Monday, October 21, 2013

Why Should We Send Alternates to General Convention?

According to the Canons of the Episcopal Church, each diocese elects 4 clergy Deputies and 4 lay Deputies to serve at General Convention [GC], and up to four Alternate Deputies in each order.  In most dioceses, the diocese pays for the eight clergy and lay Deputies to attend GC.  Most (but not all) dioceses also pay for the 1st Alternate Deputy in each order to attend Convention. 
Attendance at General Convention is very expensive.  It typically lasts about 10 days or so.  There are significant transportation costs.  Hotels typically charge over $100 per night.  And meal/per-diem costs rack up over the days of GC -- $61 per day in Salt Lake City/2015 according to the current GSA rates.  That means each Alternate Deputy will “cost” the diocese about $160 per day to attend GC, plus transportation. 
I have heard one dominant reason for sending the 1st Alternate Deputy in each order: That they might step in to take the place of a Deputy who cannot serve in one session, or in case a Deputy becomes ill or injured.  …  And, yes, most Deputations also step aside so that their Alternates can have some time on the floor of GC. …  Mostly, the arguments I’ve heard for sending Alternates to GC is so they can step in if need be.
But funds are tight, and some dioceses are questioning the need to spend that much money to send their 1st lay and clergy Alternate Deputies to General Convention.
At least one Bishop has phrased it this way: “When I sit in the House of Bishops, there is no one to stand in as my substitute.  If I cannot spend a moment or an hour or a day, there is no one to stand in for me. Why should we pay to bring to Alternate Deputies to spend some 10 days at GC just in case they are needed?”  I can understand that reasoning, in this time of tight budgets.  That bishop was arguing from a National League baseball perspective:  S/he has no “designated hitter” to run to the HoB floor in his/her place.   
Since I began closely following GC in 2003, my only rationale for sending/supporting our clergy and lay Alternates had been my understanding of something like that “designated hitter ruler.”  I thought we needed a substitute, in case one of the Deputies was indisposed for an hour or a day or more.
Today, I realized there’s another reason – which probably doesn’t occur to many bishops.  It’s leadership development ... or call it "continuity planning." 
When a bishop is elected, s/he has all sorts of training and mentoring.  By the time a new Bishop gets to General Convention, s/he probably has established a network of colleagues.  But it is not so with GC Deputies.  The only way to learn how to serve as a Deputy is to serve as a Deputy.  Bringing eight Deputies, plus two Alternates, gives us two more people who can observe the workings of GC and participate in the governance of our church.  It’s training.  It’s leadership development.  It’s continuity planning. It is not merely having a “designated hitter” in the dugout in case someone wants a little break.  Bishops get years and years to serve in the House of Bishops.  But in the House of Deputies, we have to develop our own leadership.  And bringing Alternate Deputies, I come to see, is one of the significant ways we can do that. 
That’s my insight du jour.  Bishops get careful mentoring and many GCs in which to develop their skills, relationships, and understanding.  Bringing Alternate Deputies to GC is a way to help develop skills, leadership, and relationships among the rest of the clergy and laity.  It’s a way to empower the rest of us to see the bigger picture. 
Next time I hear of a Bishop arguing against bringing the 1st Alternates to General Convention, I’m going to push back for new reasons.  And I’m going to push back hard

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Sunday, October 06, 2013

Stewardship Statement Today

I’m a member of my parish’s Stewardship Team.  We are no longer just about the “annual pledge drive.”  We have a year-round mission of helping to educate, inform, and inspire the parish to contemplate and live out stewardship in all its manifestations.  We lead book and movie discussions.  We host special events.  We try to keep “stewardship” in the forefront of our parish awareness throughout the year.

But this is October – the month when most Episcopal parishes do their “pledge drive.”

In the past 3 or 4 years, we did a combined “pledge drive,” asking people to pledge their money, time, and talents.  This year, we decided to let October be about financial support of the parish.  (We’ll tackle time and talent in early 2014.)  After much discussion, we decided to talk about money this month.   You know how Christians – and Episcopalians – don’t want to talk about money.  It’s considered gauche.  Most of us were raised with the mantra that – in polite society – we do not discuss politics, sex, religion, or money.  But Jesus and the Gospel writers talked more about money than about almost any other topic. Our Stewardship Committee decided we’d dare to touch that “fourth rail”; we decided to talk quite explicitly about money this month.

Each October Sunday during the “announcements” period at the 8:00 and 10:30 services, one of us Stewardship Team members will stand up and talk about Church and money.  We are to share something from our personal experience.  Today was the first of those Sundays, and I was first up at the 10:30 service.   I went to the lectern with four small note cards with “bullet points” on them.  In case any of you want to know, I’m going to try here to write what I tried to say today from that lectern.

Hello, I’m Lisa Fox, and I’m a member of our Stewardship Team. 

As I was preparing to talk with you today, it struck me that this is a significant anniversary for me. Fifteen years ago this weekend, on Friday night, I drove my moving van to Jefferson City.  I spent Saturday unpacking as much as I could. Then Sunday, I walked into this church for the first time.  From that first Sunday, you made me feel at home. I wrote my first offering check that day. And I have never quit giving my money to this parish since then. 

There’s an old saw that “polite” people don’t talk about sex, politics, religion, or money.  But our Stewardship Team has made a very conscious decision to talk about money this year.  And so I shall.

A few moments ago, we heard the children’s choir introit.  They sang almost everything we need to hear as they sang, “I am the Church. You are the Church.  We are the Church together.” 

But I want to share a few thoughts with you anyway.

I want to tell you why I tithe to Grace.  By the way, I am a little nervous saying that I tithe.  I don’t want it to sound like I’m bragging.  But we hear others talk about their spiritual disciplines. For example, some people mention that they pray the Daily Office.  Why shouldn’t I also say that tithing is part of my spiritual discipline?

Here are three reasons why I tithe.

First, I tithe in gratitude for what God has done and is still doing in my life.  Our priest reminds us that the definition of “Eucharist” is “thanksgiving.” I tithe because God has blessed and redeemed me more than I ever deserved.

Second, I tithe in gratitude for what this parish is doing and has done for me, and in gratitude for what it’s doing for other parishioners. I expect most of you, too, have been blessed by the ministry of our members.

Third, I tithe in gratitude for and solidarity with Grace’s mission outreach to the wider community and for what that lets us share with the Diocese and the wider Episcopal Church. 

Last year, I was pleased that I finally pledged 10% of my income to this parish.  But then something happened.  As several of you know, my paid-off car was totaled while I safely at home in June. I had to buy a new-to-me car.  I had counted the cost and thought I knew what I could afford.  But the payments came up a bit higher than I expected.  When the first payment came due – God help me, I confess – I immediately thought, “I cannot afford this.  I have to make room in my budget.  I guess I’ll have to reduce my pledge to the Church.”

And then a big head-slap came out to me – maybe from the Holy Spirit, or maybe from within my own spirit. 

I was reminded of what I have so often heard: “A budget is a moral document.”  I believe that.  I have a budget.  And I thought of all the items I have in that budget, including my Internet connection, my cell phone charges, my eating-out budget, and my larger-than-it-should-be Starbucks budget.  What in the world made me think that I should look first to reduce my pledge to Grace Church and the mission of the Church?? 

Fortunately, that big ol’ head-slap quickly brought me to my senses.  I had made a promise to God and to this parish.  How dare I first think about reducing my parish pledge?  Why in the world would that strike me as the first possible cut? I realized I could cut back on other things to take up the slack. 

Everything I have – including this new-to-me 2007 car – is a gift from God.  And God has asked me to give the “first fruits” back to the church.  God “whopped me up-side o’ my head” about my priorities.  This parish is one of the things I treasure most in my life.  My treasure should be where my heart is.  And TEC and this parish matter more to me than my new-to-me car. 

I hope you will join me this month in discernment about what God has given you and what you value about this parish.  And please join me in discernment about what we should give back to God in gratitude for the gifts we have been given.

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