The Office of Public Affairs of the Episcopal Church yesterday posted this announcement, "College For Bishops announces endowment campaign to insure future health, wellness, education of Episcopal bishops."
The following Press Release was just received from The Office of Public Affairs. Was anyone else under the impression that this is the most pressing need in the church? While Deputies have to seek outside funding to get their work done? Is this the new way we fund programs? What other questions does this raise for you? The well-being of bishops is important but $15 million? There was anxiety among the bishops at General Convention when cuts to their budget were discussed along with all the other cuts that had to be made. Is this the response? What about Mission, Communication, Youth and Young Adults - the other priorities of the budget? What about debt of seminarians and their well being? See below for Budget Priorities from 2009 General Convention."
At five in the morning, sitting in the Philadelphia Airport on my way to Haiti for a seven day visit to an old friend and a church in dire need, it seems odd indeed that this endowment project is being advanced in the midst of an effort to support the Church in Haiti in its recovery.
No doubt the Church can do several things at once: we chew gum and walk all the time. But when the challenge was first made that the church raise an initial fund of 10 million dollars for the rebuilding of the Church in Haiti there was a great bit of muttering about not wanting to put a dollar amount on the asking and not pushing the funding to a specific goal. So the focus became the support of rebuilding the Church in Haiti with all the resources we could bring to that effort.
Keeping the focus on that effort is difficult. Other disasters call to us, new efforts to support churches and peoples in the world arise. Still, the fund effort continues and hopefully with a clarity of focus the Haiti appeal will be heard.
Now the monies being raised for Haiti are for rebuilding and sustaining the work there. The investment will be in property and programs that take place on those properties. When the effort is over there will be no endowment in accounts drawing interest, but endowment in facilities in which programs will take place. It is not "money in the bank," it is money in use for the ministry of the church.
So along comes this new endowment fund effort. Perhaps this will draw on money that could not or would not go for buildings, could not or would not go to specific diocesan programs. Endowment funding is a special sort of effort. Perhaps there are special givers out there for this end.
Still, an endowment of 15 million dollars will produce at, say, 5%, $750,000 a year. Now the College of Bishops started as an effort by the Presiding Bishop's office to provide Pastoral Development for bishops. It has evolved into a separate non-profit agency in 2010. It has moved, in other words, from being a program of the church, through the office of the Presiding Bishop, to a program for the church.
At some point (now is about right) we need to ask several questions: (i) How are we to understand the work of the College of Bishops? Is it integral to the program work of the Church and therefore supervised by or under the authority of General Convention? (ii) Who determines what sort of education and support is offered? Are the formation goals of these programs at all understood by the wider church to be about the formation of bishops as we (a wider body than bishops) understand their formation? (iii) Is separate endowment appropriate for work generally understood as part of the programmatic or pastoral work of the offices of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society or the canonical duties of the Presiding Bishop? (iv) At the very least should such an endowment be specifically for a separate institution or for the church, to be used for a specific purpose?
But most importantly, is this campaign a distraction from the immediate needs for rebuilding the Church in Haiti, an effort to which we are pledged as a church, committed in practice and honor bound to support because the Church in Haiti IS a part of our body that is hurting?
What is going on here?