At General Convention, certain things get said and repeated, until they take on an air of truth, whether they are true, or just myths. Here’s a look at what we’ve wrongly assumed about Structure and Budget:
1. Restructuring by budget-cutting is a bad idea.
The first step in setting a budget, we’re told, is to decide on one’s priorities. But the opposite case can be made. If only the percentage of money coming in is on the table, tough decisions on what programs should not continue can be put off. All boats can still float on a lower sea. As Warren Buffett said, however, “When the tide goes out, you see who is swimming naked.” In other words, when a budget has to be cut, we have to say, “OK, what are our values, our real priorities?” and then act accordingly.
2. Our declining membership means something is wrong and needs fixing.
An assumption is that declining membership in the Episcopal Church is an indicator of a machinery somehow broken that we now must fix. But that’s a mechanistic, not organic (or Scriptural), point of view. What if declining membership was a result of God pruning unfruitful branches to cause future growth?
3. There are good reasons for doing things the way General Convention does them.
The House of Deputies spent 15 minutes Friday on pro forma legislative wrangling. A friend texted me to say, “I trust there is a good reason we have to go through this s—t.”
Many deputies share that trust. But what if that trust was enabling behavior to an institutional evil/sin? In “man-hours,” 15 minutes of wasted time multiplied by 850 deputies/people is 12,750 minutes, which is more than five weeks of 40-hour work weeks. If you would not agree to spend five weeks of your time doing what you are doing, then why do we tolerate in mass what you would not tolerate individually?
4. First-time deputies should defer to the wisdom of senior deputies.
It’s good that we honor senior deputies publicly and recognize their years of service with special yellow ribbons. But why don’t first-time deputies get green ribbons, signifying the new growth and raw energy they bring?
As Deputy Melody Shobe, Rhode Island, said, “Every diocesan convention, we have a litany of necrology, which is good. But why don’t we recount the baptisms of the past year? We need to honor longevity and commitment, but we also need to honor energy and newness.”
First-time Deputy Frank Allen, Pennsylvania, said, “Having lost our vision, we’ve redoubled our efforts. We’re focused on so many things, we’re not focused on the main thing.” That is wisdom that only newbies can bring.
5. General Convention can fix itself.
We assume a bureaucracy can solve its own problems. But listen to the wonderful stories of changed lives and vibrant ministries being testified to here this week, and ask yourself how many of them were an initiative of any official, wider church structure, versus a local church effort.
As Deputy Belton Ziegler, Upper South Carolina, said, “New structures will emerge from that which works well. It will not be engineered from the top. The job of General Convention is to create as much open ground as possible and see what seeds sprout. The less we do from a bureaucratic standpoint, the more we’ll foster new growth.”
–The Rev. John Ohmer