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.