Executive Council to vote on remaining $5.2 million surplus, considers giving money back to dioceses

By David Paulsen
Posted Jun 13, 2023
Budget discussions

Members of the Executive Council Finance Committee on June 13 discuss planning for the 2025-27 churchwide budget and options for using a $5.2 million surplus remaining from a previous triennium. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Providence, Rhode Island] One of the financial silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic was an unexpected surplus in The Episcopal Church’s 2019-21 budget. Church leaders devoted most of that surplus to the 80th General Convention in 2022 and to shortfalls in the 2023-24 churchwide budget, after which $5.2 million was left for future expenses.

The future is now. Executive Council is poised to vote at its June 12-15 meeting on what to do with the remaining surplus. On June 13, its Finance Committee discussed a narrow range of possibilities, such as giving the money back to the church’s 110 dioceses or setting the money aside for use by the next presiding bishop, who will be elected and installed in 2024.

During the Finance Committee discussion, the Rev. Patty Downing, a member from the Diocese of Delaware, spoke in favor of giving the remaining surplus back to the dioceses, an acknowledgement that assessments on diocesan income make up more than half of the annual revenue in the churchwide budget. If the entire surplus were divided evenly, each diocese would receive about $47,000.

“I think it’s very unhealthy to continue to subsidize deficits going forward with any unspent money from the triennium before,” Downing said. “I would ask that that pattern just not continue, and I think the easiest thing to do is to give it back to dioceses so it can be employed for the gospel in their contexts.”

The idea of offering a pool of money for use by the next presiding bishop was proposed to the committee by the Rev. Anne Kitch of the Diocese of Newark. The money could be used for “those items that we have already prioritized,” she said, referring back to Executive Council’s vote in April 2022 on a resolution that created the trust fund with the surplus.

That resolution identified several possible initiatives that could be supported by the surplus. Those included an analysis of the church’s grant programs, an audit of current churchwide staff, realignment of the church’s institutional structure, supporting the church’s ongoing work of racial healing, funding unfunded General Convention resolutions and filling future budget shortfalls.

Bishop Anne Hodges-Copple, the retired suffragan bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina, told the committee she favored putting aside some of the money to fulfill resolutions from the 80th General Convention that were not funded or fully funded. That option could be in combination with one of the other options. “I don’t see this as an either/or,” she said.

Andrea McKellar, Executive Council member from the Diocese of South Carolina and chair of the Finance Committee, thought it might be helpful to spend part of the surplus on a churchwide staff audit. Such an audit, she said, could assist in the transition to a new presiding bishop, though other committee members suggested that such an audit might make more sense after the next presiding bishop is installed on Nov. 1, 2024.

The Finance Committee is expected vote June 14 on its final recommendation for the surplus. It will then be presented for adoption June 15 by the full Executive Council, which is the church’s governing body between meetings of General Convention.

One option that received no support from Finance Committee was using the surplus to fill future budget shortfalls. The Episcopal Church continues to be on sound financial footing despite disruptions to parish life in the more than three years since the start of the pandemic, however, the short-term surpluses have not alleviated concerns about financial trouble ahead.

The postponement of the 80th General Convention in 2021 was one reason the church ended the 2019-21 triennium with a surplus of more than $15 million, of which about $2.5 million was shifted to the 2022 budget to cover the expense of gathering in Baltimore in July of that year. Expenses were further reduced during the pandemic because of restrictions on staff travel and in-person gatherings, and the church also received $3 million as one of the many U.S. employers that qualified for assistance from the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

When the 81st General Convention convenes in Louisville, Kentucky, in June 2024, one of its central tasks will be to approve a 2025-27 budget that reflects an evolving financial landscape. Executive Council’s Joint Budget Committee is in the middle of drafting that budget, and Downing, who chairs that committee, said on June 13 that existing income will not be enough to cover anticipated expenses without significant changes in the new budget.

“It also does not include money for the new presiding bishop’s initiatives,” Downing told the Finance Committee.

The new presiding bishop’s nine-year tenure will start several months after General Convention has approved the triennial budget. “If they want to change anything about the budget structure, they have to wait until the second triennium,” Kitch said.

When Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was elected in 2015, the 78th General Convention passed an amendment to the 2016-18 budget adding a one-time expense of $2.8 million for “evangelism initiatives” to begin Curry’s primacy. Kitch and other members of the Finance Committee suggested that using part of the current surplus for that purpose would be preferable to finding other money in the 2025-27 budget for the new presiding bishop.

At the same time, The Episcopal Church’s Office of Development is pursuing a $5 million fundraising campaign that would honor Curry’s legacy by creating a separate new permanent fund that would enable his successors to begin implementing their own visions as soon as they are installed.

Curry fund

Julia Alling, The Episcopal Church’s Annual Appeal manager, presents information about a campaign to raise money for a fund honoring Presiding Bishop Michael Curry during the June 12 plenary of Executive Council’s meeting in Providence, Rhode Island.

The fundraising campaign is still in its initial stages, though Office of Development staff described the fund this week for Executive Council members. The fund would be a way to both ” support the priorities and the work that Presiding Bishop Curry has done during his primacy” and “support new priorities and visions right away,” Julia Alling, Annual Appeal manager, said during the June 12 plenary session. “This has a long-lasting impact as a campaign, and it’s one that we are very excited for because it has such far-reaching impact.”

Executive Council approved $200,000 to help the Office of Development launch the fundraising campaign, with Curry’s encouragement. Curry, recovering for an episode of atrial fibrillation and internal bleeding, is at home in North Carolina and not attending this Executive Council meeting.

Electing his successor next year will be one of the top duties of the 81st General Convention. The committee tasked with producing a slate of candidates is taking nominations through July 15. Anyone can use the committee’s nomination form to submit names of bishops for the committee to consider. The committee will contact nominated bishops to confirm their interest in discerning a call to presiding bishop. Those who wish to proceed must submit application materials by Aug. 15.

All nominations will be officially presented for consideration at the June 2024 General Convention during a joint session of the House of Deputies and House of Bishops. The next day, the House of Bishops will elect one of those candidates, and the House of Deputies will vote to confirm or reject the House of Bishop’s choice.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.