Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Ten things we can do if we really want to change the church...
Ten things we can do if we really want to change the Church
We talk a lot about transformation and change in the Church. Are these just idle words or are we really serious about change? Do we enjoy patting ourselves on the backs more than we enjoy risking real change? Here are a few suggestions that might jumpstart change in our Church.
1. Under 40. Pass a resolution in your Diocese to only elect those younger than 40 to attend General Convention (or whatever it is you call your national gathering). Who does your diocese send to General Convention? Often it's the same lay and clergy deputies year after year after year? How many are under 40 years old? We say we care about the youth and that young people are the future of the Church. Let’s give them a tangible opportunity to shape the future of the Church. I would suggest that we use the same “under 40” guideline for our Diocesan Conventions, but we all know that some of our parishes would have no one to send from their congregations. Think about that, too.
(Full disclosure: I am 62 years old and, even though the "under 40" rule of thumb certainly excludes me, I love the idea of giving young people real voice and the vote).
2. Women only. Only allow female candidates for bishop for the next 250 years or so (that’s about how long only male candidates were on the ballots—and still are). If we had a more gender-balanced voice in the House of Bishops we might really change the Church. The last time we elected a bishop here in my Diocese, there was not even a woman on the ballot. When a member of the Search Committee was asked "Why?," his response was, "We couldn't find any women who were qualified." This was only seven years ago. Wow. Not a single qualified woman. I wonder how hard they looked?
(Full disclosure: I am a woman but harbor no personal call to the episcopacy. However, there are many gifted and qualified women who do feel called. Let’s elect them.)
3. Let retirement mean reinvention. Prevent parishes from hiring retired clergy for vacancies or even to assist. This is not to diminish the gifts of retired clergy, but they have had their time, they have their pension and they have the experience to open new opportunities for themselves. I know so many young clergy who are passed over for positions because there is a retired priest whom the parish can get on the cheap. Or there is a gaggle of retired clergy willing to serve for free. By inviting retired clergy to come back into parish ministry after retirement, we remove opportunities for young and newly ordained clergy and we also remove opportunities for retired clergy to go into the world and reinvent their ministry. Ever considered mission work? Ever considered how your presence as a volunteer at a food bank could change you and others? Ever considered how wearing a Wal-Mart blue vest or working on a grounds crew at a golf course might ripple the love of Christ into a hungry world? Celebrate the long ministry you have already enjoyed. Step aside so that young clergy can find jobs and begin to create their own ministry. Tent for God in new ways.
(Full disclosure: I am not retired yet but look forward to reinventing myself in a few years.)
4. Diversity: Ask questions. Take action. Don’t attend conferences that have only male speakers (or a single token female) or only white people on their agenda. Look at most homiletics conferences. Wow! Is Barbara Brown Taylor the only woman who has found her preaching voice? Question why your Bishop’s staff looks like the men’s locker room at the Country Club (AKA older white men). Where are God’s people of color? Diversity is a commitment not a buzz word.
(Full disclosure: I am white, beyond middle-aged—probably some would say old—female.)
5. Stop bargain shopping. Live and model being a community. Do the right thing, not the "cheap" thing. Episcopal Conference Centers exist to serve our Church. So why do we shop around for the cheapest deal? Oh, our college young adults don’t have enough money to have their retreat at our Diocesan Conference Centers—hmm…so then how do they drive those shiny new SUVs? Surely we can’t expect the Executive Committee—or Bishops—to stay in some rustic cabins? Stay with Church Health Insurance instead of getting your 29 year-old rector the cheapest insurance. Are we out for ourselves or are we here to be a Christian community? Stop balancing the budget on the backs of our staff and clergy. Women associates/assistants and women staff members are usually the first to be eliminated in a budget crunch or the infamous "reorganization." When will we lose the mentality of “she doesn’t really need a job”? We say the church is not a building but people; yet we preserve our buildings at all cost and eliminate people instead. Severance pay for a few measly months doesn’t make it right, Shame on us.
(Full-disclosure: My husband is the director of an Episcopal Conference Center. Incredible clergy and church staff I know have been “laid off” with little thought of the pain this causes. Those doing the laying off always use the phrase “after much prayer…” when making such an announcement. Just so you know--no one will ever believe you again when you talk about prayer.)
6. Tithe. Yes, that means 10% of our income. We each get to decide gross or net but a 10% minimum is where we need to be. Regardless. Wonder why our churches can’t afford a full time priest or a youth minister or to build a second Habitat House each year? Imagine what we could do if everyone tithed. Yes, do give time and talent but cough up some cash too. The mandate to tithe is not to build the coffers of the church, it's to do God's work in the world and to do it abundantly.
(Full disclosure: I do tithe, but hey! I grew up in the Baptist Church; and yes, it is really hard but I can't imagine doing otherwise now.)
7. Wear the hat and heart of a visitor. If you didn’t already know where to park or where the bathrooms are or in what remote nook you hold coffee hour after the service, could you find your way? Think about how frustrated you have felt wandering the maze in a hospital or other unfamiliar building. Being physically lost is not what makes us want to return. Signage helps. Welcoming people help more. Thinks about how easy it is to find everything in a Starbucks—and to find the Starbucks itself!
(Full disclosure: I like feeling welcome in strange places. I don’t like feeling stupid. My son works for Starbucks.)
8. Welcome Babies. Can’t afford a nursery or nursery workers? Consider adding a designated space to welcome young children right in the worship space itself. They do this in churches all over Wales and England. A soft carpet, a few rocking chairs, and quiet toys (this is not the space to add a xylophone unless you need a music program as well) create a space which includes parents and children in worship.
(Full disclosure: I am the parent of two adult children and four grandchildren. I have no problem praying or praising God with the accompanying sounds of children.)
9. Pray. Every day. Prayer--it's not just for Sundays. We can get so busy “doing” that we forget to take time for stillness and quiet and to keep some empty space open for God. I would like to have put this as number 1 for what we can do to really change the church, but I was rather afraid folks wouldn't keep reading.
(Full disclosure: If I have time to brush my teeth each morning, I have time to pray.)
10. Be church. Be the people of God for the world not just a chapel where the only purpose of your existence is to get warm and cozy with one another and provide for your own. We are called to change the world. If we are really going to set free the gospel into the world, we need to step out of our own comfort zones and let go of using the church as a social club instead of a place to grow the kingdom of God.
(Full disclosure: Like you, I'm trying.Maybe we just need to try a little harder. )
Okay, so maybe you think these suggestions are a little overboard. People were locked in the Tower of London for less. But these thoughts were not written to hurt or condemn, but simply to try to look at church with a new vision. I wrote this to challenge myself. We talk a lot about transformation and change in the Church, but talk is so cheap. Perhaps the first step is to take an honest glance to see if the Emperor Church is naked and then to start looking for some clothes in our own closets.