Budget discussions continue at Executive Council

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Jan 28, 2012

[Episcopal News Service – Linthicum Heights, Maryland] The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council continued Jan. 28 to grapple with the missional, organizational and financial realities of developing a budget for the 2013-2015 triennium.

The members also grappled with a timeline that calls for council to develop a draft triennial budget to give 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. This timeline was contrasted with calls by some council members to spend more time envisioning the church’s mission goals, and revising the budget proposals it received the day before.

One budget scenario calls for asking dioceses to contribute 19 percent of their income and the other calls for dioceses contributing 15 percent. The larger amount of income is $103.6 million and the 15 percent-asking budget would be reduced by approximately $13.5 million, according to Treasurer Kurt Barnes. The 19 percent scenario could result in staff reductions equivalent to eight full-time staff positions at most and the 15 percent scenario would amount to 36 full-time equivalent staff positions at most, according to the spreadsheets presented.

“The way we are currently approaching the budgeting process appears to be de facto restructuring by funding or de-funding parts of the organization. The tail is wagging the dog,” Lelanda Lee, a member of council’s Advocacy and Networking for Mission committee, told her colleagues.

Lee made her comments while members were reporting to the entire council during the morning of Jan. 28 about budget discussions held in committees the previous day after the members received the budget scenarios from its Executive Committee.

“This was not a strategic exercise but this was a mathematical exercise,” council member Vycke McEwen said later in the morning while council further discussed the budgeting process.

Council member Lee Allison Crawford reported that her colleagues at her table felt the church was “just beginning to understand the system we inherited from General Convention 2009 with the last round of cuts.” The reorganized Church Center “has had success” and to change the system again would be wrong, she said.

“The structure has to be an authentic reflection of our values and so we really should change ministries with deliberation and care and reflection and not just by sweeping cuts in a spreadsheet,” she said.

“Neither iteration – 19 percent asking or 15 percent asking – provides a new vision,” Katie Sherrod said in reporting the reaction of the Governance and Administration for Mission committee. “We need a vision for the future.”
While council heard much discussion the previous day about declining mainline denominational membership and financial struggles caused both by those membership declines and the current economy, council member Brian Cole said that his table colleagues questioned the assumed implications of that information.

He said they wanted to challenge the rest of the council to consider “if we believe decline is inevitable and ongoing forever, or do we really believe we have good news to share.”

Cole also echoed a theme of some council members who questioned what they said was an assumption that reducing the amount of money the denomination asks of its dioceses would actually result in increased spending on mission activities at that and the congregational level.

“We really have to decide what is a fair contribution for the work we want to do at the churchwide level and realize we really can’t control what other people do with the money they keep either at the diocese or a parish,” he said.

The Executive Committee will meet later in the day Jan. 28 “to respond to recommendations and observations we’ve heard,” Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told council at the end of that discussion. The committee will discuss the result of that meeting with the whole of council on Jan. 29, she added.

“We’re trying to respond to what we are aware is some anxiety around this,” she said, adding that council had wanted to try a new process for crafting the 2013-2015 budget process and that the process began several months later than the process normally does.

“That new initiative I think was creative and hopeful, and it has presented us with a reality that is very different than we’ve experienced in the past,” she said. “It’s more chaotic, but I would also remind you that the Genesis story says there’s no creation in the absence of chaos.”

Sherrod acknowledged that the new process came out of council’s “desire to not have happen to us what happened in the last triennium with the budget, and there was a lot of attention paid to getting the numbers right.” However, she suggested that “a piece of the work that got neglected perhaps because of the press of time … was relating those numbers to our vision, as we’ve all talked about.”

During the 76th meeting of General Convention in the summer of 2009, Program, Budget and Finance drastically changed the 2010-2012 draft budget that council had given it. Council’s draft proposal was based on an income projection of $161,820,613. The version PB&F presented to convention was based on $141,271,984 income. Convention agreed to the latter version, resulting in a triennial budget that was $23 million leaner than in the previous triennium.

That budget also reduced the amount of money the church’s 110 dioceses were asked to contribute to the cost of funding the denomination’s work. The amount went from 21 percent of diocesan income in 2010 to 20 percent in 2011 and 19 percent in 2012. In addition, a $100,000 income exemption was raised to $120,000, thus leaving more money with the dioceses.

Program, Budget and Finance meets at the Maritime Institute Jan. 30-Feb. 2 to begin its work on the 2013-2015 draft budget. It will eventually develop the triennial budget to propose to General Convention on July 10. The 2013-2015 budget will not be final until General Convention approves it, a vote now scheduled for July 12. The budget will take effect Jan. 1, 2013.

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.