We adjourned at 9:30 last night and we still got all our business done! I wish the evening had been a happy one, but I can say it was a very good meeting. Vestries are at their best, I am convinced, when their main/chief task is to be a body of discernment for the Church. When we are weighted with administrative work...When we become a committee of the whole trying to "fix" something, then we bog down. However, in prayerful discernment and in offering our wisdom, our questions and our friendship to each other...Well, that is when good, holy things begin to happen.
Last night, we heard from a parishioner who wanted us to take up the current diocesan controversies. He did a great job leading us into discussion, and on top of that asked for a period of discernment from the vestry before they communicate their resolve to the parish.
The problem with these controversies is that we are too often expected to react in the moment, when discernment, the real thing, takes time. What we do, and how we choose to do it, has deep impact upon us in this life. I used to chafe when my old sensei/teachers used to berate me to "doing it right, but without 'right mind.'" That means not only making the right decision-or performing the right action-but also being in the correct (read: holy) state of mind. It goes to the heart of intent. For many eastern disciplines, that means that our intention governs the outcome of any set of actions. Sound esoteric? Sure, it is.
But, imagine this: before we choose to act or react, if we take the question of intent seriously, then before we do anything we are willing to engage in serious, rigorous self-examination. Am I doing this, not only for the right reasons, but in my right mind?
So, as vestry chews on the question of withholding pledge, we are also asking other questions: Who are we in relationship to the bishop? to the Diocese? to the Standing Committee? How are we dealing with our identity as a parish of the Episcopal Church?
On the surface: will our withholding pledge really do anything to provoke the bishop toward resignation or retirement? Will it accelerate the process of presentment with the Presiding Bishop? Is it about making a statement or pulling our cards out of the game? Finally, will our actions hurt people we have been called to help? Will mission and aided congregations continue to suffer, or perhaps worsen in their situation if we withdraw support from the diocesan budget?
Also, I am asking myself if withholding our diocesan pledge is any different from a parishioner threatening to withhold their pledge if I as leader of this community do/don't do something they want/don't want me to do/not do! Is a pledge of support to the kingdom of God to be used as either a goad or a lever in order for me to "get my will" in the life of the Church? No. A pledge is support of the member to the whole. If you have a question or an issue that you want to see addressed by the Body, then bring that question forward. Don't sit in the wings and try to pull strings on some puppet. Join the process. Engage the leadership. Prepare to either get your way, or not get your way...And then accept that is the way of things. Don't get me wrong: I think that every decision requires, ultimately, a "yea" or "nay." There is always some form of "up/down vote," to use a term that has been overused by our president in the past. But, that is how community is forged. So, together we forge consensus, and together we seek the will of God. If the main tool or device of control is instead the goad, the lever...Well, then that goes right back to the question of intent. In that case, I am doing all I can (using the end to justify the means) to get MY way. Devil, or God, may care.
Dangerous ground, no?