MNYS Assembly, Day 3

Well, after arriving home, unpacking, uploading pictures to flickr and facebook, I figured it is time that I sit and crank out some reflections on this third, and final, day of the 2012 Metropolitan New York Synod Assembly. I will probably also follow up with some reflections on the entire event so I’ll try to keep this a tad focused.

Today was primarily a day of presentations. After spending a late night at a reception thrown together by the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (which was great), I stumbled into assembly hall a little hung over, red-eyed, and ready to seize the day. A friend of mine spoke elegantly about our work with the Lutheran church in Tanzania, and I watched a video about our work in Romania, trying to spot my friends the Churchs, but, alas, they never appeared (which seemed odd). My intern supervisor presented a check to the Synod (and ELCA) that covered the fundraising gathered by my field education church for the ELCA Malaria Campaign. The initial morning events were mellow and low key but I knew it was just the calm before the storm. I’m starting to realize that, being two years into candidacy process, and having attended my third Synod Assembly, I’m starting to notice things that I didn’t notice before. The politics, the use of language, the factions – all are starting to become more clear to me. I loved this assembly because it was the first time I knew people there. But, at the same time, by knowing the people, I began to uncover the currents, rocks, streams, branches, and tree trunks that inhabit our Synod. And I’m starting to realize that I actually am a part of that whole mess too.

I’ll admit that I think I have been stewing over the last few days and today was when quite a bit started coming out. The financial presentation felt slightly dishonest to me. Not dishonest in the sense that it was lying or anything but, rather, it didn’t feel transparent to me. Promoting the savings made in the Bishop’s Office, while commendable, is only part of the entire picture. The large staff, the lack of giving, and the self-funding of the Synod through the sale of churches – that, to me, is the current story. And maybe it wasn’t mentioned in detail because it is just assumed that everyone knows what is going on. The Synod has funded itself in this fashion for years but there seemed to be a lack of ownership of that reality. Although many of the delegates at the assembly are long timers, there were plenty of new people as well. For many of them, that reality is not known. That reality should be highlighted at every Assembly because this isn’t just a conference for the same old people. Yesterday, we adopted a strategic plan to raise up new leaders and to focus on leadership. But here’s the thing – if we’re unwilling to treat new leaders with the respect to be transparent with them, how are we going to fulfill that goal? And, unlike earlier generations, I do not think the current crop of millenials give a crap about being “allowed” into leadership. We’re already here and we’re going to be leaders. The problem isn’t with “us.”

The environmental stewardship committee presented next and…ugh. Honestly, it felt theologically unsound which bothered me because I really like what they do. I really really do. I’m behind them 100% and I believe that stewardship of the environment is part of our calling as caretakers of God’s creation. But I took their use of scripture to be law heavy rather than grace heavy. I think the call to repentance is a good one but I disagreed with how they presented it. I do hope that congregations take their advice and call Con Ed above an energy audit, however. Saving money and helping the earth is always a good idea.

It took awhile but we finally took on the change to the process of the election to the Bishop. I honestly think this was one of the most poorly proposed documents of the assembly. It was presented with the assumption that everyone knew how the election of a bishop in the MNYS works. But we don’t. I mean, the clergy do, but us non-2008 assembly attenders – we have no idea. In fact, I sometimes wondered if even the clergy knew what was going on. As the discussion continued (and I did stand up again to speak on an amendment that, sadly, was voted on before I could say anything), I started coming to the realization that this was devolving into a vote of confidence on the current bishop. Factions who want him to run again and those who don’t were pitting themselves against each other. Every comment about the process being “complex and lengthy” (except in the case of an interim bishop), was really a statement about trying to leave the sitting bishop in place. Some great points of clarification were asked (and I think they weren’t really answered) and there seemed to be more willingness to talk about “the spirit” of the proposed change while ignoring what the letter said. We were given roughly twenty minutes to talk about it but stretched it to over an hour (the fact that folks thought we wouldn’t want to debate on these issues was really, really, silly). The new process, slightly amended, passed roughly 75%-25% (or maybe 70/30). I can’t, sadly, tell the exact count because, once again, we were using the red cards/green cards, rather than the voting machines that could actually SHOW US numbers. The use of the voting machines was a complete waste of time and really, really, poorly implemented and should be rethought for next year.

Anyways, the new process is designed to try and provide a forum for voting members at the 2014 assembly to have a chance to get to know candidates prior to the assembly. It was designed, primarily, in response to the 2008 Synod assembly and the election process that didn’t seem entirely fair. However, the new system creates a committee that seems to have quite a bit of power and, at least in appearances, seems to have had the current bishop’s hand in it (whether that is true – or not – is rather irrelevant because appearances matter quite a bit at these kinds of events). How transparent this process will be, I’m unsure. How well this process will work, I don’t know either. But we’ll see how it works. And we’ll also see how the bishop election in 2014 goes – and it’s obvious the campaign has already been going on for at least a year now.

After a quick lunch, a wonderful Eucharist service was held and we moved on to the 2013 budget. By this point of the assembly, only 40% of the total voting members were in the room. Some questions were asked about the destruction of the Global/Multicultural ministries budget and there were also instances where access to a line-by-line item budget was extremely limited. I felt like those of us on the floor did not have access to all the information we should have and I think the destruction of the Global/Multicultural ministries budget is really upsetting to racial/ethnic minorities in this Synod. Some took a look at that budget line (a reduction of $250,000 from 2011 numbers) and see it as a personal attack on them, their identity, and what they represent and I think I agree with them. Again, whether it is or not, it at least appears to not be clear. As pastors, future pastors, AIMs, deacons, and lay leaders, we’re doing a really shitty job being pastoral to ourselves and our church leaders when it comes to the budget it seems.

Anyways, I’ll reflect on everything later. I loved being there but I’m also seeing myself getting invested in the whole thing. And that’s great but also problematic because I still have two years left in my process. I don’t know where I’m going to end up eventually – and I probably should just tick off everyone and be an equal-opportunity offender /just kidding.