6/27/2012

The Skunk is on the Table and Fear and Loathing is in the offing.

The Budget of The Episcopal Church... a thing required by Canon.. is coming soon to General Convention, ready or not. How it will get there is increasingly a matter for fear and loathing, mostly related to the sense that budget matters are more and more part of the larger re-visioning schemes being proposed and the way the budget is produced and how it is shaped is shifting the way various groups in the church exercise leadership.

Katie Sherrod, has written a powerful post on her blog in which she has put the skunk on the table. In "Balancing act" she makes it clear that the issues are not simply about the budget and its preparation, but about the extent to which budget development is carried out without any transparency and with motives that look very much like power plays. She writes,


"Is this restructuring by budget?

The presiding bishop is not elected by General Convention, but by one house as their presider. Do we want our budgets coming from the PB’s office or from a more widely representative body?

And the big question for me as a former Roman Catholic AND a survivor of the Diocese of Fort Worth schism as we consider restructuring, is whether the people of The Episcopal Church want more power flowing to the presiding bishop’s office and away from elected bodies? Do we want to shorten General Convention, make the House of Deputies smaller and thereby consolidate more power into the hands of bishops? 

It will be a fundamental change in our democratic polity, which to my mind is among the best gifts The Episcopal Church has to offer. Our polity empowers our own people to take responsibility to prayerfully be part of the discernment of the governance of their church instead of ceding that responsibility to one leader or a small group of leaders.
I’ve experienced what happens when the balance among the ministries of bishops, priests, deacons and the laity gets out of whack. Things get toxic very quickly. And when one-sided unchecked power moves in, trust dies and soon love moves out.

I do not want to live through that again.
THE SKUNK ON THE TABLE IS THIS:
In the work up to the budget mess the balance of powers and duties shared by all the people of the church has become less clear, and the possibility for deliberate or habitual gravitation of leadership to those offices that are represented by one or small groups is growing. Bishops and Operating Officers, Treasurers and staff are apparently
taking on tasks that belonged in earlier times to the whole of General Convention and to the work of its committees.

Katie Sharrod's post is an important one, both for its candor and its observations about the historical development of the current budget in the making. However, the smell of deliberate or even accidental mendacity contributes to an already widespread fear and loathing of the budget work that has to be done.

The Anglican Curmudgeon finds the whole thing a tasty bit of slander on rye. He thinks it is all bread and circuses so that when the empire falls we will all be missing the point having been bamboozeled into thinking that purposeful changes were being made. He says, 

"The PB has tossed a shiny new golden snitch into ECUSA’s crazy game of budget Quidditch. It is calculated to appeal at the same time that it distracts. The resulting shenanigans at GC 2012 may be of interest to Harry Potter fans, but they will in the end form only another chapter in the Decline and Fall of the Episcopal Church (USA)™.

Well, perhaps we should step back from fear and loathing, and even from the Skunk on the table. 

The current budget before PB&F is a bit smelly, true, but largely because Executive Council tried to do something that is their duty but had mostly in the past been given to staff (mostly the PB's executive staff) and received from them and presented by Executive Council in turn to Program, Budget and Finance.

It has been quite a while since Executive Council has taken upon itself the need to redirect the budget not only in large brush strokes but also in detail.  The reasons for needing to do so are more or less part of the record:

(i) Projections were that TEC could not continue the current budget and program without racking up large deficits. Those long range projection models called for re-visioning the structure as well as reconfiguring the staff, a task that staff could not easily undertake.
(ii) To ask staff to make the needed cuts did not address the sense that the budget no longer represented mission interests but intrenched needs to protect various activities.
(iii) The overwhelming sense has been that the corporate structure of The Episcopal Church was increasinly disconnected from the much more horizonal world of information exchange and decision making that was possible in a network model that increasingly looks like a neural network and less like a spoke and hub network. 

Some critics have viewed these reasons as "anti-staff." My sense from being in Executive Council and at many of the meetings where budget was discussed is that this is not true. Rather Executive Council felt that it ought to take on its canonical duty and develop the budget precisely so that staff were not put in the position of having to envision futures in which their own positions were discontinued.

The basis on which the Executive Council presented PB&F with a budget is grounded in Canon, one of the primary places being Canon I.4.Sec. 6 (a): "The Executive Council shall submit to the General Convention at each regular session thereof the Budget for the Episcopal Church for the ensuing budgetary period, which budgetary period shall be equal to the interval between regular meetings of the General Convention."




There is an interesting matter in I.1. Sec. 8, the matter of an apportionment. 

"The General Convention shall adopt, at each regular meeting, a budget to provide for the contingent expenses of the General Convention, the stipend of the Presiding Bishop together with the necessary expenses of that office, the necessary expenses of the President of the House of Deputies including the staff and Advisory Council required to assist in the performance of the duties and matters related to the President's office, and the applicable Church Pension Fund assessments. To defray the expense of this budget, an assessment shall be levied upon the Dioceses of the Church in accordance with a formula which the Convention shall adopt as part of this Expense Budget. It shall be the duty of each Diocesan Convention to forward to the Treasurer of the General Convention annually, on the first Monday of January, the amount of the assessment levied upon that Diocese."

We seem not to talk about that apportionment section too much because the whole budget - apportionment and program - is all woven together as one. The canons do not say just who presents that portion of the budget, but it would seem that since the budget in the past included both apportionment and program monies, the Executive Council would have every business adjusting the figures for that part of the budget as well.
The Joint Standing Committee on Program Budget and Finance, always a big player in the development of budget has its work described in the Rules of Order #II of the Joint Rules of Order of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. 

"With regard to the General Church Program, the Joint Standing Committee shall:
(i) Meet and consult with the Executive Council, or its Administration and Finance Committee, on adjustments to the program priorities, and on alternate income generating
resources;
(ii) Receive from the Executive Council, not less than four months prior to the meeting of General Convention, the proposed General Church Program for the upcoming triennium, including a proposed detailed Budget for the year next following that of such Convention;
(iii) Meet in such places as it shall determine, sufficiently in advance of the next General Convention to expedite its work;
(iv) Conduct hearings upon such proposed Program and Budget; and
(v) Consider such proposed Program and Budget and report thereon to the next succeeding General Convention.
(d) Not later than the third day prior to the adjournment of each regular meeting of the General Convention, the Joint Standing Committee shall report to a Joint Session, pursuant to Canon, a proposed Budget for the Episcopal Church for the ensuing Convention period, subject to the approval of the said Budgets subject also to increase, reduction, or elimination of items, based on open hearings held during the General Convention and by subsequent concurrent action by the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops."

What we have here is then the norm:  Executive Council proposes a church wide budget, the General Convention determines from that an assessment for core administration as part of the Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance proposal of a budget presented to General Convention for a vote in a joint session.

For those of us interested in the process, there is no mention at all of the inclusion of, or presentation of, budget proposals not from Executive Council. 

The Presiding Bishop and senior staff have every right to present what they believe to be an appropriate budget, and effectively they have in the past done so by presenting to Executive Council such a budget for their consideration prior to turning the whole thing over to Program, Budget and Finance.  Under normal circumstances all of that would have taken place well before the four month deadline described in the canon. 


The anomaly is that the Presiding Bishop and staff have determined that they believe the Executive Council budget to be less guided by mission concerns and lacking in sufficent information, and have proposed a budget directly to the church. There is no resolution attached or directions or suggestions for where this budget proposal should be taken up. 

Who is going to take up this budget offering, and where, and how? Here are some possibilities:

(i) Respect for the PB's office and the work of senior staff will lead to this budget proposal being considered as a legitimate alternative budget, as a whole, by PB&F. PB&F will offer two alternative proposals to General Convention, the refined and corrected Executive Council budget (which they are required to use as a basis for hearings and corrective revision before presenting it to a Joint Session, and the Presiding Bishop's proposal, as is. The Joint Session then determines how it will deal with the two proposals.


(ii) PB&F will not consider the PB's proposal, although it may use revised figures in it as correctives in the Executive Council proposal. PB&F then presents one budget to the Joint Session.  If no effort from the floor is made to propose a substitute motion, namely the PB's budget, then matters go forward as usual.


(iii) Some members of one of the houses take the PB's budget and craft a resolution for its adoption. Such a resolution would have to be submitted within the normal time frame and it would no doubt end up with PB&F for consideration, but at least it would then be published and available for study by all bishops and deputies.  If PB&F chose to dismiss it as out of order for their work it could be raised from the floor as a substitute motion on the day that the budget is presented, the members of the Joint Session having had ample opportunity to study it as a substitute. If the Joint Session accepted this motion, the debate on the budget would then be on the PB's budget.


(I may have this wrong, so corrections are in order)


At any event, the PB's budget has been floated and it is unclear if this is meant to be information incorporated into the PB&F proposed budget, to replace the existing Executive Council budget for PB&F consideration, or something to be proposed on the floor.  If it was proposed as a replacement for the Executive Council budget, then all sorts of red flags will go up.


It is Executive Council, not the Presiding Bishop and Staff, that are expected by Canon to provide a structured model for the budget, using the next year as a detailed example of the model to follow. It is Executive Council's budget that is meant to be revised, clarified, fine tuned, and sent forward by PB&F.  Replacement is not an easy option for PB&F. Substitute on the floor is unexplored territory. 


The Presiding Bishop wrote this about the budget she offered: 


"The heart of this body is mission – both domestic and foreign mission – in partnership with anyone who shares that passion. This Budget Proposal is intended to help us reorient
ourselves to that passion, to be true to who we are as the community of the baptized, to come to know ourselves as the friends of Jesus who are sent to heal the world. As it is in every age, our church is in need of reform, in order to engage the mission God has set before us. This Budget
Proposal is intended as the beginning of that reforming effort. It sets out what we can do at this General Convention, and offers a strategic direction for the next era in this Church’s life as partners in healing God’s broken world."


The matter of contention in the two budgets is then about the uber-matter - strategic re-formation. The PB's budget is overtly the front edge of a "reforming effort."  The Executive Council budget also includes cuts and additions intended to open out conversations about the future, including monies for the possibility of a special General Convention to consider long term strategic organizational and programattic changes. 

Both the Executive Council budget and the PB Budget are formed with the same basic thought - namely that The Episcopal Church needs to re-form itself in ways that move beyond the corporate model to a neural network model, from having the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society be a regulatory agency concerning mission activities to having DFMS be an instrument of shared mission vision.  The question is which of these two most adequately offers response to immediate needs for change and vision for the future of the church in mission?

The unfolding of these budget alternatives has not been pretty to watch. Executive Council bumbled, the Treasurer and staff of the Church Center were at times confused and /or unhelpful, the Executive Committee of Council untried. The PB Budget was produced without the knowledge of Executive Council, plopped on the table without an "address to sender," and made use of information not previously available to Executive Council. 

I did not like the budget process in Executive Council and did not believe it went far enough in producing a radical new beginning. But I have to say I don't particularly like the PB budget being simply dropped on the table either.


So we are off to Convention.  What gets me beyond the sickness and the fear and loathing of what might happen next is an ongoing conviction that General Convention is primarily a place of positive vision - a place where new promise and new possibilities get heard, seen, tasted, smelled, embraced and sometimes rejected. It is a place where, if we can move with strong opinions held with just the right level of provisionality, deep respect and love we just might move towards the sort of reform needed to bring The Episcopal Church into a community of greater mutuality and interdependence in the Body of Christ.  You never know. 

10 comments:

  1. Any comment on the accusation that the budget that was published wasn't the same as one that was voted on by EC?

    Nevertheless, many of us involved in Christian formation (along with others) found the EC budget totally unacceptable and, frankly, undermining the future of the church.

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  2. You said, "What gets me beyond the sickness and the fear and loathing of what might happen next is an ongoing conviction that General Convention is primarily a place of positive vision - a place where new promise and new possibilities get heard, seen, tasted, smelled, embraced and sometimes rejected."

    I am glad someone has moved beyond the fear and loathing... I have been dismayed, disgusted and appalled by the impugning of motives, the lack of wanting to build up instead of going in for a smack-down, the kryptonic fervor of destruction... the vehement willingness to make scapegoats.

    I can hardly understand the lengths to which the church has embraced a corporate model as its own. The vision of making staff raise funds for their own job descriptions is one of the ultimate signs that we have lost the vision of Kingdom --and as difficult as it might be to model the church not on corporate America, but instead on the Kingdom --nonetheless, we should strive to do so.

    Just sayin'.

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  3. People seemed to warn to the idea of the PB as Chief Enforcer when it came to their favorite causes. What did Katie Sherrod embarrassingly call her? A Holy Rock Star!? That says it all.

    Well, she started to read her own press releases. Over-extending became the name of the game. Archiepiscopal insignia; grand pronouncements about being Primate over an International Church; and so on. Then she brought a COO on board to help her tighten her hand on the throttle.

    Well, TEC now has a mess on its hands and it will take some serious adult behavior to put the genie back in the bottle. Griswold at least knew his position had its limits and he left Diocesan Bishops pretty much alone. But people cheered this PB on as she sought to prosecute their favorite causes.

    Now the chickens have come home to roost. Katie S is merely discovering the price to be paid for liberal prelacy and hoheiterei.

    This overreach is going to have to be fixed.

    SCM

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  4. Speaking from the pews...maybe the real problem is that we keep insisting on subsidiarity in funding but hierarchy in mission setting and administration?

    Perhaps we'd do better starting with parishes and working to see how each diocese can best support the parishes and then how the provinces and/or national church can best support the dioceses?

    Of course, this would mean budgets might well need to be dealt with annually at all levels - which would have the advantage of allowing the Church at all levels to rejigger priorities in shorter time frames in light of disasters (e.g. Haiti, hurricanes, etc.), evolving polity issues, etc.

    While the triennial GC would continue to set broad polity, they need not fix the budget rather indicate churchwide priorities and concerns for diocesan and parochial attention.

    I do believe that bishops ought to be restricted to providing pastoral and educational service to their clergy and parishes especially in light of discussions in ending the general examination board.

    Subsequently the Diocesan standing committees would take over the administrative oversight of dioceses just as vestries oversee parish fabric and staffing concerns.

    Finally, I think it would behoove the various decision making bodies of the Church at all levels to ask the RSoF (Quakers) for instruction on how to run a meeting for worship for business and adopt their model...perhaps everything need not be done right now by democratic vote...perhaps listening to the Holy Spirit as expressed by our neighbors in opposition as well as those who may support us....

    I must say that the infighting and politics needs to stop and if it doesn't folks will simply stop participating in the Church. Folks I know who have walked away have not done so because of homosexuality and same gender issues, or liturgical innovations, or liberal reading of the Bible - it is because of the nastiness and lack of Gospel Order in the church and its leadership...

    TEC has much to offer, but not when it is so divided it makes people say, "Why would I want to be part of a denomination that savages its members and discounts the Holy Spirit?"

    Thoughts?

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  5. Thanks for this, Mark. Along with Katie’s post, it is very helpful for getting one’s mind around what is going on with the budget. I fear it is not going to be easy to resolve the budgetary conflicts at GC. I hope that whatever is done will prevent what is happening in 2012 from ever happening again.

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  6. Two things occur to me:

    1) The "assessment canon" does not appear to make provision for Program, as such. Rather, it simply makes provision to fund the canonically mandated roles and support systems. It might be worth exploring the notion that others have advanced to have a 10% assessment for canonically-mandated costs (and penalties for not paying) and an "asking" of, say, 5 to 10% for non-canonically mandated program costs.

    2) It seems clear that our present system of governance is coming apart. Rather than blaming this person or that person or advancing conspiracy or power-grab theories, I hope we move forward with what we have. I hope that PB&F simply starts with the budget they have, accepts the PB's Proposed Budget as a rather long written "testimony" and puts together a three-year "transitional" budget that allows us to have the restructuring conversations that we need to have and propose substantial canonical and structural changes at GC 2015.

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  7. Am I the only one who "Mine Eyes Glaze Over" (MEGO) at this?

    All this process stuff seems so, well, masturbatory compared to the Real World (IMO).

    I want to see Equal Marriage Rites in TEC. And I want us to Tell the World that we (now) have equal rites (I happen to believe that telling the world this new reality will gain us bigger #s in the pew and collection plate).

    Beyond that: too much navel-gazing! I just can't get interested in competing budgets. Can't we all get along?

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  8. "I want to see Equal Marriage Rites in TEC. And I want us to Tell the World that we (now) have equal rites (I happen to believe that telling the world this new reality will gain us bigger #s in the pew and collection plate)."

    What is that cute saying? "The definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."

    FrMichael

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  9. The last thing we need is more power to the bishops! It was us fighting despite - and even against - our own bishops that allowed us to move forward to a progressive view in this church. I include the PB in that, who has, truthfully, done very little other than get in the way.

    Bishops need serious curbing; once they learn to be priests again - learn their actual calling, again - then they can expect to be rewarded with more responsibility and authority. Until that time, the world has enough upper management ambitious, and Rome and the EO have all the arrogant feudalism anyone could want, so our bishops are largely unnecessary.

    It's not that we don't need bishops - just none, and I do mean none of us, from Rome to Constantinople to Canterbury, actually have any.

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