Michell draws on Harvard's John Kotter to cite "a sense of urgency" as the first step in organizational transformation. Michell gives detailed evidence from the church's leadership bodies and budget decisions to show that there is no urgency to transform. He calls this "denial" and says that too many have bought into the illusion that things can "stay as they are" as long as there are endowments to draw down and buildings to sell off for institutional survival.
It is a good piece, well worth your attention if you care about the church or if you are simply interested in organizational development, business or any other kind of communal endeavor.
My first thought after reading it was, "Is the Episcopalian problem really a lack of urgency, or is it a couple of interest group 'urgencies' that do not see to the good of the whole church?"
First, there's the urgency of comfort driven by members who are old and aging, the Episcopal Church's vast majority. Local churches spend a good deal of time and energy on this particular urgency. Emotionally, older members are looking to the church for comfort and familiarity. "Transformation" is a bad word - life is already working a sweeping and unwelcome transformation on them. So they are prone to resist change. They want the people, the music, the color schemes, the furnishings and pretty much anything else they "like." This means that leaders are rewarded for responding to complaints and rejected for transformative changes. In some ways we don't talk about, many local Episcopal churches ape the local senior living center, trying to keep the paying customers happy.
Their physical comfort drives many leadership decisions. Small, declining congregations will make substantial and expensive facility upgrades that serve an existing membership's comfort while not transforming its mission and witness. Bible studies and other programs are limited to daytime hours, excluding younger adults and families.
This urgency of comfort was best expressed to me by a very progressive Presbyterian pastor, who wondered, "Are our mainline churches just a hospice for the existing members?" The likely answer was expressed in one Episcopal parish, where an older Vestry member stopped a discussion of church growth with, "I don't care if the church dies, as long as I die first!"
The second and more obvious urgency comes from what David Virtue calls "the pansexual movement" (formerly just "committed, monogamous gays and lesbians," but ever expanding to include bisexual, transgendered, "exploring," poly-amorous and others, many of whom are not committed or monogamous).
As Michell cites transformational qualities from Kotter, I can't help but notice that the pansexual movement to which Episcopal leaders cater is urgent. It forces its issues and entitlements despite all evidence of harm to the wider church. It holds leaders highly accountable - bishops and clergy are rewarded for pushing the agenda and disowned for even a whiff of moderation. It expects the church to speak to its issues in the public square - including the political endorsement of "gay marriage." It gets Episcopalians to endorse and work for its agenda with an urgency that none would ever invest in proclaiming Christ.
These two urgencies - of comfort and of the pansexual movement - have become symbiotic:
- - For the old members, most urgent about comfort but still wanting the church to somehow grow "just as it is," pansexualists provide clergy who "give a nice service," who preach about how lovely it all is, and who are urgent enough about their cause to make the members feel close to some kind of growth energy.
- - For the pansexualists, the older members are part of a generation that saved and is capable of the last great intergenerational transfer of wealth that will be available for quite some time. Thus, a financial life support provider for a small, eccentric niche movement - organized pansexual religion - that cannot grow but still has salaries, health care and pensions to worry about for its current aficionados.
Think that's polemic? It plays out in reality. Last year, the Episcopal Church responded to local church complaints about rising health care premiums by offering a denominational (nation wide) health plan. On paper, this sounded good to me - increasing the shared risk pool to help hold down premiums.
But when I attended a presentation on the plan (which is very good in what it offers, btw), I was stunned to see that the premiums were built to favor older, single clergy - or those with just a "partner." Their premiums would be several hundred dollars per month. For a family with kids? The premium started at $2,100 per month. That would break the budget of most congregations. It was completely out of reach for mine, and much worse than the old, local plan about which we had complained.
The Episcopal Church does not lack urgent energy - it just doesn't have any that unites. It accommodates the several lesser "urgencies" of a couple of groups, who may or may not be in denial about the harm they are doing to the rest of the body. As I've written elsewhere, it is a "one generation strategy," kind of like rent controlled apartments: Nobody cares what happens next, as long as they get theirs now.