Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Do I only speak for myself?

Do I speak for myself, and that's the extent of it? Or, because I serve as an elected member on the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church, does what I say also inadvertently speak for the church somehow?

When I speak in and around the church, I am very conscious of the fact that I serve in an elected position. I sought out this elected position. I allowed my name to be placed in nomination for the position, and I genuinely wanted to be elected. My motivation to seek election was to have a say in the church's decision-making and to represent what I perceive to be an underrepresented perspective, that of a female, Asian descent, lay, person of color, from the middle of the country. 

I believe that I have something of value to offer to the Councils of the church and to the discussions on topics of importance to the church, in terms of thoughts, analysis, interpretation, and opinion. I also believe that I exercise a prophetic voice, one that continually raises the concerns and the existence of those on the margins and focuses the attention of the wider church on those who do not have the privilege to bring their own voices to the table.

Individual Council members are not authorized to speak on behalf of Council, and I respect that Council norm. When I speak, I am very clear that I am speaking only for myself, and I attempt to make that clear in my communiques, whether they be blogging here, speaking in a meeting or public forum, posting comments online and on Facebook, or Tweeting. 

However, when one becomes a somewhat public figure in the sense of being an elected official, even if it's in a church and not in the public arena like holding a government office, then one also attracts and accumulates a certain amount of baggage that comes with the position. It's unavoidable. It's like you become a magnet for the expectations and projections of others whether you choose it or not. Just as we say in Christianity that one cannot be a Christian without community, so, too, I think, it is the case that you cannot serve in an elected position without also being of and in the community that raised you up and continues to hold you up. 

In my opinion, the expectations and projections of others place on me, an elected church leader, a measure of responsibility that I feel duty-bound to honor and respect. In the public arena of government, we might name the form that honor and respect take as modeling good citizenship. In the church, I would name it as modeling Christian behavior. That means the obvious elements of good behavior, like avoiding snarky comments and gossip, and not spreading lies, cheating, or promoting hate. But it also means the less obvious, and perhaps, more nuanced elements of good behavior, like exercising restraint in commenting before the facts are known, avoiding speculation about someone's intent, listening to various sides of issues and arguments, and continuing to engage conversation even when it's uncomfortable, fatiguing and personally distressing.

Perhaps the hardest thing to do is to exercise restraint and to avoid defensive and self-justifying behavior when you or your group is under attack in the blogosphere. I'm a former commercial bank customer service manager, and I've had years of experience in handling customer complaints in both the banking and the insurance industries. In the world of corporate finance, there was always a profit motive, cost-benefit analysis, or strategic position to consider in handling complaints. In the world of church service, I consciously try to avoid falling back into the habits of being strategic and strive to be non-anxious, irenic, and honest. 

I admit that I often fall short of my ideals and have my share of failures of nerve and perseverance. But the world of church service calls me to a cycle of self-examination, repentance, prayer, and renewal. I'm not going to be judging my fellow church servants any more harshly than I judge myself. And we will all rely upon the same merciful Lord to grant us grace in what we do and how we do it. Amen.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Episcopal Church's Budget and Budget Process

The Episcopal Church is in the last three months leading up to General Convention in July, and one of the major topics of discussion all around the church, including in many online forums, is the subject of the next triennium's budget. 

The Program, Budget and Finance Committee (PB&F) has launched a Web site to solicit Feedback on Proposed 2012-2015 Budget. I encourage you to view the 20-slide PowerPoint presentation about the proposed budget; it is a good overview and will be shown at the nine provincial synods so that Deputies can be better informed prior to convention. 

I also commend to you the Web site Deputies Online Forum that President of the House of Deputies, Dr. Bonnie Anderson, is hosting. Be sure to download and read the "white paper" entitled "The Budget and Budget Process" for some background information. The online discussion was started yesterday, and I posted the following comments in the online forum. Anyone may read the postings at the Deputies Online Forum, although only Deputies and First Alternates are invited to post.

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I am Deputy Lelanda Lee from the Diocese of Colorado, and I also serve as the Lay Representative from Province VI to Executive Council. This is my third General Convention (volunteer in 2006, alternate in 2009, and deputy in 2012). I also serve on Colorado’s Standing Committee and the Province VI Council, both of which afford me the perspective of how funding the church happens at those levels and the concomitant realities and issues.

I have had the privilege of serving as the elected representative from Executive Council to the ELCA Church Council during this triennium. As such, I have observed the ELCA Church Council grapple with similar challenges of a changing landscape for denominational churches. The ELCA made a deliberate decision to turn their funding model upside down at last year’s Churchwide Assembly (similar to our General Convention), recognizing as The Episcopal Church also recognizes, that mission and ministry happen most vibrantly and effectively at the congregational and synod (diocesan) expressions of church.

Everyone’s economic reality is that we are all being challenged to become more intentional, focused and creative about doing mission and ministry with the resources at hand, period. In some ways, it is a lesson in the Beatitudes, learning how to be blessed and to be a blessing with all that we are, just as we are, with a glad and grateful heart.

I am reminded, as we begin this online discussion of the budget and budget process, of a piece of wisdom from staff officer, the Rev. Margaret Rose, who says, “Always assume good intent,” referring to the fact that our sisters and brothers in the church all want what is best for the church, even though we might disagree on the approaches and the specific decisions. As each of us has particular gifts and calls in the Body of Christ, so, too, do we each have particular interests, passions, experiences, and perspectives derived from the intersection of living into those interests and passions.

At the end of the day, we won’t all agree on what the budget should look like. We may feel deeply disappointed in the choices that are made, and we may wonder about how those choices speak to the church’s priorities. My hope and my prayer are that we can avoid wounding each other as we listen deeply to the church and to the needs of the world and as we discern where the Spirit is calling our church now.

All of us deputies and alternates are leaders in our church, and one thing is certain, from my understanding of the exercise of leadership – that as we exercise our leadership, we will disappoint and possibly even harm some of our brothers and sisters while deciding upon the final budget. We will do the best that we know how, praying for the Spirit’s guidance, and we will humbly ask for forgiveness for not doing enough.

One of the bright lights I see in the work being done by the DFMS staff that bears talking about is the cross-departmental, cross-disciplinary collaborations that have been happening in recent months, which somehow don’t come across in the lines of a budget. Many of the longstanding “silos” have been broken down and replaced by creative, collaborative and mutually supportive work, which I observed at the Everyone, Everywhere Mission Conference in Estes Park in October, at the Alternative Leadership and Theological Training Consultation in January, and at the New Community Clergy and Lay Training Conference at the beginning of March.

I personally have witnessed the collaborative work being done among the ethnic missioners and cohorts being mirrored by the cross-diocesan collaboration of a number of bishops and diocesan missioners and picked up on by local clergy and laity. I think that is the type of leadership effort that is appropriate for a churchwide staff to engage, while dioceses and congregations engage the actual development and offering of programs to suit their particular contexts. The participants in those gatherings were not cynical, but open to being invited in to participate and to share in the work. I think we’re onto something new here that exemplifies what we mean by subsidiarity, and it is still rolling out in creative ways in multiple dioceses around the church.

These are challenging times that are also exciting, because I believe that God is calling us into participation in new creative activity all around the church. Our job will be to exercise good stewardship over not only financial and human resources, but also over our own spirits so that our spirits are fed and formed and willing to take on Christ’s yoke. I believe that the ones who are blessed in the Beatitudes have a very important role in teaching the church that has been privileged in our lifetime to become a very different church that will stand in solidarity with the poor, the weak, the hungry, the homeless, the lonely, the lost.

Deputy Lelanda Lee
Lay, Colorado