I don’t really know how this rumor of us versus them started in the conversation about the Diocesan assessment. Sometimes it is hard to tell who “us” is in the debate and who “them” is.
I could try to go through the variations and argue the case for Us in each one, but that would only give credence to the rumor. Let me say this, I am not aware of any “Us” view among the larger parishes that feel ‘frustration at how they believe they are viewed by our smallest congregations – with mistrust, envy, dislike’. That the rumor gets repeated does not make it so.
Does that mean there are no actual frustrations? Of course not and left to fester that monster of frustration, as I have described it, will prove corrosive for all of us. That’s why shining light on it, naming it, enabling honest discussion of it is cleansing, liberating, and holy.
That we may have differing views on the same issue is not divisive. That we express those views candidly is not, by definition, disrespectful or hurtful. And it is also true that real needs in congregations both small and large not addressed, are unlikely to get better.
There is only us—and together we are the Body of Christ.
Our discussion of assessment formula options lives into the organization development and transparency goals of the Beloved Community as defined by the Special Convention resolution of May 2008 because it is an honest debate, above board about how best to respond to the economic crisis we all face together as the body of Christ. That there are differing ideas for achieving the same goal of serving God and living into the mission of the church is healthy and, with God’s help, the solutions we come together around by Convention 2011 can serve our goal of church vitality.
The discussion of the fiscal issues facing the church for congregations large and small is healthy because it is breaking down the barriers to better communication between us, between congregations and the Diocese, and in the pews of every congregation and program about our fiscal problems and how we can best use the resources of our stewardship. It is setting the table for area ministry and our willingness to actually work together beyond our parish campus boundaries to achieve shared goals—imagine that.
My own views on this are not new, but I have learned much from discussions with others. I first wrote about the problems of the smaller congregations before Bishop Marc was called. In an article for our parish newsletter later shared beyond the parish I said I felt the Diocese was at risk of failing both large and small congregations by not focusing more on church vitality, growth and average Sunday attendance. Those goals were later incorporated using slightly different words in the Beloved Community resolution in 2008. You can read my Open Letter to the Next Bishop which I re-posted here when I started this blog.
For me one of the great frustrations in the rumor of us, in the perceived feeling of lack of respect if alternative views are expressed, and the most outrageous suggestion I have heard is that this “us versus them” allegation is somehow a large parish opposition to ethnic ministries. That is total nonsense. The plea for action to create more vibrancy and sustainability for the smaller congregation and by implication the ethnic ministries was being raised by the larger parishes in the pre-Bishop Marc discussion of parish finance.
My one regret–I confess openly—is that I did not take up this cause more forcefully when I was Rector’s Warden and a Vestry member years back when the issue surfaced pre-Marc. I urged more inter-parish collaboration. I urged the larger parishes to partner with the smaller ones and ethnic ministries—a “buddy system” that while I did not call it this would have been, in fact, an area ministry strategy perfectly consonant with the Beloved Community resolution and goals. But Bishop Swing just was not interested in tackling this problem on his watch and so nothing came of it. It was a mistake—a big mistake—and I should have been more pesky about it during the boom time in the economy when we had more options than we now have to deal with it. At the peak we had four full-time ordained priests and a non-stipend Deacon in addition to lay staff. Now at the bust in the economy and with Steven’s retirement St. Timothy’s will have one priest. But we remain full of hope, full of the joy of “us” and ready to listen for what God’s plan is for our future.
So now what?
Considering whether ‘business as usual’ is still working for us under these changed conditions is hardly heresy. And each of the Diocesan faithful from the Bishop down to the people in pews is looking for answers to our prayers to solve the stewardship challenges we face. Whether the strategy we choose is managed top down by the Dio staff or bottom up by congregations working together in area ministry matters much less than having that shared vision well executed to do the work of the church.
We are one Body in Christ.