A Bishop’s review of a diocesan convention is about as well informed as a stage manager’s review of a play. The stage manager is preoccupied with the lighting, the props, etc. – and cannot pay attention to the acting or even the script. I have the worst possible perspective on our Convention. I can report on the feedback I have received and the buzz I have heard.
The dominant words have been “mellow,” “smooth,” and “conflict free.” People noted the absence of “squabbling,” “bickering,” and “quarrelling.” It seems we experienced some harmony in our relationships. People also noted that the convention was shorter, less expensive, and proceeded at a gentler pace with longer breaks for informal mingling, shopping the vendor area, and catching our breath.
All of that sounds pleasant enough, but maybe a little sleepy. It may have been a sleepy convention. If so, that’s ok. We need rest. But I am not sure it was sleepy. During our several table discussion exercises – asset mapping, Bible study, and discussion of my address – and during the special mission group asset mapping exercise, the conversations looked and sounded quite energetic. The sticky notes from the table discussions are imaginative, creative, out of the box. Leaders of special mission groups are making appointments to discuss ideas that came out of their group process.
What to make of this? Perhaps we had a different kind of energy going in a different kind of process. Maybe there was more imagining of new possibilities instead of haggling over limited options. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall at each of those small group conversations. I don’t know what happened, but it sounds like it was good. Note: these were conversations among people from all over the diocese at randomly assigned tables. Could this be a small step in knitting our relationships together? Too soon to say.
One thing did puzzle me. Of all the things I said in the Bishop’s Address, the one thing I expected to get a response was the goal of reducing the assessment on parishes by 5% over the next 5 years, regardless of what happens at the national level, and by a larger percentage if the national assessment on dioceses goes down.
I was surprised that reducing the financial burden on parishes met such a ho-hum response. I have been trying to figure out why that should be. First possibility, people don’t believe it will actually happen. Second, meeting this goal depends on congregations engaging in evangelism and stewardship programs – maybe people would rather pay the 25% assessment than do that. Third, maybe each congregation is itself ready and willing to engage in evangelism and stewardship, but they do not believe other congregations will do so. Fourth, we may have grown accustomed to slaving under and complaining (rightly) about the 25% assessment, and don’t really want to give it up. It is such a familiar, comfortable misery. Fifth, if we had the extra revenue left in the parish coffers, we would then have to imagine and carry out a new mission. That could be threatening
But I have no basis whatsoever for any of these ideas – they are pure speculation. Any insights others have on the reduction in the assessment question would be welcome. I announced it as my goal, assuming the diocese would share it, but I could be wrong.
On the business side of convention, we did not do a lot, but what we did was helpful. First, we cleaned up the new unified board canon defining the make up and role of the Standing Committee, and passed the complex 2-year process of transitioning into a pattern of staggered elections so that each Mission District will elect a member to Standing Committee each year. The main thing accomplished by this year’s amendment is to empower Mission Districts to elect the Standing Committee. This is the first time we have placed actual governance authority in Mission Districts.
Empowering Mission Districts this way does call them to exercise a bit more disciplined process for one or two meetings each year, but should not interfere with their continuing informal ways of doing whatever else they do (which varies widely from District to District). What the Diocese needs from Mission Districts is for the people who will be at convention to: 1. Elect the Standing Committee. 2. Review and comment on the proposed budget, canon revisions, and resolutions. That will enable us to transact the business of the diocese more effectively, in smaller groups, with time to make the changes people recommend.
People have pointed out to me that there are various glitches and inconsistencies in our diocesan canons. Cleaning up canons is like housework. Like “a woman’s work” the Canon Committee’s work is never done.” None of these defects is fatal to our common life; so we will work on them a little each year, giving top priority to things like the governing board structure that actually affect our mission.
We also passed a resolution for a companion relationship with the Diocese of Machakos (Anglican Church of Kenya). That is just a proposal. They would have to accept by a similar resolution at a future convention of their own. We shall send flowers and wait.
Finally, Grace in the Desert was an excellent host and coordinated a lovely Eucharist. The Bare Bones Blues Band played and sang splendid jazz music. Various suggestions have come in for next year in Fallon – including more opportunities for dancing.