Why I am not giving to the"Bless, 2019 Annual Appeal."

On Holy Saturday I received, as did many of us Episcopalians, I suppose, “Bless, 2019 Annual Appeal” from the Episcopal Church Center. I am only now able to get around to responding to this.

I have decided not to respond by supporting this fund. Here is why:

According to the Presiding Bishop’s Cover Letter (on the inside of the front cover of the Appeal booklet), “The General Convention of our Church gave us a goal of raising $1 million over the 2019-2021 triennium, with every dollar going to support the collective ministries of a Church…”

The booklet then features seven individuals whose work blesses and is a blessing. These are people engaged in the “collective ministries” of the Church. I know several of them personally, and they are wonderful people doing really good and important work. They are indeed a blessing and blessed.

Still there are problems with this appeal.

(i) Nothing indicates what the relation is between the funds given and any of these ministries. A number of these are paid employees of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. At least one is a Diocesan staff officer. Several serve in federal chaplaincies and are (I assume) paid by the government.

My sense is this funding request is unrelated to the specific stories being told, rather the funding is to augment the general budget. That is both good and bad. Good, because I would hate to think that these specific ministries were on the line if the funding did not come in. Bad because there is a disconnect between the asking and the stories.

(ii) The general budget of the Episcopal Church is underwritten primarily by diocesan support, investment income, and services rendered. This million-dollar goal, over a three-year period, is primarily meant to offer individuals a way to personally give to the work of TEC. In some ways that is commendable and there are some individuals who will want to do this. But the literature does not point out the fact that we already give by way of our pledges to the church, in that some portion of our parish income goes to the diocese, and the diocese pays into the work of the whole church. That is, the literature for this million-dollar fund does not connect it to the funding we already give. The answer to the question, “did you give to the Episcopal Church” is already yes. But many Episcopalians don’t know it. A teaching moment passed.

(iii) My sense is we would be better advised to relate these ministries described in the funding plea to the reason for contributing to your parish, so that parishioners can see the direct relation between their offerings and the work of the whole church.

(iv) If this funding program is meant to reach people who do not otherwise give to the church, fine, but if so, say so. Make this fund an opportunity for thanksgiving by those who do not already give by way of their pledge or offering through the parish.

Unfortunately, this request comes with only a vague connection to the realities of either the breadth of ministries in the church or the budgetary needs to support them. A rather large portion of the TEC budget concerns administration costs, which have little funding appeal. So it is indeed much more interesting to highlight ministries of blessing. But it does seem to me that unless we can see meetings of various committees, costs of support staff, funding of mission by dioceses, as blessings as well, we are not making a compelling case for funding through this project. This funding proposal is for the general budget of the church, not just the work of easily identified blessings.

I believe the funding of the church is the funding of an instrument of blessing and that the accountability for that funding is not by way of highlighting the “easy” avenues of blessing, but by highlighting the blessing that is the whole thing. Meetings of ecumenical committees, committees studying prayer book issues, coordination of particular sorts of ministries (campus ministry, hospital chaplaincies, etc), investment committees, etc. all need to be brought into the ring of blessings.

So, thanks but no thanks. I already give to the work of TEC, and I pay attention to that giving. And, indeed, I see that as supporting a blessing that blesses.

This project needs more work.

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