Deputies reject proposal calling for Episcopal Church to sharply reduce diocesan assessment by 2033

By David Paulsen
Posted Jun 24, 2024
Assessment vote

The House of Deputies on June 24 votes down Resolution C008, which proposed setting a target of 10% for the diocesan assessments that are the largest source of revenue in the churchwide budget. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Louisville, Kentucky] The House of Deputies engaged in a deeply divided debate during its June 24 legislative session over how much money The Episcopal Church should collect from dioceses, with deputies trading arguments over the need to ensure churchwide capacity for ministry and the need to ensure congregational vitality at the local level.

The debate spanned a half hour, with 16 deputies speaking on Resolution C008 – almost evenly split, for and against – and when Presiding Julia Ayala Harris announced the allotted time for debate had expired, 53 deputies wishing to speak were turned away.

Under C008, the 81st General Convention would “ask the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church to set a plan to reduce diocesan assessments to 10% by 2033.” That would be a sharp reduction from the current 15% rate that dioceses contribute to the churchwide budget. Assessments are the church’s largest revenue source.

Despite impassioned pleas from C008’s supporters, including deputies representing some of the six dioceses that had proposed such a reduction, the full house voted overwhelmingly against the resolution. In the vote by orders, fewer than 20% of clergy deputations voted yes, and fewer than 15% of lay deputations voted yes.

“The Episcopal Church does more with our 15% in the world than any of our dioceses could do with the extra five,” Al Borg-Borm, a lay deputy from the Diocese of Idaho, said during the discussion before the vote.

Hours before the afternoon debate on C008, the House of Bishops and House of Deputies had gathered in the same ballroom at the Kentucky International Convention Center for a joint session to receive the proposed 2025-27 churchwide budget plan. The $143 million draft plan anticipates about $90 million in revenue from assessments over the next three years, or 65% of churchwide revenues.

The Joint Budget Committee presented the plan on behalf of Executive Council, the church’s governing body between meetings of General Convention. The committee’s chair, the Rev. Patty Downing of the Diocese of Delaware, noted that this plan was developed under a new budgeting process that was approved by the 80th General Convention in 2022.

“This is the inaugural voyage of the new budgeting process that boldly goes where no one has gone before,” Downing said. After the 81st General Convention adopts the 2025-27 budget plan, the Joint Budget Committee will reconvene in September to allocate $2 million from a pool of money set aside for resolutions that are approved this week by bishops and deputies.

Joint Budget Committee

The Rev. Patty Downing, chair of the Joint Budget Committee, presents the proposed 2025-27 churchwide budget plan June 24 to a joint session of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies. Photo: Janet Kawamoto/Episcopal News Service

The committee fielded several questions from deputies requesting information about the budget plan and the process, and several deputies from the Green Caucus spoke out about what they said was the plan’s underfunding of environmental and climate change initiatives, despite creation care being a top priority of church leaders.

“I have shown up at budget listening sessions and hearings and I am very grateful for the hard work and the transparency of everyone who has worked on this budget,” the Rev. Pamela Dolan of the Diocese of Northern California. “And respectfully, the question I want to ask is, how do we get creation care properly funded? It comes up at every single one of these budget meetings, and I don’t know how many fires have to ravage our land or people have to die.”

A day earlier, the House of Bishops passed Resolution A021, which would establish a creation care loan program, but it remains unclear how the requested $3 million would be funded. It has not yet been included in the proposed 2025-27 plan.

Information on the budgeting process is available here, and the itemized proposal can be found here. The House of Deputies is scheduled to debate the budget plan at its June 25 session, starting at 2 p.m. Eastern. It will be livestreamed on the church’s Media Hub.

The June 24 budget presentation can be seen here.

The churchwide budget proposal would maintain the church’s current diocesan assessment rate at 15% and exempt each diocese’s first $200,000 of revenue from assessment. Dioceses that don’t contribute at the 15% rate and fail to apply for or receive approval for waivers can be ruled ineligible to participate in churchwide grant programs for one year.

The church already has gradually lowered the assessment rate from 21% in 2010, Texas Bishop Suffragan Jeff Fisher, who serves on the Joint Budget Committee, said during the June 24 joint session to present the budget plan.

“Here is something to celebrate: Almost all of our dioceses are paying their full assessments,” Fisher said, drawing applause.

Diocesan and churchwide revenues have been relatively resilient to pandemic and economic disruptions over the past several years. The budget plan anticipates 2% annual increases in diocesan revenues over the next three years. The church’s longer-term financial outlook is less optimistic. Episcopal leaders across the church have raised alarms that congregations’ plate and pledge revenue could plummet over the next decade as membership continues to decline and as older pledging members aren’t replaced with younger pledging members.

Budget planners have warned that reducing the rate further, to 10%, could create an annual shortfall of $10 million in the churchwide budget. Members of the six dioceses proposing a rate reduction – Alabama, Arkansas, East Carolina, Georgia, Oklahoma and West Missouri – have argued for a leaner churchwide operation so that more money can be spent on mission and ministry at the local level.

“I hope this resolution will be a catalyst for reform of our structures and governance that we have been talking about so long in our church,” the Rev. Tim Baer of the Diocese of Oklahoma said in urging passage of C008.

The Rev. Seth Olson of the Diocese of Alabama also spoke in favor of C008, saying investment in local ministries and congregations is more needed than ever. “For us to be the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement, it is right and good and usually a joyful thing to actually have local branches.”

The Rev. Gia Hayes-Martin of Southern Ohio said many congregations in her diocese have been struggling with budget deficits. “The financial model that has been working for years is no longer working for us,” Hayes-Martin said. “We cannot do more with less. … We are going to have to do less with less, and the church, we are going have to do some strategic discernment of God’s call to us and our mission.”

And the Rev. Mark Nabors of the Diocese of Arkansas underscored that C008 would not immediately reduce the assessment rate but rather force church leaders to spend the coming years considering more deeply “where we are putting our resources and our energies.”

“This is not an attack on the ministries of this church. There are things we need to do together as a church, as dioceses and as local communities,” Nabors said. “Instead, this resolution should be as an invitation – an invitation to a faithful and needed conversation over the next decade.”

But those arguments were outweighed by the concerns voice by other deputies that planning for a much smaller churchwide budget could eventually starve vital programs and ministries that enrich the Christian witness of dioceses and congregations across the church.

“This will lead the church on a nine-year journey of decline,” said Deputy Andrew Tomat, who serves as treasurer of the Diocese of Los Angeles.

Laura Curlin of the Diocese of California agreed with C008’s supporters that the church must be thoughtful in deciding how to use its resources, but she didn’t think setting a 10% assessment target was the proper starting point. “We can have brave, challenging conversations about the future of the church, but I believe they need to be rooted in our shared mission first.”

Joe McDaniel, a deputy and Executive Council member from the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, quoted Matthew 6:21 in saying “put your treasure where your heart is.” The churchwide budget funds important initiatives that align with the values of The Episcopal Church, McDaniel said.

And Zoe Cole of the Diocese of Colorado reminded deputies that dioceses with clear financial hardships have a process for requesting waivers from paying their full assessments. As the church continues to consider how best to allocate resources, Cole said, its financial challenges “will not be solved by directing Executive Council to plan to reduce the assessment. They will be solved by coming together and discussing the issues involved.”

The deputies’ Committee on Governance & Structure had recommended C008 as an amended substitute resolution. The resolution’s  defeat means the original resolution returns to the committee for renewed consideration. Though not officially dead yet, a decision by the committee to take no further action would all but end C008’s chances of adoption.

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


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