Monday, September 25, 2006

Ndungane's nerve

I have been wondering lately on how things happen in concert at both the macro- and micro-level in the life of the Church. From local parish life to the worldwide Anglican Communion, issues around money and the control that access to money brings have been at the forefront of my imagination. Trinity is right now getting ready to enter into its annual stewardship season. It is not a drive, though we talk about goals for next year that place giving in relationship to budget. It is not about fundraising, though it is important to see every single, discerned household's pledge as an aggregate member of a whole line of pledged income to the church as we seek to do God's will here at Trinity. It IS about placing the cares of the Church, mediated by the vestry, before the people in the pews as we ask them to share with us in the common challenge of being the Body of Christ in deed as well as in name in the coming fiscal year.

That is always the tough part, using words like "faith" and "fiscal" in the same sentence. For some, it is because it is seen as impolite to talk about money and faith in the same breath. For some, it is impolite to talk about money at all. For others, money is simply a sore subject. There is not enough money in the account to feed the needs/wants/dreams of the family, much less assume a leadership position in giving to the Church.

And then, there is a darker side to it all: Money as leverage. Few ever attempt to use that element, but I see it more and more here in both our own little corner of heaven in the diocese of PA, and in the world wide Anglican Communion. It is too easy a thing to assume "If you don't do what I say, I will take my resources and go..." Is a church's way of getting the diocese to see its pain. That goes for individuals, for parishes, for dioceses and even for national provinces. "Remember that you work for me" is something that we in our western culture slip into when things don't go the way we want. We reserve the right to fire employees and contractors that don't live up to our expectations. What happens when expectations are not met by priest, or bishop, or vestry, or standing committee...Or even by General Convention? "Do what I say, or else" ends debate. It is the proverbial nuclear option. After that, we have almost no where else to go, except to the proverbial divorce court. And then, we move on to do the same damage to other partners in faith, other communities. Just because one fight gets won by anybody, the war doesn't end. And it is one we insist on fighting within ourselves, as well as without.

At a recent meeting of the primates of the Global South, a resolution/document was circulated that encouraged member provinces to support pushing for intervention in the American Episcopal Church. The archbishop of the province of Southern Africa, ++Ndungane, stepped up to the fence and refused to have his name associated with any incursion into any one province's territories. If we do that, I paraphrase him, then we cease to be Anglican...And worse, we forget the hard work of liberation theologians of generations past who labored with us (Africans and other Global South post-colonials) for our mutual independence, and interdependence, with respect to our own provincial self-determination. In an awful Orwellian twist, even as we seek to right a wrong and push out the oppressors; we become instead the face of oppression ourselves. Winning is sinning, in this case.

That doesn't mean that any vestry, any rector, any standing committee, any bishop, etc., has the right to operate without being called to account. It DOES MEAN that we can't assume that our pledges, history, power or influence determine for us a greater share in saying what that leader should or should not do.

What is a pledge? It is not buying shares in the corporation. It is not making sure our dues are paid up. It IS about getting on board theologically, pastorally and economically with the kingdom train that the Church is seeking to engage as we all travel to grace and glory in Jesus. We live in a world in which dollars, and the resources that dollars bring, make the Church's world go 'round. Dollars pay salaries, dollars buy heating oil. Dollars make us able to pay staff and buy communion wine. Dollars allow us to feed the poor and clothe the naked. Those are all good things. But, when dollars are used to separate, to tear down or apart, to leverage will over and against being in faithful communion...Well, then we are in trouble as a Church.

With every dollar, there are strings attached. Believe me, I am not so naive as to presume that any leader, any board, can operate without the will and support of the people...And that means listening deeply to the whole. But when, as Ndungane pointed out, we forget fellowship and start manipulating our neighbors to get what WE want over and against what God intends for us in community, we get into very serious trouble.

So, how do we pull ourselves away from leaning too far out over the precipice? We talk. We share, and we communicate. What WILL IT TAKE to be Trinity Church next year? How can we find ways to share in the burdens of support that affirm our common call to faithful stewardship of our time, talents and resources while liberating the membership to greater opportunities to learn, serve and experience Christ happening in the moment? What will it take for ME as an individual to make my thoughts known and to affect change around me in an institution to which I am called both as servant and as leader?

Finally, how can I see myself as part of the whole, and NOT as one who must use my own part of the pie to flex muscle in order to be heard?

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