I'm beginning to wrap up three months in Haiti, an amazing experience and filled with growth and new understandings for a person who is, as some friends suggest, of the ol' fart generation. OFG folk are beyond the pale, having served on various boards, agencies, committees, etc, of the church and having been consigned to, or perhaps volunteered to, muttering about how the church used to be, could have been and so forth. But this OFG citizen is beyond that. I've actually learned some things and am being made, if not new, newer.
The first thing I've learned is that nothing calms the mind like discovering that everything is new and everything is, well, strange. Being here has on some levels reduced me to thinking simple thoughts, saying small things, reducing daily expectations.
At the same time I've had time to think with some care about matters that touch on the Church in general and specifically on the Episcopal Church of Haiti. So here are some short entries that are learnings from a child of the OFG now a child in Haiti, maybe on some poetic level a child of Haiti.
These observations are all over the board, but many relate to what I've learned about a Church "on the march." Haiti, and the church in Haiti has been beaten up badly, the big punch being the earthquake three years ago. But I think it is stronger now than ever, on the cusp of new growth, living in the "new normal" where the comfort of substantial (or seemingly substantial) buildings is replaced with tin roofed giant sheds, and seemingly settled priests in their little kingdoms are having to become priests with the future open to new life.
Learning #1: We in the Church all live on the gifts of others.
Last week I went to the 116 Synod of the Episcopal Church of Haiti. It was strikingly familiar. A one day affair with an opening Eucharist, a strong message from Bishop Duracin, a small group discussion of the speech, all the standard reports from offices and committees, and of course food. It was mostly dull, as such events are, but with moments of real punch.
This learning concerns budget. The Episcopal Church of Haiti presented a budget of $865,040 (US) for 2013. Of that $354,723 was support from The Episcopal Church. That's about 41% of the budget. The rest comes from a variety of sources from within the Diocese, including "Management fees" related to diocesan administration of all the partnership grants from churches in partnership with the Church in Haiti.
The TEC appropriation and the Management Fees essentially offset the cost of clergy and the administration of the diocese. The rest of the budget comes from offerings, institutional income, investment income, and the like.
In The Episcopal Church there has been a tendency to look on the monies appropriated to Haiti and other overseas and domestic aided dioceses as line items which over time need to be reduced, and finally reduced to zero. So, for example, in the Philippines where the TEC budget for the Episcopal Church in the Philippines went from 1Million to zero in fifteen years, following the ECP becoming an autonomous province in 1990.
Now, the same week we met in Haiti, my own diocese, Delaware, met. Their budget was for $1,400,000 of which about $895,000 was from parish giving, or about 64%. Other sources, mostly endowments, provided the rest - about 36%.
No one would suggest that the 36% of the budget that comes from sources other than offerings should over time reduce to zero. In fact the whole idea is that those who have gone before, or invest presently on our behalf, are producing funds that we can use in the life of the Church. Of course we can.
The thing is, in the process of becoming self-supporting we do not have to live alone. Self-supporting is not the same thing as getting by after having been thrown out.
So it clicked.... maybe the Diocese of Delaware's investment funds are to the DofD budget as TEC's investment funds are to TEC's budget - including the grant to dioceses. It is the way the monies are expected or supposed to be spent. It is not an exception from which we should seek escape as soon as possible. It is normal.
Now the difference is the DofD investments are being spent in, well, Delaware, by Delawareans. The TEC funds are being spent by overseas and domestic dioceses that by all hopes should be autonomous. So the core objection to continued support of these dioceses is that dioceses are expected to be self-supporting.
OK. But here's the thing. Why should the Episcopal Church of Haiti (ECH) be asked to be self-supporting when the Diocese of Delaware is not? Delaware gets a leg up from endowments of its own. Haiti has almost no such endowments. But ECH, as part of TEC does have endowments, actually rather large ones, made from gifts to TEC over the years. But they are not in the ECH portfolio, rather they are in TEC's.
Autonomy is an odd beast. To date the best definition of autonomy is the one that got used in China: self-sustaining, self-governing, self-supporting. Delaware is pretty much autonomous, except of course for the 35% of its income that comes from investments. It seems autonomous because the investments are held by the DofD. But the funds have limitations that even the DofD cannot overcome.
Haiti is self-governing and it for sure is self-sustaining (new churches are springing up all over the place). But it is not self-supporting. Rather than this being a barrier to being autonomous, this fact (not being self-supporting) can be addressed in ways that more and more resemble other dioceses in TEC.
One of the ways is to rearrange financial life in the ECH so that parishes and parish clergy are paid from parish funds and the Diocese through other funds, including TEC grants, support church-wide efforts (seminary, national cathedral, national level hospital, university, etc.
That move is underway in Haiti. It will not make the ECH self-supporting, but it will make ECH more like the DoD, a diocese that supports its own missionaries and relies on the patrimony of the church (mostly invested funds) for other expenses.
So what I learned was that in the drive to be a self-supporting church, Haiti and Delaware and all of us churches on the ground need to also remember that this is not like getting kicked out of the house and "on your own." This is much more like growing into a kind of institutional maturity where gifts are still gifts and make new work possible, but gifts stop paying the monthly bills.
The Episcopal Church of Haiti is stretching toward a Three Self Help place, but it is not doing it alone, any more than the Diocese of Delaware does. We are here because we were sent on our way rejoicing, having received much and given much. Self support is not like living alone.