Strong Priest Woman, Strong Writing: Really big question about Mission, with a not nice answer: Listen.

(Out there in Episcopal / Anglican blogland I check in regularly on several sites written by women and men who are constant guides to my own mutterings here in Preludium-ville.  So hold on to your hats! We are in for a ride on the wind of the Spirit.  This is one of my longer posts, but I hope you read it from one end to the other.)

Vineyard Stomping Truth Tellers 

Today (February 17th)  a strong woman friend has posted yet another piece that cut a path of truth telling, tramping down a bit of the vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored.

Now it is well known that vineyard stompers have to drink a bit of the wrath grapes themselves, so not surprising that they are sometimes decidedly not nice.

The amazing Margaret Watson, priest and pastor in Lakota land posted today a meditation titled, "Liberals have no enemies."  The meditation mostly concerns the many to many deaths in the community in which she is priest, too many funerals, too many bodies, and too little support for this remnant of mission in Episcopal land.  
At the end she recalls the Psalm for the morning, Psalm 28.  I quote less of it than she did:

"O LORD, I call to you;
my Rock, do not be deaf to my cry; *
lest, if you do not hear me,
I become like those who go down to the Pit.
Hear the voice of my prayer when I cry out to you, *
when I lift up my hand to your holy of holies.

Do not snatch me away with the wicked or with the evildoers, *
who speak peaceably with their neighbors,
while strife is in their hearts.
Repay them according to their deeds, *
and according to the wickedness of their actions.
According to the work of their hands repay them, *
and give them their just deserts.
O LORD, they have no understanding of your doings,
nor of the works of your hands; *
therefore you will break them down and not build them up.

Yow! The great smack down indeed! 

Margaret writes, 

" I  know --I'm supposed to love my enemies... not wish them a righteous smack-down. But this morning...

...at least you can tell I'm not a liberal... because liberals try to get along with everybody... they have no 'enemies' --right?!"

Margaret prays the smack-down. There are enemies out there, mostly people who have just looked the other way at the suffering and its causes, at the paucity of our compassion, and who are in need of "just deserts."  She is, of course, talking about most of us (by which I mean me and my kind.)

Margaret is, I suspect, an enemy of liberals, who as she says "try to get along with everybody."  So liberals do have enemies.  Is Margaret my enemy? No..far from it, unless I hate conscience snapping at my heels and heart.

But she is raising an anger which I believe will become clearer and greater as the months go by and which will be heard even in the high places and the tall cotton vistas of General Convention in Episcopal-land. 

I want you to read the progress of Priest Margaret's voice. It will take a few moments, but READ!

Priest Margaret Speaks:

Some weeks ago Margaret voiced a concern about the General Convention budget and the monies for work with indigenous peoples and domestic mission. 

On February 7th she wrote:

Next week, folks from church headquarters will come for a visit... it has been proposed that monies that have gone to support the Reservation clergy be slowly eliminated --that the churches here become "self-sufficient." The are coming to see....

In speaking with my Bishop this week, I said that so much of the work here is 'Presence' --yes. But it is presence at the foot of the Cross. The cross the church itself helped create as a tool of the government. The cross our government created in our names in the cause of nation-building.

And now the church itself wants to go be Pilate and wash its hands... in the Name of the Bottom Line, in the Name of Self-Sufficiency, in the Name of the Budget."

The people did not come, weather problems I think,  but the issue continued:

She wrote on the 11th: "sigh"

"I have the story all wrong... I'm sorry....

It's not that the monies for this place will be slowly eliminated... it's that the Church will give a grant so that the People here can figure out how to become self-sustainable, because the current model for mission is not sustainable.... And, in the meantime, what money is in the General Convention Church budget will be frozen at the same level as was given three years ago.

That's not "eliminated."

Besides, don't you know, it might be spiritually degrading to be on the receiving end of such "mission" --it might create unhealthy dependency....

I don't care how it's spun... who can't read between the lines? Who can't understand the intent?

I have to admit my absolute electric shock to be on the receiving end of the words 'spiritually degrading' and 'unhealthy dependency...'. It was good for me.

I hope I said something to the effect of --the church helped make these circumstances... it can't just wash its hands and walk away.

But, I think that is exactly what the church will do. It will do all it can to protect the survival of the institution first.

It's an interesting time to be an Episcopalian, heh?"

Then she wrote several days ago, on February 13, with this title: how might we be a prophetic voice in dead-end situations?"

"So-- what is needed? How do I best say what needs to be done?

I was unprepared in so many ways to say what really needed to be said. I was knocked off my feet by the assumption that the way forward --of cutting funding-- was already a done deal --that it is necessary for the sake of the whole church to work on eliminating the work done on Reservations in South Dakota from the budget.

All I could do was yell.... mostly about my own neck... which is not the most important nor most pressing part....

So, what is needed?

A business plan? (I wonder what St. Paul would have said...)


  • What is needed is consistency of presence. Long-term consistent presence.
  • Opportunities for children to experience, participate in and express worship, learning and fellowship.
  • Engaging, culturally relevant liturgy and learning for all ages.
  • Accessible (in every way) education for locally trained/ordained clergy.
  • Low-cost sustainable, off-grid places to gather, baptize, share bread and wine, celebrate, pray, and bury.

--In these circumstances:

--in the places of the lowest income in the US. The two counties that comprise the Cheyenne River Reservation are ranked 4th and 11th. Of the first ten lowest income places, South Dakota is listed five times... all of them on Reservations.

--in a place where genocide --cultural and physical-- have been perpetrated....

--in a place where the promises have been broken, again, and again, and again, and again....

--in a place where the Church has been a player in all this....

As I said in a note to my Bishop this morning:

--in order to build a culture of understanding all Christian life and ministry, especially ordained ministry (it's taken the greater church at least a generation to begin to fully accept and embrace some of the theological implications of our prayer book revisions --and those implications are largely un-taught here, or run counter-culture).
--to build the programmatic infra-structure of education and training for all ages

--to find ways to 'house' worship and programs in low-cost, off grid, durable structures.

To do such would require more trained clergy right now, on every Reservation, and a unified push, a consistent presence.... because what we are doing now is, indeed, not sustainable. Through previous budget cuts, we have been forced in to unsustainable patterns of ministry that do not build, but are on a dead-end path.
So, the first action the Church must take is to support (at least) South Dakota's first asking of the Budget Committee --an increase.

And why should the greater Church support this ministry?

--as my Bishop said, for the sake of its own soul...

If the whole Church cannot support such ministry as a sign of repentance, reconciliation and restoration, then it has already lost the Gospel, and has nothing to say --to any one.

What the heck does it mean to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery if we then do nothing to repent of it --true, sacrificial repentance....

And thinking ahead to Ash Wednesday she wrote on February 17th:
"Ash Wednesday. But no one I serve needs to be reminded of their mortality. No one I serve needs to hear that they are dust. Not really. As the talks of more cuts to social services and food stamps fill the air, the silences are filled with the present remembrance of children having beer cans and beer thrown at them at the game. The authorities call for patience.

Patience is what happens while promises and treaties are broken, and another generation suffers.(and) Awakens to the stories, now made real. In their flesh and blood."

Priest Margaret Speaks, and The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society needs to listen.

Listen, because she is right. Broken bodies and promises are proof, and liberal (or even conservative) niceness cannot hide the fact, that we are losing our collective soul as we lose the willingness to be and support compassionate witness in the hard places and hard times.  

This is not about a business plan for self sufficiency. This is about presence and love greater than estrangement and the great witness of a people and a place totally marginalized by damn near everybody including the Church and the churches.  We believe that Christ is there. Should we not go out and meet the Christ there? 

We need to take a careful look at the General Convention budget. What portion of the whole is in fact for domestic and foreign mission?  What in support of that mission? And in what does that mission consist?  If the monies are kept at their current level, what does that really say?

I have been part of the missionary work of The Episcopal Church for most of my ministry- as appointed missionary, as university chaplain, as staff officer of the church center in higher education and world mission, as executive for a small mission agency (GEM), as a member of the board of the DFMS / Executive Council and most recently an adviser to the Bishop of Haiti. 

What Mark, priest, has learned:

(i)  Everybody talks incarnation, but everybody is suspicious of those who try it.  Presence is no where near as containable as is Program.  And funding or not funding a program is about encouraging or killing off a project sort of thing.... its not personal. Funding a presence... well if you stop, you are killing off a persons engagement.

So the myth is built that mission as presence breeds dependence, that such missionaries are unrealistic and unbusinesslike, that presence is no substitute for program.

Right....tell that to Jesus, his companions, or for that matter tell that to the presence of God's love in those who are supposedly the "clients."  Tell that to the wise woman story teller who carries her people in her words, whose presence is Christ present (if we read the matter rightly).

(ii) Mission activity requires that we give ourselves and what we have away so that others might live.  It is always a loosing financial and personnel proposition.  

The proposition that we are sustaining the current level of support is a fiction. $100,000 three years ago is not $100,000 now.  And as to the emotional support, no recognition that this is in fact a reduction in support is a blow. 

The proposition that we recruit fewer church workers - clergy and lay persons - as part of a strategy to force self-sustaining ministry is at the very least misguided, at the most a missionary sham. To get a flood of ministry from within a community will require a flood of ministry with that community. Have we not heard, (Mark 4:25) "Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them."

(iii) The greater love is not the program that works and the buildings paid off and the liturgy that is fine and refined. The greater love is to give one's life for one's friends.  The missionary task is to love greatly, incarnationally, presently... to love one's friends, which requires that we make friends, that we have friends, and that they trust us when we say we are there for them.  

Of course we have programs, of course we attempt to measure and get better at what we do. But the object, dear friends, is to live, be, and die for and with friends.  So I am not persuaded that success in domestic and / or foreign mission is a product of programs, but rather a product of community.

A proposal that will not satisfy, but might begin a remedy:
As the DFMS gets better at its work the percentage of the total budget for operations and support of institutional life ought to fall and the total for domestic and foreign mission ought to rise. And the whole, given the bend toward greater mission, ought to rise as well.

The proposed 2016-2018 budget for The Episcopal Church predicts income of some 73,865,000 from Dioceses and $45,646,000 from other sources (investments, rentals, etc). On the expenses side, abut 70,000,000 is designated for mission and 49,000,000 for governance and administration. Remember, these figures are for a three year period.

Could we challenge the budget to reflect the following: that all contributions from dioceses go to mission funding (domestic and foreign mission) and that governance and administration be completely paid for by "other incomes"?

This would immediately push roughly $4,000,000 (total for the three years) into the mission designation.  

Then, if we also made great efforts (Task Force on Re-imaging TEC) to cut back on Governance and Administration costs, we might actually put some new funds into mission.

And, (hope springs eternal) if we could show the dioceses that all the funds they contribute go directly to domestic and foreign mission activity, might that not encourage dioceses to contribute, rather than not?

The end result might be a General Convention budget that reflects a bending towards mission engagement.

Returning to Margaret, priest and voice.

Margaret writes from the fields of the Lord... you know, the place where people live and die with broken promises and yet so often with full hearts. It is not a place primarily of program and disposable income. Everything is immediate and precious, even in its pain. Her meditations are  powerful voice for rethinking the way the Church uses its resources, and more importantly how the Church encourages those who are present, there, here, and everwhere. Or not.





  1. yes yes yes Margaret and Joel are such blessings I pray for them and the People often you are right on about the idea that TEC should be primarily about mission esp in the hard places It would be wonderful if all the dio monies to TEC went to mission would then truly be a mission society

    blessings danielj

  2. The pastoral development bishop for the House of Bishops - this is unsustainable. Eliminate that position. Let the HofB pay its own way.

  3. God bless you, Mark, for this passionate message. I follow Margaret's blog and have already wept at the recent news about the three-year budget. Your post made me cry even harder because not only are you sticking up for Margaret and those she serves, you have an actual idea of what might be done. Preach it!

  4. Maybe we should zero out lines 33 to 39 and 276 in the proposed budget and have the Presiding Bishop's office become "self-sustaining". That's roughly four million right there.

  5. Thank you, Mark, for this powerful and passionate message.

    As small fraction of my ministry is among the Inuit, from whom I have learned much, especially about conditions of life in their home communities. Ministry in such circumstances is NEVER going to be economically sustainable without a massive investment by the church in education (so that native communities can raise up more than just a token number of lay and ordained leaders), in translation of resources, and in restructuring the church so that indigenous peoples feel they are full and equal members.

    The other reason for supporting such mission is that indigenous communities have much to teach us.

  6. TEC has spent over $40,000,000 in litigation against other and ex-Episcopal churches. Perhaps if it gave up the litigation against Christian churches it would have enough for struggling missions?

    Matt Court

  7. Fascinating rhythm. Thieves responsible for NEEDING 40 Million U.S. $ for TEC to stop them from stealing suggests the expenditure ought to have been donated to the worthy, the humble, the genuine of spirit who suffer.

    Lord have mercy on such twisted being and deceiving at Church.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.