Bonnie Anderson’s closing remarks to Executive Council

January 29, 2012

Executive Council Meeting, January 29, 2012:  Closing Remarks
Bonnie Anderson, President, The House of Deputies

Good afternoon—

The writer and prophet William Stringfellow had something to say about the situation we now find ourselves in:

Now that mark that verifies the integrity of the church as institution and sets the church apart from the other institutions—the state, the university, the Pentagon, General Electric—as the exemplary or pioneer or holy institution is the freedom of the church from primary and controlling concern about her own survival. Survival of the institution is the operative ethic of all institutions, in their fallenness. The church is called into being in freedom from that ethic of survival and where renewal or reformation in the church happens for real, that very freedom is being exercised and the church is viable and faithful. (A Keeper of the Word, 147)

We have worked hard and faithfully during this meeting, but I think the budget we have passed is captive to an ethic of survival of the institutional church as we know it. Here are my concerns:

Specifically:

  • I am concerned that the categories within the budget perpetuate the church’s continued reliance on an executive, staff-driven church. This model isn’t working for us, and it runs counter to the flexible networks that are being developed and embraced at other levels of the church and in the world. There are some glimmers of a future that is here, and for that, I am grateful.
  • If we keep relying on this old, bureaucratic model to run our church, we’re also continuing our reliance on the building at 815 Second Avenue that will cost us now up from $7.7 million dollars when I gave my opening remarks on Friday to $8.7 because of increased interest rates in facilities cost and debt repayment during the next triennium. If we continue to spend this kind of money on a building to house an executive structure, the only place we’ll be able to look for savings will be in areas that compromise the voices and leadership of clergy and laypeople in the church. That’s not faithful to our tradition as Episcopalians or to who I believe God is calling us to be.
  • The constraints of this meeting and our budget process have given us very little time to really understand this budget. This increases the  high risk of unintended consequences.

It’s not surprising that it’s hard for us to adapt our decision-making processes to create the change we need and to respond to change in the world around us. This is halting and imperfect work. The inertia that keeps us stuck in the old model—in the ethic of survival that Stringfellow cautions us against—is powerful. I feel its pull, and I imagine you do too.

But I think that when we talk about a “transitional” budget we’re dressing up that ethic of survival instead of mustering the courage we need to free ourselves of it. During the remainder of the budget process, I hope and pray that we can resist the inertia that will lull us into complacency, confront change bravely, and come up with a budget that we can consider at General Convention faithfully and in good conscience.

We might do well to carry Stringfellow’s wisdom home with us:  “The church is called into being in freedom from that ethic of survival and where renewal or reformation in the church happens for real, that very freedom is being exercised and the church is viable and faithful.”

I look forward to being with you again in April. Peace and blessings to you, dear friends.