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Budget fuels new vision of church's mission

By James Solheim
030926-1
9/26/2003
[Episcopal News Service]  Almost lost in the highly visible controversies around sexuality were some visionary decisions made by General Convention on how to use its resources to fund the church's mission. Out of 324 pieces of legislation, resolution D086 setting the budget for the next triennium may have the most long-lasting effect on the direction of the church in the beginning of the 21st century.

"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 we want to do," said Bishop Andrew Smith of Connecticut, a member of the Joint Standing Committee for Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F).

The powerful committee, which sorts through the proposed budget sent to them by the Executive Council and holds hearings at the convention, focused on adding mission dollars based on a set of priorities: ministry with young adults and youth, reconciliation and evangelism, congregational transformation, justice and peace, and Anglican and ecumenical partnerships. Bishops and deputies agreed that mission was more important than administration and proceeded to rearrange some of the commitments so the budget reflected those priorities.

While the committee didn't change the total budget of $146,395,000 for the next triennium, it did free up $1,454,000 for some new initiatives. Overseas dioceses and Jubilee Ministries grants will each receive an additional $150,000, and another $130,000 will go to develop multicultural and multilingual liturgies for "new populations."

Undergirding its strong commitment to its youngest church members, however, the convention agreed to commit $1 million to ministry with youth and young adults. The changes create a new challenge to "live differently in new ways so that we can devote more of our financial resources to support the mission we want to do," said Smith.

Budget commitments include:

  • $28,115,000 for canonically required work, including the Office of the Presiding Bishop,  the president of the House of Deputies, Office for Ministry Development, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, General Convention, chaplaincies, liturgy and music and archives, as well as the boards, commissions and agencies of the church.
  • $25,567,000 for the corporate portion, funding the administrative support of the church, including the office of the treasurer, controller, chief operating officer, human resources and telecommunications.
  • $46,618,000 for the mission program, including such ministries as Anglican and Global Relations, ethnic congregational development and women's ministries, peace and justice ministries and ministries with young people.
  • $30,393,000 for mission block grant partnerships (both domestic and international), ecumenical appropriations, and Episcopal Relief and Development.
  • $15,702,000 for communication, including media services, Episcopal Life, Episcopal Parish Resources and Episcopal Book and Resource Center.

Income to support the budget will come from diocesan commitments ($90,487,000), investment and interest income ($30,831,000) and other income
($25,077,000) including government grants to Episcopal Migration Ministries, income from Episcopal Life and Episcopal Parish Services, and the Book and Resource Center.

"After the budget was adopted by General Convention, deputies from 81 dioceses signed a covenant pledging themselves to encourage their dioceses to support our common mission by giving a minimum of 21 percent or by intentionally working toward the 21 percent level," said Bonnie Anderson of Michigan, chair of PB&F and new vice president of the House of Deputies. (If every diocese committed at that level, the church would have over $160 million available for its mission in the triennium.)

In the joint session of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold urged them to "look beyond the figures to see how they reflect very specific and concrete ways in which we are committing ourselves to engaging God's mission," invoking the theme of the convention. "We are not a series of freestanding bodies but one body of many limbs engaged in one mission, one work, one holy project-namely the unleashing of God's reconciling love upon our desperate and needy world." He said that the fact the 62 dioceses give at the 21 percent asking level or higher "says a very great deal about the health and vitality of our church and our clear understanding that we are members of one another."

Possible repercussions

That understanding is being tested as some individuals, parishes and dioceses react to the decision over the consecration of the church's first openly gay bishop and acknowledgement that blessing of same-gender relationships is happening in some dioceses and that such blessings are "within the bounds of our common life."

In hearings over the budget there were warnings of a gathering storm and predictions that approving either action would have serious repercussions. "People will not join a church that is so conflicted on this issue," said the Rev. David Roseberry from the Diocese of Dallas in predicting "an enormous decline in giving, in membership and in growth of churches." He left the convention after the confirmation of the election of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.

"We're going forward with the trust that people can see the larger picture," said Bonnie Anderson. "We hope they'll keep their eye on the prize, which is really about the larger mission of the church."

There were early signs that some deputies went home determined to hold on to that vision. "Our decisions as a church must not be governed by fear of the unknown or by real or perceived threats, no matter where they come from, but rather by God's calling," said Robert Wright, treasurer of the Diocese of North Carolina.

Sense of partnership

"There's a larger call than any one or two issues that come before us," said the Rev. Barbara Cheney of Connecticut. "The future doesn't scare me one bit." She told an open hearing on the budget that the commission should stress the language of partnership, describing how it had helped her parish increase its support to the diocese. "It's taken many years but it has come out of that sense of partnership and gladness in giving to the national church."

Bishop James Curry of Connecticut said that, while dioceses do not meet the asking for a variety of reasons, some decide to withhold funds as "political decisions that in effect hold hostage the mission of the church." Those who vote to make mission decisions also need to fund those decisions, and "we need to be accountable to one another," he said. Part of that accountability, he argued, is letting people know where the money goes, what programs it supports.

Some dioceses have already announced that they are withholding funds or placing them in escrow until there is more clarity about the direction of the church. Responding to a decision in the Diocese of Florida, the Rev. Gordon Tremaine of Holy Trinity in Gainesville told his congregation, "The burden of our current upheaval is grossly misplaced if laid on the shoulders of vulnerable people and programs which are faithfully exercising ministries that their church has asked of them and promised to support. Giving is about response to God's grace and commitment to Christ's ministry," not a "means to punish or pass judgment or to send a message." His vestry decided to send 10 percent of its diocesan pledge each month directly to the national church.

On the other hand, several large parishes in the Diocese of Virginia have escrowed their pledges pending the outcome of the Primates' Meeting in London in mid-October, according to the Rev. Victoria Heard, missioner for church planting. On an annual basis these parishes contribute over $400,000 to the diocesan budget of $4.4 million. "In addition, major donors who had been funding new churches have contacted the bishop indicating that they will not fulfill their current commitments but are withdrawing from their previously promised $5 million commitment to new church development," she said.

The Diocese of Quincy has also decided to place its money in escrow until its October 17-18 diocesan convention decides how to respond. Bishop Keith Ackerman told a local newspaper, "I frankly continue the posture that we're in a holding pattern and that we must be respectful of what the primates have to say."

Theology of stewardship

Withholding funds is part of the strategy of the American Anglican Council (AAC), an umbrella organization of conservatives strongly opposed to the confirmation of Robinson and local option on blessing relationships. At a recent meeting in Atlanta, the Rev. David Anderson, president of the AAC, told his audience to withhold money from any church or diocese that voted to confirm Robinson and to identify the biggest financial givers and persuade them to withhold pledges. He also expressed a hope that an alliance of conservatives would "stand on the air hose" that supports operations of the national church, according to press reports.

Such actions represent a lack of understanding of the theology of stewardship, according to Bonnie Anderson. "We all have a commitment to a common mission and we are united in our mission priorities for the church which are reflected in the budget," she said.

Thomas Hershkowitz, treasurer of General Convention and controller at the Episcopal Church Center, said that his office has been getting phone calls and letters from those who intend to continue their financial support, even if they disagree with the convention decisions. "The key is the amount of money available for the church's mission," he said in an interview, and "the clear commitment to a set of priorities."

He said the real impact of any attempt to withhold funds won't be clear for several months, until diocesan conventions this fall decide how much will be sent to the national church.  The Executive Council then must adopt the budget for 2004 at its February meeting.

(The budget is now available on-line at the church's web site, www.episcopalchurch.org/gc2003  and a Spanish version should be available soon.)