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General Convention approves triennial budget

By James Thrall and David Skidmore
8/7/2003
[Episcopal News Service] 

Responding positively to the principle that more can be done for mission if less is spent on administration, deputies and bishops unanimously approved a budget of $146,395,000 for the coming triennium Thursday.

Without changing the total amount of the budget or increasing revenues, the Joint Standing Committee for Program, Budget and Finance was able to free $1,454,000 for specific mission initiatives highlighted during convention by moving funds from other mission areas and finding savings in administrative costs.

“In the spirit of convention, and looking at the priorities that we together agreed to in both our houses, our task was to find how we could free money within our institutional life to support the mission that we clearly say that we want to do,” explained Bishop Andrew Smith of Connecticut, who chaired the committee’s subsection of corporate and canonical expenditures.

Canonical expenses cover certain required functions of the church such as General Convention, while corporate expenses cover basic institutional costs such as the treasurer’s office and building services, Smith said, making them generally the areas that provide “structural support” for the church.

The committee is responsible for turning a proposed budget from the Executive Council into a final budget that is presented to both houses of the General Convention for approval. Once the committee knows what revenue is available for the triennium, “we have to juggle and switch and trade,” he said, in order to respond to resolutions seeking funding that are approved by the convention.

To make the adjustments, “we could have gone into one or another area and ripped a whole section out, but that would have caused immense dislocation,” Smith said. “Or we could have submitted a budget to convention that was essential the same as that submitted to us before we adopted those priorities. We chose a middle way, which was to reduce the expenditures in canonical and corporate sections significantly.”

The result creates a new challenge for church administrators and committees to “live differently in new ways … so that we can devote more of our financial resources to support the mission that we want to do,” he said.

The committee was able to find $604,000 worth of reductions in the canonical expenses and $350,000 in corporate, for about a 2 percent transfer to the program side of the budget.

In response to a question during the budget discussion in the House of Deputies, Smith stressed that the reductions would not affect personnel, especially not in the financial offices that provide checks and balances on the expenditure of church funds.

Examples of savings, he said, were $75,000 in travel, $100,000 in building costs, and $100,000 by recovering telephone costs from related agencies.

The committee reduced canonical and corporate accounts — including General Convention and Church Center staff and operations — by more than $1 million, rendering that section of the budget “essentially flat,” said Hershkowitz, which will force every department to scrutinize its spending. The good news, he said, is that the savings, $1.45 million, has been moved into the church’s program.

The new reductions “may very well prevent the commissions and committees of this meeting from having the standard number of meetings,” Smith said, but “we believe with technology and economies we can effect savings.” The reductions include a significant reduction to the amount requested for the PB&F committee as well, noted Bonnie Anderson, committee chair.

Thomas Hershkowitz, controller and General Convention treasurer, noted that the total remaining for corporate and canonical expenses remains at about $25 million, the same total as the last triennium. As a result, he said, PB&F took “a hard look” at budgets for committees, commissions, agencies and boards, expecting that “they would have to change the way they do business in terms of tightening their belts a bit.”

Hershkowitz said in his remarks to the bishops that in its work leading up to convention and at meetings here, PB&F focused on adding mission dollars to the budget in keeping with the Executive Council’s priorities for young adults and youth, reconciliation and evangelism, congregational transformation, justice and peace, and Anglican and ecumenical partnerships.

In addition to $24,000 that was moved to the General Board of Examining Chaplains in the canonical section, increases to program were made in four priority areas, allocating an additional $150,000 to overseas dioceses, $150,000 to Jubilee Ministries grants, $130,000 for multicultural and multilingual liturgies for “new” populations, and $1 million for ministries with young people, reported Byron Rushing of Massachusetts.

“There were a number of resolutions passed ... that related to youth ministry” that would have “added up to a lot more than a million dollars,” Rushing said. “We decided that this convention should not make a decision about specific programs being funded around youth ministry.” The committee instead left the choosing up to Executive Council working with national staff and young people to decide what programs would be supported, he said.

With investment income reduced by a sluggish stock market and only modest growth predicted in diocesan apportionments in the coming triennium, PB&F had a difficult job adding funding for new mission opportunities. One solution was to increase the draw on the church’s trust funds from the standard 5 percent to 5.5 percent, said Herskowitz, with the understanding that the draw would revert to the lower rate as soon as practicable.

If a surplus develops, noted Bishop Russell Jacobus of Fond du Lac, it is used to increase spending on mission in the remaining years of the triennium.

Only one change was suggested by the bishops, and this was an editorial change not requiring additional review and concurrence by the deputies. Bishop Arthur Williams, vice chair of the house, asked that the line item for “black and urban ministries” under ethnic congregational development be changed by dropping “and urban” from the listing.  The problem, he said, is that many church members object to implying urban ministry is specific to the African-American community.

Bonnie Anderson , the committee’s chair, agreed to make the change in the final printing of the budget.

Other questions concerned the movement of funding for liturgies for “new populations” from the Office for Liturgy and Music to the Congregational Development Office and the disposition of Jubilee Ministry Center grants. The committee felt that the resources for this work were spread throughout the church and that the congregational development office was best equipped and staffed to locate and organize them, said committee member Byron Rushing of Massachusetts. As for the Jubilee Ministry grants, which were proposed in a resolution (D061) rejected by the deputies, Rushing said the decision would be reflected in the legislative tracking sheet accompanying the budget.

With threats of financial fallout from actions around issues of sexuality at the General Convention, “there are still a number of uncertainties as to what the diocesan income will look like,” although at this point church officials are making no predictions about any changes in income, said Hershkowitz. “This process is a continuous process,” he said. “We will take one year at a time.”

“We always have budget variables,” Anderson said. “This will be another variable.” She explained that PB&F, which is responsible for maintaining a balanced budget, works with the Executive Council throughout the triennium to make any necessary adjustments.

“We’re going forward with the trust that people can see the larger picture,” she said. “We hope they’ll keep their eye on the prize, which is really about the larger mission of the church.”