Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Metro NY Synod 2008: Prologue

Tomorrow morning, we will load up the Eggwagon and drive to Tarrytown for the annual assembly of our synod, Metropolitan New York.  "We," in this case, means cranky old Father Anonymous, the lovely Mother Anonymous and -- in his second appearance at one of these solemnities -- adorable little Baby Anonymous.

The chief order of business is the election of a new synodical bishop.  We have already shared some of our misgivings in the post below, "Death Be/Be Not Proud." (Click the link up top if you missed it).  To make it as simple as possible, we believe that there has been so much misinformation given out over so many years -- decades, really -- that neither the clergy nor the laity in attendance will be able to vote for somebody who tells them the truth.

This is a serious concern, because the truth really does have the power to set us free.  It is frightening to hear the fact that many of our parishes have withered and died, that many are withering now and that many will, almost certainly, die in the years to come.  

But it does not have to be frightening.  If we have the ears to hear it, the simple statement of this fact, without blame or shame attached to it, can be liberating.  "Okay," we can say to ourselves.  "This is the case.  Barring immediate divine intervention, we're going to be a smaller synod, at least for a while.  Is smaller necessarily worse?"  Of course not.  We have something like 225 parishes now, many of them ailing.  (By "ailing," we mean a combination of things:  losing members, prone to severe and sustained conflict, and struggling to pay the bills.  By the way, we at the Egg believe firmly that congregational health can be quantified and measured, at least crudely.  Ask us someday for our metrics checklist.)  A lot of time, energy and money goes into strategies intended to reverse the fortunes of those parishes, and only rarely does it pay a significant dividend.  If in a few years we found ourselves with, say, 175 healthy parishes, we would be far better able to do God's work.  (By "healthier," we mean stable or growing, able to resolve conflict and move on, with enough cash on hand to pay the bills and invest some the kind of serious growth-oriented mission activities that currently elude us).

So one of the questions facing us as a synod is:  can we change our focus from parish survival to parish health?  And, when our parishes see the end in sight, can we learn to love the bit about a grain of wheat falling into the earth?

Of course, there are a lot of other questions facing us as well.  A recent Synod Audit -- essentially, a series of interviews and small-group conversations -- reported some of them:  (1) Disconnection.  City and suburban churches don't feel that they have much in common; neither do the upstate and downstate regions, nor in many cases large churches and small ones.  Many pastors apparently feel isolated from, their colleagues (which is odd, considering how close some of our churches actually are to each other; maybe they need a map).  (2) Administration.  Our synod has a fairly large staff, made up of (mostly) able people; but truth be told, they don't seem to work well as a team.  Phone calls don't get answered, messages don't get shared, problems don't get solved.  Can a new bishop use the staff (this one or another) more effectively?  (3) Focus.  Like most church groups, we can easily be motivated by a stirring message.  Talk to us about foreign missions, immigration, the urban poor, or some other worthy cause, and we will quickly vote to make it our new "vision."  We've done this so often in the past few years that the damned visions are all blurring together; it is hard to tell whether we are on Mt Nebo looking at the Promised Land, or the Nabatean desert, or maybe -- oh, crap, those are pyramids, aren't they? 

There's a lot more where this came from.  And while the Egg usually steers clear of too much local news, we're going to make an exception.  For the benefit of our regular reader (happy birthday, Mom!) and anybody else who can't be in beautiful Tarrytown this week, we intend to provide end-of-the-day wrapups and commentary, at least briefly.   And at least until Baby Anonymous needs to sleep.  

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