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Sing the canons!

That sound you’ve been hearing for the past few weeks has been the sound of many eager deputies, flipping electronic pages in their PDF copies of the Blue Book*

The Blue Book is the 759 page tome of reports from committees, boards, and agencies to the 2012 General Convention, and it’s required, and somewhat gripping, reading.   (Did you know there was a guy who is the Custodian to the Standard Book of Common Prayer?  Did you know he writes a report?  Doesn’t that conjure images in your head of the one, true, perfect BCP  held in a vault of 815 Second Ave, NYC with Frodo and Sam guarding it?)

I am going to Convention this summer, and am on the legislative committee for Canons.  While both of these facts mean that I have suddenly become way less fun at parties (“Want me to explain Title IV charges to you?”), they also mean that I get to highlight my PDF within an inch of its life.  And that I get to learn all about ALL OF THE RULES.

Canons are nothing more than how we intentionally order our common life.  Our ground rules.  And as such, our attempts to set them are fascinating.

My former diocese had this practice of reciting our diocesan norms at every gathering.  We would promise each other not to yell, not to name call, not to “impune the spiritual maturity of those who disagreed with us.”  To watch newcomers’ eyes widen as they recited these was great.  What trauma had befallen these poor people, that they set these rules?!

Rules, or our attempts at them, are thus instructive.  Learn the rules, learn yourself.

It is in this spirit, that I will now attempt to bring you an overview, over the next few days, of the proposed canonical changes at GC2012.  I’ll just hit the highlights, not include every grammar fix and language-clean up.

Resolution A030: Renunciation language

Proposed by the Standing Committee on Constitution and Canons

This resolution proposes to alter language in the canons around clergy who voluntarily renounce their orders.  Apparently, certain sections of the church find the current ‘renunciation’ language to be too negative.  This canon replaces this language with ‘release and remove’ which, I suppose, sounds better?
The gist of the whole thing is that people who no longer want to be clergy shouldn’t feel so bad about it, and we should find better language.

This resolution also includes an alteration to give bishops, who have been charged with abandonment of the church, the option to be released from their vows.  Given our current situation, with bishops trying to abscond with dioceses and parishes and whatnot, I’d say that offering someone that option of voluntary renunciation (or release) is a good move.  And saves on legal fees.

Resolution A033: Fixing Title IV

Proposed by the Standing Committee on Constitutions and Canons

Looking ahead to the B,C, and D resolutions, there are several requests afoot to revise Title IV, and right after we succeeded in getting the darn thing written, too.  This set of revisions, among other things, provides a process to file a complaint, provides for the complainant to have an advocate without having to hire a lawyer, and specifies bounds for confidentiality.

Whether this will succeed in satisfying people’s problems with Title IV remains to be seen.

Resolution A061: Bibles!  

Proposed by the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music

The biblical translations read from during church services is decided by the canons.  SCLM wants to add the Common English Bible and The Message to the approved translations.

While nothing says you can’t use whatever Bible you want to in your daily life, this suggestion has caused great controversy in the various listservs and Twitterspheres of the church.  Apparently, The Message inspires controversy not seen since the advent of the Folk Mass.  I will point out, however, that just because a Bible is approved, does not mean you have to use it.

The Good News Bible (1976) is already approved.  That ship of “preserving formal equivalence” has sailed.

Resolution A062: Getting a Spanish BCP that Spanish-Speakers won’t mock us for

Speaking of formal equivalence!  Know what preserves it?  Our prayer book translations!  They tend to be literal, clunky and awkward for native speakers, or anyone with more than a ‘liturgical’ knowledge of the language.  This is not helpful when we’re trying to do ministry in growing non-English speaking populations.

Therefore, the SCLM wants to free up the translators to use idiomatic language and cultural context in their translations.  Since one of the strengths of Anglicanism is our ability to adapt to various cultures, this makes a lot of sense.

Also, the report of the Custodian of the Standard Book of Common Prayer was all about how we should pass this resolution.  So there’s that.

I’ll leave it there for now.

Next time, we’ll look at the proposals from the Standing Committee on Ministry Development: Many New Ways of Firing Someone!


*Which isn’t Blue.  Rather, it’s salmon-colored, according to the Preface.  Or would be, if it were actually made of paper, and had a cover.  Instead, it’s electronic.  This is a very meta book, you understand.  The coen of its blueness/non-blueness helps us to contemplate the unknowableness of divinity.

In which I address Executive Council, in my imagination

Dear Executive Council,

Much has been said, and much has been written about the budget. We started out talking about the priorities of funding, which was one discussion. Now, we’ve moved on to the fact that the budget, as it is currently constructed, literally doesn’t add up, which is another discussion altogether.
And not only that, but also you, members of ExCoun, have said that this is not a budget that you recognize, suggesting that somewhere along the line, Something Occured to change the draft budget you passed.

So there’s quite a lot happening now, in the Land of Budget. Many Layers. Much to prompt recreational inebriation from those of us so inclined.

And so, in response to this, you released a statement (& a memo) yesterday informing the wider church that you were “deeply disappointed” with the way the budget turned out.

While I join in your disappointment, I have to point out that this is not the best language to use. Saying you are disappointed with the budget that you yourselves passed is like a government official in the secular world informing us in a press conference that “mistakes were made.”

This budget did not fall from heaven in a Glad bag. No dryer-sock-stealing gremlins were involved. And while I understand that apparently, the numbers weren’t there until the night before, and that you were overwhelmed and flooded with spreadsheets, and yes, I don’t like math either, but the bottom line is this:

While General Convention isn’t meeting, you are the governing authority of the Church. We, the rest of us down here, elected you for that. The buck stops with you.

You passed this budget, whether you fully understood what was happening or not, and it has caused, and is causing a lot of damage. (For example, does anyone know the actual funding level for Formation at this point? Ok then. I’ll return to my low level panic.)

You need to own that action. You need to apologize. Acknowledge that this went badly, and that you hear people’s anger, pain, and frustration. (By the way, this has nothing to do with you all as bad/evil/ugly people. You’re not– you’re loved by God, saved by grace, probably personally really nice people, and nothing changes that. This has nothing to do with blaming you at all. This has to do with empathy for us. These other people in the church you serve. Do this for the rest of us.)

And then, you need to talk to us about what happened. Ok, you got the figures late. Where are you getting the numbers from? Do you know who changed the budget after you passed it? There seem to be some steps missing from this story, and they sound important.

Can we have a wider conversation about why programs were slashed, and staffing levels were kept, because, really, that flies in the face of what everyone, including you all, have been talking about for the past year. What was your thinking like around that?

Clearly, our budget process is badly broken, but the thing is, we can’t fix it unless you are transparent about the process you went through, because otherwise we don’t know what exactly the process is. Right now, I’m tempted, in my wilder moments, to believe that the budget is constructed through sacrificing a goat and examining the entrails under a full moon. (Sorry, PETA.)

One final thing, members of ExCoun, while I have you here in my imaginary auditorium:

Everyone in this church is anxious. Everyone in this church is frustrated. Everyone is even a bit defensive, I think. What we need from our elected leaders is none of those things. What we need from you is a deep breath, an apology, and concrete answers. We need non- reactivity.

Really, honestly and truly, this is not about you personally, Executive Council. This is about a collective choice you made, and its fallout for the church you serve. So, for the sake of that church, exercise your leadership, and make it right.

Going to the Beach for Jesus, Part 2: FIX. IT.

Going to the Beach for Jesus, Part 2: FIX. IT.

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!

View from Pali Lookout

This would be why people like Hawaii. This would also be why King Kamehameha conquered the islands and defeated the first wave of English explorers: Pali Lookout (History!)

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.

::deep breath::

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.



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.

Hawaii Double Rainbow

Now, to make us feel better, a double rainbow from Honolulu.

Going to the beach for Jesus: Part 1

I am writing this on the flight to the Province 8 Conference for Episcopal College Students (and their Chaplains.). This yearly conference is held at whichever ministry site has the resources and gumption to host it; last year was UCDavis, this year, because none of the sites with staff could do the job, the intrepid band of students from University of Hawaii are doing it.

So I am en route to Honolulu. (Hey, nine times out of ten following Jesus leads to the cross, but that tenth time, turns out Jesus is heading to Hawaii. I am not questioning.)

And I am taking this opportunity to point out the following things:

1.) UH has no staff for campus ministry. None. Zip. Nada. When I find out how to say “none” in Hawaiian, I will add that to this list. Their ministry currently consists of some amazing students who show up to the Cathedral, and other local churches, and who come to this yearly conference, and who do so on such a consistent basis, that they convinced the Province coordinator to let them host this conference themselves.

Which leads to:

2.). Next year, as things currently stand with the draft budget, this conference won’t exist. Likewise the program that will send three of my students to General Convention. So for students like the young adults from Hawaii, or the student from Utah, who is also on my flight, bam! No more contact with young adult Episcopalians.

This is what the wider church provides, in terms of campus ministry. Events like Prov 8, and opportunities like the Young Adult Festival at General Convention (which I went to in 2003, and which 3 of my students are attending this year). The Church Center doesn’t mandate what we do, and they don’t give curriculum, and they don’t tell us what to do and not do– they empower networks without which an already-nearly-impossible-job would be entirely impossible.

Right now, there is a needed conversation happening about the respective roles of denominational structure vs local structure. And that’s fantastic.

But this conversation won’t be fruitful if we continue to misunderstand what the different structures are capable of. Local structures, right now in many places, lack the resources and vision necessary to enable networks that work across traditional boundary lines. But larger structures can do that. In fact, if we’re all going to do our jobs well, larger structures must do that.

Larger structures actually do have a role, especially in a time when local parishes and dioceses are so cash-strapped that they are having trouble keeping the lights on, much less looking to start new ministries. (And let’s face it– any ministry with anyone under 45 is going to be a very long term investment).

My colleague and fellow AZ deputy, the Rev. Susan Snook, has written several excellent blog posts exploring ways to correct the budget problems, at least in the short term*. (Susan+ is one of those people I give great thanks for. To some, God has given talent for math and budgets, to others….sarcasm. And shoes.). The long-term exploration of how to fix the budget process, and the balance between denomination and local levels, continues.

Meanwhile, I head to Hawaii, and if this is to be our last Conference with these amazing young adults, then may it be a profound and joyous experience for all of us.

Future Present Church

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.

Investment time.

*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.