Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reflections on the Local versus the Churchwide - Where is Our Ground?

Tomorrow will mark 14 days since the last day of Executive Council’s first meeting of this triennium. It feels to me both more distant than a mere 14 days ago and also more recent at various times here in northern Colorado. The pass-through of Superstorm Sandy has placed another layer of unreality to this passage of time and distance from the Church Center offices in New York City.

This is a fake photo of Superstorm Sandy. Credit: @ry_hudson
The East Coast metro areas, including the New Jersey shoreline, come through our television sets and computer monitors like fictional movie sets reflecting Sandy’s horrific water, wind, and fire destruction that strain credulity. We are much more accustomed and inured to the images of destruction and human misery from places like Haiti and Cuba, where the distance is also measured in otherness, racism, and classism. We “get” the poor; we have been told that they will always be with us.

Many Episcopalians have commented on the physical, psychological, and sometimes spiritual, distance of “Church Center” from where they have their daily being and encounters with the people with whom, and for whom, they serve. Some of those experiences of distance were the impetus for the General Convention resolution that directs the move away from 815 Second Avenue, New York City.

Building bridges is hard work. It must be directed both inward into the organization to bridge hierarchy, privilege, and factionalism, as well as outward into the community to bridge class, race, and languages. The long-term, sacrificial investment necessary for successful bridge building is enormous. Bridge building is a “both-and” endeavor alongside the more easily recognizable and accepted mission and ministry endeavors like feeding the poor and housing the homeless. And, let us not forget – there have always been casualties in bridge building.

Six-year terms for Executive Council members, interrupted by mid-term elections of half of Council, aren’t particularly conducive to the long-term perspective, institutional memory, and perseverance essential to institutional transformation. Because of both the structure of the volunteer Council members’ service and the election process in both General Convention and the provinces, we also typically don’t elect the charisms and skill sets needed for effective governance. Additionally, we don’t have representation of the wide diversity of the church amongst our elected leadership. One might ask, “so, what else is new?” (Much more on structure issues of participation to come in future posts.)

I have had recent conversations with folks here in Colorado, including my husband, another General Convention deputy, and a long-time friend whose ministry is to help congregants form healthy relationships with money, about my service at the churchwide level and its relevance to folks at the local level. I will continue to share my evolving thoughts on this subject in this blog as I gain awareness and clarity. Some of the recent “a-ha” moments have been a bit of a surprise and a definite challenge to my “druthers.”

I purposely volunteered to co-chair the stewardship “campaign” in my parish this season. Most Episcopal churches engage the topic of stewardship in the fall, as we build our budgets for the next calendar year and try to influence congregants to give generously to support the work of the local and wider church through messages of gratefulness, generosity, and tithing. A large part of my motivation for volunteering for this role is an overwhelming desire to reconnect with my home parish, the community that has raised me up for church leadership and the community that grounds me in my identity as a member of The Episcopal Church.

When I am away, which has been frequently in the past three to five years, I often have an underlying feeling of being adrift, unanchored, and sometimes, unsupported. It is true that my faith keeps me strong. However, it is also true that as people of an incarnational faith, who believe in a fully human Son of God, Jesus, we also need the incarnational presence of our communities of faith to succor us and make real for us our connection to the Kindom of God.

If one were to generalize, I would say that many of us Episcopalians tend to be relatively intellectual about our faith, experiencing God more in our heads than in our bodies, finding it generally easier, and also, more pleasurable, to talk about our relationship with God than to experience our relationship with God through hands-on, in-person relationships with the other in the communities where we make our homes. I do not say this as a judgment. I am merely making an observation. It is an observation that unsettles me, because I am beginning to see and to admit that I am myself frequently not relevant to vast swaths of the church, especially to the younger generations.

For the moment, in my parish, I’ve recruited six guest preachers to deliver a variety of stewardship messages, asking them to focus on formational topics that look beyond dollars and cents. I’ve also participated by leading African Bible Study on each Sunday’s Gospel between the 8:00 and 10:00 o’clock services. The Bible Study, more so than anything else, has really connected me spiritually with my parish family. I am happy to report that there is sufficient interest in the Bible Study for us to keep this effort going after Stewardship season is over.

Although I am a so-called “churchwide leader” in my capacity as a member of Executive Council and as chair of Council’s Joint Standing Committee on Advocacy and Networking for Mission, I believe that it is my membership and participation in my local parish where I must have my ground and being as a member of the Body of Christ. This is the place from which my participation in leadership must emanate. This is foundational for every one of us.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Let Love Triumph Over All

Life is hard
We are called to lighten one another’s load
not add to it

Life is hard
Why do some feel the need to dump on others
in order to make themselves feel bigger
and more important
when what they are doing
is making others feel smaller
and less important

I have witnessed the unkindness
and it grieves my heart
to breaking

I have experienced the unkindness
and a part of me dies each time

Words of kindness
and affirmation
are easy, my friends

Words of lovingkindness
and support
are life-giving

When we commend life
to one another
we are co-creators
of life unending

When we speak words that build up
we raise the heads of all
to turn their faces to the sun
to plant flowers for their sheer beauty
to wrap our arms around the little ones
and hold them safe in Love’s embrace

Love’s embrace is
worth losing all of Ego’s selfishness
and walking in equality,
justice and peace
for all,
for all,
for every one of us

Amen. Let it be so.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Collaboration & Cooperation Will Be Key

Filled with Hope
            Now that the first Executive Council meeting of this triennium is over, I am filled with hope. I am very hopeful that Council is embarked on a new path as we approach the work we have been given. The markers of this new path are a public acknowledgement from both presiding chairs* and the COO* of the importance of collaboration and cooperation between Council and the DFMS* staff. This collaboration is absolutely essential to make a meaningful dent in that work.

            Collaboration and cooperation must also be supported by our willingness to remove our egos from the work. It should not matter to either Council or DFMS staff who gets the credit for initiating or completing the work. After all, neither Council nor staff are likewise eager to claim the blame when things go awry. From my perspective, the work is simply too urgent and too important to get bogged down in playing credit games. I somehow can’t see our Maker or St. Peter reviewing credit tally sheets at the Pearly Gates.

            I am also overwhelmed at the amount of work before us. Maybe that volume of work always existed, and I was just unaware of it as a Council member. I suspect that staff has had a better awareness, because they have had to organize and implement the work.

            In this triennium, I will be approaching this work as chair of Council’s Joint Standing Committee on Advocacy and Networking for Mission (A&N), and my field of vision seems vast. Part of my responsibility as a committee chair is to assist committee members in getting our arms around the work so that we can be both global and specific as we approach the work. I intend to articulate clearly the lenses that we will apply to view the work, the mandates and sources of the work assignments, and the time priorities that we will apply to doing the work. 

            An aside about priorities: I think that we sometimes get confused about priorities. I often hear talk about priorities, meaning some notion about the rank ordering of the importance of subjects. However, I also hear the notion of priorities applied to the sequencing of important activities or projects, but not necessarily in the same rank ordering as to their importance. When we lack clarity as to which priorities we are talking about, we then easily fall into a morass where there are blame and accusations as to our sisters and brothers not caring about those subjects that are nearest and dearest to our hearts.

            In rank ordering tasks, considerations such as timing of budget expenditures, availability of staff time, and lead time needed for scheduled meetings must be factored into our planning, and they don’t always coincide exactly with the rank ordering of importance of these same tasks. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: my daughter’s surgery and preparing for the trip to the hospital rank high in importance as to subject. However, taking the trash to the curb ranks higher in terms of scheduled events and must be done before we pack the car and leave for the hospital, because the trash truck is coming today while we’ll be at the hospital. If we miss the trash truck today, we don’t get another chance to take the trash out again until next week.

New Class 
            The new class of Council members elected by both General Convention and the nine Provinces of The Episcopal Church is exciting. The new members arrive well equipped with numerous, relevant graduate degrees and thinking skills that indicate they got their money’s worth in their educations. They also have a plethora of for-profit, non-profit, and church leadership experience that they appear eager to tap and apply to our work. The new class’ desire to make a contribution and create new solutions to old problems reflects their deep love for our part of Christ’s Body. Their commitment is palpable.

            The average age of the new Council members also appears to be, I’m estimating, about eight years younger than the continuing class. Listening to the new Council members in one-on-one conversations and as they participate in plenary and committee discussions, I feel assured that Council’s new members will not hold back, after this first introductory, orientational meeting. I would encourage them to be bold in speaking their minds, taking the chance that they just might be right and have something important to open up the conversations and take us to additional perspectives and solutions.

            Balance between boldness and deliberateness in approaching Council’s decision-making is necessary, and I vote for erring on the side of boldness. Knowing when to be bold and when to be deliberate will always be a source of tension.

            In this Council meeting, I did, however, speak up for deliberateness in discussing the Marks of Mission block grants. I believe there had been insufficient time for those discussions in our joint standing committees and in plenary in this Council meeting. I want to have in-depth discussions that allow Council members to be apprised of the thinking that went into the Marks of Mission project teams assembled by the COO and co-convened by staff and Council members. I want Council members to share their ideas that might further shape the proposed initiatives for living into the Marks of Mission and application of the block grant funds. I welcome the opportunity for Council committee members and staff to convene through online and teleconference meetings to do this work between this and the February 2013 Council meeting.

            I promise to write often and openly about what I’m doing in Council in this triennium, and I invite your comments both here on this blog and also directly to me by email at Please keep Council and DFMS staff in your prayers.