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Hallo again to all.

For centuries, churches — including Anglican churches — have helped provide refuge, safe harbour, and protection for people in need. Many churches provide or fund soup kitchens, battered women's shelters, recovery programs and programs for the young and the elderly; most churches get themselves involved in numerous other programs that help the disadvantaged. Every church that we know of donates a good fraction of its budget to one charity or another. Social outreach — taking care of the downtrodden, the weak, the needy, and the injured — is central to the identity of churches in the Western world. The weak linkThis is all meet and right, and makes us feel good about the financial contribution that we are able to make to our parish. Our diocese consecrated a new bishop last year; we are pleased with the way that he is emphasizing social outreach (and political outreach; he's already gotten himself arrested in an anti-war protest march).

Also for centuries, churches have been the employers of persons who might not otherwise have been employable. This is not to say that every employee of every church is incompetent. In fact, quite the opposite: were it not for some employees with miraculous skills and immense dedication, we think that many church offices, at every level from parish to province, would have collapsed under the weight of staff (and volunteers) who aren't pulling their weight.

We aren't convinced that this phenomenon is restricted to churches. Through the years we have marvelled at the number of incompetent, hostile, or disturbed people who manage to keep their jobs at charitable or not-for-profit organizations. Years ago we remember a famously competent corporate vice president telling us 'Anybody can say "yes"; it's easy. It takes real skill to say "no".'

Not long ago we followed in a neighbouring parish a battle between the vicar and the organist / choirmaster. On paper the vicar was, of course, in charge of the parish, and had every right to sack the musician, but for complicated psychological reasons he felt compelled to minister to the man, to feed and clothe and shelter his incompetence, rather than to show him the door. We're told that it got to be so bad that there were loud arguments between the vicar and the musician during the worship service. After months of conflict, the vicar finally found it in himself to push the organist/choirmaster out the door.

Etirnity welcomes youIt's fairly easy to tell when a musician is incompetent. People wince and cover their ears, and then they find a new church. Churches also employ clerks, administrators, and various specialty staff whose very job title is meaningless to the general public. We've been introduced to parish Lay Ministry Coordinators, Parish Missioners, Directors of Christian Formation, Liturgical Coordinators, Development Coordinators, and Webmasters. Beyond the parish level, there's a wealth of titles whose meaning sometimes eludes us. And if we can't tell what their job is supposed to be, then how ever can their job performance be evaluated effectively?

Terrible things seem to happen when church leaders project onto their staff their pastoral urge to take care of the needy, the downtrodden, and the weak. Nowhere in the parable of the sheep and the goats does it say 'I was incompetent and you employed me' or 'I was abusive to everyone but you didn't sack me'. The notion of charity seems altogether too often to be applied in church administration to charity towards one's own staff. For better or for worse, church organizations have more in common than not with ordinary business and government organizations. The secular world has it easier, in a sense, because the need to make a profit provides a means of telling quickly whether or not it is succeeding or failing. Churches can survive for decades under the stewardship of people who are pious, faithful, and incompetent, and no one benefits from that survival.

If you think we're incompetent, just walk away and stop reading AO. We'll get the message.

See you next week, we hope.

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Last updated: 11 November 2007

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