Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Holy Crap Must Go

We're in the middle of our annual two day "vestry/staff conference" here in Pasadena -- the yearly opportunity for the All Saints Church staff, vestry and vestry-elect to gather for orientation, reflection and inspiration. We look at last year's goals and how we've done in terms of accomplishing them. We look at the challenges and opportunities ahead and set new goals to meet and maximize them. We worship, pray and fellowship.

This year our theme is All Saints Church 2020 ... creatively imagining what we can do in 2010 to put systems, programs and ministries together to equip the mission ten years down the road. We had a fabulous guest speaker yesterday -- a "futurist" who helped us look through a whole variety of lenses ... facinating stuff.

The conversation continues today as we will get to work applying some of what we've learned to the "next steps" we need to take.

So why am I sitting here blogging instead of being part of that exciting and important work? Because as I went to get in my car this morning, my neighbor waved me over and pointed out that water appeared to be streaming out of my bathroom wall and down his driveway.

So we're now on "PLAN B" for Saturday, March 6. And what that looks like is me sitting here with the two dogs and the water shut off to the house waiting for the plumber to show up. Oh well.

In the meantime, my email this morning included a link to this article by Walter Russell Mead -- a hard hitting reflection on the challenges facing "the church" which really could not fit more perfectly with the conversations we had yesterday at the All Saints vestry/staff conference and my colleagues are having this morning without me.

So check it out. See what you think. Does the "holy crap" need to go? And if it does, who decides what's holy and what's holy crap? And if it doesn't, how does the church live out its mission in spite of the challenges it faces in the months and years and decades ahead? Think about it while we wait for the plumber to show up!


The Holy Crap Must Go -- Walter Russell Mead

Almost 500 years ago, Martin Luther posted his famous 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. There’s no doubt that a lot of serious prayers were prayed and good sermons preached in the Castle Church where Luther posted his theses. But over the years a lot of holy crap had collected there: by 1518 there were more than 17,000 ‘holy relics’ in the church, including such treasures as the body of one of the babies Herod had killed in Bethlehem, straw from Jesus’ manger, a piece of Moses’ burning bush, a sample of the milk of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a set of the swaddling clothes she used on the Christ child. If you visited each relic and prayed the appropriate prayers, you could knock more than 125,000 years off whatever time you were expecting in Purgatory.

Martin Luther understood something very important about the Castle Church: the holy crap had to go. There might have been a time when a vial of the Virgin’s milk would connect the peasants with the story of the first Christmas and remind them both of the dignity of women and the awesome presence of God on earth. The brutal knights of an earlier day might be terrified into honoring their oaths if sworn on one of the 35 pieces of the True Cross lying in various reliquaries and altarpieces at the Castle Church. But that time was no more; if Castle Church was to play its part in the great changes on foot in the world, old ideas would have to go, and once-treasured relics be accepted as frauds and cast aside.

That’s a pretty good description of where the American church is today: there’s a lot of holy crap on the premises, and it is long past time for a good housecleaning. The American church is staggering under the burden of a physical plant that it doesn’t use and can’t pay for; it staggers under the burden of dysfunctional and bloated denominational and professional structures that it can no longer carry; and it is crippled by outdated ideas about what it needs to do its job. All these buildings, bureaucracies and assumptions may have been holy once, may have played a real part in advancing God’s work, but for a lot of them that time has passed.

Read the rest here

10 comments:

Tom Downs said...

When I read articles that make this argument (over the years there have been many), I always end up wishing the author would give the solution to the problem. No one ever does. Basically, I think Meade wants us to cut the overhead and downsize. Then he would have us, with the money saved, be nimble and somehow effectively doing ministry. Makes sense, but he doesn't really explain how to do effective ministry. I fear we would just be doing what we're doing now except on a smaller scale and at less cost.
If we were able to grow 8 effective house churches, each one with 12 members (under the supervising guidance of a "bishop"), then I suggest we would also be able to grow one congregation with 100 members (under the supervision of a single priest). The both case the operative word is "able."
I'm infavor of dropping the unhelpful "crap", but the a surefire strategy for growing the church is still wanting.
Tom Downs

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Sending you good water Karma.

DavidJustinLynch said...

I AGREE!!! I like his ideas about paths to ordination.

Jill said...

Let me add a point you might find interesting. In our diocese, all of our bishops and clergy hold down regular 9-5 jobs to support themselves and receive no compesation for their clerical activities. So I can relate to that point the author is making here. I am disturbed by his comments about relics being frauds, in Orthodoxy relics play an important part in church life with every altar having a relic embedded into it.

DavidJustinLynch said...

God and some Bishop somewhere willing, somewhere, somehow, at sometime in the future, I intend to practice 5 days a week as a lawyer and 2 days a week as a priest -- on a strictly non-stipendiary basis! And except in the case of a large parish where a full-time priest is a necessity for effective administration, every other member of the clergy should do likewise - be a regular person most of the time to earn a living in and among the Body of Christ. Believe me, there are many opportunities to minister away from the altar. Spreading the Gospel requires that the priested be in, under and throughout the entire world community - not cloistered in a cell.

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

David ... just a "word to the wise" to think long and hard before unilaterally declaring what "every other member of [anything] 'should do.'"

Your comments here, unfortunately, not only betray a profound ignorance about the reality of the lives and ministries of many, many faithful clergy throughout our different traditions they are tinged with an arrogance that does nothing to build bridges of understanding and everything to shut down communication.

Martin T. said...

Wow, you're making the priesthood sound like it is just another "occupation" rather than a calling from God to a certain way of life that is DEFINITELY NOT a "2 day a week gig".

DavidJustinLynch said...

You are very fortunate to be where you are making the money you make doing what you do.The current model - a clergy person employed full time only as such after completing a 3-year M. Div.- is not economically tenable for the Episcopal Church anymore. Ask any recent seminary grad about her/his student loan debt and talk to vestries struggling to make ends meet. Our parish has a part-time priest who gets less than $1000 a month plus one retired volunteer. And we still run a substantial deficit. Most parishes do not have the assets and income of All Saints Pasadena. The usual Episcopal Parish has less than 200 on the books and ASA of less than 100. The current economic climate has only made matters worse.

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

Believe me -- no one knows how blessed I am more than I do! When I was ordained as a transitional deacon there were no jobs ... and I was going to stay in school and work on a DMin just so I wouldn't have to start paying on my student loans.

Instead, the then bishop "placed" me in a parish ... where I made $500 a month -- and the bishop picked up my health insurance. I worked 1/2 time as a deacon and day school chaplain and the other 1/2 time as an accounts payable clerk in a meat packing plant in the City of Industry. (I was REALLY bad at it.)

While I was eventually blessed to receive a call to a full time postion at St. Peter's in San Pedro in 1998 and then to All Saints in 2002, it was a long and winding road ... and it's been worth every bump, pothole and detour.

DavidJustinLynch said...

Your bishop is indeed, a blessing in and of himself. Unfortunately, not many bishops have a multimillion dollar Corp Sole and a generous, loving heart to go with it. Let us pray for the Church for the increase of such bishops. And you are a blessing to the Church for which all of us, wherever we are in our journey of faith, should be thankful. While you and I do not agree all the time, we do agree on the most important thing: that for the Church to be truly catholic, it must be inclusive.