Governance, administration, and change. Oh, my!

In 2012, nearly all Episcogeekery talk was about church restructuring. General Convention that year famously passed a resolution to create the Task-force on Reimagining the Episcopal Church in a rare unanimous vote. (Seriously, there’s always a cranky person voting no; I have been that person.)

change aheadWe are finally seeing some fruits of TREC. They recently released a study paper on networking, and that one was panned by most of my friends and by several bloggers. Had I made the time to blog, I’d have given it low marks too. Yesterday, they released a study paper on church governance and administration. This one will fare better, I think. Go read it now. I’ll wait.

Before I share a few thoughts, I’d like to correct one thing. My local Ohio nemesis, the Crusty Old Dean will doubtless mention several times in his forthcoming blog post on the topic that he started writing about this stuff in 2011. Yeah, whatever, Crusty. 7WD was all over this governance stuff in April 2010. For my trouble, I received some unbelievably nasty emails from various well-known folks in the Episcopal world. Their basic angle: if I didn’t like General Convention, I should stay away. And the classic: my new-fangled ideas are impossible, and I’d know that if only I were a six-time Deputy. In other words, the (mostly boomer) crowd said, “Get off my lawn, Xer!”

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Holy Women, Holy Men, Holy Cow

Holy CowThe Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music for the Episcopal Church has asked for feedback on their thinking about revision to our sanctoral calendar. I’d encourage you to have a look at the comments section on the latter link, where there are extensive comments, good conversation, and some thoughtful response from SCLM members. In the past, I’ve blogged about HWHM a couple of times (here and here). Other bloggers have written about this as well. Mostly, I hope the SCLM and other leaders in our church will give this much thought and prayer before the next General Convention.

Before I share a few thoughts, I’d like to thank the SCLM for a thankless job. They have a great deal of work to do on minimal funding. For their trouble, they get snarky comments from the likes of me. While I don’t always agree with their recommendations and resolutions, I remain grateful for their commitment to our liturgical life. That said, I do want to offer some feedback as they have requested, acknowledging that I’m a liturgical dilettante at best.

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By what authority?

A friend of mine recently shared a meditation she wrote for a clergy conference. She has graciously allowed me to post it here on 7WD, though she prefers to be anonymous. I think she has raised some very important issues in the life of the church and its clergy — and for me, personally — that too often go unexamined. What would our church and our world look like if God’s people exercised well the authority God has given them? See also my previous post, “Of Christ’s body, the church: how to get healthy.”

authorized“By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” (Mark 11:28)

I am used to having my authority questioned; I’m the mother of a nearly five year old. “You’re not the boss of me!” is her most common way of questioning my authority. Paired with pushing every boundary I set, questioning every decision I make, and saying “black” any and every time I say “white.” My life is currently a daily exercise in answering the question: “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?”

Those questions are of deep import for me, not only as a parent, but also as a priest in God’s Church. We’ve seen the crisis over Church authority in the headlines, of course, as clergy of all stripes have abused the authority entrusted to them, using it to coerce and injure through sexual abuse, financial misconduct, or manipulative preaching and teaching. Those kinds of abuses of authority are deep and damaging, as clergy too often confuse God’s authority with their own.

Yet there is another, equally pernicious, authority problem in our Church today: one of relinquished authority or abandoned authority. As clergy we have all too often, not abused our authority, but abrogated it.
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New commandments: Thou shalt Tweet…

twitter commandmentsCourtesy of the BBC, I ran across a new social media policy from the Church of England’s Diocese of Bath and Wells. In the article, the diocesan spokesperson demonstrates that they have earned their way onto the clue train:

A spokesman for Bath and Wells diocese told the BBC that publishing the resource was what “any good organisation” would do. “The Church of England is in every community in the UK, so it seems right that we should be in online communities too,” he said. “We’re not the first diocese to provide guidelines, but our clergy increasingly use social media. A vicar might engage in conversation online in the same way that they do in the street, post office or pub.” (emphasis added)

Couldn’t have said it better. The church needs to be communicating in this space, because it’s where people are communicating.

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The Church could learn a thing or two from athletes

Church and FootballAs longtime readers of 7WD will know, this blog has had precisely nothing to say about professional sports. You might think I’d be a big baseball fan, since we can see inside the Cincinnati Reds stadium from our apartment. But no. It’s not that I object to sports, but they aren’t usually my cup of tea.

All that changed last night. As Richard Sherman was giving his infamous pithy interview after the Seahawks beat the 49ers, it occurred to me that church leaders might learn a thing or two from athletes. If you don’t know about the interview, go read a certain unnamed blog by my archnemesis, which has (in all seriousness) covered some of the complexities of the interview and our reactions to it, not neglecting the humor potential, of course. Tim has time to write stuff like this, because his team was eliminated from the postseason by another football team…from Cincinnati, I might add.

In any case, it’s time that those of us in the church drew upon the collective brainpower of people who are packing in the crowds every weekend, whilst many churches stand empty. Here’s where we could gain some advantage from athletes. They are veritable fountains of wisdom and clarity, and it’s high time we adapted some of their talking points for our use. As Yogi Berra reminded us, the intellectual side of the game really matters. I paraphrase slightly: “Church is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.”

Here is a smorgasbord of opportunities to apply well-honed aphorisms to real world situations.

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Epiphany Proclamation 2014

One of the things I miss from parish ministry is the reading of the Epiphany Proclamation each year. So, dear reader, I hope you find this edifying and even enjoyable.

dropcap dear friends in Christ, the glory of the Lord has shone upon us, and shall ever be manifest among us, until the day of his return. Through the rhythms of times and seasons let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation. Let us recall the year’s culmination, the Easter Triduum of the Lord: his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial, and his rising celebrated between the evening of the seventeenth day of April and the evening of the nineteenth day of April.

Each Easter – as on each Sunday – the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed by which Christ has for ever conquered sin and death. From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, will occur on the fifth day of March. The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated on the twenty-ninth day of May. Pentecost, the joyful conclusion of the season of Easter, will be celebrated on the eighth day of June. And, this year the First Sunday of Advent will be on the thirtieth day of November.

Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the passover of Christ in the feasts of the holy Mother of God, in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints, and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.

To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history, be endless praise, for ever and ever. Amen.

When shall we celebrate the Epiphany?

January 6The Feast of the Epiphany is January 6, right? Not so fast, it seems. On the House of Bishops / House of Deputies email list, someone asked when others were celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany. Of the replies I saw, I believe all said they were celebrating the Epiphany on Sunday, January 5. This is an interesting glimpse into our attitudes about the discipline of the church and our expectations of church members.

The Book of Common Prayer is unequivocal. The Feast of the Epiphany must be celebrated on January 6, unless your congregation celebrates the Epiphany as its Feast of Title (i.e. your church is named “Church of the Epiphany” or something similar). There is no provision for celebrating this Principal Feast on a Sunday, unless you it is deemed “urgent and sufficient” and one has obtained “express permission of the bishop,” but that seems unlikely. If you’re curious about the calendar of the church and the rules for following it, they are all laid out on pages 15-18 of the prayer book.

So what’s going on here? Some clergy leaders have decided that the laity cannot or will not celebrate this feast day at the appointed time. They have therefore, in contravention of the rubrics of the prayer book, moved this celebration to a Sunday, thereby violating the canons of the church and their ordination vows. As an aside, under the current Title IV rules for clergy discipline, any cleric who is aware that someone has done this is canonically required to report this to the appropriate persons forthwith.

What’s the big deal? Has the curmudgeonly prayer book fundamentalist struck again? Perhaps. Or maybe this is more than legalistic abstraction. I’d like to suggest four reasons why moving this celebration from its appointed time to a convenient Sunday is an unfortunate choice.

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A General Ordination Exam for the modern church

pass failThis week, seminarians across the Episcopal Church are taking the General Ordination Examination. For those of you who may not be familiar with it, it’s a hazing ritual and final exam designed to test the worthiness of third-year seminarians as they prepare for ordination. It lasts several days and involves the writing of lengthy essays, some of which allow consultation of reference material and some of which must be written using only one’s knowledge. Opinion on these exams varies, but I’m generally among the number of folks who think the test is more useful than harmful. I blogged about this back in 2011 during the annual is-the-GOE-awesome-or-terrible conversation.

Anyway, many people feel the exam is no longer suited to the modern church. Crusty Old Dean has some fresh thoughts from this very day about this year’s test. Inspired by Crusty and the esteemed Fr. Oscar Late (who wrote his own version of the GOE a few years ago), I have decided to resolve the issues. The following exam covers the seven canonical exam areas whilst being relevant to the needs of the modern church.

While the General Board of Examining Chaplains has not yet solicited my opinion, I freely grant them permission to use these questions next year. These questions are guaranteed to position the clergy leaders of the future for success, especially if they serve the typical “we love the church of the 1950s” congregation, which is where you’re likely to end up in your first cure.

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7WD makes predictions for the new year

church in crystal ballIt’s customary this time of year for pontificating teevee talking heads and bloggers to make predictions for the year ahead. We’ve done this before at 7WD, and I think our record is pretty good. While it didn’t happen exactly on the timeline I suggested, Jim Naughton has moved to Akron, OH, which is surely the first step in him becoming a reclusive billionaire whilst he saves the Episcopal Church. Go ahead, and review my previous set of predictions.

OK, so here’s what will happen in 2014. Most of these have to do with the Episcopal Church. Because church nerd.

Presiding Bishop elections. Various bishops will campaign for the job while claiming not to campaign. Watch and giggle. The Joint Nominating Committee for the Illusion of Transparent Democracy During the Election of a Presiding Bishop (or something like that, I can’t quite remember the name) will issue various documents costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, this whole effort is to a fill a job that is unbelievably difficult, except for the small perk of getting to be the president of the Forward Movement board.

Trek ChurchRestructuring. The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church will claim to come under Germanic influence and rename itself the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Kirche (TREK). Then they’ll really let loose and take off, much like a warp-powered spaceship. Here’s a summary of the proposal they’ll produce: dioceses become sectors, parishes become outposts, and CCABs are replaced with computer programs. Showing their anti-clerical bent, bishops will be retitled “Sith Lords” and 815 becomes the Death Star. The staff there will protest, but they won’t be able to agree on what we’re supposed to call it instead.

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7WD answers your actual questions for 2013

questionsIn annual tradition, 7WD answers your questions. These are actual questions readers like you typed into Google to get to this blog. Here are the posts from some previous years (2009, 2010, or 2011).

Remember, these are selections from the nearly 4,000 Google queries that we received this year.

Do angels look scary?
Yes. They are terrifying. I sorted this all out in a popular blog post, where you can also find the answer to another question we got a bunch of times, “Are angels dead people?” No. Your Uncle Fred doesn’t become an angel; he gets to stay Uncle Fred for eternity. Angels are totally different from humans, not humans who passed the angel entrance exam.

Are angles frightening to look at?
Not to me. If they frighten you, look at spheres.

Does canceling church services often cause church not to grow?
Yes. So don’t cancel church.

Does the American Episcopal Church own a private jet?
If it does, I’m annoyed no one has given me a ride on it.

Do Anglicans believe in predestination?
If they do, it was meant to be.

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When God gets real

Jesus birth iconOne of the ways to understand Christmas could be to think of this day as a celebration of God getting real. Oh, God was real from before the creation. But with the exception of a few one-on-one encounters here and there with God’s people, the Divine was an abstraction. Moses might have glimpsed God, but for most people, their encounter with the Holy was wholly other.

Enter the Holy Family onto the stage. With Jesus, God gets real, sharing our human nature. The chasm between God and humanity, if it had ever existed, is crossed. Mary and Joseph and sundry characters gathered in an ordinary place to experience an ordinary birth. Jesus, God-with-us, came into this world in the most ordinary, messy, vulnerable way possible. God gets real.

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What are we expecting?

I am blessed to work with some of the very best people serving in the church today. Jay Sidebotham, the director of RenewalWorks, writes a column every week called Monday Matters. You can follow it on the RenewalWorks blog or subscribe to the column as an email newsletter. Jay writes thought-provoking and inspiring reflections each week, many arising out of his work with congregations and their spiritual growth. This is perhaps the single most exciting thing that Forward Movement is doing now, and I am grateful that Jay is leading it.

expectationsIn this week’s reflection, Jay raises excellent questions about our expectations in this expectant season of Advent. What do we expect in our spiritual lives? What do we expect in our churches? What do we expect when Jesus returns in glory?

The work with which I’m involved these days focuses on expectation, the expectation of spiritual growth in each of our lives, which leads to spiritual growth in our faith communities. It has brought a number of provocative exchanges. In one church, the conversation centered on how we move from here to there in the spiritual journey, how the church helps us do that, in fact, how that is part of what it means to be church, to grow and change and be transformed. One Episcopalian, in the spirit of full disclosure in the course of this work, said to her rector: “I don’t really expect anything to happen to me when I come to church.” I was grateful for the candor. She gave voice to what I often feel. I’m not always interested in change or growth or transformation. I’m not always prepared for it. I’m not always expecting it.

Advent tells us to live expectantly, to navigate the present moment guided by a sense of promise and hope in what God will do in days ahead. One of my favorite Advent hymns (and that’s a tough call because Advent hymns are simply the best) is printed below. It calls us to be on the lookout for the long-expected Jesus. Here’s what we might expect from that arrival. We can expect to be set free. To be released from fear and sins. To be consoled. To know hope. To experience deliverance. Ultimately, to be raised. Not a bad set of expectations.

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