Friday, August 24, 2012

It's A Gathering of Young Clergy, So Where Are The Young Clergy?

This week the General Board of Higher Education gathered together for a summit on issues facing young clergy.  But here was one of the first problems I saw.  Only 25% of the participants were under the age of thirty and less than 50% were under the age of 40.  So a summit to talk about issues of "young" clergy had less than 50% of the participants in that age range.  Does that make any sense? (by definition "young" clergy are those under age 35)

I understand that there have to be "older" clergy there because they are the ones in leadership positions who can actually do something, or do nothing, which is another problem that I'm not sure was addressed.  But shouldn't the representation of the group being discussed be larger?  If there was a summit to discuss the issues of minority clergy members but more than 50% of the participants at such a gathering were white, wouldn't we cry foul? So why not here?

The other problem is that it was not clear how the participants were invited to attend.  Someone asked this on Twitter and were told someone would find out, but no answer was forthcoming.  I never heard anything about it, nor did other young clergy that I know.  In addition, there were lots of annual conferences asking on Twitter if anyone from their conferences were attending, so apparently even the annual conferences knew little to nothing about it.  If we are going to address systemic issues dealing with young clergy, how is that the system knew so little about it?

Finally, at the end of the first day it was announced that they hoped to come back the next day with some policy statements.  Alright, exactly what we need more policy statements.  More policy statements are sure to solve all of our problems.  Sounds to me more like them saying "we gave young clergy the opportunity to have some say, so we've done all we need to do," and now their policy statements can be published and then ignored just like all other such statements.

When I was serving the New England Annual Conference the bishop there said they were very concerned about recruiting and retaining young clergy. At the same time he was making these statements I was seeking to leave that conference to come to New Mexico, and not a single person from the conference ever asked me why I was leaving or what they might do to get me to stay.  I think I'm a fairly competent clergy member and do a good job, and New Mexico certainly thought so, but New England simply didn't care.  But they talked a good game and had good policy statements about young clergy, but it never matched their reality or actions.  They said they wanted to keep good clergy but did nothing to actually keep them, or even talk with those they were trying to keep or recruit.

We are way past the time of needing more policy statements, we need actions.  One person on Twitter commented on the constant discussion of leadership, and she thought that we were becoming too enamored with the idea of leadership.  I told her I thought the problem was we didn't talk about leadership enough, and instead focused  on managers.  Managers make policy, shuffle paper, organize, etc.  Managers are important for organizations because they help keep the institution going, but if everyone is a manager the institution is doomed to failure because leadership will move it forward.

Leaders cast vision, they give direction, they create new ideas and new initiatives, they push in new ways and try radical and dangerous things.  No manager has ever excited a group of people, except other management types.  No one will jump off a cliff or push beyond their comfort zones for a manager, but people will do those things and many others to follow a leader.  I do think you can be a good manager and a good leader, although that is not typical, but John Wesley was both.

We need many more leaders in the church, and a lot less managers, and we need leaders who not only are actually willing to listen to young clergy, but to engage with them as equals, to put them into positions of leadership and to work together to forge a new future for the church.  What we don't need are more gatherings for young people that have few young people, or any more policy statements.

(My disclaimer: While I consider myself a young clergy, I am 39, so do not meet the definition established by the church, but am definitely at the young end of the spectrum in the two annual conferences I have served.)

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