7/17/2009

The Budget and Vision: Will we be welcomed, just as we are?

A Note on looking at the budget of The Episcopal Church and beyond that to Vision.

The Episcopal Church budget for the next three years was approved yesterday by both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. In the budget of roughly $50 million per year there is trimming in most areas with some signs of where the trees are being felled.


Episcopal News Service states that "At least 30 of the 180 people employed by the Episcopal Church in its New York and regional offices could lose their jobs." The word after the afternoon session is that 30 Church Center employees will be asked to leave and seven or eight positions will not be filled when current office holders retire. So the overall staff loss is 37 or 38 people. That is a 20% cut, or one in five. I know several of these people and, having been subject of a "downsizing" in 1994, I know something of the shock they are facing. Whatever the larger meaning of it all, the close up concerns jobs ending for employees that have given of themselves for the work of the church.

Some significant cuts:

The funding of the Anglican Communion office and budget is cut by 1/3, from $600,00 to $400,000 for the next three years.
The Anti-Racism program and office are cut, with no indication how the "network" alternative is to be funded and networkers engaged.
Support of overseas dioceses of The Episcopal Church are maintained, but the support of Provinces formed from The Episcopal Church has been reduced.
The Office of Women's Ministry is gone.

On these areas it is clear the trimming will also kill trees: The Anglican Communion office and budget has relied heavily on TEC support. The work will continue, of course, but some of its networks will suffer because of "in kind" support provided. The Office of Women's Ministries provided staffing support for networking in the Communion. The cuts in Provincial support will severely limit those new Provinces in their attempts to achieve financial autonomy.

At one point in the debate in the House of Deputies a young deputy raise an important question: What would happen if the House of Deputies refused to accept the budget? The answer was that it would then be Executive Council's responsibility to build a budget.

In some ways, of course, that is how the budget work is done up until a period shortly before General Convention. The Administration and Finance committee of Executive Council works on budget issues and begins building a picture of the budget long before General Convention. In particular the "vision" (such as there is) gets formed by A&F. The Program, Budget and Finance Legislative Committee takes all that work, plus the work of the Commissions, Committees, Boards and Agencies of the Church, and the work of General Convention itself, and forms a budget in the hectic days just before and into the late days of Convention. So if the budget had been refused, it would have become the job of Administration and Finance in the Executive Council to continue the work.

The problem is the "vision" thing.

The budget passed in the past few days is decidedly lacking in vision. The narrative talks a good talk but there is nothing that sings. Of course it is hard to sing when there are cuttings on the floor and trees falling. But the most that could be said for the vision was that it was to go on going on. At the end all that could be said was , "Mission, mission, mission." Those are brave words, but not good enough.

Various solutions having to do with "if every Episcopalian just gave..." were proposed. If every Episcopalian just gave 80 cents a year, or if every Episcopalian just gave $9 a year the budget could be restored. But of course the problem has been that every Episcopalian already gave at the office (the parish) and the parishes and dioceses just didn't give full support to TEC's budget. There has been a lot of voting with the pocketbook going on, and schemes that rely on reversing that vote by a missionary appeal or a comparison of having two lattes a year and keeping the church afloat don't mean much. Lots of Episcopal Church folk are unmoved by missionary sending and receiving and more are unmoved by what they see as a bloated bureaucracy.

The vision thing requires more.

At the moment the best "vision thing" grows from the work towards full inclusion of all the baptized. The vision of an inclusive Church widely engaged with Anglican Communion churches throughout the world, missionary in its work to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God, and Episcopal in its polity, has power.

Past Presiding Bishops, both conservative and liberal, have served this vision in their day. Bishop Hines took us to a new place in our willingness to do justice and love mercy. Bishop Allen thought of TEC as a service agency, serving the dioceses and parishes in their mission. Bishop Browning dreamed of a church with no outcasts. Bishop Griswold peered into the unity of the Trinity and there discovered a diverse center. Bishop Kathryn has seen that same unity in the diverse community, centered in the same mission to do justice, love mercy, in inclusive ways.

The vision for The Episcopal Church will be clarified, it seems to me, if we take the trimming and even the falling trees as a sign of new mission sending: It appears that we will be sent without extra sandals, or cloaks, or staffs. We will be sent just as we are.

Where before the signs read, "The Episcopal Church welcomes you," we will seek to find places that will welcome us. We will be welcome in when we take seriously the justice and mercy needs of the world, of our fellow Christians, our fellow Anglicans, and do not take ourselves too seriously at all.

The question is, what will we do that is such Good News that we will be welcomed, just as we are?

Answer that an we have the vision.

6 comments:

  1. Support of overseas dioceses of The Episcopal Church are maintained, but the support of Provinces formed from The Episcopal Church has been reduced.

    This will directly effect us, la Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico at a time that we are especially economically hit by three forces mostly outside our church's economic influence;
    1. The world economic crisis
    2. The war against narcotraficantes
    3. The swine flu

    Number one is the trickle down theory at its worst. We do not have the housing bust which many 1st world nations are experiencing, our mortgaging programs are well managed and under control, but your banks own most of our banks. We suffer after you have suffered.

    Number two is an ongoing financial drain as we battle the various drug cartels and their various factions that have embedded themselves in our society. We have mostly borne the cost ourselves as the eight years of the Bush administration abandoned us to our own resources and virtually did nothing to curtail the laundered drug funds that come into Mexico and support the cartels, or the weapons and ammunition that are readily available disproportionately just north of the int'l border.

    Number three cost us hundreds of millions of dollars as we voluntarily shut down the business of the nation and hid in our homes to stop the flow of the virus that other nations insisted came from us. We now know that this virus came to us from Asia, as confirmed by the CDC and WHO.

    But both two and three continue to drain us of tourism funds as they drive the tourists to vacation elsewhere.

    Simultaneously, funds from compatriots working in the US have slowed to a trickle as jobs dry up, and the US and state governments anti-immigration programs have sent folks into hiding.

    We are a poor nation, and so a poor church. Thank you for your generosity of the past, I pray for your continued generosity in the future. May God richly bless you.

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  2. All my life I have been a tithing Christian, and I am a tithing Episcopalian. So the amount you suggest sounds like a sad joke to me. So also is the suggestion that "the best 'vision thing' grows from the work towards full inclusion of all the baptized" -- a sad joke. Inclusion? Inclusion in what? I don't think you see how vacuous and empty this term really is. I think you are going to need to figure out who you are before you determine what you do; you need a sense of identity. I hope at some point you can find both that identity and mission in the Good News about Jesus, his life, death, resurrection, and continuing presence, and not in some socio-political agenda, whether on the political right or left. Then perhaps your critics will no longer call this The Episcopal Organization.

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  3. Dear RB,
    I don't regard my inclusion in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church as a "sad joke." It disappoints me--just a little--that you do. But, really, your contempt for me and others like me doesn't really matter, because I do have a secure sense of identity as someone who was baptized by choice at the age of 22 into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and who renewed that baptismal commitment when I joined the Episcopal Church several years ago, drawn in by the Holy Spirit and the Episcopal Church's growing commitment to the full inclusion of all the baptized. My saving relationship with the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of the Universe isn't a "socio-political agenda." I'd encourage you to review the teaching of Scripture and the Tradition of the Church to see why baptismal identity is so vital.

    Peace be with you. I remain, no matter what you may think, your brother in Christ.

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  4. I'm a pretty ordinary parish priest, in a pretty ordinary parish in a pretty ordinary diocese. We are struggling mightily - not just with reduced income, but with the clear disintegration of our top heavy, top down "commission" way of organizing our parish life. Clearly - something new is being done - and after six months of hand-wringing and big spikes of anxiety - we are beginning to trust that the Spirit will shape us in a new, leaner, more effective and yes, more authentic way.

    So, in some way, the pruning we've had to do at the program and budget level is part of the discernment of new mission strategies. I don't see this as a bad thing for the Church - painful, yes, and I don't mean to dismiss the pain - but essential for making room for new growth and especially for better stewardship of all our resources - human, financial, spiritual - whatever.

    Mr. Arabin

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  5. I will be dismissed, I'm sure, as unfeeling and unrealistic, but how big a budget did the first church have?

    I hope you all know me well enough to know I'm not one of those constantly striving to make us into the "original church of the disciples" - I'm not so vacuous as to believe in that possibility - nor am I one of these business seminar bishops who are constantly talking about a new paradigm and management models. All that is nonsense.

    What is sense is that we know what our mission is, we know what we've received, and we need to figure out how to facilitate it. This is stripping away of unnecessary distractions and complications. I'm not speaking in philosophical, psychological, or management terms, but in the simplicity of reality.

    Drop all that we've done. How do we here of what is needed, and how do we - INDIVIDUALLY - do that? It's blood simple - and, most reluctantly, we may have to realize that a great deal of the complication and distraction is in our hierarchy and bureaucracy.

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  6. Mark,

    I am wondering about the process of budget setting happening after all the many resolutions are considered. Is there a reason why resolutions are passed in many areas - evangelism, for instance - and then later in GC the budget is set (or cut) for that area?

    Having read Fr. Jake's piece about the ending of his position, I think its a shame that a lot of good work was done to create, debate, and vote on legislation that just a few days later are rendered moot - due to lack of funding.

    Perhaps I betray my ignorance or confusion about the process of GC, but on boards on which I have sat the budget would not be left to the very last part of a meeting...

    Thanks so much for your good work!

    That must have been some meeting with David Virtue and Mary Ailes!
    ;)

    In Christ's Peace,

    Peter Carey+

    http://santospopsicles.blogspot.com

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