Executive Council takes action on series of revenue questions

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Feb 24, 2019

[Episcopal News Service – Midwest City, Oklahoma] During its Feb. 21-24 meeting here, The Episcopal Church Executive Council made a number of decisions about the church’s finances.

The main actions centered on revenue, including its ongoing response to dioceses that say they cannot pay the full 15 percent of their income – or the assessment – that the church’s canons require they contribute to churchwide operations. Council also considered how to handle the money it earned from the sale of a city block in Austin, Texas.

Granting four assessment waivers while denying a fifth

At the 2015 meeting of General Convention, bishops and deputies turned the then-voluntary diocesan budgetary asking system into a mandatory assessment, beginning with the 2019-2021 budget cycle. Dioceses may ask for full or partial waivers. Without getting a waiver, a diocese that does not pay the full assessment will be unable to receive grants or loans from the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (the church’s legal and corporate entity).

The Rev. Mally Lloyd, chair of the Executive Council’s finance committee reported to the council on Feb. 23 that, by lowering the percentage that dioceses were asked to pay and adding the waiver process while requiring payment, the number of fully participating dioceses has gone from 44 in 2013 to 75 in 2019.

“We have made incredible progress,” she said.

Council members agreed to give the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast a waiver because it had submitted a plan to increase its payments over the course of the triennium. It will pay 12 percent in 2019, 14 percent in 2020 and 15 percent in 2021. The council also granted one-year assessment waivers to the Diocese of Colombia, which will pay $1,500 this year; the Diocese of the Dominican Republic, which will pay $15,000; and, the Episcopal Church in Taiwan, which will pay $3,000.

The council denied the waiver request from the Diocese of Dallas. Lloyd said the Dallas diocese has pledged to be at the 15 percent mark by 2022, but noted that its “15 percent is split between about 12 percent that comes to us and 3 percent that goes to other ministries of the church of their choosing.”

“The committee felt that the assessment is not a split-able entity,” she said.

The council’s Assessment Review Committee has waiver requests pending from Colorado, the Convocation of Churches in Europe, Honduras, Pennsylvania, Rio Grande and Venezuela, according to Lloyd.

Albany and Florida have committed to paying less than 15 percent and have not asked for waivers, she said. Fond du Lac has also committed to less than the required amount but will be requesting a waiver. Thirteen dioceses have not yet submitted their commitments.

At its October 2018 meeting, council members granted waivers to Arizona, Haiti, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and West Texas.

The waiver decisions came on the same day that council agreed to forgive a loan and interest of $233,614.38 extended to the Episcopal Church in Navajoland. The Episcopalians there will pay $100 as payment in full through a deduction from its next monthly block grant payment. They also pledged to pay Navajoland’s full assessment beginning this year.

Investing the proceeds of the Archives land sale and dealing with a budgetary surplus

Lloyd also led the council through a step-by-step recommendation about what to do with two sources of revenue. One is how to allocate the $5.7 million in revenue from the 2016-2018 triennium that remained after expenses were covered. The other is how to allocate $19 million netted from the sale of a city block in Austin after paying off the debt on the land.

Council had previously agreed to move $1.1 million of the $5.7 million extra from the previous budget into the current one because that amount had been budgeted for racial reconciliation work. The money, however, was not expended because of the program’s long startup process.

The members agreed with the finance committee’s recommendation that they allocate 20 percent, or $920,000, to the church’s short-term reserves and keep the balance of $3.680 million in the treasury’s cash operating account to fund various non-budgetary actions approved by council.

They also agreed to allocate $2.880 million of the proceeds from the sale of the Austin land to the short-term reserves, bringing that account up to the $9.5 million that the committee has said would be needed to fund three months of churchwide operations. The account has not been fully funded in a number of years, Lloyd said.

The council set up a trust fund for the $16.340 million remaining from the Austin land sale. The church had hoped to use the city block as the site of a new Archives of The Episcopal Church, but later decided that the value of the property had increased so much that it made sense to sell the land and take more time to decide on the parameters of a new Archives building, according to a press release.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said the money was “being put aside for the time being” and will not “be frittered away.” He said he hopes the council members will have a report on next options for the Archives by as early as their June 10-13 meeting.

Lloyd said that the finance committee knows that it, Executive Council and General Convention must be disciplined about the existence of that money. She said there is always the temptation to go after parts of the $420 million the DFMS has invested. The committee members discussed at length the concerns about the “slippery slope of the little nibbles here and the little nibbles there, and we as the finance committee are not going to be party to that,” she said.

The council approved the committee’s proposal via resolutions FIN021 and FIN029 on two voice votes with scattered opposition.

Among other action at the meeting

* Council revised the 2019 budget for The Episcopal Church to increase the nongovernment refugee ministry budget; to add $125,000 for Spanish translation of the Title IV training website; and to add $449,000 for ongoing software development, licensing, hosting, maintenance fees and technical requirements of General Convention.

* Council expressed “deepest concern regarding the humanitarian and political crisis affecting Venezuela and sends greetings to our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Venezuela,” which is part of The Episcopal Church. The country, which has been wracked by political upheaval for years, saw a huge outbreak of violence during the days of the council’s meeting. The resolution sought to assure Venezuelans “that they are not alone, that we remember them and are praying daily for their safety and well-being, and that we reach out to them in love and affection, even as we seek ways to bring peace and security to them, their families, and their churches.”

The Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4 (1). The council comprises 38 members – 20 (four bishops, four priests or deacons, and 12 laypeople) elected by General Convention and 18 (one clergy and one lay) by the nine provincial synods for six-year terms – plus the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies. In addition, the vice president of the House of Deputies, secretary, chief operating officer, treasurer and chief financial officer have seat and voice but no vote.

Some council members are tweeting from the meeting using #ExCoun.

The Feb. 21-24 meeting is taking place at the Sheraton Midwest City Hotel at the Reed Conference Center.

Episcopal News Service’s previous coverage of the meeting is here. A summary of all resolutions passed at the meeting is here.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.