Oh hello again. I’m not really sure how to start this other than with, “Restructuring is dead. Long live restructuring.” To put it another way, LCC is in a kind of constitutional crisis. Fun!
The Reader’s Digest version: Synod has effectively abandoned its restructuring plan. That’s the super short version.
The Long Version
LCC began its restructuring efforts in the summer of 2015. All three Districts passed motions that synod needs to be restructured to avoid another bankruptcy and debacle like the Alberta BC Church extension fund. It’s clear to everyone, except apparently Synod itself, that the restructuring was a response to the collapse of ABC District’s Church Extension Fund. Of course, we’ve read articles in the Canadian Lutheran about how the restructuring effort doesn’t have anything to do with the failure of ABC’s CEF. Mind you, this article flipped back to the original position that yes, the restructuring was to address governance issues because of CEF. If you’re going to make critical flip flops like that while making a steak, only do it once to preserve the juices (it’s BBQ season after all).
The story is presented to us in two parts. The first part is an article in the Canadian Lutheran, the second part is a motion by Synod’s board of directors.
Part One: Synod politely and courteously asked Rev. Les Stahlke, the restructuring consultant, to take a stroll in a fresh breeze, and never come back. Synod and the consultant disagree on the value of the plan, and in those tussles, the client always wins.
Part Two: The article is a merry-go-round: lots of spin. It reminds me of a door-crasher sale at Canadian Tire when they have $1000 Werner BBQs on for $50. But there was only one. It was in Moose Jaw. The manager’s cousin bought it the day before the flyer came out. The Canadian Lutheran article is a bit like that.
The article headline is clear: “Restructuring enters final phase; CCMS partners with Synod’s Board of Directors.” The headline lacks the faintest whiff of smoke, but there’s plenty of, you just have to follow your nose. It outlines Synod’s plan: create a “special ‘working group,’” made of up of Rev. Nolan Astley, Rev. Bill Ney, and Rev. Paul Schallhorn, and Cindy Sholdice, a member of the board of directors. How very grass-roots.
Starting Over, Sort of…
Q: Why is synod creating a special working group to work on the final phase of restructuring?
A: Because the restructuring effort has ended in failure, and so Synod is going to try to fudge a new structure.
Okay, I know this is getting confusing and seems out of order. Let’s go back to where the issue comes to a head: the board motion, which gives me a nuclear ice-cream headache: Lutheran Church Canada’s board of directors rejects the restructuring proposal by CCMS as unworkable (basically, no one seems to like it – not even Synod’s lawyers). Yep. Synod killed its own plan for restructuring. Synod board of directors gives six reasons for shooting down its two years of time and money. Let’s parse them out:
- Legal counsel for LCC doesn’t like the restructuring plan. It’s the first item on the list, so probably important. After two years of “working closely with Synod,” the restructuring committee’s proposal doesn’t pass the legal sniff test. You’d think someone would have noticed legal problems before, you know, the END of the process. After making a few inquiries, insurance industry executives tell me that it’s very likely that the collapse of ABC CEF is causing Synod insurance problems. It’s not the first time I’ve heard of Synod having issues with insurance. ABC CEF continues to cast a long shadow on Synod.
- Synod president, and the Board of directors don’t support the plan, so CCMS can’t present it to convention.
- Rev. Stahlke, the restructuring consultant, stands behind the plan, but since Synod doesn’t, they’re at an impasse, resulting in the end of his contract.
- There’s a lot of general opposition to the proposed plan and bylaws within congregations.
If this were a play about ships, one might set the scene as the Good Ship LCC thoroughly adrift in the Sargasso Sea having pushed its navigator overboard. Water water everywhere…
Synod promised an open, transparent, broad-based, and ground-up (grassroots) restructuring process. But the process and plan failed because it wasn’t open in any meaningful way.
Last autumn during the ABC District church worker conference, Rev. Glenn Schaeffer reportedly made a comment about the restructuring
plan (re: He’s not a fan of it). I don’t know what was said, but I did see a letter emailed from Rev. Schaeffer apologizing for having a dissenting opinion clarifying that he would fulfill his duties as District President, and as per the District convention motion. If we reverse engineer the reason for a letter like that, one would think that someone took offense to something, or how something was said. (edited SG) East District Board of Directors wrote a nearly identical letter obsequiously apologizing for its work in doing research and consultation – discovering no one in Ontario much liked the restructuring plan either. I understand arguments for good order and managing dissent, but Synod demanded compliance and silence. Synod leadership chose to quell dissent rather than discuss it openly.
East District Board of Directors and the president of ABC District were canaries in the coal mine. They spotted problems (didn’t we all?) with the restructuring plan. Synod’s response: shut up. It evokes images of a gangster with his finger in a pocket jabbing it in a victim’s back, pretending it’s a gun. Except now that gun is exposed as just a finger, and that’s what the church has sent back to Synod. It’s a clear message. Don’t count on it being heard.
By implication, Synod is unable to find a workable structure that satisfies our theology, members, or the law. Synod’s failure will create a new set of problems.
The first problem is urgency. Synod will insist on rewriting the structure, constitution, and bylaws. This new phase is four people re-writing the church’s structure. It’s a hail-Mary Four people are going to sit down in a room, look at what everyone has already rejected, and amend our current working, but ignored constitution for a solution. It’s expedient. Wrong, but expedient.
Synod gave itself two years come up with a new structure. It has failed. If we’re going to re-write our constitution, it’s a WHOLE NEW effort. Every part of LCC, theology to business operations should be thoroughly examined. And I mean seriously, and thoughtfully. Not just in a few weeks of sessions that garner insights like, “governance is hard.” Really.
We were told time and again that a two year restructuring plan was the tightest of timelines. Now, just a couple of months from convention we’re getting a fresh rewrite. There won’t be any more consultation – well, Synod’s lawyers will get a look before you do, so there’s that.
I’m going to put my cards on the table and say it out loud: Lutheran Church Canada, as an institution, is dead. If leadership’s credibility isn’t at an all-time low, then reality isn’t a big priority for you. We shouldn’t be surprised that NOT hiring actual structural and constitutional experts might result in failure. Furthermore, Lutheran Church Canada is divided. There is the ever-so-Canadian east-west divide which isn’t just geographic – and only ever spoken of in hushed tones, lest one side or the other hear (it’s bizarre and I still don’t get it). We also suffer from legal, political, and theological divisions that we’ve ignored (there are good reasons that Synod still hasn’t apologized to victims of the CEF/DIL collapse. There are good legal reasons for that. Unfortunately, the spiritual reasons for apologizing are better. But in LCC, legal issues take precedence over faith. Regardless of leadership’s words, faith DOES come second in Lutheran Church Canada. Do I even need to mention decades of non-existent pastoral supervision that has lead to all kinds of abuses by both pastors and laity.
What is LCC? What is our mission? Who do we serve? What do we believe? Individuals and congregations may have answers to that, but as a Synod? I used to be able to answer those with some degree of confidence.
In 2017, Lutheran Church Canada ceased to be a church of the Reformation. In 2017, LCC is the church of amendment. Put that on a t-shirt.
I’m going to go read Revelation 3:16, because someone has to.
Andreas Schwabe is editor and publisher of SolaGratia.ca, and an Edmonton-based multimedia & communication strategist and producer. His focus for SolaGratia is on administration, governance, and issues of faith. For clients, he writes or produces just about anything.