I thank Diana Butler Bass and all who have commented in the conversation begun in a Facebook post by Diana this afternoon. The original post read: “Just wondering if there is any real purpose to ordination exams other than hazing,” which led to a wide-ranging conversation about ordination, the quality of clergy and the institutional church, generating 75 comments and 42 people “liking” the thread at the time I posted this comment, originally meant for that thread, but growing too long.
I serve on The Episcopal Church's Executive Council and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Colorado, and my sense of how we raise up ordinands, move them through the process (parish discernment committee, diocesan Commission on Ministry, bishop's consent, seminary), and finally ordain candidates is that we are stuck in a mode of self-perpetuation with virtually no room for truly entrepreneurial, innovative and culturally diverse clergy. We are strait-jacketed by our canons and our bishop-centric hierarchy.
Deployment is another step where we fall into the self-perpetuation trap. A lot of what we march out and dress up as innovation is little more than window-dressing, albeit well-intentioned and nicely packaged. Our church's leadership ranks are filled to overflowing with a plethora of very nice, smart, educated and well-intentioned folks. Eventually they will only have each other to talk to.
We also perpetuate a class system in our clergy ranks that is institutionalized in our ordination process, which fails to recognize that some of the potentially more effective clergy might be raised up in non-traditional ways and serve in non-traditional ways (because they are also serving non-traditional congregations). Honestly, is our goal to win souls for Christ or to ensure that our canons and bylaws are followed with each “i” dotted and each “t” crossed? (The class system of which I speak relegates some clergy to cures with lower compensation, fewer community resources, lack of mentoring, and virtually no opportunities for career development.)
We know the words to describe what it is that we think we should be aspiring to, but we don't sincerely believe the philosophies that underlie those words, and we find it very difficult to embrace individuals who actually do understand and believe those philosophies, because they are not "like us," meaning, like what is familiar and known (aka the status quo).
A true entrepreneurial spirit has such belief in and passion for the project/activity/product that risking capital, reputation, future income streams, and alienation of family and friends is deemed a good and right choice in the quest for something truly life-giving and life-changing that attracts new customers/believers and changes the whole game. (Think "Fools for Christ.") Institutional churches seldom have the depth of faith to take those risks. Institutional people don't like to be perceived as fools.
I get that turning a huge ship around requires both time and direction and that we don't want to destroy the morale or commitment of those hands already on deck. But instead of continuing to allocate scarce resources to patching up the old ship when it continues to spring leaks and is stubbornly not turning, maybe we should be looking at how we can downsize the old ship so that we can create a flotilla of smaller ships that accompany us and help us carry out our mission and attract new resources until the whole fleet begins to take a different shape.
New resources (people and capital) will have a different notion of identity, who they think we should be together, and somehow, we have to be willing to humble and sacrifice ourselves and our veteran ideals and goals to hear and listen to those new ideas and lend them credence. I find it ironic that we can talk about sacrificial giving in a stewardship conversation, but then cannot talk about sacrificial giving up of our sacred cows because of our hubris in believing that we have the answers for those we want to invite into our churches to join us. Why can’t they and people like them have the answers?
I think we make mistakes in how we interpret the facts before us and how we ascribe rationales to explain why things are the way they are. I repeatedly hear elaborate, defensive rationalizations when confronted with recommendations for trying something new. I hear perspectives that begin and end with the frame we've always thought, lived and worked out of. That way lies insanity, and I do believe that God calls us to sanity.