"For Christ's Sake, Leave Them Alone"

david at virtueonline.org david at virtueonline.org
Mon Jan 5 20:56:12 EST 2009

"For Christ's Sake, Leave Them Alone" 
Michigan Priest Rips Diocesan Council and Bishop over "non compliant" parishes

By David W. Virtue

As parish budgets tighten, dioceses are becoming more frenetic in their need for funds to keep diocesan headquarters going.

NEWS ITEM: Diocese of Michigan Diocesan Council approves new procedures to adhere to canons on non-compliant churches. "Any congregation that is unable to pay its full fair share of the asking formula approved by Diocesan Convention must appeal for a modification of the amount expected.

The appeal must include: rationale for nonpayment of apportionment; a plan and timeline to return to the proscribed level of support; parochial reports for the last three years; full financial accounting reports, including proposed and actual budgets for the previous three years, pledges and offerings, and the annual audit or review; a complete and accurate report of all current expenses including salaries; a complete and accurate list and description of all assets, investments and endowments; current mission statement and priorities of the congregation and how they are being lived out; and a strategic plan for enacting the Vision of God in their community."

That smelled of a heavy fascist hand coming down on parishes that could not pay their "fair" share to the Rev. Harry T. Cook rector of St. Andrews Church in Clawson, Michigan, author and former editor of the Detroit Free Press. 

He cried foul writing a letter to the Diocesan newspaper "The Record" that blasted the Diocesan Council and bishop saying that he is fleeing, via retirement, from what's left of the Episcopal Church. "Were it possible, I would flee taking the communicant members of my present cure with me to save them from a pharonic army in hot pursuit," he wrote.

"The captains and colonels of that army have determined that congregations, such as the one I have served for 21 years, are in failure mode because they can no longer make bricks without straw. 

"I refer to the Diocesan Council's latest patronizing enthusiasm of remonstrating with congregations that do not remit to headquarters what headquarters believes is its due -- headquarters evidently being convinced that it constitutes the church rather than actual on-the-ground Eucharistic communities in local settings.

"Such communities, especially in economically impacted regions like the one that comprehends the Diocese of Michigan, are composed largely of middle class persons whose financial welfare is tied in one way or another to the besieged automobile industry.

"Where demographics are in favorable conjunction it may be that certain congregations are less affected than others by the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. Thus do their lay delegates to the Annual Convention get to parade about the corridors wearing badges smarmily indicating they have come from parishes that have paid their full assessments -- the rest of us being second -class citizens, if that.

"Where demographics are not so favorable, vestries have had to choose between compensating clergy at some level within shouting distance of fairness, along with covering the basic costs of maintenance (which, by the way, is the basis of mission) -- and paying the diocesan assessment.

"In the local situation I know best that choice is not made because people are being stingy The parish I serve is supported, just for three examples, by two widows living solely on Social Security (one 91 and the other 85) who between them give $500 a month. A single mother does the same. These are people who do not shop at Nordstrom's, lunch in any country clubs or drive Lexuses.

"Their giving along with that of many others is truly sacrificial, and they bitterly resent hearing that their parish is in the cross-hairs of the diocesan establishment with one hand extended for money and, in the other, a bureaucratic bludgeon.

"Their parish is engaged in outreach every week of the year, having contributed thousands of dollars to the recent capital funds drive for the new Crossroads building. Their parish regularly invests both human and financial capital in such worthy causes as the South Oakland Shelter, Pontiac Area Transitional Housing, Open Hands and the Sunshine School.

"I shall have retired from that parish and thus yielded the responsibilities of leadership to another by the time the diocesan apportionment police arrive to begin their investigation of its perceived shortcomings.

"They should know that, when they do come, they will find the infant of Bethlehem implicit in the congregation's ministry. Knowing that in advance, they may want to change their law enforcement uniforms for the garb of the Magi and come bearing gifts. Gold is fine, but they can forget the myrrh because nobody at St. Andrew's, Clawson is thinking of death. They're too busy with life. For Christ's sake, leave them alone."

FOOTNOTE: The Bishop of Michigan Wendell N. Gibbs is paid $152,472 in salary. To make that he must take $1,713.00 from each parish to pay him.


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