Confession: With all due respect to the great state of Indiana, I’d go to Indianapolis in July only if I wanted a foretaste of my possible eternal reward for being too snarky about the church’s most holy transition ministry system. The following comments are based solely on my reading of published documents. I was not there and have no inside information.
I only see three GC resolutions that have a direct bearing on the transition ministry system. All three, A143, A144, and DO31, call for greater affirmative actions efforts on behalf of women and other minorities. Clearly, the church perceives an ongoing problem. The question is, will these particular resolutions help address our affirmative action challenges, and if not, what other policies might we try to implement?
I’ve worked on affirmative actions solutions for more than twenty years in Massachusetts. In the early 1990s, I authored a diocesan convention resolution calling for the appointment of women and minorities as interims and priests-in-charge. Once the resolution passed, I pressured the then reluctant bishop to enforce the resolution. The policy is still in place and fairly effective. About ten years ago, I served on a task force to update our diocesan deployment policy manual. A convention resolution had called for the task force to beef up the affirmative action component. We ended up writing sixty page bureaucratic search committee manual, which I am sure most search committee glance at briefly. I doubt we had much impact on affirmative action.
A143 calls for the national church through the Office of Transition Ministries, the Office of Pastoral Development, and the Committee on the Status of Women to develop a “Search Tool Kit” with two purposes. The first would be to give helpful information about the search process to women applicants. The second would be to give information to search committees about the nature and impact of discriminatory hiring practices.
IMHO, Discernment Doctor comes close to fulfilling the first purpose of the proposed search tool kit. Useful information about resume writing, OTM writing, interview preparation, etc., can all be found on this blog. I would be happy to post an article or two that addresses discernment specifically from women’s and or minority points of view. Send me your contributions and comments.
From my experience in Massachusetts, giving search committees reading material on affirmative action has little impact on their behavior. Rather than relying on written material, DioMass policy is to monitor the search process and intervene if the list of candidates is not sufficiently diverse: The Diocesan Office will engage in conversation with the Search Committee throughout the process and reserves the right to add names if the slate does not reflect the Diocesan commitment to diversity.
A144 focuses on Episcopal offices and calls on the Office of Pastoral Development to monitor the ratio of female and minority candidates to white, male candidates in Episcopal nominations and elections, make recommendations on how to improve the ratio, and advise bishop search committees about affirmative action practices. The explanation notes that while the number of female finalists has been steadily rising, the number actually elected to the episcopate still falls far short of where we could be.
Research is helpful, but I would expand the scope of this survey far beyond the activities in episcopal elections. What systems do we have in place to mentor younger female and minority clergy so they grow into good candidates for the episcopate?
DO31 calls on bishops to require search committees and vestries to attend an affirmative action workshop as part of the discernment process.
Could we build those workshops around case studies of parishes/dioceses that have experienced female or minority leadership as a blessing? I have been to far too many church workshops that focus on what is bad about racism, sexism, gender bias, etc. but fail to give my leadership team positive images about the blessings of operating in a non-sexist, non racist fashion. My gut sense is search committees, vestries, and electing conventions make traditional decisions because we are “playing it safe” in these challenging times. Telling us that is wrong is not as likely to change our behavior as giving us successful case studies of women or minority clergy in leadership positions.
The next General Convention could see more resolutions impacting transition ministry as the church restructures herself for the 21st century (one can always hope.) My hope is that transition ministry will be treated as piece of a larger human resource management system that is focused on recruiting and sustaining the best team of clergy to serve the church. Such a system would include ordination, seminary (or other) education, mentoring, transition/discernment, clergy health, insurance, pensions, etc. To my knowledge, the last time General Convention took a comprehensive look at transition ministry was back in the early 1970s, when the Clergy Deployment Office was first established. Lets get a conversation going.