Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Unpacking the Unintended Consequences of the GBEC "Revival" Meeting - A Board Not Worth Ten Cents?!?
REVISED and EXPANDED COMMENTARY
by Dennis E. McFadden
Recent reports of the ABC General Board Executive Committee meeting earlier this month (see report below) have highlighted the quality of the meeting described as a "revival." No, it was not an old fashioned "revival." But, Alice Davis argues, "if the purpose of a revival is to renew people's spirits, then that meeting fits into the category."
His Barking Dog was interested in two of the decisions that emerged from the meeting of the GBEC. Again, we quote from Alice Davis:
First, the decision to move to one General Board meeting a year won unanimous support. This was a strategically and fiscally sound decision that was necessary to deal with the budget issues that are facing the Office of the General Secretary and the Representative Process. As many of you know, the need to make this adjustment has come upon us because of changes in the Common Budget Covenant, changes in the churches' giving patterns and the potential loss of some of our covenanting churches. The second decision is the agreement to have a smaller group meet very soon to focus specifically on and make recommendations for changes that are needed to address the present environs. The Summit Meeting will take place in May, and will provide a vitally necessary time to think strategically about how we operate.
Unpacking the language a bit, Davis reports that the money is not there to support two General Board meetings each year. Therefore, the executive committee unanimously supported the recommendation to reduce such meetings to one. Interestingly enough, Davis cites as reasons for the action the reduced availability of funds, the changes in "giving patterns," and the "potential loss of some of our covenanting churches" (e.g., PSW???). Secondly, the group tasked a "smaller group" to meet in May to "think strategically about how we operate."
Counting in the ABC yields strange anomalies. First, with membership statistics cited as 1.4 - 1.5 million (according to Valley Forge statements), we already suffer the embarrassing situation that our much touted missions program only fields one missionary for every 12,000 members. Second, when one turns to the cost of maintaining the representative process, the approximately 120 members of the General Board cost the denomination an insignificant amount of money per member of an ABC congregation. Assuming that a Green Lake visit will average $1,000 per person (airfare plus ground costs), that means that each American Baptist would only need to contribute ten cents to make the "representative process" happen.
What will be the unintended consequences from the shift to one meeting per year? Most organizations meeting infrequently discover that their boards become little more than rubber stamps for the decisions of the staff. If the General Board (hardly a "representative" sample of ABC members due to the complicated formulas for selection) , only meets one time annually, does it not follow that they will meet largely to "get on board" with each other, to have a couple of devotionals and worship experiences, and to rubber stamp the activities of the various Valley Forge staffers? If anything, this will only further the alienation experienced in so many of the regions already.
Confirmation for the speculations in the last paragraph were buttressed this morning by a conversation with a person who served almost four years on the Executive Committee of the ABC General Board. In his estimation, the "heavy lifting" of the denomination is done in the GBEC. Valley Forge staffers "tolerate" or "put up" with the General Board as a necessary inconvenience, he says. He volunteered that there was probably a collective "Hallelujah" expressed by those in the "holy donut" at word that GB meetings will be reduced from two to one.
Clearly, the actions by the GBEC show that in their estimation, the General Board is NOT WORTH TEN CENTS (the approximate cost per ABC member to hold a GB meeting). The support of this opinion by insiders such as the person referenced in the previous paragraph only reinforce this reality.
In the deliberately obtuse language of bureaucracy, one might also miss the meaning of the purpose for the Summit Meeting. We are told that a smaller group will assemble "to focus specifically on and make recommendations for changes that are needed to address the present environs. The Summit Meeting will take place in May, and will provide a vitally necessary time to think strategically about how we operate."
In the "present environs" of last summer the ABNS turned a radical proposal by the Michigan region (with only one dissenting vote!) to dismantle the General Board, Office of the General Secretary, and apparatus of the ABCUSA into a bland call for unspecified changes in structure. If the Summit Meeting seeks to look at ABC problems systematically and structurally, a Michigan like recommendation would be difficult to avoid. However, expecting such strategic thinking will doubtless lead to disappointment. This is the same group, afterall, that was unable to find a way to prevent PSW from taking the question of withdrawal to an unprecedented region-wide plebiscite.
[His Barking Dog claims no official role or position. I occupy only a seat in the nose-bleed section of the ecclesiastical stadium.]