Resurrection movement. The first discussed the Memorial to the Church. The second (or second and third) discussed Resolution D005 on Planting Churches. In today’s post, we turn to Resolution D009 – “Revitalization of Congregations.”

Resolution D009 recommends allocating $1 million over the next triennium to a serious effort to support Episcopal congregation begin the process of congregational revitalization, by funding the developing a church-wide congregational revitalization network, including a TEC staff person to guide the development of the network, a cadre of trained church revitalization consultants to assist congregations in the revitalization process, and a revitalization venture fund to underwrite individual revitalization efforts.

Now you’re probably saying to yourselves, “That’s a lot of money.”

Actually, if we take into account that we’ve been closing almost 10 churches a year (more than 100 a decade) since the late 60s, and if we realize just how difficult it is to change de-vitalizing behaviors that have developed over decades, we begin to realize that $1 million is not even close to the real cost. If we are going to get real about this, everyone is going to have to dig deep, not just TEC, but dioceses and congregations as well.

Even we had all the financial support we might want, congregational revitalization still would be a complex and difficult task. Real congregational vitalization requires so much more than mere funding. It requires but an opening of blind eyes, a softening of hardened hearts, and a strengthening of will.

As one who has both planted churches and consulted with congregations and dioceses about turning around de-vitalizing congregation, I can tell you that congregational revitalization is a much more difficult. Church planting is hard work. But it’s hard work in the same way that giving birth is hard work. Congregational revitalization is more like raising the undead.

Real congregational revitalization requires: (1) opening our eyes to the fact that we are dead, (2) opening our hearts to a desire for new life, and (3) strengthening our will to believe hear, believe, and act upon the ways that God is calling us to change if we are to experience resurrection God is holding in store for us.

The first requirement may be the hardest of all. After all, no church wants know that it is dead. And like any human organization, churches can keep themselves from seeing the signs of their decline for a long time. Established churches have a lot of inertia behind them: built-and-paid-for building, families that have known each other forever, settled ways of doing things. It wasn’t a typo earlier when I compared de-vitalized churches to the undead. Like Zombie Churches, they can shuffle along for years after their brains and hearts have died. And if a de-vitalized church has an endowment from which to feed, they can keep shuffling along for decades.

Like the proverbial frog in the proverbial pot on the proverbial stove, death is so slow in coming that congregations often fail to notice the damage being done to their life processes until it’s almost to late to reverse the damage. The de-vitalizing behaviors develop so gradually and have been practiced for so long, that they seem normal. It’s a real bind. If you could catch those de-vitalizing behaviors before they become so ingrained and habitual, the behaviors themselves would be easy to modify. Except the leaders and congregation seldom notice until much later, when a minor course correction won’t work any more, and more drastic measures are required.

Sadly, the community around a de-vitalizing parish usually knows the church is dying long before the congregation comes to terms with it themselves. Often they have stopped paying attention to their context long ago, staying inside their buildings in both the literal and the figurative senses. And the community around them is returning the favor. They are that old Monty Python skit, “The Late Parrot,” in which the customer insists the bird the shopkeeper is trying to sell is dead, but the shopkeeper keeps insisting, “No ee’s not. Just napping.” A lot of de-vitalizing parishes have been trying to sell our communities dead parrots for years without even realizing it.

As Steve Pankey rightly points out, not every congregation can (or wants) to be saved. Some would rather die than change. Some will simply need to be convinced by their dioceses that it is time to turn off the life support, pastorally companioned into death, and given a decent burial, with a memorial that remembers when they were vital, growing, and communicating the Good News of resurrection life. But there are others that show signs of potential for new life: who admit that they are dead and who are willing to be resurrected. It is in these congregations that we must invest, so that they might rediscover the vision, the love, the energy, and the imagination to find new ways of doing – but more importantly being – Church and of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ in a world of rapid change and increasing uncertainty.


Sources include:

  • George Barna. (1993). Turn-Around Churches: How to Overcome Barriers to Growth and Bring New Life to an Established Church. Ventura, CA: Regal.
  • Kirk Hadaway, TEC Director of Research.
  • Gary McIntosh(December, 1990). When to Close a Church, in The McIntosh Church Growth Network Newsletter (2:12).
  • Steve Pankey, from his blog, “Draughting Theology
  • Susan Brown Snook, from her forthcoming book, “God gave the growth.”

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