My finger slipped as I was typing this missive's title. Instead of Vestry I almost typed "vextry." This is not an unconscious indictment of vestry. Far from it...I have never been happier, more challenged or more engaged in the forging of a leadership voice for a congregation than I am with Trinity's vestry right now. At this point in our work, we truly embody the life of Christ in microcosm as I see it being worked out at the macro-level in the community. There are things that we do extraordinarily well. We work well in discernment. We struggle to see where God is calling us to be active in the spirit. We are striving to be a better church, so that the Church is well served here in our little slice of kingdom existence. And-we are challenged to get along, to find consensus, to seek common ground and to express resolve to act that is fully vested in God's will for us (instead of our imaginings of what we think God is calling us to do).
So, that is us. Vestry and parish. Struggling to do good work in Christ.
And tonight is no different. Tonight, we take up a tough question: is the parish going to withhold our pledged commitment for 2007 from the diocese of Pennsylvania over the issue of the current conflict between the Standing Committee, the diocese-at-large and our Bishop, Charles. Not an easy question to answer. The easy response is, of course. We don't agree with what he is doing and with how he represents the diocese so it makes sense. Withdraw support. If you will, this parish will join the siege. Starve him out...Or perhaps our actions will cause others to react. Perhaps Trinity's withholding will join the messages being sent to the Presiding Bishop as she discerns convening a panel of inquiry over the presentment allegations? And what is also scary is that when challenged to draw up a balanced budget-which cut funding to a number of dependent missions, the diocesan convention moved and voted to withdraw support from its/our pledge to the national church to fund the gap in our own commitments. I don't want to even begin to allow that act as justifiable. It just perpetuates the sin we all commit: I need/want and am not willing to wonder what God asks of me if it means reevaluating my own priorities. Being a part of a community carries a high price, and the return is not "what I get back." It is instead, what do others gain from my participation?
Thing is, I don't think that is the answer. Actually, it feels pretty toxic. "I don't like you/what you do, so I will hurt you and those around you until you stop doing it." Money as lever? Money as weapon? How often do we see that being exercised by the principalities and powers of this passing world as they seek to work their will on the things of God? Sounds high and mighty, but I find myself galled by the idea that ministry, real ministry, might suffer when the target is the Bishop. How many missions will close if the diocesan budget for program is not met? How many livelihoods and outreach programs will be curtailed. As with any siege, it is the hungry, the poor and the needy who suffer first. The highborn, high status folk in the kingdom eat well for just a little while longer. It is the needy, whom in our baptismal covenant we are called upon to serve in Christ's name, who suffer first...And most of all.
Still, it is a necessary question to engage. We can no longer sit up here in the "hinter lands" of the diocese (a term used by one functionary of the diocese during a pre-Convention meeting I was hosting to describe the location of Trinity, here in Solebury) and imagine ourselves either above or without the fray. We can no longer sit in judgment of the workings of the mainline and inner city parishes as being beyond our area of concern.
We are now enjoined to discern, and speak to that discernment.
I honestly don't know where the vestry will come to accord on this question. Two vestry members are also diocesan convention delegates. To a person, we were disappointed and galled by the division being expressed in the diocese over the questions surrounding +Charles' leadership. I wish, some days, to be able to wash my hands of the whole thing. I see too many people behaving terribly, and I worry for myself and my parish as this conflict and division work themselves deeper and deeper into the fabric of our common life as a people of God.
It impacts everything.
People who have pledged "the day of" stewardship drive are holding back. Commitments from the parish are slow-to-sluggish. At this rate, I worry about being able to create a budget for next year, much less balance the one vestry approved as a draft for 2007 back in October. At question is: "Will we be able to hire an assistant rector?" "Will we be able to run our programs and ministries?" Will we be able to maintain and support our physical plant, our staff, our outreach programs?" I know that times are tough. I know that there are any number of factors that contribute to people not getting their pledges in, but I still worry. And, I think, that is a sin as well.
It does gall me when we limit ourselves; when we resort to easy outs instead of the bold and audacious embrace of the dream of God for us.
Why, when we are capable of so much, do we allow paralysis to rob us of momentum and resolve? Sometimes that message gets bogged down: if everyone in this church offers only the average level of commitment--then we overshoot our goals. If only a few act, then we don't. Like the kingdom of God, it only happens when we are willing to offer a mindful "yes" to the call to serve in community the WHOLE BODY.
I think I just answered my own question.
I gave my staff a question to answer that I will ask vestry tonight. As we are as a parish, a diocese, just how many people are touched by God in what we do, what we say and in how we pray? Does our common life spill over into other places? Are we really, truly living out our baptismal covenant...What does that look like-and WHY ARE WE HOLDING BACK?!?