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When we can’t all get along: Canons, Part the Second

We continue our series of Proposed Canonical Changes: Highlights! with the next Blue Book report.

Resolution A065: 100 Ways to Leave Your Bishop
Proposed by the Standing Committee for Ministry Development
Might I pause here and express my love for the Standing Committee for Ministry Development?
Seriously. I love you guys. You guys are wonderful. I would like to line you all up and give you hit- fives. This proposed resolution adds an entire canon which lays out a process by which troubled dioceses can end their relationships with their bishops, and avoid ecclesiastical court.
I like this concept.
NOT (let the record reflect) because I would like to fire my bishop. He is very nice, and pays me twice a month.
But because there needs to be a way to end the episcopal relationship in general,in cases where it has past the point of no return. Occasionally, this happens. Reconciliation should always be the goal, but sometimes, reconciliation can only occur in hindsight, and at a safe distance. And in the meantime, the diocese has entirely shut down.
I’ve watched two dioceses now deal with troubled bishops, both to the point where ministry and mission ceased to happen. In both cases, it reached a point where it didn’t matter who was actually right, and who was actually wrong; the conflict had dragged out so long and become so contentious that until something external happened to end it, no ministry was going to get done. But the bishops held on. Because they were bishops, and who was going to tell them otherwise?

As a final note: the idea for this resolution, the committee would like you to know, originated from the House of Bishops. So, this is not a GOB Bluth-style-power-grab. From the other side of things, I can imagine that extricating yourself from a diocese that hates you has to be excruciating, as well.

Resolution A066:100 Ways to Fix your Crazy Rector
Proposed by the Standing Committee for Ministry Development, who are on fire this triennium

Told you these guys were awesome. Now that they’ve covered what to do when your bishop goes round the bend, they’ve turned to what to do when your rector loses it.
This resolution also adds a canon which would allow the bishop to ask an active clergy person to undergo an evaluation, or treatment, if in the bishop’s judgement, the clergy person is compromised. It also allows the bishop to follow up with said clergy until such time that the problem is resolved, or, in consultation with the vestry and standing committee, the pastoral relationship is dissolved.

Part of me loves this resolution to bits. Or, rather, I love the idea of this resolution to bits.
We need a mechanism in place by which someone can intervene in situations where the clergy have diminished capacity, and can’t admit it, whether by reason of addiction, or mental issues.

Our clergy are aging rapidly. I’ve dealt with several situations now where this has cropped up, and it is a serious issue. The fact that Fr. Whoever can’t remember red lights from green lights is cute in the abstract; it ceases to be cute when he insists on driving for pastoral care visits, and he totals 2 cars in a week. And more often than not, the parish leadership has had such a long, emotionally involved relationship with the clergy that they are unable to set limits, or see clearly what is happening. The boundaries need to come from outside the system.

But my concerns have to do with specifics. This canon rests almost entirely on the bishop’s judgement, at least in the initial stages. We established in the previous section that bishops are human. Bishops can be wrong. And who is going to stop the bishop if s/he decides that a certain priest is behaving erratically, and is damaging the church? There’s a small, but concerning, possibility for witch-hunts here.

Also, there are no provisions made for whistleblowers in this canon. (Again, experience here.) The bishop isn’t omnipresent, especially in 2012. Most of what the bishop knows of what’s happening is coming from contact with parish leadership, staff, and other clergy. What happens to the administrative assistant who calls the bishop to tell her/him that her boss is drinking at work? The junior warden? Right now, in our canons, outside of a Title IV complaint, people like this have no protection, or guarantee of confidentiality, outside of (I hope) common pastoral sense.

I don’t know that these concerns are enough to derail what, I think, is a good idea. They might be grounds for later revisions, especially the whistleblower idea.

And now for something entirely different!!

Resolution A072: Teach Everyone Community Organizing!
Proposed by Standing Committee for Mission and Evangelism

There are times I forget why I love my church. Then, there are resolutions like this one.

It basically does what it says on the tin: require that everyone being prepared for parish leadership in the church: priests, deacons, and lay leaders certified for ‘total ministry’ sites be trained in “1) understanding differences in cultural contexts, 2) storytelling as a practice for evangelism and community-building, 3) growing and facilitating the leadership of all God’s people, 4) building teams of lay leaders, 5) identifying leaders and their passions and calling forth gifts, 6) building capacity in nonprofit organizations, and 7) engaging God’s mission in the local community and in the world.”

None of this is bad. I learned some community organizing in seminary , which is essentially what this is. (Now we’ve lost the flyover states.) I’ve learned more since. It’s just very specific. And so it leaves me wondering if we’re going to look at this in 10 years and wish it weren’t so dated. Right now, storytelling is awesome, and the thing to do. In 5 years, it will probably be something else.

There’s another thing too, which sort of creeps in the background of a lot of these “grow the church!” conversations. We convention-type people have these conversations CONSTANTLY with each other. Lay leadership! Storytelling! Different styles of church! We come up with some bold new ideas, and it’s great.

Know who we forget to inform of all of this? The 65 year old retiree who sits in the 4th pew at church. He has no idea about any of this, and so when he goes to write the parish profile for the next rector, and to do the interviews, he will not hire anyone who uses such big scary words.

So we can train all the new leaders in this new stuff. The leaders aren’t the problem. We need to train everyone else. It’s the everyone else who are the problem. Until that 65 yr old retiree sees the value and the excitement in telling the new Spanish -speaking family who just moved to town about how great his church is, and how they should come, we’re going to go round in circles.

Next time: Structure! And we actually attempt to teach the 65yr old retiree some things.

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One response »

  1. Pingback: What do we do now? « Comprehension for the Sake of Truth

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