First, a story.
Last week, a retired priest came into the office I share with several other people. He had come out of a meeting, and upon seeing me, typing at my computer, he guestured broadly, and declared, “And here sits Megan, a future priest of the church!”
Without thinking, I responded, “Well, I’m here now.”
Silence fell in the office. He was flustered, and tried to cover.
“Ah, of course you are! A future and PRESENT priest of the church!”
The proposed budget for 2013-2016 for DFMS* was released March 1. It will be voted on at General Convention in July, so nothing is official yet. And you can download it here.
Some preliminaries: staffing was increased by $1.4million dollars, over the next 3 years.
Funding for Hispanic/Latino ministries was cut, as was funding to dioceses with large Native populations and ministries. Funding was also cut to historic African-American colleges (yes! We have several Historic Black Episcopal colleges. Which now have less funding.)
Seminarian grants were zeroed out entirely, as was the line item funding the General Ordination Exams. (Which will conceivably run into some canonical issues. We aren’t Free Will Baptists, folks. We have rules.)
And funding for all Formation: youth, adult, young adult, and college ministry went from over $3 million to about $286,000 over three years. That’s a 90% cut in funding for the young people. (Good numbers breakdown here, for those of us who are scared of spreadsheets.)
No more Episcopal Youth Event, no more Youth Presence at General Convention, no more Young Adult Festival at General Convention, no more funding help for provincial conferences for youth and young adults, no more PLSE program to encourage young people to consider ordained ministry, nope nada.
The given rationale is that this sort of ministry is best done by local dioceses and parishes.
And I would be peachy-keen with said rationale, if I had widespread experience of that actually occurring.
Instead, in my experience, the dioceses, not to mention parishes, are not really any more flush with cash than DFMS is. And my experience is that while they mean well, when push comes to shove, and they face a tight budget, they do precisely what the Executive Committee just did, and they slash funding for anyone under 45.
Dioceses can, when they have their act together, come up with some good ministry for teh youthes. So can parishes.
But, and this is important, so pay attention. THEY CANNOT DO IT ALONE.
COD is right; you cannot dump an unfunded mandate on unprepared and unfunded people and expect them to do it. That is both unfair and, actually, unChristian. It is a setup to fail. It is, for lack of a better word, tea-partying in the Church.
You actually want to empower the grassroots, to devolve ministry to locals who are in touch with their context? Then you have to empower them for real. Educate them, make sure they have the funding. Put them in touch with a network of resources to help them succeed. Put them in a community to support them.
Because youth work, young adult work, work with college students is too important to fail. It gets said all the time, but these people aren’t the future of the church, they are its present, and its hope. To fail so spectacularly to invest in them is to fail at the sure and certain hope to which God calls us.
I feel like I have been saying this at least twice a week since my ordination, but here it is again.
When programs like this are cut, you lose the next generation of leaders, both ordained and lay. We are beginning to see this now, as the Boomers begin to retire. The second-career clergy are many, and they are wonderful, but we are losing the clergy who are able to put in 30-40 years of continuous experience into the church. We lost them once because of massive cuts to funding like this in the 1960s, and now we’re doing it again.
When I was a teenager, I left the church because there was no youth program (among other reasons). But I am a priest now, because of college ministry. I am a priest because the church made an effort to help me discern and decided I was important, and invested in me.
If this church wants young people, like the constant refrain says, then step up.
*DFMS: the official registered name for The Episcopal Church’s non-profit– Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. It keeps me from writing TEC all the time, and is less jingoistic than saying “National Church”, when we include several other countries (Haiti, Ecuador, etc) and much of Western Europe.