Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The rocket's red glare...

It must be 9:30 because it sounds like a war zone outside. All the pyro-technicians must get their training as Disneyland.

About Disneyland, by the way, there have been workers from the Magic Kingdom outside the Conv. Center every day, handing out postcards and information about the labor practices of Disney. The workers--most of whom are paid just above minimum wage--are having their health care reduced if they don't take over the entire payment. Taking health care away at this time in history seems draconian to me. There was even a prayer vigil for the workers after the afternoon session yesterday. It was held among the pristine and beautiful grounds of the Hilton Hotel--a bit ironic that.

Today the budget was presented. Bishop Smith is vice-chair of the PB&F committee (Program, Budget and Funding) and helped present the budget. It is one of the very few times we hold a joint session of both houses and the bishops joined their deputations for the presentation. Not surprizingly, there is a great short fall and programs that mean a lot to some were either slashed or eliminated. Plus there will be layoffs at the Church Center in NYC. It is a painful process and PB&F is the hardest working committee in the GC. They have to deal with resolutions that ask for funding even as they are trying to finalize the budget. Both houses will debate and seek to pass the budget tomorrow and time is running low. Two more sleeps before the convention ends on Friday afternoon.

We also passed a historic resolution creating a church wide health plan. I've always wondered why we didn't have a plan for the whole church and now we do. Insurance issues though, are quite tangled and complicated. Quite a few spoke against it and against a required pension plan for lay employees. Harriet is the only lay employee we have who works enough hours and we, at St. John's, already contribute to her pension. However, there are apparently those around the church that do not. These two issues brought up a divide in the EC that is as significant, if not more so, than the progressive/orthodox divide--small churches vs. larger churches.

A recent report out of 815 that I gave to the vestry reveals some startling facts. Did you know only 10% of Episcopal Churches are in urban areas? When you think of the large number of urban areas in the country, that is a bit surprising to me. But here's what blew me away, nearly 80% of Episcopal Churches have a sunday attendance of less than 150. Just over half of them have a Sunday attendance of 70 or less. St. John's, which I don't think of as a 'large' congregation, is in the top 10% of ECs in total Sunday attendance and we are about 35 people per Sunday from being in the top 3.5% of Episcopal Churches. Those figures are stunning to me and give me much more pause about the health, indeed the existence of the EC through the next 100 years. The median Sunday attendance at an EC (line them all up and find the one dead in the middle with equal # of churches with lower attendance and higher attendance, is 69!!! Because it is an 'average', St. John's is over 300 in the three Sunday services. (We don't get that in August, obviously!) How can a church with such statistics long survive? So deputies from small churches are afraid the new required church-wide health insurance and the mandated pension payments for lay employees over 2000 hours a year (1500 hours from what was passed today!) will tip them over the edge.

Since I'm big on irony, it is ironic that this denomination of small churches holds a 10 day convention in expensiver places and spends millions of $ for it. They negotiate a real deal for housing (the room I'm in is $120 or so a night though it says on the door of my room it is $600 a night for one person. Each deputy from CT--10 of us with the first alternates--was given about $3500 for travel and expenses. $35,000 seems a lot more for small dioceses made up of small churches than it does for CT or LA or Chicago or DC or Mass and other dioceses like that. The greater Irony is that even though nearly 80% of EC have 150 or less on Sunday, more Episcopalians go to church in the other 20% than in the 80%! Even in CT with 180 parishes, there are probably at least as many people in church on Sunday in the churches of Fairfield County and New Haven as there are in the rest of the parishes combined. We are a denomination of 'small churches' that acts like a denomination of 'large churches'. The budget does cut the length of convention by 2 days in 2112, but that seems like pocket change savings to the dioceses. When I come to retire, I'd like to work part time in one of those small, family sized churches and figure out what that's about. The first church I served had about 75 on a Sunday, but at that time they could afford both a priest and a building. St. James, Charleston was over 90 years old and when I stayed 5 years I had the longest tenure of any vicar they ever had. St. John's is 276 years old and I've been there 20 years and, I think I'm still 4th or 5th in terms of longevity. I'm only the 18th Rector. St. James had had more vicars than that in less than 100 years.

Another Irony of the astonishing kind: since 1979 there have been resolutions to have only active bishops be able to vote at GC. In 2006 we passed a constitutional change (which must be passed by two consecutive conventions in the same language to take effect) which accomplished that. The move was instigated and supported by retired bishops who felt they should have seat and voice but no vote since they did not represent a constituency--they were accountable to no one. So, 30 years later, we are poised on the edge of passing what retired bishops requested. (Arthur Walmsley, one of our former bishops, was pit bull about this.) The bishops would approve and the deputies would give back the vote over and again. But last night I was talking to Jeffery Rowthorn, one of CT's retired bishops and discovered he DIDN'T favor it. And Bp Smith said most of the retired bishops were against it. It occurs to me that most of the retired bishops who have supported this over three decades are either dead or not here. So, it may be the hofb that defeats it this time! How wierd is that. 30 years to give the bishops what they wanted was time enough for them to probably not want it anymore....

I talked to a man from Ireland, a former RC priest, who is one of the people with a booth in the Exhibition hall. We were both outside having a cigarette. The conversation started when I asked him, "do you remember when we ruled the earth, when our tribe was much larger?" He laughed and introduced himself. He told me 'Bradley' is a common name in the county of Ireland where he comes from. I found out he lives in southern Cal and I asked him how he could stand the endlessness of the blue sky and the unending sunshine. He told me he played golf--'nuf said. I told him Ireland is the only place outside the US I think I could live--mostly for the fog and clouds and ubiquitous rain. People I talk to who start going on and on about the climate here are shaken and confused when I tell them I can't leave 'paradise' soon enough. I really think being in Anaheim much longer would make me long for snow and ice and the 15 hours of darkness in winter in CT. What my new Irish friend told me resonates with my psyche. I always thought Bradley was a British name, but since noone in my family has ever been able to trace us back across the Atlantic, maybe I'm a lot more Irish than I thought. I know Celtic music is my 'soul music' though
Bern--Italian and Hungarian to the core runs out of the room when I'm watching it on PBS! I kinda like thinking my half-Irish blood on my mother's side may be equaled by half-Irish DNA on my father's side. And I could live in Ireland.....

The hofd is like driving a Packard on the I-5 in Southern California. We are two days behind in our work with 2 days to go! We keep shortening debate and putting more things on the consent calendar that can be voted all at once. Everyone is a little tired and a lot crabby. And there is much more to do.

last thing: today we approved continuing in the Anglican Communion's conversation about a Covenant for the AC. I'm dead against it. The Covenant is being designed to make us a much more hierarchical church and taking privilege from the 39 churches to consentrate it in a communion wide rule of bishops and archbishops. That is antithetical to our polity and, I would suggest, totally un-Anglican. The 'four instruments of unity' under the covenant in its present form are: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the gathering of the Primates of the 39 churches, the Lambeth Conference (all bishops) and the Anglican Consultative Council made up of a bishop a priest and a lay person from each of the 39 churches. We would begin to look like the RC church with the ABC as Pope and the Primates as the College of Cardinals and the Lambeth Conference as the College of Bishops. As bad an idea as I can imagine or conceive of in my mind. I was one of a dozen or so of 814 who voted 'no', but I was proud of my vote. The key thing is this--any 'covenant' of any form must be approved by a GC and I have come to trust the GC this year. Almost all the other 38 churches could agree to it if their archbishop agreed with it. We are one of the few Anglican churches who doesn't have an Archbishop. We have a 'Presiding
Bishop" and she 'presides' rather than 'rules'.

I miss all of you back in CT. I miss Bern and Bela (our dog) and Luke (the only one of our two still living cats I like) and the staff I love at St. John's and the people there and clouds and thunderstorms and crabby people of the East Coast. I miss a familiar ocean and the cultural agreement we have back east to maintain that what you see is what you get. Lots of people at GC have told me how impressed they are with how polite and friendly all the workers in the hotels and resturants are. I could stand a little rudeness right now. Three sleeps and I'll be in Houston and Cleveland and Hartford and then home...home sweet home....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.