My Christian Education Report for the annual Parish Meeting began with these sentences: “It is my thought that a parish grows in two ways: 1) through social outreach, 2) through its Christian Education program. Sadly, when a parish is in trouble, these are too often the first programs to suffer cuts.” I went on to describe some of the things that we worked on in Christian Education for Youth and Children this past year.
The theme for the year continues to be “Building up from the Chief Cornerstone” based on the Psalm 118, in particular verse 22: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”
No, just experience. I have been in the Episcopal Church long enough to know that when parishes get in trouble financially there are two things that get cut first in hopes that things will get better before cutting more. Those two things are as I stated – Christian Education and Outreach. In that Outreach is not a line item budget at this parish, the only thing left (on my list) was Christian Education. In this particular case, my job.
Actually, I was far from alone – all the part time jobs were eliminated – six of us to be exact – six people whose lives were altered on one level or another. Although it is simple to reduce it to just numbers, these are people whose lives have been changed because a community could not figure out how to act as a community. The jobs mattered financially to all of us. Yet, we became dispensable – in fact, we became the extra weight that had to be tossed out of the boat because it begins to sink in the turbulent waters and winds. “Peace, be still.” “Why are you afraid?” (Gospel reading for Friday, the day we found out about the cuts. Mark 4:39-40)
I heard it said that those making the decision thought it would be easier to find volunteers to help with Christian Education than it would be to find volunteers willing to clean toilets. This is almost funny.
While these job cuts may not be seen as a good thing, it is certainly not an anomaly. The weight that is considered a dispensable is being tossed out across the Episcopal Church right now. It began at least six months ago as the stock market began crashing.
This is the first time I have ever been associated with a church that has such potential to be really large. Most of the parishes to which we belonged have been closer to 100 ASA. Certainly none of these have lived on endowments. We have gone through many bake sales and rummage sales to raise money for the general fund. The Stewardship campaigns at these little parishes were always long and drawn out and very intense. If nothing else, people gave more just to get the speakers to hush. It was always sort of like the membership drives on the local public radio station. Either hunker down and wait it out or give into the guilt for enjoying the gifts that public radio brings. Actually, I don’t think it is a bad idea to draw it out like that. Obviously, it works. Why would we expect less from our stewardship drives? Is there not far more at stake in our parishes?
So what is the problem? Why does this happen? I think to answer those questions we have to ask more. Why do we go to church, after all? Why do we give or why do we not give? And if a parish does depend upon endowments, what do these do to a giving body? What do these “gifts” take away from the community at large?
What I see here is a segregated community – too many unconnected compartments. There is too much individualism and far too little communication between the compartments. The one conduit that links all is extremely overloaded. Although the word has been for some time now that economically the parish was in serious trouble, it seemed to come as a surprise to most that staff cuts would be necessary. I find this strange but totally in keeping with the lack of communication and compartmentalization. Who knew? How can we be a community if we don't work together?
I also realize in hindsight that I was just a bit prophetic at the beginning of this job by choosing as the theme Psalm 118 and tying it into community building. The theme is based in the idea that each group of kids, J2A, Rite 13, Godly Play 1 & 2, nursery are all little communities within the larger community of Christian Education which is just one piece of the larger community of Christ Church.
The Chief Cornerstone is, of course, Jesus but added to that is the responsibility of each member of the church to be a positive part of every child of the Cathedral simply because of the vow we all renew every time a new member is baptized into the body of Christ – I will, with God’s help. We will, with God’s help, be living witnesses to these children of God’s steadfast love. We do not act as witnesses when we consider one part more important than the other. We do not act as witnesses when clean toliets become more important than our children's Christian Education.
Can it be said that we can be defined by those things for which we are willing to pay?
Nonetheless, while this is rather painful personally and I am distressed about the others who lost their positions, I feel a certain lifting of something…not a burden necessarily…but something. And whatever that feeling is, it makes me feel hopeful.
I did not come to this place because of this job, regardless of how much I liked it. We are here because we were led here. Whatever this job was, it was not the be-all, end-all. It was just a passing thing. It is in this hope that I understand that I can remain on as a leader in the Christian Education department, at least until the end of the school year albeit in a reduced way. I can continue to put forth the idea that we are One in the Body of Christ and we show that by building up our community.
It is in this hope that I realize something I need to know lies just around a corner and I will understand it when I need to do so. And it is in that hope that Debbie and I can both be witnesses to God’s steadfast love, staying in a place where too many have run away in anger and in hurt. Our staying and keeping on with the work that is in front of us, as faithful witnesses, as members of this community speaks much louder than the jobs that we had here.
I think that what I feel is a light shining from within me. And it feels warm and good.
I want to keep it glowing.
The hope also shines that this community may be willing to work together for a change.
Where there is hope, there is light, indeed.