Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thirteen Letters, Sounds Like "Trouble"

The word is restructuring, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is doing it. Again.

The bottom line is that giving -- what used to be called "benevolence," and is now called "mission support" -- is down dramatically over the past few years. Many or even most of the ELCA's 65 synods are in serious financial trouble, and so is the national church.

Why? Everybody has a theory. Maybe it's the result of decades of debilitating internal warfare over Episcopalians and gay people. Maybe it's the cost of a topheavy administrative structure. Maybe it is all those old people who won't listen to the young people, or vice-versa. Maybe it was the CNLC's captivity to ultra-liberal Protestantism. Maybe it's the effect of a worldwide economic crisis, which features 10% unemployment and pension plans in dire jeopardy. Or maybe it's mainline decline, the undiagnosable black box of modern church history. (We at the Egg blame the AELC, just on principle. At this point, we may as well put our cards on the table and admit what readers have already guessed: we also think the AELC killed Kennedy and is hiding the truth about UFOs).

Whatever the cause, the result is clear. Painful as it is, we are glad that the church had the guts to take action, further streamlining its structure. We may tease Bishop Hanson about his albs, but we admire his willingness to face reality. You might be surprised by how rare that is in church leadership. And we are very sad that he's had to do it twice.

We don't know all the details of the bloodletting. Here's a press release, but it only hints at what the result will look like. As 16 "units" and "sections" are condensed into three units, will there be some functions that are no longer given proper attention, or attended to at all? Will there be some gains, in coherence and missional focus? We hope so, but only time will tell.

What concerns us most right now is the human cost. A national staff of 358 will be reduced by 65 or so. That's nearly a 20% layoff, on top of the cuts earlier this year -- and in a virtually stagnant labor market. How will those people pay the rent and buy groceries? Five foreign missionaries on active duty will be called home, almost immediately. Who knows how disruptive that will be, not only to the missionaries and their families, but to the ministries they have be building up?

Please pray for the church, and in particular for those who are facing the end of ministries they had cherished and cultivated.


Pastor Joelle said...

well my broken record is that the time is long past when the church can be exempt from the same laws that other corporations must follow to provide protections for their employees. That is, they must fund their pensions the same way other corporations must and they must provide unemployment insurance.

And no getting out of it by providing the church worker with the "choice". No special rules for churches anymore. Period. We've shown we are not better than secular institutions at taking care of our workers, in fact we are worse - so no more special laws for us

LiturgyGeek said...

The UCC is undergoing similar "shrinking pains," but without the 'benefit' of a hierarchy to just say, "This is happening, it sucks, but this is reality." (I kid - we REALLY like our congregational polity. Maybe even more than we like the church.)

For us, what is surfacing is the disproportionate impact this will have on our communities of color (congregations and constituent groups, both of which we have in abundance...). And it will have a steep impact on those whom we employ at the MotherShip; some of that is interrelated.

We mainline denominations sure are muddled when it comes to "coherence and missional focus," aren't we?

LoieJ said...

Well, its not just the Lutherans. The RC's in the Minneapolis area are closing over a dozen churches. But the RCs also have the excuse of not having enough priests. We, on the other hand, now have pastors and pastors-yet-to-be-ordained who can't find calls. So what are the seminaries telling prospective applicants?