Monday, May 30, 2016

Another Year in the Sausage Factory

So once again I was a delegate to diocesan convention, this time as an alternate. This year worship tended towards high-and-wide, pretty much straight out of the BCP except for the one spot anyone can guess (it was during Eastertide, so the other spot didn't come up). Musically it was all organ but there were a couple of quite unfamiliar numbers, particularly the opening hymn. If one is going to set Hyfridol, which is probably in the top ten in Episcopal hymnody however one slices it, it behooves one to make a text which is rigorously metrical. And for that matter, please come up with one's own tune, rather than reusing Sine Nomine (another case later on). At least the service music was almost all familiar.

A chart of parochial report data, if it be for 2015, does in fact report positive numbers: ASA of 10,273 compared with 10,256 in 2014. It's less than 0.2% gain, but any gain at all is an achievement after a solid decade of losses. This was against our new assistant bishop Chilton Knudsen's declaration that "ASA is passe." Is that so? The ongoing attempt to pretend that we don't have to take our losses seriously is a painfully destructive denial of reality, particularly considering the lack of interest in why people are leaving on the one had, and the self-congratulatory undertone of how it's the result of purification.

This was reinforced by our speaker, the Very Rev. Mike Kinman, dean of the cathedral in St. Louis, who also preached the eucharist. Between the two addresses, we got a Change sermon and a Social Action sermon. Anyone who has read this blog much knows how I abhor the former, and while there is a place for the latter, we keep coming back to the problem that baptizing people in the Triune name and bringing them into the church just never seems to be a priority, a problem reinforced when Bp. Knudsen blessed in the Modal name. Can't we get over that?

And so, on to the resolutions. I ended up sitting with a group from two churches at the far western end of the state, where even the city parishes are small and parish survival is a big issue. This came up twice in the resolutions, once in the obligatory compensation resolution and the other in a canonical revision which, among other changes, created a formal process for closing a parish from the outside. This, apparently was prompted by a lawsuit, but it was opposed by our table, who were surely concerned that central Maryland standards of viability might not reflect their situation. Another necessary resolution dealt with an amendment to the cathedral by-laws, which apparently we have to be involved in; it went through without comment.

Another inevitability was a alcohol policy resolution, which passed without difficulty. We also got a "let's shame everyone how hasn't gotten their anti-racism training" attempt which was not surprisingly muted to read "don't forget to get your anti-racism training."

The bishop of Puerto Rico was present for the occasion of setting up a companion diocese relationship. I have no idea what these do for anyone but there it is.

A particularly peculiar resolution was one to recommend putting Origen on the calendar. This was obviously way out of the competence of nearly everyone in the room; I could barely handle the materials myself. It's hard to say why this was brought forward, though it's possible his ideas about universal salvation might have prompted this, universalism being very popular now. At any rate it was very difficult for anyone to mount a contrary response, and only one person made a pretty limited attempt.

The big event was the last resolution, which was dealt with parliamentary procedure right out of Lewis Carroll. This resolution proposed that the diocese "give an amount equivalent to at least ten percent of the assets of its unrestricted investment funds to the diocesan chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE) as an initial act of reparation." We used the same procedure as last year of small table discussion and sending cards back to the resolution writers; for this resolution, however, each table got a representative (I presume from the commission that wrote this) as a facilitator. Mind you, I was sitting next to a retired state trooper from the extremely white and poor west end of the state. The word "privilege" was of course brought out.

The subsequent and irregular handling of the resolution demonstrated how problematic the whole thing was. The resolution specifically set no limits on how the UBE was to use the money, and this is probably what brought on the rewrite to dump the matter on diocesan council for further discussion. This was announced first, then voted; then we were to discuss the matter. Given the constraints this discussion was essentially impossible and therefore next-to-nonexistent, especially since it was the only "business" keeping us from closing up shop. In any case only two people spoke, the first of which pointed out that the original resolution was out of order from the beginning because it lacked certain requisites of a spending resolution. Oh the time this could have saved....

The other speaker foolishly pointed at the elephant in the room. I personally could not see this as anything as a symbolic but ineffective act, and I said so in table discussion. I was not so foolish as to point out the bigger problem: that we are so very deeply out of touch with the lower classes. One clause of the original resolution "encourage[d] all congregations to examine how their endowed wealth is tied to the institution of slavery and consider returning a portion of that wealth as part of this initiative." OK, so the patriarch of my branch of the Wingates is supposed to have emigrated to North Carolina back in the the 1740s, and if you want some slave-generated wealth, consider that "Old Brick" in Columbia had space in the balcony for said slaves. All these years later, though, my father's mother family were workers exploited in the same cloth mills managed by my great-grandfather Wingate; I remember my grandmother's pride in managing to escape the factory floor for the offices. In any event, my parish was started in the 1880s. And my mother was from a broken farm family in Ohio; her grandfather was a Dutch immigrant.

Really, we could liquidate every asset of the diocese and not make a dent in the poverty and suffering of blacks in Maryland, for we have neither the wealth nor the influence. And we talk about the problem as outsiders, all around, when we talk at all. Thus, one person stood up to the microphone and spoke of our lack of interest in poor whites, and how his parish was much more recently founded, and finished by stating that he was not racist. The whole performance was met with embarrassed silence, and that was the end of the discussion.