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Canons, Take Three: New Reality TV ideas, and Confusing Sacraments

Welkommen, bienvenue, welcome…
to the third and final part of Megan’s Fun-Filled Romp through the Proposed Canonical Changes in 2012!

As I said before, I’m just hitting the highlights, so I’m going to breeze right on past the resolutions cleaning up language, and asking for revisions of Title IV (they are legion).

So we come to:

A106:Hey, Remember that time we gave you that money?
Proposed by: Standing Committee on the Structure of the Church

This resolution requires each province to give the Executive Council a detailed report of activities it does each year, and alsowhat it does with the money allotted to it by Convention. Right now, Provinces are not required to report back on their activities or spending.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and advocate for this resolution. It is a good idea that if we give someone money, they can tell us how they spend it.

And now, before I dwell too deeply on what the heck was happening for all the years before no one was reporting on the money they were getting at the provincial level, let’s look at:

A119:Let’s fire the GCO head, too
Proposed by:Executive Council

So, evidently we’re on somewhat of a “let’s make sure we can fire people” kick. And that’s the main reason I point out this resolution.
There exists an entire office to run the triennial behemoth that is General Convention, and its executive officer is selected jointly by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the HoD.

This resolution would give Executive Council confirmatory powers of that selection, and give them firing power as well. It is an interesting move. I am fine with someone being able to remove the GChead, but why make it someone different than the folks who hired you?

A041:Everyone Should Learn Things!
Proposed by: Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation and Education

If the standing committees and commissions were locked in some variety of cage match,* Hunger Games-style, these guys would win. I have no doubt about it. They are smart, they are well networked, and they are very intense about their jobs. Never mess with Christian educators.

They’ve got a couple resolutions up, and this one calls for every congregation in The Episcopal Church to offer instruction in the “history, structure, and governance of this church”, and also makes completing this instruction a prerequisite for holding any sort of leadership position.

This is a great idea. I really like this idea, because it will cut down on the number of people who try to tell me that Jesus was a Christian, Episcopalians believe in sola scriptura, etc. This is a wonderful idea.

This is also going to be hell on wheels to achieve, much less enforce.

Because what qualifies as enough education? What qualifies as passing? Who’s going to check and make sure? Theoretically, this has already happened– confirmation classes should cover this. But everyone knows that few among us retain that information for very long. And the content and quality of confirmation preparation varies widely.

So there are some practical issues to iron out.

And speaking of that:

A042: Whoops, Turns out Baptism and Being 16 Were Enough After All
Proposed by: Standing Commission on Lifetime Christian Formation and Education

This is an omnibus resolution which changes the canons from requiring confirmation for lay leadership in the church to: being an adult.
(In the eyes of the church, ‘adult’ is defined as ’16 years old and older’.)
In other words, you no longer have to be confirmed to run for the vestry, or run for GC deputy; you just have to be 16 or older.

Clearly, these two resolutions are meant to be taken together– the thinking is that baptism, plus education, qualifies you for wider service in the church. (Their report is very good, and is worth reading in its entirety.)

Awesome. No objection from me. That’s good baptismal theology. (Though, also clearly: we have got to nail down what on earth happens at confirmation. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. It’s a sacrament, not a houseplant.)

I am a little uneasy about the separation of the two ideas though. If either one gets shot down, the other doesn’t look so great. Suddenly, you have people (at any age) with no education in the Episcopal Church trying to run things, or, you have dioceses scrambling to maintain compliance when they are already stretched thin.

These should probably rise or fall together.

The last thing to cover has to do with the (in)famous Anglican Covenant, but that gets its very own post later this week. Stay tuned!

*Which would be awesome provided there was no actual death, blood, or violence. Think of the ratings/marketing/evangelism potential! Budget deficit? What budget deficit? General Convention:Survivor Edition! Tonight at 8pm on Fox!

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.

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.