Daily Archives: March 11, 2014

TRECing from the Pew (Part 1)

I’ve tried really hard to get into the TREC stuff—honestly, I have. For those unfamiliar, TREC is the taskforce that’s trying to come up with a concept for restructuring the Episcopal Church. They’ve put out two documents, one on networks and recently one on administration. People who can and do get into this kind of thing have done a very good job talking about them. In my opinion, Crusty Old Dean, Scott Gunn, and Susan Snook have presented the most cogent readings of them. If you’re only going to take the trouble to read one of these, read Susan’s; since so much of this is ostensibly about budget, she sheds a clear and penetrating light on the huge gaps in the analyses to date.

My overwhelming sense is that I’m having a hard time making sense out of it. Fundamentally, I’m coming from a different place than the taskforce seems to be. I’m active on the churchwide level because of my work with the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music, but I still a newbie to churchwide-level politics. Rather, I’m a vestryman at a small congregation facing the struggles that a hundred other small parishes are. I don;t feel like I have the data or the vision to do a system-wide picture; I’ve got to start where I am.

So—I’m a guy in a pew. I recognize that I come with a particular perspective. I’m trying to become a mature Christian. Thus, I realize that my faith does and should effect many different aspects of my life in terms of evangelism, outreach, works of charity and mercy and justice, and so forth. However, my chief charisms are around teaching the faith and its spiritual practices, so that’s where my perspective will tend to skew.

What do I need from the church? What do I need a church structure to do and be and provide?

As a liturgical, sacramental Christian, my main need from the Episcopal Church is a functional worshiping community. Thus, I primarily need:

  • A healthy clergy person educated in the teachings of the faith and in the proper conduct of its liturgies
  • A sound liturgy with roots in the apostolic and catholic and Anglican tradition shared in common with other worshiping communities

Ok—let’s stop there.

For me, a “healthy clergy person” implies the need for a bishop who is an overseer—a provider of episcope (see the root there?). As the leader of a diocese, I would expect a bishop to function kind of like my (secular) boss: we talk regularly, she knows how I’m doing, she knows what tasks she needs me to do, she makes sure I have the tools to get them done, and she calls me on the carpet when they don’t get done or don’t get done according to the requirements. Shouldn’t this sort of communication be the primary job of a bishop? I don’t always get the sense that it is, though.

Second, “healthy” implies the need for standards. We have to have clear expectations about what’s healthy and what’s not and these should be clear and consistent across the church. Ok—so we need church-wide rules and therefore a group that creates these and checks them over to make sure they work: a Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons.

My other requirement for a clergy person besides “healthy” is “educated.” There needs to be mastery of a certain body of knowledge and a certain set of skills that include doctrine, the Scriptures, the respectful and informed conduct of worship, pastoral care, and basic parish administration. (Ideally these are all products of a certain kind of spiritual formation—the knowledge and the skills proceed directly from the spiritual formation rather than being add-ons or there being a separation between them.) Yes, we have seminaries but their viability is coming into question, and there are a variety of other options out there from non-Episcopal seminaries to various mutual ministry schemes. Again, I would think that the sets of knowledge and skills should be common across the church. The GOEs (General Ordination Exams) head in this direction, but their interpretation and application varies widely from diocese to diocese.

Moving to my second bullet, a sound and common liturgy also needs to proceed from a church-wide level. So, yes, I see a need for a Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music to keep an eye on our essential worshiping needs: the Book of Common Prayer and appropriate music in harmony with the prayer book.

As a liturgical sacramental type, I believe that Christian worship should normatively be celebrated within a consecrated space.  Of course it can and does happen anywhere that two or three are gathered; I’m not attempting to deny that. My point is that our legacy, speaking spiritually, physically, and geographically, comes with church buildings. I don’t know about anybody else, but in my parish and in many parishes with which I’m familiar, the building is both a huge issue in terms of maintenance and is one of our largest costs alongside staff. We waste spend more time in vestry meetings talking about the building or about finding money to fix the building than anything else.

Now—I’m an IT guy. I don’t know crap about buildings except that rain isn’t suppose to come through the roof, wood isn’t suppose to have suspicious piles of dust by it, and water is supposed to stay in the pipes and come when someone turns the handle. If my vestry and I waste spend this much time talking about the building, I think it would be very helpful to have a set of directives and best-practices from people who know what they’re talking about regarding a host of building topics from emergency maintenance and regular maintenance to legal issues to resources for grants to energy efficiency recommendations. There’s no way a church-wide body could solve the problems we have at a local level. But I wonder if some big-picture clarity from folks who know what they’re talking about could free up vestries and clergies to talk about local ministry instead of flailing about with building talk? A Standing Commission on Property Concerns?

The other clear requirement that I need are resources to help my parish be a healthy community that nurtures itself towards the goal of Christian maturity. I see two pieces here: first, a better understanding of organizational dynamics (how various sized parishes act, what is healthy community behavior for a given size, what systems and behaviors are signs of typical problems), and second, resources to help direct parishioners in community and individually towards Christian maturity—deepening their faith and embracing a life of discipleship.

I’ve talked enough at this point—I’ll come back to these topics later…