Monday, October 11, 2010

Looking for direction on Higgins Road: A follow-up

The ELCA News Service has put out a news release about the churchwide reorganization just approved by the ELCA Church Council. It gives an overview of the consolidation of what was previously 16 “units” into three, though not many specifics. The bottom line is that 65 staff members will be let go, out of a total of 358, most of them at the Chicago headquarters. Questionably the reorganization assumes no further fall-off in contributions. Why it is assumed the church income drop has hit bottom is not explained. This fits, though, with an overall picture of a church that is still not grappling with the harsh new realities of denominational life.

In one quote Bishop Hanson says, "This new design positions the churchwide organization to make a vital and vibrant contribution to the ministries of this church and the work of partners throughout the world.” Again, there seems to be an unwillingness or inability to recognize that the role of “the churchwide organization” and denominations generally must change and has changed fundamentally. Churchwide support is now half what is was when the ELCA was formed yet the impression being given is that this is just a bit of tightening and fine-tuning. Rather than a pro-active vision this seems like yet another short-sighted reaction to blows that will just keep on coming.

Postscript: And how can you not see the cover of the October Lutheran magazine epitomizing the ELCA’s current near total confusion. Jack Benny? What percentage of the population would even recognize his picture?

8 comments:

David said...

I do, he was a violin player.

Doug said...

Thank you, David. LOL

Doug said...

On Facebook Phil asked:
In light of your recent posts: What do you think Bishop Hanson should have said? What do you think the ELCA should be doing now?

Perfectly good question and one that probably deserves a full post in reply. What I said for now is:
I would say one thing needed is a new level of honesty. Why not admit that we don't know where we're headed? that what we've been doing hasn't been working FOR YEARS? that we really have no clear mission or identity? that it's time to ask some big, tough questions about church and mission in 21st century USA? that when the ELCA was formed people said it was an experiment and now we have to admit it basically has failed--so now what? (gulp) There's a start...

Erik said...

Good stuff, Doug - especially your postscript about The Lutheran. I made a similar statement on my blog last week...and editor Daniel Lehmann posted a comment articulating the reasoning behind the use of the Jack Benny cover. Though I am still critical of the choice, it was interesting to hear his thought process.

Doug said...

Thanks Erik. I've also had some interaction with Daniel Lehmann. My impression is that he is pretty frustrated, especially with criticism from clergy-types like me, and I get that. Like many others he has an impossible job. The Lutheran's problems are simply reflective of the problems of the wider church. Frankly, I doubt it will be around for much longer.

Bob said...

Doug,

First of all, many in the graying ELCA would recognize Jack Benny. But, it is still an anachronistic cultural reference. A number of people I've talked to about it read it one way...the church is out of touch with where people are.

I appreciate your comment suggesting what Bishop Hanson could have said. You're spot on that what we've been doing hasn't worked for years. Asking these big tough questions could be our best missional opportunity in generations, if the ELCA can let go of the initial assumption that wherever we're going, it will be familiar and we can control it.

Doug said...

Oh, Bob, I know they would. My point was the statement it makes about who we think we're communicating with. Certainly most people under 30 wouldn't get or care about the reference, and you could probably go quite a bit higher in age than that. Plus, I just thought it was a very odd choice for the cover. Also, I agree with you, the church is definitely being taken on a cultural ride--it isn't doing the steering.

Michael_SC said...

I'm in my early 50's and I _just barely_ know who Jack Benny is.