Testimony on $143 million 2025-27 churchwide budget plan focuses on top church priorities

By David Paulsen
Posted May 17, 2024

[Episcopal News Service] Creation care, Indigenous ministries, and racial justice and reconciliation were among the churchwide priorities emphasized May 16 in testimony on the proposed $143 million budget plan for 2025-27 that will be taken up in June at the 81st General Convention.

More than a dozen people testified about the proposed churchwide budget plan in the Zoom hearing, including Miriam Casey, an alternate deputy from the Diocese of Northern California. The triennial budget offers the “opportunity to take bold steps to increase funding for creation care,” Casey said. “Funding has been a fraction of funding for other priorities.”

The Rev. Edwin Johnson of the Diocese of Massachusetts was among those testifying in favor of funding racial justice and healing initiatives. Johnson chairs the Presiding Officers’ Advisory Group on Beloved Community Implementation, which is responsible for reviewing applications for churchwide grants to support those initiatives.

Johnson said he was grateful that the proposed budget includes $125,000 a year to continue the grant program, and more money could support even more initiatives. “There’s a lot of great work happening, and we’ll find a way to partner with as many as way can,” he said.

The hearing was held by Executive Council’s Joint Budget Committee under a new budgeting process, in place for the first time for development of the 2025-27 budget. Diane Pollard, an Executive Council member from the Diocese of New York, said she signed up to testify to share her appreciation for the committee’s members.

“I’ve had the privilege of watching how hard this committee has worked,” Pollard said. “I just wanted to say thank you.”

The committee was created by a resolution approved in 2022 by the 80th General Convention intended to streamline the budget process. The reforms eliminated General Convention’s Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget & Finance and instead assigned all phases of the budget’s development to this new committee representing Executive Council, which is the church’s primary governing body between meetings of General Convention.

The Joint Budget Committee finalized its draft of the 2025-27 budget plan in January, and later that month, Executive Council voted to recommend it to the 81st General Convention, which convenes June 23-28 in Louisville, Kentucky.

In addition to the May 16 online hearing, an in-person hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. June 22 in Louisville. The committee then will present the budget for adoption on June 24 during a joint session of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies.

After the 81st General Convention, the Joint Budget Committee will be empowered to further adjust the adopted 2025-27 budget in response to separate General Convention resolutions that call for spending not included in the budget. The committee is scheduled to meet in September to recommend which measures will and will not be funded from a limited pool of money set aside for those resolutions.

As bishops and deputies prepare to travel to Louisville next month, some uncertainty looms over the revenue side of the budget. The assessments paid by dioceses are The Episcopal Church’s largest revenue source, totaling about $30 million a year, or 65% of the $143 million in revenue the church expects to collect in 2025-27. At least five dioceses – Alabama, Arkansas, East Carolina, Georgia and Oklahoma – have asked the 81st General Convention to gradually cut the rate for all dioceses from 15% to as low as 10%.

Budget planners warn that such reductions could create a shortfall of up to $30 million in the triennial budget. Leaders in some of the proposing dioceses have said they would favor delaying implementation of assessment reductions until after the next triennium, meaning the rate in the 2025-27 budget plan would remain unchanged at 15%.

During the May 16 hearing, however, most of the discussion focused on churchwide expenses. Bishops from dioceses that receive block grants to support their Indigenous ministries – Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Navajoland – testified about the importance of continued funding, particularly to cover the cost of priest and staff salaries.

The Rt. Rev. Barry Beisner, bishop provisional of Navajoland, also noted that Executive Council authorized emergency spending this year to cover the health insurance premiums for employees of the area mission, which serves communities of the Navajo Nation in parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

“Already it’s made a huge difference in the lives of people here,” Beisner said.

Diana Trapani, a deputy from the Diocese of El Camino Real in central California, testified as a member of the Creation Care Caucus, and she urged an increase in spending on environmental and conservation initiatives.

“The amount of funding currently in the budget under creation care does not adequately reflect the critical work [that is needed],” Trapani said. “Creation care and environmental sustainability work is to be a major portion of the work of the church over the next 10 plus years.”

And Miriam McKenney, a deputy from the Diocese of Southern Ohio, spoke in favor of continued churchwide spending in support of racial reconciliation. “We cannot stop this work,” McKenney said. “We have to continue to fund this work as The Episcopal Church, as we continue to attempt to see each other as God’s children.”

The Rev. Patty Downing of the Diocese of Delaware, who chairs the Joint Budget Committee, concluded the hearing by offering a message of appreciation to all who testified “I want to thank you for your prayers for the church and for your participation in this process,” Downing said.

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