Our current Acts8 Blogforce Challenge asks, “According the Pew Research, adult GenXers and Millennials now outnumber Baby Boomers by nearly 2 to 1, but when we look at General Convention the statistics don’t match up. In what ways can the Church create opportunities to lift up younger leaders, lay and ordained, to serve as Deputies to General Convention?“
My parish is actually doing pretty well at raising up younger leadership. Half our current vestry and wardens are under 45. And there are other GenXers and even a few Millennials in formal and informal leadership roles in the life of our parish.
But many of these folks have young families. And being a General Convention deputy when you have kids – or even being actively involved in diocesan leadership, which involves a lot of evenings and weekends – is a significant sacrifice.
Last summer I was a first-time deputy. My kids at the time were ten and five. My daughter’s face was briefly up on the JumboTron in the House of Deputies because she lost her first tooth while I was away, and my husband sent a photo to me, and I sent the photo, as a thanksgiving, to the House of Deputies chaplain to be included in the day’s prayers.
I didn’t get *very* weepy over missing that milestone. It’s easy enough to miss milestones even when you’re not 1300 miles away. But attending Convention was a significant chunk out of my summer, when my kids are free and I’m able to slow down and we can all connect and do some fun stuff together. And I missed them. I felt that loss. It made our summer significantly shorter, and September doesn’t wait for anybody.
When I was first elected deputy, I had initially thought of bringing the family with me, and trying to make it a shared experience, or at least tacking a shared vacation on to the end of Convention. It would be fun to explore the West together. But when I got serious about looking into that, the costs were really prohibitive. And my spouse and kids would have to drive 20 hours (that’s just the drive time) to meet me in Salt Lake City. It became clear pretty quickly that there was no way that was going to work. I went to Salt Lake City alone.
I know that I was incredibly privileged in that missing my family was the only real issue I had with attending Convention. That’s kind of my point. I had everything going for me as a General Convention deputy. I am a clergyperson. I didn’t have to explain anything to my boss or take vacation time to go; being there was part of my job. My diocese paid my way, including a relatively generous per diem. And I am in the unusual and privileged position of having a stay-at-home co-parent, so I didn’t even need to line up or pay for extra childcare while I was away for nearly two weeks. And of course, even as a first-time deputy, I knew people at Convention – seminary and CREDO colleagues, friends from parishes and dioceses where I’ve served before. That made it fun and inviting to go, in a way it probably wouldn’t be for most first-time lay deputies.
And – with all those factors that made it easy and interesting and fun for me to attend – it still felt like a sacrifice. Enough so that I’m struggling a little with whether to stand for election as a deputy again. I probably will, because I hope our church can do some good work in 2018, and because it really is true that the first time you attend, you’re just trying to keep up and make sense of it all. I know I’ll be a better, wiser, and more effective participant if I attend again.
But. And. It’ll be another summer that starts with a huge bite out of it, nearly two weeks away from my kids right when they’ve been liberated from school and we could all really have some fun together. I will miss them. I will feel that loss. Again.
Or I could bring them with me. But let’s talk dollars on that.
Some friends of mine, parents of a preschool-aged child, decided to try the “let’s all come along and make a vacation of it” approach. We had talked last summer about the costs of the childcare program provided at Convention, so when I knew this BlogForce Challenge was coming up, I asked my friend C for thoughts. She pulled out the invoice from last summer to verify that childcare was $70 a day. C writes, “Child care for someone without a co-parent, for the full length of Convention, would be something like $700 to $840 (since Convention ranges from 10 to 14 days). And child-care is only available from 7:15am to 6:30pm. So if you have a delegation or committee meeting at 7pm, you’re out of luck.”
C hastens to say that the program was great, and worth the money, in the abstract. “The program is like Vacation Bible School on steroids. It’s well run, the kids are happy and well fed, and my child came back talking about how much she loved Jesus. My complaint was never that I didn’t feel like I wasn’t getting my 70 dollars worth. The staff were amazing and deserve to be well compensated, and I understand that goldfish and glue sticks add up.” And I join C in being glad and grateful that childcare was offered at all; apparently that in itself is a relatively recent development – which I find a little mind-blowing.
But, while $70 a day isn’t a bad price for good-quality all-day childcare, we’re not talking about selecting childcare on an open market. We’re talking about radical hospitality for people in the years of their lives when many are parenting preschool- and school-aged children. C writes, “Do you seriously mean to tell me there’s no money at 815 to subsidize the cost to the point where it’s actually affordable for an average family? Childcare for the full convention at $70 a day, for just one child, would have cost half of our monthly mortgage payment, and that’s just nuts.”
She concludes, “If The Episcopal Church wonders why more young folks aren’t participating in Church governance at the national level, they need to consider the barriers to entry: the ability to take 10 plus days off (Salt Lake City *was* our vacation that year and for my spouse, who was a deputy, it wasn’t even a vacation), the ability to leave a child at home with a competent adult who can handle that long span of time, or the ability to afford travel for the family and to cover child care for the whole convention, which at 2015’s prices could easily be cost-prohibitive. It seems to me that one of these three barriers could be easily and realistically addressed by the Church, if it were really a priority. What are they waiting for?”