Executive Council challenged to engage in adaptive change

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Jan 27, 2012

[Episcopal News Service – Linthicum Heights, Maryland] Three Episcopal Church leaders challenged members of the church’s Executive Council Jan. 27 to engage in “adaptive change” in response to what they said are changing church and societal environments.

That challenge began immediately as the members received two different budget scenarios developed by council’s Executive Committee upon which to begin formulating a draft 2013-2015 budget. One scenario calls for asking dioceses to contribute 19 percent of their income and the other calls for dioceses contributing 15 percent. The larger income would be $103.6 million and the 15 percent-asking budget would be reduced by approximately $13.5 million, according to Treasurer Kurt Barnes.

In an emailed memo to Episcopal Church Center staff after the scenarios were presented to council, Chief Operating Officer Stacy Sauls noted that the 19-percent version plans on a $5.9 million decrease in income from the current triennium. The 15-percent version’s reduced revenue amounts to $19.3 million less than the current triennium.

Both budget scenarios would require “personnel adjustments,” Del Glover, chair of council’s Finances for Mission committee, told his fellow council members. In the 19-percent scenario the potential adjustments could amount to the equivalent of eight full-time staff positions at most, while 36 full-time staff positions at most could be cut from the 15 percent scenario, according to the spreadsheets presented.

Council must hand off a draft 2013-2015 budget to the church’s Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) by the close of its Jan. 27-29 meeting here at the conference center at the Maritime Institute.

Program, Budget and Finance meets at the Maritime Institute Jan. 30-Feb. 2 to begin its work on the draft. It will eventually develop a triennial budget to propose to General Convention on July 10. Glover said that council might choose to give P&F two draft budgets, one he called a “preferred” version and another “alternative.”

The 2013-2015 budget will not be final until General Convention approves it, a vote now scheduled for July 12. The budget takes effect January 1, 2013.

During the opening session of council’s meeting, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson and Sauls all touched on the financial and demographic challenges facing the Episcopal Church, and predicted that the 2013-2015 budget will change between now and its adoption in July.

“That budget will almost certainly emerge differently at General Convention from the way we give it to Program, Budget and Finance,” Jefferts Schori said during her opening remarks. “I think the process would have failed if that weren’t the case. General Convention is likely to alter it in some ways, perhaps radically, perhaps not. Our task is to do our work, to plant the seeds, let others water and expect that God will give the growth that’s needed to let the creative response to current realities emerge at General Convention.”

Those “current realities” include such things as declining mainline denominational membership and financial struggles caused both by those membership declines and the current economy. As part of understanding that context, council also heard a 45-minute presentation by Kirk Hadaway, the church’s congregational research officer, and Matthew Price, Church Pension Group director of analytic research, on trends in declining attendance, membership and finances.

“Our task as a church is not to let anxieties about these realities hurry us to some kind of premature resolution,” Jefferts Schori said, adding that “reflection and discernment in consultation is important to ensuring that all voices are included and heard, and I think encourages us to prevent rushing into a black-white, up-down, yes-no kind of answer. The adaptive change we’re engaged in is far more complex than that.”

Jefferts Schori suggested that council needed to reflect on and consider changing how it exercises its oversight over people and programs in the church. Invoking the difference between pedagogy and andragogy, she said council had to consider the difference “between treating the people and systems of which we’re responsible as children to be raised or as adults to be in conversation with.”

“We are in ministry with, not over,” she added.

The presiding bishop said that too often the church has unintentionally kept some people and partner organizations “in dependent relationships by the way we have doled out resources.” She added that she was not talking just about money. “We have not offered enough of ourselves in terms of sharing people resources, skills, missionaries, finances to help people to grow up into the full stature of Christ.”

Anderson in her opening remarks used the early church example of Lydia, Dorcas and Phoebe, whose feast day is Jan. 27, as examples of how to build the church during a time of rapid societal change.

“We can have a budget that reflects our courage and commitment to follow in the footsteps of Lydia, Dorcas and Phoebe, who built up the church where they were with what they had,” she said.

Anderson said Christians can’t stand by and watch change happen. “We are called upon to use the change, even create the change that we believe will bring about a reconciled world,” she said, adding that the draft 2013-2015 budget is “a golden opportunity … to create some badly needed change.”

She suggested that council “try to discern God’s call for our future by looking for what’s right in front of us that … we’re missing” rather than “spend a lot of time mourning what’s past or trying to keep a patchwork of it sewn together.”

“Just allocating more money for local mission and ministry isn’t enough, of course,” she warned. “We need to cultivate innovation, hone our skills at rapid prototyping, and look around for the people and places already supporting ministry that we’re in danger of missing.”

Anderson suggested that the budget reduce the amount that it asks dioceses to send to the Church Center, study the best use of the Church Center building in New York “with an eye to freeing up for mission the $7.7 million that is earmarked for facilities cost and debt repayment during the next triennium,” expect that dioceses and their networks know best how to build up the church and support ministry, and “acknowledge that we also need to change our models of accountability and responsibility to be mutual and respectful of the entire people of God, not just those with ecclesial power.”

“I don’t believe we need a transitional budget, one that takes baby steps but still holds on tight to the old structures and old ways of operating,” she said.

Sauls, citing the movie “Moneyball,” said that baseball team manager Billy Beane’s guiding principle of “adapt or die” “pretty much sums up the challenge of the Episcopal Church, and all churches, at the beginning of a post-modern, and certainly post-Christian era face.”

He said the Church Center staff has recently adopted its own guiding principle of “dream, create, adapt, act.”

“I dream about a Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society staff that is true to its name,” Sauls told council, referring to the corporate name of the Episcopal Church. “And I dream about a Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society staff that is known throughout the church as creative, competent, and helpful, a staff all levels of our church want to be their resource, partners, and collaborator in engaging God’s mission to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and the acceptable year of the Lord [Luke 4:18].”

To do that, Sauls said, the staff needs the collaboration and support of Executive Council. “It wants to work with you. And it will be responsive to you, your ideas, and your concerns,” he said. “What I ask all of you, though, is that you treat the staff as your collaborators and partners, and work directly with us, at least first, and not take what’s on your mind instead to public forums and express your criticisms there, which unfortunately is not an isolated occurrence.”

“When that happens it very much goes against the creativity of which we’re capable and which is precisely what the church needs from us. And I want to suggest that it is not a good way to carry out the fiduciary responsibilities of being a board, including those owed to the staff.”

The Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4 (1)(a). The council is composed of 38 members, 20 of whom (four bishops, four priests or deacons and 12 lay people) are elected by General Convention and 18 (one clergy and one lay) by provincial synods for six-year terms, plus the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (2)

  1. Robert Ralston says:

    I totally agree. We all know the problem. You are not alone, the whole country is facing the same problem. For whatever reason, you have accepted a decline in membership, so face up to the consequences and move forward. Poor managemnt will not solve what lies ahead.

  2. Len Freeman says:

    The piece I don’t hear here, is a commitment to some straight out evangelism, that is, helping people to believe in Jesus, period. Years ago in a diocese far far away…. I recall being in a conversation with a diocesan staffer about a new evangelism project we were thinking of getting underway. He pounded the table and said “not one cent for church preservation, we’re about urban mission!” …. to which I replied, “If you want to do some urban mission, you have to have some urban Christians.”
    Especially in a “post-Christian” era it strikes me that we need to work on helping people to “come to Jesus,” as a more key part of our mission… even as I know that it is not one of our great Episcopal skills. Perhaps this is a change we need to adapt to.

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