The Living Church published this piece from Canon Neal Michell about the culture of denial that characterizes the institutional structure of the Episcopal Church. I long ago became convinced that TEC as an institution was floundering (quite apart from conflicts over moral and social issues) and intent on falling on its own institutional sword. This is just one example of the inertia drawing it that direction:
Killing the Messenger
During the previous triennium the State of the Church Committee told the truth about the condition of our church. It did an excellent job of reporting the difficulties of an aging, financially challenged denomination. It acknowledged further losses due to conflict in our churches, particularly over sexuality issues that have exacerbated the decline in attendance and membership. The committee made recommendations for addressing these challenges.
Were their recommendations heeded? No. Our General Convention had no real strategy in its decisions. The cuts in the triennial budget were hailed as “fair” and “across the board.” But they weren’t strategic. Seemingly strategic staff positions of three years ago and even one year ago were eliminated with little dissent. The convention passed all evangelism-related resolutions while at the same time eliminating the church’s evangelism officer.
So many of our dioceses are in financial difficulties. Some of the financial shortfall in diocesan income is due to the recent recession. But remember, giving to the Episcopal Church by the dioceses is based upon previous years’ income. The most recent financial shortfall for the Episcopal Church is attributable, not to the recent recession, but to decreased income to our collective dioceses in the past three years.
With ever-increasing decline in attendance and giving and ever-increasing costs of doing business at the congregational level, assessments paid to the Episcopal Church by our dioceses will likely decrease even more within the next six years. In other words, this current financial shortfall was a long time in the making, and it will likewise be a long time in the remedying.
As a denomination, we need transformational change, not incremental change. Incremental change represents business as usual. Incremental change represents “just trying a little harder.” If we continue doing things as we have done, we will continue our decline, continue bleeding off the endowments of previous generations, continue to congratulate ourselves on the pockets of vitality while we become a church pastored primarily by retired and part-time clergy. One recommendation of the previous
State of the Church Committee was that some members be reappointed to provide for some continuity with the previous committee. Was that advice heeded? No. Not one member of the 2006-09 State of the Church Committee was reappointed for 2009-12.
To be clear, this sort of thing frustrates me, but does not cause me to loose sleep at night. I don’t actually thing TEC is unique, nor do I think the failure of an institution means the efforts one puts in in parish ministry are pointless. Institutions rise and fall, but that does not mean that congregations cannot experience health and vitality as this occurs. Likewise, if a congregation fails after a pastor puts their efforts into it, so be it. What matters most (in my opinion) is the impact one has on individual lives while being faithful, and the cumulative effect of that.