Monday, July 5, 2010

Too Many Bishops with Too Much Time On Their Hands

"The Church was to make a formal declaration of its preference for the epsicopacy, and of its intention of obtaining it as soon as possible, but in the meantime White felt that the necessity of the case would fully justify the resort to the presbyterial ordination, and he cited expressions from Cranmer, Hooker, Usher, and other leading divines to support his view."

This was a quote from Mandrake's book on the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. White (despite or in spite of the fact he ultimately was consecrated a bishop) believed we (TEC) could get along just fine without bishops. Of course that is all history. Nowadays, at least in the United States, we believe in the "up or out" theory of work. What I mean by that is best expressed with a military analogy. A member of the military must routinely be promoted otherwise, the member is asked to leave the service all together. This mindset, permeates American culture. We as a work force believe that it is our "God-given right" to a promotion. If one works hard, studies hard and does a good job, we are entitled to a promotion. Few believe, and fewer practice, the idea that there is inherent value in a position, a lifetime work.

This becomes far more complicated in religious field and in the Episcopal Church in particular. Specifically, the priesthood seems to be a mere stepping stone to the episcopate. It would be interesting to run a survey among the various seminaries and see where each seminarian would believe they will be in 15 years. My seat of the pants guess would say that 40 to 60% of those would suggest they will be a bishop somewhere.

Now, before everyone goes ballistic let's think about this for just a moment. How many diocese are there and how many priests do we ordain in one year? Better, more to the point perhaps, how many priests get paid a living wage? How many priests, when faced with a career as a priest can honestly say their salary will be higher (substantially higher?) at the end of their career versus the beginning of their career? So, it is our (the laity) problem, maybe even more so.

So what has happened? Well, we have created a group of clergy that are avaricious, social climbers that are never satisfied with where they are and always seeking the next promotion. My next survey would poll all the priests over 15 years of service and ask them to select three episcopates where they think they would do a better job than the current bishop. None of the above would be a viable answer, one that very few would choose, at least I believe that.

What does all of this have to do with the current state of affairs in the Episcopal Church? If you review all the "current bishops" in the ACNA or similar non-TEC bishops I believe that many who have been bishop for some time would tell us they wanted to be or could do a better job at being the Presiding Bishop and certainly could do a way-better job than some woman! Many of those who went "extra-legal" to be consecrated would say that they have paid their dues, and could be as good if not better than their (used to be) current bishop. I believe all of them would say that this is the next logical rung on the promotion ladder, that they paid their dues and that in their mind, it was time to be promoted.

If this did not lead directly to the current state of affairs in our church it certainly was/is a significant contributing factor. Ask them, if they are honest you will get answers that resemble this post. Of course, honesty is not necessarily these folks long suit. And, history is history and that is that.

What can we do now? We need to change the culture beginning in seminary, if not before. One does not need to be a brilliant theologian to be a good pastor, and after all is that not all we as laity are after? So, seminary needs to begin the process of creating value in and of the position of vicar/rector. We as laity need to begin to value our pastors for the work they do, not the work that they have done. What does that look like? Well, lets start with paying for experience. Let us, as laity, create value in longevity. Rectors/Vicars should be paid for their service to the parish, now. A living wage is all well and good but it does not engender holding on to current priests. Diocese throughout the country need to create pay schedules that reflect real experience. Laity will also have to change our way of thinking in that we need to "not look for the next best thing since sliced bread". We need to continue to challenge our rectors/vicars. We need to provide vacations, sabbaticals, additional work like starting up the regular and routine home visits of parishioners.

We need to de-emphasize the idea that bishops are the end all and be all of clergy. One idea would be to create an administrative position in each diocese that does all the administrative work and relegate a bishop to pastor of the flock. This might very well involve devolution of the House of Bishops. Revolution in the House of Deputies.

What do you all think?