Official Word

There’s something about a freshly printed news release that takes me back to my childhood. It’s like buying new school supplies. It also reminds me of my days covering the Alberta Legislature. Sitting in a very small, badly ventilated press gallery office, I would sift through the stack of ten to thirty governmental and opposition news releases…per day. It was especially cozy at Christmas….all that kindling.

For those following along at home, we have official word that the ABC District has filed under the CCAA. This may seem like old news, and it is. But believe it or not, it’s the first official word from any part of our church body that ABC district is under CCAA protection. I’m not making this up.

The last we heard from ABC District, officially, was ten days ago on January 19. That’s when district president Don Schiemann penned a pastoral letter to the congregations of the district saying CEF was insolvent. Later, District sent an email that went out to church workers, but I know it wasn’t shared in many congregations on Sunday. I should mention here that it’s entirely appropriate that pastors NOT give notice of legal proceedings in church. Turning ministers of the Word into paralegals is not okay. Pastors preach the word and administer the sacraments. They absolve sin. Someone else can give legal notices — leave letters for people to pick up in the narthex or something. It shouldn’t happen at all.

One could argue that only investors need to be notified of things like bankruptcy protection. If bankruptcy protection and insolvency didn’t affect the entire church, you’d be right. Or, you might think, “Well of course everybody knows that district is insolvent and has filed with CCAA.”  Except for everybody who doesn’t. Crisis communication relies on regular updates – the more consistent the information, the better people will feel, even in a crappy situation where there isn’t a lot of information. When first responders arrive on the scene of the accident they ask your name, if you’re hurt, and do their best to keep you calm while they explain how they’re going to extricate you from a hulk to twisted wreckage that used to be a car. Their presence helps, but talking to you helps more. Communication is important.

It’s odd that synod was first to officially communicate the news. I’m not complaining, in fact quite the contrary. With the silence coming out of District Office, I wonder if I should start watching documentaries on black hole theory.

A couple of days ago Synod wrote a missive explaining that church worker benefits and pensions are unaffected by the ABC insolvency. It wrote the article to assure its constituency it was being vigilant and doing due diligence with respect to any possible effects or outcomes of the west’s financial issues. In short: not only is Synod paying attention, it’s aware of its responsibilities, taking proactive steps to make it understands the situation for itself and all of its members, and it’s communicating. Kudos to Synod…its making Winnipeg slightly warmer this winter.

By announcing the CCAA filing and parsing the story so far, Synod is in the awkward position of informing members and congregations of something it has nothing to do with. In fact, the lack of coordinated news from synod or district suggests that district isn’t even communicating with Synod. With the evidence at hand, like us, Synod appears to be a bystander, hopeful to fill in the gaps where and when necessary.

In that way at least, we’re walking together.