Saturday, September 06, 2014

Looking at TREC's proposal from the other side of schism

You know, I really did want to support TREC.

After all, I live in a diocese that has been flying the airplane while we are building it in the wake of a 2008 schism when our former bishop and much of the diocesan leadership left The Episcopal Church but claimed –and occupied – most of our church property. We have been Reimagining the Church like crazy around here ever since then. So I was eagerly awaiting TREC’s ideas.

Others – Episcopal CafĂ© here and here, Tom Ferguson on his blog Crusty Old Dean here, commentors on the HOB/D list -- have done brilliant jobs of outlining things they like and things that concern them, and I urge you to read them all. I haven’t written a detailed analysis. Instead, I offer a view from the other side of schism, for what it’s worth.

My first reaction was - what business major wrote this and has he or she ever been to church?

My second reaction was - has this person ever been to a General Convention?

My third reaction was - did they really think through the implications of using Lazarus as a starting place?



And my fourth reaction was – did no one learn ANYTHING from what happened in San Joaquin, Quincy, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, and, most recently, South Carolina? 

Full disclosure – I live in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. I am a lay woman coming at this from the perspective of a person who was confined to the margins of my diocese, and thus of General Convention, for more than 20 years. As an outsider I observed the workings of the church in ways that insiders don’t have to. For me, as for people of color, all women, for my LGBT sisters and brothers, learning the ways of those who held power was not a luxury – it was imperative if there was to be any chance of being heard in the councils of the church.

Tipping the scales of the balance of power in favor of those traditionally on the margins was not then and is not now easy in an institution still steeped in clericalism and mesmerized by the color purple. But it is possible, with patience and a willingness to understand how the system works, to learn where the ways into the system are, and where the system offers opportunities for anyone to speak up. All of this is true, by the way, of ANY institutional system, no matter how big or small.

In 2009, I suddenly was thrust into “insider” status. My bishop left The Episcopal Church, we reorganized the diocese, I was elected a deputy and, to my utter amazement, elected to Executive Council on the first ballot at General Convention in Anaheim. My work on the margins had given me enough name recognition to make that possible.

At home my diocese and other reorganized dioceses still are working to rebuild in the wake of a schism that should have been prevented. I see amazing creativity and openness to new ways of being church. I see clergy learning to value the lay people with whom they partner. I see lay people growing into the fullness of their baptisms. I watch feisty small congregations take on ministry projects that would make many large congregations cower. I see displaced congregations growing into being Welcoming Congregations. I watch valiant Episcopalians in congregations that have been locked out of their church homes faithfully creating church from scratch every single Sunday in rented spaces they have access to only on Sunday. I see growth, small, but steady.

Why? Because even though people are tired, they are not afraid. We are not into feeding the fears here.

Of course, I also see families split between those who stayed with The Episcopal Church and those who stayed with Bishop Iker. I see time and way too much money being eaten up in legal fights that Could. Have. Been. Avoided.

The schism in my diocese – as in San Joaquin, Quincy, Pittsburgh, and now South Carolina -- was more than 20 years in the making. The people organizing this move were almost to a man ordained (very few women were involved). They made no secret of their goals - read the Chapman memo and Jim Naughton’s Following the Money. Laity were disempowered. Those who protested were demonized and marginalized, and those who were compliant were used as tools to further the aims of the clergy. Purple reigned, with bishops taking the idea of “princes of the church” into new realms of virtually unchecked power.

The twenty years leading up to the schisms were filled with strife fulminated by these people intent on undermining The Episcopal Church. They wanted a very public fight in which they would be seen standing up for patriarchy, “traditional marriage,” and a vision of The Episcopal Church as it was in the 1950s, when men were men and women – and minorities – knew their place. This had the effect of running off folks who don’t like conflict, folks who don’t like bigots, and folks who bought into the idea that politics is a dirty word. All these added to the ongoing decline in all the mainstream protestant denominations, which led to calls for a more “nimble” church.

During this time, two presiding bishops and the House of Bishops worked hard to placate their brother bishops and fellow priests and their conservative allies in the Anglican Communion. This purple brotherhood did virtually nothing to stop the bishops who later would leave The Episcopal Church while laying claim to millions of dollars’ worth of Episcopal Church property. If you have wondered why the larger church should help pay the legal expenses of San Joaquin and South Carolina, it’s because the wider church’s inaction allowed this legal mess to happen.

What happened in my diocese and the others happened not because General Convention is too big and too long, not because the PB doesn’t have enough power, not because there are too many CCABs, not because the Executive Council has too many people -- but because the balance between clergy and laity was tilted mightily in the direction of the clergy, silencing and marginalizing lay people. There were no countervailing voices strong enough to gainsay what the bishops were doing. There was no will among the House of Bishops to use even peer pressure, much less what canonical powers did exist, to rein these men in.

And now comes TREC with a proposal to turn us into a Roman Catholic Church Light with our own PB pope, a much smaller role for laity in a smaller General Convention and Executive Council, and – has anyone noticed? No change at all in the frequent meetings and workings of the House of Bishops. Additionally, in a church full of small congregations, this proposal will insure that no one from a small congregation can be elected to anything, Episcopalians living west of the Mississippi will be invisible and church wide staff for the most part will be independent contractors, which absolves employers of any emotional investment as well as most of the financial investment made in regular employees.

And all this is supposed to make us nimble – because look how nimble the Vatican is.


Lionel Deimel said...

Let me offer a big amen to this post from the Diocese of Pittsburgh. TREC seems oblivious to how the church was undermined by ultraconservative clergy. Many iimportant and obviously needed changes have been overlooked. Why not, for example, enact an explicit canon preventing dioceses from leaving the church?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you for this, Katie. I simply don't understand how it can make any sense to these otherwise seemingly intelligent people on TREC that centralizing power and authority will, in any way, enable mission at the local level.


Apparently we've not learned anything from the last 20 years.

It just makes me so sad.

Your post, however, gives me hope.

June Butler said...

Splendid commentary, Katie. With all due credit to the team for the time and effort put into the proposal, as I see it, the result is a failure proportionate to the Anglican Covenant. There. I said it.

SCG said...

June beat me to the punch. Some of this sounds too familiar to the complaints I had about the un-Anglican Covenant. Oy, vey! This is like being trapped in the Book of Judges: "And the people one more time, like clockwork, just freakin' didn't get it..."

Leonard said...

Yes, ¨..a failure proportionate to the Anglican Covenant¨ (worse, promoting despotism on our home turf)

Eric Funston said...

Great commentary, Katie! I've already posted my own take on this at "The Lead" (and in several Facebook threads) so I won't repeat them here, but my thoughts run on the same track as yours.

Father Steve said...

Your post makes me proud to have voted for you in Anaheim.

Apostle In Exile said...

Alleluia, amen, from Diocese of San Joaquin. You nailed it. Let's NOT perpetuate and exacerbate the disasters we just lived through.

-Andee Zetterbaum (aka, Apostle In Exile)

David said...

Brava Katie!
Brava and thank- you.
Writing from Canada, some may think this issue is not mine, but as a member of the Living Body of Christ, it is my sense that it is the laity; our sister, ordained, consecrated and lay; and my own LGBTI tribe that Spirit is using to save the Church from itself.
The impotent boondoggle within the House of Purple Shirts you identify is- to my mind- the crucial indicator of what this struggle is really about: Church as institution OR Church as the transformative, Living Body of Christ. and once again witnessing this as a Canadian, it is my sense that once again TEC is leading the way- all the provinces/denominations have this ahead of them.... now how do we get this particular post wider distribution than just your personal blog? thank-you Katie: love from Montreal.

janinsanfran said...

Thanks Katie! I've been avoiding thinking about church politics -- but I trust you to recognize when someone wants to undermine what I consider the most significant feature of our denomination: our quirkily democratic polity grafted on a (sometimes blessed) feudal remnant.

Muthah+ said...

"What happened in my diocese and the others happened not because General Convention is too big and too long, not because the PB doesn’t have enough power, not because there are too many CCABs, not because the Executive Council has too many people -- but because the balance between clergy and laity was tilted mightily in the direction of the clergy, silencing and marginalizing lay people."

Yea, verily! Excellent commentary on a seemingly reoccurring meme in the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Covenant tried to do much of the same thing. And that is stillborn.

The problem seems to me that too many see the 'large church' image and the corporate image in the same light. Yes, in the larger congregations such business methods seem quite correct, but the Church has never been about corporate structure on any level.

There was a reason that when the size levels of the various congregations that those churches over 300 were originally called 'corporate' or 'corporation' sized churches instead of 'resource'. In order to be 'efficient' they had to use corporate types of administration techniques to survive.

We Episcopalians have mostly been teethed in the small congregations of small towns. We were gathering places where the priest didn't rule, but ministered to the people--a parson (person) was raised up to minister, taught,preached and offered soul healing to those who came to do the ministry of Christ.
In this corporate structure offered by TREC, I am seeing the same desire to make us 'efficient' rather than helping us to embrace holiness.

I am of the opinion that there does need to be a balance between the orders and there has to be a willingness for all orders to take their place in the policy making of the Church. Efficiency is not our goal. Love is that cancels fear, is.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I've been working through my own thoughts on the supposed imminent death of TEC and TREC. I find myself almost echoing you to a "t", as they say.