Task force urges church to invest in mental health first aid in 2025-27 churchwide budget

By David Paulsen
Posted Dec 11, 2023

[Episcopal News Service] Several members of a church task force on mental health testified Dec. 9 on the need for churchwide investment in training materials and other initiatives during the latest online hearing on the draft 2025-27 churchwide budget plan.

Others testifying in the Zoom session spoke in support of creation care ministries, church planting initiatives, historically Black colleges, the Episcopal Service Corps and additional church priorities. The Joint Budget Committee, which is finalizing the draft budget plan, has scheduled a fourth and final hearing for 7 p.m. Eastern Dec. 12. Those interested in participating should register in advance.

The Rev. Patty Downing, chair of the Joint Budget Committee, opened the Dec. 9 hearing with an update on discussions over whether to ask Episcopal Relief & Development to make a contribution to the churchwide budget for the first time, in recognition of the agency’s reliance on The Episcopal Church for staff support and office space. The church’s leadership team now is recommending no new contribution from the independent nonprofit organization.

“You will remember that the original ask of $1.5 million was reduced to $450,000 after the effects of reducing [churchwide] staffing by 5% were factored into the triennial budget,” Downing said. She added that her committee will take up the church leadership team’s latest recommendation in January before sending the final draft of the budget plan to Executive Council. “As you might note, if we accept that proposal, that means our budget has a $450,000 deficit,” Downing said, which the committee would need to address.

The budget plan anticipates $145 million in churchwide spending over three years. If accepted by Executive Council in January, the plan will advance to General Convention for final review and approval when it convenes in June 2024 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Despite the 5% reduction in personnel costs cited by Downing, the budget document indicates the number of church-funded positions would remain about the same in the new triennium. The proposal also would maintain a 15% assessment on diocesan revenues. Some dioceses are expected to ask General Convention to lower that rate, potentially creating the need for alternative revenues or further spending cuts.

Of the 16 people who testified at the Dec. 9 hearing, five were members of the church’s Task Force on Individuals with Mental Illness. Some shared their own families’ experiences supporting relatives who suffer from mental illness. Each urged the church to take up such initiatives as a long-term funding priority.

The Rev. David Gortner, chair of the task force, highlighted the curriculum it has developed for training clergy members in effectively responding to people who come to them suffering from mental illness.

“Clergy remain an important gateway for people into mental health care and are a primary first point of contact for people facing mental health challenges,” said Gortner, a priest in the Diocese of Spokane.

At a session in October, the task force trained 11 new instructors in its mental health first aid curriculum. During the Dec. 9 budget hearing, task force members outlined additional requests for $166,000 in 2025-27 to more broadly deploy the curriculum. Tammy Pallot, a member from the Diocese of Atlanta, explained the money would be used to purchase materials, train dozens more instructors and send them around the church to lead courses for thousands of Episcopalians on mental health first aid.

“With adequate funding, this program can literally save lives,” Pallot said.

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