So that will teach me to post something on this here blog, acting like I’m talking to imaginary people. One of those people actually responded!
Droids, trust, and a series of connected tubes
(The Interwebz! A series of connected tubes that is ever amazing!)
If you didn’t read Sarah Dylan Breuer’s generous comment on the last post, please do. She said so many things that I promised her I would have a long think, and then respond as best I could. (I’m an introvert, so there’s only so much processing I can do in the moment.)
So here it goes:
First off, I see two major issues here, that are related, but not identical. There is 1.) what’s in the budget, and there’s 2.) the budget process. Both are not great, and while one could argue that the process led to the budget contents, I think that the issues are still essentially separate.
As far as #1 goes, the budget contents are now in the hands of PB&F, as per canon. And while I still don’t think it’s a good idea to try to effect structural change through budget cuts, the people to talk to about budget contents are PB&F.
And for the record, I think that increasing staff, while decreasing program, is effectively that. By all means, let’s get rid of our outdated bureaucracy, and let’s free up resources so that our networks can minister more effectively. That’s what I hear everyone saying. I’m all on board. But when I hear people saying things like “Slash the bureaucracy!” and then I see budgets released like this one, I begin to wonder if I am operating off of an entirely different definition of ‘mission’ and, in fact, ‘bureaucracy’ as everyone else. Aren’t we supposed to be funding more programming, less staff? More doing, less overhead! More action, less paperwork! Stuff like that.
Instead of people sitting in cubicles in the Church Center, everyone’s now in favor of these ‘networks’ which function at the grassroots level and adapt quickly to local context and changing times. Which is a good idea.
But the problem is, these networks don’t appear overnight. They have to be built. They don’t pop up out of the ground like daisies. They take resources: time, energy, and, yes, money.
So why not divert the money the budget is presently funneling towards increased staffing to block grants to fund and support these networks? Fund and support groups working in the church in their various ministries; college chaplains, Christian educators, youth ministers, various specialized ministries.
This year, my local parish, the diocese, and the province all cut their budgets. It’s not realistic to think that if the church wide budget gets cut as well, the deficit can be made up locally. There is no leprechaun in my basement with gold. (Alas….)
So that’s #1.
Part #2. Process!
Ok, so the process didn’t work. It was an Epic Fail. And while I still wish we could understand exactly why, so we could make sure not to do that next time, it’s looking more and more like that isn’t going to happen at the moment. We are still a people of hope, however, and my questions still stand.
But there’s this other thing that has become evident.
In the response from ExCoun, the PB and the President of the HoD on this, I’ve noticed something. It seems like there’s an ongoing assumption that in this budget mess, trust in the leadership has been damaged.
I don’t think that assumption is wrong for everyone in the church. However, that assumption is wrong for me, and I’m going to assert that it’s wrong for most others under 40 years old.
It’s not that any trust I had was damaged; it’s that I didn’t really trust institutional leadership to start with, and now I really don’t.
It’s possible this is generational. Millennials and late-era GenXers were raised postWatergate, and post-Vietnam, and the one thing we learned was that institutions were filled with people who wanted nothing other than to sell us something: something to believe, to buy, to subscribe to. They didn’t care about you or your welfare; they wanted your money. They wanted to use you. There was no era of innocence for us when everyone could pretend the government didn’t lie, Walter Cronkite knew all, and America was perfect.
So there is little more frightening than people, in groups, with power. And while it seems that for my parents, at least, institutions, and institutional leadership carried with it some level of automatic trustworthiness; for me and my generation, it means the exact opposite.
And this doesn’t really carry emotional weight. I, at least, don’t actively despise institutions, their leadership, and all they stand for. (Which certainly makes my life in the ordained ministry much easier.) On an individual level, the people involved in church leadership are pretty awesome.
But what it does mean is that on the trust scale, institutional leadership always starts from zero, not from any baseline “I trust the office and the process” level.
Trust needs to be built, and not assumed.
Frankly, this happens when you show all the cards. If you want me to trust that you have my best interests at heart, then you need to let me in on your thinking. Walk me through the process. Explain to me how it works, and how it will affect me, and those around me. Convince me that there is nothing up your sleeve, and that there is no way I will get tricked.
What will not work is if those in leadership just keep repeating “Trust us!” This is not a Jedi mind trick; we are not stormtroopers, and we have seen this movie before. (Hence our meta referencing of it.) If the leadership does that, then my anxiety is just going to shoot through the roof, and I will become convinced that something bad is happening, otherwise, WHY WOULD YOU NOT TELL ME?! And then you’re left with an organization in fits. No one wins.
My point is that along with fixing what actually went wrong with the budget process, there’s the larger issue of trust that’s now lurking in the background. For many of us, that trust in our leaders wasn’t just damaged in this mess; it was pushed into the negative quadrant, and that needs to be considered.
So moving forward, how can we build that trust between the leadership and the wider church? Not just assume it exists, but actually work to construct it?
Dare I suggest…Twitter?