The Rev. Susan Brown Snook writes on the future of the Episcopal Church on her blog “A Good and Joyful Thing”:
Reading the proposed budget for The Episcopal Church for the next triennium, I am reminded of the classic Dickens novel, Bleak House. The plot centers around a loosely connected family named the Jarndyces. Long ago, some ancestor died and left a valuable estate, and since then, various branches of the family have been caught up in the legal case Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce, questioning which of them is the rightful heir. The plot meanders through labyrinthine Dickensian twists, until at last, the lawsuit ends. Not by determining an answer, though – by using up the entire estate in legal fees. Once the last hour has been billed, there is no more property to bicker over, and the lawsuit dies.
Well, you could say The Episcopal Church is caught up in a never-ending labyrinth of plot twists, and meanwhile, our resources are being eaten up by administrative costs. In a world that is rapidly changing, in which hierarchical institutions are being flattened, and new forms of church are bubbling up, our churchwide structure is caught up in a top-heavy model of ministry that simply eats up money. I don’t believe God will let this church die – but let’s don’t let it get that close.
After the insightful comparison to the Dickens novel, Snook moves to mission and budget, reminding us of the declining numbers and the aging population in the Episcopal Church.
She then moves to an impressive grasp of the numbers, how they tie to mission, and the problem of eliminating Christian Formation as a “short-term solution.”
Short Term: avoid making major shifts. The Christian Formation office was cut under the rationale that such things are better done at the local level. I don’t agree, because I think it is tremendously short-sighted for a church that is suffering from failure to form new disciples (especially among the young), and from aging demographics, to cut youth and college programming. Strategic vision for the future would require increased, not decreased, resources for youth/young adult ministries, at all levels. True, this is a ministry that is essentially done at the local level – but we can’t simply remove all its churchwide supports and expect it to thrive on its own without strategic work to make sure other structures are in place to support it.
But that’s my argument; you can disagree. Here’s the point: if we cut Christian Formation in this budget, we are making a huge long-term decision based on narrow short-term thinking.
Also impressive is Snook’s persistence in combing through the budget and asking questions:
…there is one large and rather strange adding error. The total for line 689 is overstated by $1,412,770. I asked Chief Operating Officer Stacy Sauls and Treasurer Kurt Barnes for an explanation of this discrepancy (and I thank them for their careful attention to my question). It seems that in the rush of approving the budget, Executive Council first deleted 10% from this area and then may have decided to add it back in – but the details are not clear and no one really seems to know.
It is worth going over Snook’s post on “short-term technical fixes” in detail, and I am looking forward to her next post which promises to be on “Long-Term Thinking” and the adaptive challenges ahead.