Recently the Committee on Governance and Structure considered Resolution C031. This resolution encourages dioceses to explore the possibility of merging.
As the Committee discussed the resolution, valid questions were asked about other forms of collaboration between dioceses and also whether it was a good idea for there to be financial incentives for dioceses that merge.
But possibly the best question came from Bishop Clifton Daniel, chair of the committee. He noted that the language was spare and then asked, “Why would they merge? For mission?”
The uncomfortable and unstated answer is that the reason dioceses merge is for survival. At a certain point, they become so small that having a diocesan office and all the attendant structures is not sustainable.
But for some reason, we are unwilling to say that. Instead, everything is couched as ‘mission.’ Now, mission will and ought to play a part in our consideration, but one wonders if these questions would be on the table at all if not for the financial need.
The fact that current systems are not financially sustainable is what lies behind many of the calls for change at this General Convention, not just for this particular issue of merging dioceses. And yet, what is also evident throughout is the euphemisms we use to dodge this reality. We say we’re making decisions to be ‘leaner’ or to be ‘more efficient.’ Or, even more often, we say that we’re doing it for the sake of ‘mission.’
Economics is helpful for us to think about these realities. We ought to be honest about the real dollars and cents issues before us. Indeed, God gives us the courage to be honest, because we’re not just dealing with economics.
In the field of economics, many things are a zero sum game. If I have a dollar, you don’t. If you have a dollar, then I don’t have it. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t work like that.
Look at the end of Matthew. Jesus says “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This is the heart of our work. We recognize that we are God’s children, that Jesus came to live and die and rise again to show us that God is love. And we get to share this Good News.
As we face the hard choices before us, let’s be honest about what we’re doing and the reasons for it. Even in the face of shrinking budgets, we do not need to be afraid. The Good News is not a limited commodity.