Within the past several years, both parishes and the national Church have been experiencing significant financial shortfalls. This hardship is obviously not unique to us. Churches and religious institutions across the board are experiencing the same austerity that families across the world are having to cope with due to the waves of national recessions.
That being said, the subsequent budget cuts that have come from this are of no great surprise. What has truly disturbed me, though, both at General Convention and Diocesan Conventions, is that one of the first items to get axed is funding for college and young adult ministry. The arguments have ranged from the national level saying it’s the responsibility of the local level, to local dioceses saying that since these young adults are not the major tithers, that’s not where they should be focusing their limited resources. Granted, this is very pragmatic from a business standpoint: only invest in the areas where you get the biggest immediate return. The problem is, the Church is not meant to be strictly business. Then of course, there’s the question of why a local diocese should spend so much on college chaplaincy when the students are from (and will most likely return to) outside the diocese when their collegiate careers are completed. What really floors me in all of this, is that within the same Conventions in which the young adult ministries are being cut, delegates are distressing and discussing at great length what is to be done about the drop in numbers in our Church.
So, with that in mind, I’d like to offer my own two cents for what that’s worth. Since I’ve been on a parables kick for the past few weeks, I thought this might best illustrate the point. I invite any and all college chaplains, youth, young adults, and leaders thereof to share this and pass it around.
There once was a man who inherited a farm from his dearly departed father. His father, you see, had been a farmer in his later years and had built up quite a great track of land. Like any good farmer, he had staggered his planting to be sure that plants would grow and ripen over a gradual period of time instead of all at once. Well, the farmer had passed in the middle of the growing season, so his son inherited a farm with plants in all various stages, from seeds just planted to plants bearing fruit that were just about ripe.
When this young man turned new farmer moved out to the farm, he was very excited about all the fresh produce that he was about to pick and be able to eat! Unfortunately, he had never learned much from his father, and didn’t know all there was to farming, let alone the great amount of work and long hours that are required. The only thing he really knew was that you needed to water the plants to get them to grow.
Not realizing that his father used to get up before dawn to begin work, the son slept in well past sunrise before he would get up to water his new charge. Since he had to pump water to each area of crops in order to water them, he quickly found out that he just didn’t have enough time during his day to water everything. So, concentrating on the plants that were about to ripen and would thus guarantee some fresh produce for him, he watered the mature adult plants only. Every day he tended to them, watering and weeding around them. And sure enough, as time went on, the fruits and vegetables on these plants ripened, and he was able to enjoy such wonderful fresh produce!
But then, as you’d expect, theses plants passed their growing season and started to die off. Wanting to keep the tasty produce coming, the son turned to the next patch in the field where a later stage of crops was growing. Unfortunately, he found a lot of these crops had withered. Some had even perished from the lack of water and the weeds that had grown up around them. Desperate to keep this patch going so he could get produce, he focused all his time and efforts on watering and weeding these remaining plants. With time, he was able to salvage what had survived, and eventually got fresh produce from it, but it was nothing compared to the amount that he had gotten from the first patch.
Well, just as before, this patch reached the end of its growing season, so he turned to the next patch that had been planted after. This was the patch that was just seeds in the ground when his father had died. Well, what do you think he found there in the patch of seeds that he hadn’t watered and never took the time to weed?
It wasn’t long thereafter that the other farmers in the area saw a perplexing and pitiful sight: a young man driving out of town in his packed up car, complaining loudly out the window that his farm just wouldn’t produce!
Silentio Coram Deo,