Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Approaching Ambiguity Creatively Means No Anglican Covenant

As one attempts to comprehend the reasons behind the current malaise in major Protestant organizations here in the United States, if not also in other "Western" countries, the question obtains, "why?" Is it possible to look beyond the presenting issues of border crossings and criteria for ordination to point to root issues such as, perhaps, corporate fear and/or the desire to centralize power? Is it possible to dig even deeper, to look for the fundamentals of corporate dysfunction? I postulate that the discomfort which stems from living in an increasingly disordered world may be an important factor in the current dysfunction. Ambiguity is antithetical to the desire for an ordered life yet we live in an increasingly ambiguous world. Instantaneous global communication only serves to heighten the ambiguity.

In the early 1970s the Episcopal Church in the dioceses of Maryland and Washington teamed up to offer recent graduates from seminary a two year program of continuing education, a program which combined group techniques with didactic presentations. Among the topics covered was leadership, what it means to be a leader, how to be an effective leader, and understanding various styles of leadership. I remember particularly materials from Teleometrics International which enabled each individual to self-analyze one's approach to leadership, and compare same to principles known to be effective based on scientific measurements. The materials appeared to be designed for corporate leadership and the training of managers in business applications, a fact which fit neatly into the emphasis of the church at the time of inquiring about how the organization and development of the corporate world might dovetail with the church. The church adopted from that work, as but a few examples, written job descriptions for employees, performance programs with annual reviews based upon the job descriptions, and, not coincidentally, the now ubiquitous "mission statement".

Concomitantly, some within the church were working on the distinctions between leadership in the business setting, and leadership in the voluntary sector. The management of an organization where people are paid to participate might well be different in kind and degree from management in an organization where people participate by choice, without monetary compensation. So-called voluntary institutions might well require adaptive techniques of leadership in order to be effective and successful. Churches are typically examples of the voluntary sector. Organizations dedicated to providing theory and training specifically for voluntary institutions developed and frequently were supported by the Church. In many dioceses participation in programs such as those offered by the Mid-Atlantic Committee for Training and Consulting or the National Training Laboratories were considered mandatory continuing education for clergy. While the information about leadership and management in the corporate world remained helpful to churches, typically training for leaders of churches was adapted to reflect the differences between the corporate environment and the voluntary sector.

One of the principles of effective leadership is that there does not have to be a disconnect between the well being of the company and the well being of the individual. The well being of company and worker can be "both and" rather than "either or" if effective leadership techniques are implemented. The often ambiguous relationship between the needs of the employer and the employee can be utilized to best effect for both at least theoretically. This dynamic is inherently more important in organizational structures where there is no monetary compensation for effort expended. Put succinctly, no one is forced to attend a church, a fact which churches seeking success must remember. The words of one of my mentors ring loudly in my ears to this very day: "You can only do what the people will give you permission to do." Another way of stating the case is that 'successful leadership in a voluntary organization requires the support of the members of the organization.'

In The Episcopal Church, the heritage with which we are gifted is one of openness and inclusion, people from various points of view and belief all worshiping together, bonding via a shared liturgy and good will. This heritage springs directly from the English Reformation and the unique solution to the ambiguity which the Catholic/Protestant split caused in the sixteenth century especially. Only in England were Protestant and Catholic forced (by government edict) to worship together during the Reformation. Perhaps only from Reformation England, therefore, can come the learning that in the midst diversity creative solutions exist. The wax and wane of Protestant influences vs. Catholic influences in the Church of England, and the resultant Anglican Communion, has been the cause of ambiguity ever since, but the creative solution has been to utilize a shared liturgy as the basis for togetherness among people of good will.

It is hard if not impossible to see how an attempt to codify the belief and practices of the constituent Provinces of the Anglican Communion is a creative solution to the ambiguity with which we all live in a global environment characterized by huge differences in demographics. The proposed Covenant is not a win/win solution -- it is a "play by my rules or I will take the ball and go home" stance. Instead of the highly commended (and scientifically verified) "both and" solution, the Covenant seeks to impose an "either or" choice as the only solution to the ambiguity with which we all are living.

So many years ago, I learned that my primary style of leadership is collaborative in nature, but that my backup style is authoritarian. Backup styles of leadership typically only are employed when the leader is under unusual stress, often as a last resort. In a voluntary system, 'collaborative' works but 'authoritarian' does not. In times of stress one must resist the temptation to utilize seductively attractive but ultimately unsuccessful styles of leadership, the more so in the voluntary system we call church. Perhaps those who are advancing the "either or" document called the Anglican Covenant to address the discomfort caused by the ambiguity of life in the church today might well consider a different approach, one in which openness and acceptance of all people prevail, one in which people of good will worship together even thought they may think and believe differently. Such a solution would be a "both and" solution, a creative approach to ambiguity.

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