Monday, March 7, 2011

God calls us to sanity

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.


Muthah+ said...

I am concerned by the way the church is moving toward gutting of educated clergy in favor of local training. One of the characteristics of being Anglican is being able to think for ourselves rather than being forced to take what others tell you is true. In order to be able to think for myself I must understand. And if I am a member in the pew, I need to be taught to make decsions based on good information of Scripture, Church History, social sciences, theology, etc.

I agree with your characterization of the episcopal heaviness in the church, but we clergy and laity have to take responsibility for allowing the HOB to take the lead over the past 25 years.

But quite frankly I want people leading our church who ARE well trained, are well-versed in the Scriptures and have some critical understanding of theology. scripture and social commentary. I took GOE's almost 30 years ago and I found them a good way to bring together my education and my experience.

What I have been seeing in those places that are opting for local training are those who are steeped in the theology of the local ordinary rather than the broadness of the whole church. In a time when being aware of the larger community, our educational experiences are becoming more parochial.

GOE's are only hazing if they are used to exclude instead of inform.

Lauren Gough

Ana said...

Thanks for this Lelanda. Nicely put.



I do not suggest that we dispose of educated clergy, but I do wonder if that education necessarily means three years of a residential seminary for every clergyperson designated for every cure. Realistically, should how ministry is effected in varying demographic areas be one-size-fits-all? We don’t pay compensation as one-size-fits-all. The idea of ministry teams with clergy of varying degrees of education and experience yoked to a team leader with more education and experience is working well in some dioceses. In some instances, the pastoral leaders are licensed laity who receive local (diocesan) training and formation similar to that of deacons.

For a pastoral size or smaller congregation, does seminary formation demonstrably inform a clergyperson’s ability to be pastoral or is that more likely to be the result of a charism for being pastoral? Insofar as bias towards the theological perspective of the ordinary, that also occurs as a result of the deployment process.

I agree that awareness of our interconnectedness and interdependence in the global community is important. I would argue that knowing that global community personally, hands-on, via becoming a more multiculturally diverse church in the pews should be an equal goal with our traditional reliance on knowing that global community only at a distance via teaching, mission trips and foreign charity. Knowing the global community in the form of our neighbors is somewhat messier, more difficult, requiring a greater investment of self, and prone to mistakes than the distance version.

Despite our legislative bicameral model of governance through General Convention, an essential element of Anglican identity is the centrality of the diocese as our core unit of being church, ergo, the episcocentricity of our church. I cannot speak to the last 25 years of history between the HoD and HoB; I wasn’t part of this church until 16 years ago, and I haven’t studied the nuances of that history.

Thanks, Lauren, for engaging!

Lindsay said...

I find myself resonating with Lauren's comments. And yours, Lelanda. I know that people can clearly learn on a local level, and they do. But so much of being ordained is opening ourselves up to follow where God leads us - and not being tied to familiar ground. My concern over locally trained seminary is that we are tying ourselves down rather than throwing ourselves into the world, really opening ourselves and our families to a sacred calling.

I DO agree, however, that there are too many time-consuming restrictions about getting in the ordination process and that some potential clergy have dried up and withered away when they would have been perfectly good priests.

Good discussion!

Herbert said...

I have been reading this interesting topic and consider that the viewpoints expressed have valid points on both sides of the "official" versus "home grown" clergy issue.

I would comment however, that since both aspects have merit, the real issue is one of balance between the two approaches. The Church needs to make a space for the local training along with the more formal and global training, i.e., a balance and acceptance of both approaches to ministry.

This balance needs to be a real partnership, and not a "them versus us" mentality. That of course will take time and dialog, but would greatly enhance the episcopal community.