Monday, November 05, 2007

On to Diocesan Convention

I've once again felt called to put fingers to keyboard as I consider the upcoming annual Convention of the Diocese of Oregon. Like other Episcopal dioceses, we meet in Convention once a year to do the work we have been given to do -- generally involving approving the budget for the following year, electing people to various decision-making bodies (including, this time, deputies to General Convention 2009), and debating a variety of resolutions that have varying effects on what happens at the diocesan level in the coming years. This year will debating a somewhat controversial radical restructuring of the Diocesan Program Assessment (what each congregation pays into the diocesan program fund). If approved, it would cut income to the program fund by about twenty-five percent, forcing some serious decision-making. Though it wouldn't take effect until January 1, 2009, it would mean that next year would be one of radical rethinking of the role of the diocesan personnel and structures in the life of the diocese.

As I think of these decisions and discussions, I am also conscious of having prayed last Sunday for the Diocese of Pittsburgh (where I was baptized and where my godfather still attends church) and the Diocese of Pennsylvania (where I was priested and spent the first two years of my ordained ministry). At their convention, the Diocese of Pittsburgh voted for a resolution that, if approved next year, would effectively sever ties between the diocese and the rest of the Episcopal Church. The diocese of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia area), on the other hand, was dealing with the recent inhibition of their bishop (elected and ordained just before I left the diocese). So, I continue to think about what it means to be part of a diocese.

Unlike laity, who belong to a congregation (parish or mission), clergy belong to (are "canonically resident" in) a diocese. The diocese is, in effect, our "congregation" with our bishop as our Pastor. Because of that, we live in a sort of in-between world in which (to misquote a scripture passage) we are "in the congregation but not of it." Our name never appears in the Parish Register as a communicant yet we are called to lead a portion of the members of the diocese who have congregated together as a church, sometimes decades prior to our arrival. For that reason, Diocesan Convention has a greater effect on me than I think it has on the lay delegates and certainly those who we leave back within our parishes. It is a much more immediate thing for me, composed of friends and colleagues and led by a bishop who I respect. For members of my congregation, I suspect, it is just another reason Fr. Tom has to be out of town.

As all of that swirls around my mind, I am always mindful of the drama being played out in the wider Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Bishop Pierre Whalon, Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, wrote an essay for Anglicans Online in which he states, among other things, that:
There remains among Anglicans worldwide, however, a large area of agreement, and this is crucial: the basic doctrines (or dogmas) of Christianity are not in question. Anglicans all respect the so-called “Lambeth Quadrilateral” as essential to our identity everywhere: the Scriptures as God’s Word, “containing all things necessary for salvation,” as the formula goes; the Creeds as the foundational interpretation of the message of the Bible; the two sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist as essential to Christian living; and the “historic episcopate” of bishops, “locally adapted.”
His point, with which I agree, is that what we are really talking about is not theology (view of God) but ecclesiology (view of the church). More specifically, the pattern of all of the colonial churches running home to Mother Church (and Father Archbishop of Canterbury) no longer works in a post-colonial world where the vast majority of developing countries have native "locally adapted" expressions of the Anglican faith that sometimes bear little resemblance to the Church of England, much less one another. The challenge is not what to do about homosexuality, the challenge is what to do about any controversy that has international implications and who makes those decisions.

In any case, as I think about how we make decisions on a parish, diocesan, national, and international level, I am struck both by how tightly we are bound together and how sometimes that binding is a blessing and sometimes it chafes! Perhaps a little ecclesiastical baby powder in the tender spots...

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