Sunday, June 01, 2008

Relationaships and Resources

I just returned from a meeting of our Convocation (Deanery) at which we spent more than an hour going through and discussing the diocesan budget draft. About as enjoyable as root canal surgery but without the numbing drugs. I have had similarly long and less-than-pleasant discussions at our Bishop's Advisory Committee (Vestry) meetings. There always seems to be a sense in which we are running around plugging leaks in a boat and there are more leaks than we have hands or other means of plugging them. That culture of scarcity, that sense that there is never enough, it pervasive throughout the modern church, at least in my experience.

As I thought about those conversations, I reflected that really what these conversations are about is not our resources (time, money, energy, etc...) but our relationships. Budget problems are a symptom, not the disease. The disease is a breakdown of relationship. In the case of a diocesan budget, it is the relationship between the diocese as a whole and its individual missions and parishes. In the case of a congregation, it is a breadown in relationship between the members of the congregation and their church, pastor, or even God.

The solution to this breach in relationship is the Christian solution: reconciliation. It is a combination of a responsiveness of the wider organization as well as transparency and clear communication on the one hand and a recognition that the church does not operate on a fee-for-service basis but on the basis of free gifts with no strings attached. We ar not a retail establishment, providing sacred products for a specified fee. However, there is no biblical mandate for most of the programs and business practices of a congregation or a diocese. For that reason, as well as the biblical mandate for transparency, there must be responsiveness to the mission of the church as discerned through the members of that church or diocese.

I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this, but it just seems to me that as an anxious church in a very anxious and transitional time, finances dominate our attention and I'm not at all sure how to go about getting out of that cycle without a wholesale rethinking of who we are and how we function as a church surrounded by a consumer culture.

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