When I coach parish clergy through a difficult congregational situation, I often counsel them not to hold onto the situation’s anxiety all by themselves. I encourage them to take it to their lay leadership and place the anxiety in their midst and say: “OK, here it is. What are we going to do about this?” My reason for such counsel is that it’s not right or healthy for clergy to take all the anxiety on themselves. Whatever the issue, it belongs to the whole parish and its lay leadership should share in the responsibility of addressing it. That’s good baptismal theology. The parish leadership, lay and ordained together, ought to deal with the issue. I’ll even say something to the clergy like: “We have a Savior, Jesus, and you aren’t Jesus. The Body of Christ needs to handle this together.”
So, I want to practice what I preach and not hold the anxiety I’m feeling all by myself. I’m frustrated, but in my frustration, I certainly don’t want to appear whiny. I’m not one quickly to complain. I’m uninterested in finding anyone to blame. That rarely proves helpful in the long run. I’m well-aware when a bishop (or any leader) vulnerably shares his feelings that this will upset some people, while it will just plain annoy others. I don’t wish to upset or annoy anyone, but I don’t know what to make of our situation in the Diocese right now. And that’s why I’m frustrated.
We’re near the end of a Capital Campaign to raise much needed funds so we can continue the important mission work we’ve begun and to start new work to which we believe God is calling us. Over the last few years, we’ve checked in with the Diocese about our goals and objectives and have received positive feedback. The people of the Diocese have told us overwhelmingly in separate surveys that the Campaign priorities were spot on and we should confidently move forward. We even lowered the expected goal to make achieving it quite attainable. And here’s where I’m frustrated. We’re nowhere near reaching the goal and we have less than five weeks to go before the Campaign ends. I had hoped everyone would realize the importance of what we’re doing and how crucial it is for the future vitality and faithfulness of the Diocese. People across the Diocese have told me that what we’ve done together and are planning to do is important, so the lack of widespread financial support to date has left me confused.
The Diocese is well-managed and responsive. Six years ago, we reduced most parish’s annual “asking” from 15% (or more) down to 10%. Even with this reduction, we’ve managed to keep the Diocesan budget in the “black” every year. Adjusted for inflation, our Diocesan budget is smaller now than it was seven years ago even as combined gross parish revenues have increased. We did this purposefully. We wanted more funds kept on the congregational level for local mission. But we also made it clear at the time that we would need to raise funds beyond the Diocesan budget if we wanted to be faithful to God’s mission by training new leaders, by growing our congregations’ witness in their communities, and by sharing God’s grace and mercy with more young people.
So, I need help in making sense of what’s going on. I’m sharing this anxiety with all of us because we’re all in this together.