So Much Duplication

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“This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” Ezekiel 16:49 NRSV

In the lead-up to the recent Electoral Synod of the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, each of the candidates was asked to prepare a video speaking to the question “In light of these times, and the emergent challenges facing our Diocese, what would be your priorities and vision as Bishop?” 

As part of their videos, several of the episcopal candidates spoke to the need for reprioritization and change, with a call to ministry and mission.  I couldn’t agree more. 

It’s no secret that many of the parishes in the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador (along with the Diocese itself) are in financial difficulty. And the same is true of other dioceses right across the country.  The balance sheets have been showing poor health for a while, and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the decline. 

It seems to me that a lot of this poor financial health comes down to duplication.  The duplication within the church around us is staggering. Duplication of buildings. Duplication of worship. Duplication of planning.  Duplication of programming. Duplication of administration. All that duplication means a lot of waste—not just wasted treasure, but time and talent too.

We all play a part in this duplication, myself included—I live directly across the street from a church that I have never set foot in it for worship or prayer.  It’s Roman Catholic… but surely I can nip across the street for prayer without turning my back on the Anglican church.  

It isn’t the duplication itself that bothers me—it’s the waste (remember, this column is about social justice). Take a quick look around, and you see injustice and hurt everywhere. Seniors in the cold, looking for change on street corners.  Parishioners not able to enter churches because of poor accessibility. Immigrants unable to find work because of systemic racism. Not enough free mental health services to go around.  And these are just local issues.

Now don’t get me wrong, the Anglican Church in Newfoundland and Labrador is doing some great things with programming and partnerships at both the parish and Diocesan levels.  But just think of how much more we might be able to do if we freed up time, talent, and treasure by reducing duplication.  

I don’t want to perpetuate the myth that combining parishes and closing buildings is the only way to reduce the duplication (goodness knows there are enough people who think this already), but it certainly is one of the most obvious ways. I suspect that most of us can’t go for a Sunday drive without seeing two or three congregations in a 30-kilometre radius, each with its own building but offering essentially the same worship and sense of community (and likely not collaborating much with the congregations around them).  

We all have to compromise and sacrifice to reduce this duplication, whether it be deciding to close our building to join another congregation or deciding to not open a parish clothing bank because someone else is already doing that really well (maybe even secular group—gasp!).  This compromise and sacrifice must be made at every level and in every parish and congregation.  

Personally, I don’t mind worshipping in a cold warehouse with all the rest of you if that’s what it takes to make better use of our time, talent, and treasure.  With the money we’ll save, we can hire a bus to pick up people for in-person services and activities.  And, we can still have programming to serve our neighbourhoods and communities based upon their unique needs (certainly, we’ll have a lot more time, talent, and treasure to dedicate to that when we aren’t constantly fundraising to pay the heat bills). If we bring us all together, then perhaps it might be an acceptable luxury to spend a bit of money to heat our warehouse, especially if we could find a way to open the space up to the under-heated and under-housed at the same time.

Anyways, let’s not be afraid to compromise and sacrifice to reduce the duplication—we can achieve more by working together. 

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