Thursday, April 1, 2010

Benedict and the Board

There are two things in the front of my mind right now, Holy Week aside. These are two things in the forefront of my mind, things that both direct me directly or indirectly. These two things are both in the news, although one is limited to the Episcopal News Service kind of news while the other is really dominant in international news right now, including lots of space in the New York Times. (There are even people taking ads out in the Times in response to articles)!

The first thing in the front of my mind is my school. General Seminary's board met on Monday to talk about what to do and where to go from here. And it's promising. There are some issues, but everything is looking up. We've found the issues, and we're working to correct them. We might be partnering in some neat ways with other institutions to not just work for General's future, but also the future of theological education and the future of The Episcopal Church. I have a very positive outlook here. We're getting things done and planning on ways to keep from getting right back where we are.

The other thing in the front of my mind, in large part because Andrew Sullivan won't let up. He keeps quoting things, talking, posting readers remarks, and making me think. He has a great piece called "Sin or Crime?" that is well worth the read. He posts a lot of other stuff, but doesn't use labels that I can tell, so you can't just click a link and get all his coverage (which is a lot of linking to other stories) about this issue. It makes me hurt for the Church for a lot of reasons. I certainly hurt for victims, too and am not defending the Church. But I hurt for the damage it has done to its moral authority.

How do these two things affect me you might ask? Well, one of them is my school, my future. Like I said, things are looking up! The sex abuse scandal doesn't directly affect me. The critiques and criticisms are mostly directed at the Roman Church and its hierarchy. But in all honesty that affects how people perceive our men and women in collars, too. And as someone being trained to be a leader in the faith, it affects the kinds of conversations I have with people when I say, "I'm in training to be a priest." (This was one of the drunken conversations at the piano bar in Vegas.) It may be tempting to say to the general public, "Well, we're more transparent, our laity have voice in how our bishops are chosen, blah blah blah blah blah," but I don't think that's appropriate. People are hurting; they don't need to be recruited into another system as their reeling from the Church that they potentially love and may have been their home their entire life.

These two things are teaching me something, and I got to put it into practice yesterday. When mistakes are made, intentionally or unintentionally, the people affected like for someone to step up to the plate and say, "I messed up." Andrew Sullivan points out that most of the reaction from the Vatican and American bishops has been either denial or to attack those who are critical, often by calling names. This is denial after decades (centuries) of this being not talked about and not dealt with. And now we have more people saying "I didn't know," "It wasn't my fault," and that they won't "be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinion."

As has been discussed a lot around the Close, in times of crisis or impending crisis or pseudo-crisis, people may be quick to assign blame, or not assign it and just want someone to point a finger of blame at. It's probably true that that often happens. I think there are times when people just want those who bore responsibility to own that responsibility. Not to have closed door meetings and be less than forthcoming about what is actually going on, but to include the people who have been, are being, and will be affected in the process of determining next steps, for justice or for institutional advancement.

People might want a heartfelt apology so that they can move on with what's going on in their lives. If things are on the up, that's great! But people might want to know what happened for an institution to get where it is. In the case of the Vatican, it's been years of covering up to protect the image of the Church. At school, I don't know what happened. But I feel like cash flow problems of this magnitude don't come out of nowhere. And no one's taking responsibility (at any level) engenders some anxiety. Yes, we might be staying open for a good, long while. But what are we doing to keep us from coming back to this place? If we haven't been told what/where the systemic issues were/are, why should we think that the system has addressed those issues?

I don't write from a place of anger or anxiety, I really don't. I don't have anyone in my head to blame, nor do I have any ideas about where I'd start if I wanted to point fingers. I'm going to keep doing the work I've been given to do, saying my prayers, doing my homework, and going to chapel and class. Apparently at the meeting someone did offer an apology that helped the situation. As I said on Episcopal Café, I was in class, so I didn't get to go to the meeting. However a little more clarity about what's been going on, I think, is far more helpful than reading "I think they're a little over-anxious. The chair tried to assure them that we will be here," on The Lead (where I also saw a press release about the meeting before I got any kind of official summary of the meeting from within the community).

It looks like there's going to be more clear communication with students, faculty, and staff as things keep going. But I think our anxieties over a vast array of issues that are being discussed in groups of students, faculty, and staff and being communicated to the board, are well grounded. Nothing is encouraging beforehand about an emergency board meeting being called, ya know? ;) This whole post -- from Benedict to the Board -- is to say....when your boss asks you how something you're supposed to be doing is going and you haven't been doing it for about a month, it's okay to say so. And say that you'll get back on it. Have an intention to amend your behavior. And in a larger theme of life, when you mess up be forthright about it. Don't wait until you're about to go to jail, or you have the New York Times and any other number of media outlets blasting you, or the community over which you're in charge is having a prayer vigil.

It might have been a failure in leadership. But denying that, on any level about anything, doesn't make it any less a failure of leadership.


  1. Glad to hear your hopeful voice. It's been less optimistic on the email end for alums, but I trust that the Board is stepping up to do the hard work ahead.

  2. You've made some calm and rational observations here, and these are most welcome in light of the histrionics one gets from some of the mainstream media (and from the hierarchy).
    As a Roman Catholic, I grieve for the Church's future at times like these, and I wonder what it says about us as churchmen and churchwomen.
    As a member of the worldwide Body, I am dismayed to hear of trouble at your seminary.
    I'm prayerful that both dilemmas can be brought to positive and healthy resolutions that show those outside the Church exactly what we are and what it means to be the "ekklesia."