Saturday, July 19, 2008

What I didn't do this week, and why

The week has gone, and I did not apply for the environment and economic justice position on the Episcopal Church staff.

The more I read the job description, the more I was convinced that this position is going to be a business-as-usual organizing job. I do not see much hope of changing that given what I perceive to be the culture in the bureaucracy these days.

What do I mean by this? Well, I mean that most of the time in the job would be spent telling people what to think and do about the church's official positions on various economic and environmental issues.

For some time I have seen this conventional style of organizing as much in need of reform as conventional parochial ministry.

From a user perspective, I find that I don't always agree with the email blasts I get from our church's Washington, D.C. office. I feel sometimes that I am being talked down to - that things are being simplified for me in ways that are not helpful. I even feel this sometimes when it is not one of "my issues" on which a position is being advocated. There also seems to be little wiggle room depending on what part of the country one lives in, and its cultural context.

I would not want to address issues without making room for the great variety of local contexts, nor without helping people engage the issues from the perspective of faith: fostering dialogue between our lore and traditions and values and the issues at hand.

I've probably been more opinionated in this blog than is helpful - I think that's the way of blogs - but if I am working with a group of folks on issues I want to help them explore the complexities. I'd want to help them connect the issue with their faith and their daily life. I would want much room for reflection, not just the scripting of actions.

It's pretty easy to write talking points; it's also easy to build mailing lists. It's a lot more difficult to nurture genuine networks, where real dialogue and collegiality can take place. I've worked as an organizer, and I know that sometimes the rewards come based on how many people you've reached, not how much change you've effected.

I also know that often the press of duties is such that there's no time to tell those you've organized how and what difference they have made.

Perhaps this is why I prefer to work at redeveloping small congregations: there is more respect for the unique context and mix of gifts that is each congregation, each baptized person.

There were two other things that troubled me about the job. It looked like there were so many committees and offices on the organization chart to which connections needed to be maintained that there would be no time to do what I feel needs to be done: work with and for the congregations and dioceses of the church. I do not think the environmental staff position should be just a conventional advocacy job, but one which is connected to congregational development, liturgy and communication. We need to transform our congregations, our church life - not just tell folks in D.C. how to vote. I think, too, that there should be time for those in such positions to answer emails and return phone calls from folks around the church who are knowledgeable about the issues.

And how can you have a job about environmental concerns and economic justice with 50% travel?

I guess basically I saw this job opening as another church staff position participating in consumerism, not fostering a participatory church.

Now I have to figure out how to do what needs to be done without support.

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