I have now returned from Hawaii, and I understand now why everyone’s nuts about tropical islands. (I had never been to one before. I had been to San Matteo in Belize, but that’s an island largely constructed like Mt. Trashmore in Virginia Beach, plus gated resorts, and desperate poverty mixed in. The ambiance is odd, is what I’m saying.)
But seriously! Tropical islands! Quite amazing!
But all was not going to the beach, drinking boba tea, and quoting ‘Arrested Development’.
Each year, Prov conference is a powerful experience for me. Each year, when we do our closing group discussion, at least a couple students say something along the lines of “This is the first time I’ve been in church with people my own age.” “This is the first time I can talk to people my own age about my faith.” “Campus ministry is the first time I’ve felt welcomed and accepted by the church.” Every. Year.
This year, however, it took on a different cast. Because this year, we also had to talk about what we were facing as the province west of the Rockies.
So there was the possibility that this would be the last Prov conference, as it is incarnated currently. We’ve promised ourselves that this won’t be the case, but we’ve already lost all of our provincial funding, due to budget cuts there. (And remember folks, this is the local level that’s supposed to be picking up the slack of the church wide budget cuts.) And for ministry budgets already strained to the breaking point, more-expensive conferences are going to be difficult to swallow.
But we will make it happen. Because that’s what we do.
So after a fairly heartening weekend of earnest, dedicated college students, worshipping, learning, and planning together, I was less than thrilled to receive this memo from the heads of PB&F regarding the draft budget.
On the one hand, hooray, this is much of what Susan Snook+ has been saying for the past few weeks, and now someone with budgetary power has admitted it.
On the other hand….
Look, Executive Council, I understand that this was a new process, but can we all now get around the fact that this process failed? This is not a process that we can trust. Because the end result of said process is a budget that contains such grievous errors that it doesn’t balance in several places and accidentally defunded almost the entirety of Christian formation across the Episcopal Church.
Aside from my basic questions (did no one have a calculator!?) which, I realize, are not the helpful at this point, what strikes me is the assertion in the memo that the de-funding was a mistake, but no one remembers quite how much they wanted to put there, and besides, to re-fund Formation would take equal cuts elsewhere.
So while this appears to be an accident, it still amounts to de-funding Christian Formation. Unless PB&F can magically produce the money.
Some of the questions that constantly get asked of me, and others in ministry with young adults, are “What do young adults want from the church? How can we do more/better young adult ministry? How do we get young adults in church?” It happened in Hawaii as well. The dean of the cathedral in Honolulu asked that we hold the Dean’s Forum on this very topic.
There are many ways to answer this question. Many different visions.
I can tell you where to start though.
YOU SHOULD FUND. IT.
It is a powerful kind of disheartening when you attempt to do ministry, and over and over again, you are told it is the most important ministry in the church, and yet….the budget gets slashed again and again.
And here, it’s worse. The budget (evidently) didn’t get slashed because they agonized over it, faced a revenue shortfall, and triaged what mission items were most important. They slashed our budget because no one was paying close enough attention. It wasn’t a low priority; it wasn’t even on the radar. They passed a budget that, for whatever reason, hadn’t been checked.
So, here we go, Church. Here’s what I need, as a certified Young Person. (I’m 28 years old–I count, despite being a priest.)
Here is what I need from you, My Church. Here’s the answer to that question you keep asking me.
You need to say that you are sorry, that you realize this budget thing didn’t go well this year. You need to say you’re sorry that you overlooked the crucial part of administration that is budgeting. Part of the leadership you were elected to is owning up when things fall apart, and they just did. You need to admit it.
And then, you need to Fix It.
Write a letter to PB&F (which looks like it’s happening), outline a better budget that takes into account the actual mission priorities this Church has espoused, and FIX. IT.
And, look, I’ll help you. I will sit in meetings, I will voice my opinion, I will help write budgets, I will help pass them. I will even explain the point of Twitter for the ten thousandth time. I will pull my own weight and then some. I will help you come up with a better way to make budgets, since this one fell flat. I fell in love with this church when I was a kid, and I’m not going anywhere. We’ll work together; it will be great.
But you need to fix this.
Because the secret to getting young people in the church (or anyone into church) is that you actually have to care about them. Not in a lip-service way, or in a non-committal way, but in a dedicated, flesh in the game, asking what they think and feel, sort of way. You actually have to honestly care about them. (Jesus said something along these lines, I do believe. Smart guy, that Jesus.)
So help me believe that the Church actually cares enough about young people to give us money, and not just lots of anxiety. Help me convince my students that the Church wants them for their voices and opinions, and not just their life expectancy and wallets.
Please, Fix It.