Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Where Is Your Passion?

One of my favorite things about General Convention is spending time with friends I only see every three years. Occasionally, I will bump into a Convention friend at a conference or meeting, but, like a  dormant cicada, most of these relationships go into hiding for three years before emerging to flourish for two weeks during our triennial gathering.

"Where are you?" is a common question. "How's your family?" is another. A few days ago, one of my Convention friends asked me a question on which I am still meditating: "What is your passion?" He meant with regards to this Convention--what topic, what issue is important to me--but it's a good question to consider beyond the work of this body. What is your passion?

For the last three years, I've been on an interim body that has, among other things, focused on the Church Pension Fund and whether it is meeting the needs of the wider church. I've spent hours on the phone or responding to e-mails from people throughout the church for whom the answer is no. "The 18% assessment is crippling our congregations," one diocesan staff member told me. "Health insurance premiums and mandated parity have led me to lay off staff," a rector told me. "Our parishes rely more and more on lay staff, but the pension system for lay employees does not reflect their value to our churches," another diocesan staff member said. "Too many of my colleagues who worked in small rural parishes or poor urban churches for their careers are now impoverished in retirement," a retired priest said. "Clergy who are women and minorities get stuck in part-time or under-paying positions, and that disparity haunts them in retirement because of the pension system," another priest noted.

I've also spent a good bit of time responding to calls and e-mails from rectors of large parishes who were worried that our committee would break the financial solvency of the Pension Fund. "It would be illegal for you to change the benefits I have been promised during my career," one rector claimed, hoping that I would be intimidated at the thought of doing something illegal. "There's not enough money as it is in the Pension Fund, and we can't afford to use that money to start new church projects that Executive Council wants to complete," another rector said to me, apparently misinformed about the work our committee was doing. I noted with interest that the people who called me to caution me about not tinkering with the Pension Fund were all like me: white men with big salaries. None of those calls came from women or minorities or rectors of small, struggling churches who were worried that there wouldn't be enough money in the Pension Fund to pay for their meager pensions.

Yesterday, the House of Deputies passed resolution D045, which both urges parishes and dioceses to take steps toward parity in pension contributions for lay and ordained church workers and calls upon the Church Pension Fund to study the steps necessary for true equity in lay and ordained pension systems. It isn't perfect. It doesn't do enough. But it advances the cause for equity in a way that can pass both houses of General Convention.

What am I passionate about? I am passionate about pensions. (Can anyone use "passionate" and "pensions" in the same sentence?) I am passionate about pensions but that's primarily because I've been working with them for the last three years. They are important. For all of human history, money or its equivalent has been the currency with which we express value. But pensions aren't the only thing I'm passionate about, and my friend's question awakened that recognition in me. I haven't spent time working on legislation related to gun reform, but that matters to me. Until I got here, I hadn't been engaged in conversations about liturgical reform and prayer book revision, but those certainly matter to me. There are lots of things that I am passionate about--things that show up inside General Convention and throughout the rest of the Church. I am passionate about the transforming love of God in Jesus Christ, and there are countless ways that we are a part of that transformation. Getting back in touch with my passions has helped me keep that in focus. Why are we here? Why do we debate these issues? Because, in one way or another, they are part of the work of God's reign coming more fully into our lives and into this world. That's something worth being passionate about one debate, one amendment, one vote at a time.

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