The Government of the United States is filled with posturing and ideologues mucking about with very dangerous matters. There are some who believe the so called crisis is itself a product of the effort to make ideological points. If by constitutional law we are bound to pay our debts, then pay them we must, which means having a debt ceiling that covers the debt we have. We can work out the way to lower the need for a particular debt ceiling but the debt ceiling needs always to be the debt we have.
I think it is very important that the US Government get its financial house in order, so having established that we will pay our debts and will borrow as we need to to do so, we then have to turn our attention to drawing down the debt and the borrowing lest all the air get sucked out of the room.
Budgets in The Episcopal Church
Over in Episcopal Church - land there are also financial issues to be faced, not anything, thank God, like that of the Federal mess, but issues none the less.
The Episcopal Church is required to produce a balanced budget for each three year period covered by the period between General Conventions. The next three year period is that of 2013-2015. In balancing that budget monies for the repayment of outstanding debts are also included as are projections for all program and staff needs, as well as the budgets mandated to service the needs of General Convention itself, the essential offices provided for by Canon, meetings of various canonically mandated committees, etc.
The Budget Process.
There is a significant change in the way the development of budget is being constructed this round. Executive Council instructed "council's executive committee to design and manage the process to develop council's draft 2013-2015 budget (EC018)" (from the ENS report HERE.)
The Executive Committee "made up of Jefferts Schori, Anderson and six elected council members, was created in the revised by-laws that council had passed ...The budget process will take into consideration the projections contained in a "long-range financial modeling" tool that was presented to council." (ENS, reported HERE.)
ENS also reported, "(The) Finances for Mission Committee Chair... told the council that the (long range financial modeling) tool's assumptions about future expenses, coupled with conservative income projections, show annual multi-million-dollar deficits from 2012 through 2015 and "growing to a substantial amount in 2021."
He cautioned that the deficit prediction in the tool "is not a forecast, but it's a tool which says unless you do something different, this could be the result."
So the work at hand for the Executive Committee is to put together a budget process that will produce a budget for 2013-15 and also begin to address long term needs to "do something different."
Doing Something Different:
The trouble with all this is that in the hands of those who can't stand The Episcopal Church or its leadership this sort of information provides all sorts of opportunities to yell fire, hoping for a stampede to the nearest exit, where of course other so called Anglican entities will be glad to provide shelter, etc. The temptation is for this all to take on crisis status, and therefore crisis yelling and stomping about.
The sorts of issues presented in a budget for the church is boring to many, a titillation to others, and to a very few a way of focusing on ministry in an uncertain time. It is the latter very few that need our support and prayers.
Doing something different requires that we not make budgets in a crisis manner or even in a "business as usual" manner, but working from a different base line.
The Executive Committee of Council has its work cut out for it. It is easy enough to provide a balanced budget by the old proven method - simply calculate the expected income, subtract the pay down on the debts at hand and projected, and apply the remainder to the mandated and proposed programs of the church.
What that would look like is more of what has been the norm: budget reductions in program areas, the appearance of top-heavy governance costs, the pay down of debts, and the general shrinking of the size and shape of Church wide agencies and programs, all under the cloud of corporate "failure." That way is the model so well attested to by other Churches in America and by some dioceses within The Episcopal Church as they face their own budget crunches. It is depressing and has very little good news in it.
But there is another way:
I believe The Episcopal Church is alive and well. When I say "The Episcopal Church is alive and well", it is mostly The Episcopal Church as it is found in the congregations, less often in the dioceses, and occasionally in Church wide efforts that comes to mind.
There are thousands of parishes where people are being the people of God in place, doing and being a community of faith in a broken world. ENS picks up on many of these, but most are known in their own neighborhoods and towns and not far beyond that.
Still, when we talk about The Episcopal Church we don't often remember that the vast majority of its life is played out on a local level, and all of its work at any more rarefied level finally finds voice locally. The Book of Common Prayer is a locally used, Episcopally supervised, Church wide standard for prayer and sacrament, but its whole weight is felt in the congregation at prayer.
So what would it look like to have a Church-wide budget that acknowledge and reflected the reality - that it is in congregations that all the fullness of the Church is pleased to dwell?
The Episcopal Church, particularly as its work became unified under National (later Executive) Council, which incorporated the work of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, ended up supporting national church offices for a wide variety of activities in the Church. It did not encourage independent agencies (mission agencies, ministry in higher education, etc.) believing that such agencies would breed party conflict - similar to the mission agencies in England which were ideologically at odds with one another. We would have ONE National effort, with one staff and a program and priorities set by General Convention which would be inclusive of the many concerns in the church.
Well, the problem is that ONE effort was often greatly distant from the lives of people in the pew, or at least they felt that. It felt like the work of "them" being imposed on "us." In part this was because the organizational "diagram" of the church was on levels - congregational, diocesan, provincial, church-wide. Work by the Church-wide agents dug through those levels, usually stopping short of actual engagement with congregations. We can understand why: with 7000-8000 congregations there were just too many to be reached by a staff person in the Church Center. We relied on networks that were hierarchical, and hoped that sufficient people on the next level down would get the message, or the skill set, or the ideas, or the tools, and pass it on. When the network broke down the relevance of the Church wide program simply dropped from sight.
Suppose a new sort of horizontal network of circles.
But suppose a network that is pervasive, not dependent on carrier pigeons from this to that level. Then we might not need a Church Center staff person for this or that ministry, rather we might need energized, recognized, and affirmed leadership from through out the church system, who in a horizontal network provoke interest and skills in particular ministries.
What we would need is a Church wide way to recognize and affirm leadership when it arose in these networks. We do need to lift up the work done by those who are motivating and energizing efforts in the Church. And it needs to be done by a person or persons who carry the full weight of the whole Church.
Even now our Presiding Bishop and the House of Deputies President do this work remarkably well. The Presiding Bishop makes a point of going to church on Sundays when she is traveling in parishes where encouragement is needed. President Anderson makes considerable efforts to acknowledge lay and ordained leadership in dioceses where she visits. If those officers, along with others on a provincial and Church wide level were given the support needed to really touch base locally that would be amazingly helpful, particularly when in turn people in location were encouraged to connect across the church with others concerned with particular ministries.
So I think a piece of the Church wide budget would need to go to provide the support for this task of acknowledgment and encouragement.
Another part of the Church wide budget would go to help make open, transparent, and minimally controlled communication possible across the church by every means possible, but with particular attention to what Google+ is talking about when it talks of "circles."
Imagine a "circle" of all those interested in ministry in higher education, in which not only sharing of resources but planning of face to face group meetings might happen. Or one involving all those interested in refugee resettlement. This is not a "communications" budget, but a budget to support people connecting around interests, communicating with one another. There would also have to be a regular communications budget devoted to encouraging people in the church to share their thoughts and prayers, and their planning for action, and providing "public" stories of such efforts.
But the staffing of many offices would drop away, not because the work was not important, but because the work was going on "out in the field."
How would any order come from this? How would there be any checks on wackos and seriously non-Episcopal "flavored" work happening? Well, it would mean supporting Episcopal engagement with these circles. It would mean being clear as to just what sorts of actual, on the ground, local, work was to be done in the name of the Church. That is, it would require an episcopate that was pastorally engaged with the vocation of every member of the Diocese. So the Bishop's job would have to be reconfigured not to be primarily an administrator, but a pastoral encouragement to sound faith in action on a local level.
The change in the Church wide budget to a smaller, less hierarchical, less top-down, staff and effort would require then an accent on (i) horizontal networking, (ii) acknowledgment of and encouragement of leadership as it appears within the circles of interest, and (iii) Episcopal oversight of actual work on the ground.
It would not require a large Church Center Staff, indeed it could be argued that a large staff would defeat the horizontal network purpose.
I would suppose the Church Center Staff could be reduced to a somewhat enlarged staff in support of the networking affirmation given by the Church to efforts being done in the field, the continuation of essential personnel for the Presiding Bishop's office, the Treasurer's office, the Offices of General Convention, including an enlarged staff for the President of the House of Deputies. (My guess is a reconfiguration of existing slots for those offices could be done with no new staff added.) There would need to be staff paid for by the Church Center who would attend to the work and personnel needs of missionaries paid by the Church (both domestic and foreign), and a whole new configuration for the support of communications for action among members of the church.
There is already an effort to reconfigure the work of the many Commissions, Committees, Agencies and Boards, of the Episcopal Church. That effort would have to be intensified.
We would have to be very careful not to end up pitting offices of the Church Center against one another in competition for restrictions of budget. The question always before the reorganization of the work would be how can this be done across the church, rather than from a central place for the church?
I believe we could reduce the staff of the Church Center by half and be better prepared for the future of a church led by church supported horizontal engagement with initiatives and leadership acknowledge and encouraged rather than appointed and directed.
Then of course we would have to address the issue of funding. If there were a reorganization on this level, might we not also then be able to say to all the dioceses, the funding for the Church wide budget is one - and mandatory? It covers the essentials for the work required by Canon and the encouragement of engagement in ministry across the whole church at every level. I would wonder if a much smaller diocesan apportionment would not be possible.
A different sort of way to be conduct Church wide ministries would include (i) Using the offices of the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies and all other Church Center staff as encouragement to those active in leadership in church efforts and programs from a local base, (ii) encouraging and developing ways for horizontal communications on issues and programs to take place, (iii) drastically reducing the staffing of program offices and support of horizontally determined training and events, (iv) greater use of the episcopate as the agent of encouragement on a local level, and (v) a reduced asking from dioceses for a national budget.
The basic sense would be this: The Episcopal Church is alive and well, ask the people who are making it so, ask them how you can join them in the work of The Episcopal Church as it works to be a source of life in this broken world.
Well... a beginning point. I encourage your constructive criticisms and comments. I will delete any "dump on the Church" comments.