Friday, July 6, 2012

Budgets and Structures

I believe that a budget is a moral document that expresses in numbers what we believe, what we truly care about and value. Stanley Hauerwas is right, I think, that a checkbook register tells more about what a person really believes about God, themselves, and what it means to be a part of a community than any spiritual autobiography. Same holds true for a federal budget - which is what those nuns on the bus are trying to say to Paul Ryan, who claims that his proposed budget is informed by his Catholic faith.

In Indianapolis, The Episcopal Church is trying to figure out its own budget priorities. (For an interesting summary, see The Anglican Curmudgeon. Since those words were written, the Presiding Bishop has released her own budget. And twelve bishops (including mine, in Western Mass) have signed on to a resolution that will ask for a budget that reduces the ask from dioceses to15%.

This all may seem like "insider baseball" - especially when compared to conversations about who can be married in our churches and whether or not unbaptized persons should be invited to come to the Table. It may feel, to some, like a distraction from the "real" work. But such conversations have the potential, at least, to take us to those bigger questions about identity and mission, where we might yet dare to ask: (a) what structures would support this mission and (b) how much will it take to do this and (c) how do we move from where we are, to there?

I know as a rector (in a much smaller system than a denomination) how challenging this is to do. If the money is coming in, it's easier to just suggest across-the-board % increases. And if money is tight, it's easier to just suggest across-the-board % decreases. It's far more difficult to say: "given our mission to focus on "a" it may mean we need to cut "b"  - not because "b" is unimportant but because "a" is our priority and we really need to focus on it.  I suspect that I have not said anything very controversial here; most reasonable people know that budgets - of all sizes - require choices and discernment.

Now this is my first of 77 General Conventions, so I say this as a newcomer with a great amount of humility. But it seems to me that TEC has run the same way, more or less, for a very long time. And it's hard - really hard - for a bureaucracy to step back and ask missional questions. In fact, a bureaucracy can never do that by itself. It requires leadership. And I suspect that in this instance it may be hardest of all for the "leaders" at the top to exercise the kind of leadership required. It may require something much closer to the grass roots level. And of course, trusting the Holy Spirit.

I have no idea what that might look like, or how it might be achieved. But in the long run it's at least as important as the issues that will probably get more media coverage.

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