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From Columbus: Program, Budget and Finance considers mission funding priorities

By Melodie Woerman
6/12/2006
[Episcopal News Service]  The Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) was urged during a hearing on June 12 to modify the Episcopal Church's five mission priorities by adding an emphasis on children, adoption of the Millennium Development Goals, ministry in Appalachia, prison ministry or evangelism.

The current budget mission priorities - young adults and youth, congregational transformation, reconciliation and evangelism, peace and justice ministries, and partnerships within the Anglican Communion and with other faith communities - were adopted by the 2003 Convention and reaffirmed by Executive Council in 2005.

PB&F chair Pan Adams said the committee was delighted at the number of people who attended the hearing, resulting in a standing-room-only crowd. "It was a wonderful way to begin Convention," she said, "to listen to the yearnings of the church right now."

A dozen people spoke on behalf of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), an eight-prong declaration that has at its core the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger by the year 2015. The Rev. Michael Kinman, executive director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, called the MDGs "humanity at its best, the body of Christ at our most bold." Noting that 71 dioceses already have signed on in support of the goals, he asked the committee to "bless and name what God is already doing."

Other speakers noted how involvement with the goal of eradicating poverty had increased a parish's spiritual health and has provided a means for young people to be more involved in the life of the church.

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada recalled the start of Jesus' public ministry in her remarks in support of the MDGs. She noted Jesus read from Isaiah in which the prophet proclaims God's reign as a time when good news is preached to the poor, the blind receive sight and the oppressed are set free. “The Millennium Development Goals are an icon, a vision, a lens of the reign of God in our own day,” she said.

Bonnie Anderson, vice president of the House of Deputies and a deputy from Michigan, asked PB&F to make the MDGs the only mission priority for the Episcopal Church, noting the goals could be the lens through which other important needs within the church could be engaged. She said there was a "groundswell" of support, with resolutions set to come before General Convention from a number of dioceses, provinces and deputies.

Other speakers asked that children be added to the existing priority of youth and young adults. Sharon Pearson from the Diocese of Connecticut noted that children - those from birth through age 12 - should not be grouped with youth (age 13-18) or young adults (age 19-34). The Rev. Debra Kissinger, alternate deputy from the Diocese of Bethlehem, also called for funding equity on behalf of ministry with children. She noted the budget for the national Ministry to Young People cluster will spend less on children and Christian education ministries than on youth ministry or young adults and higher education.

The Rev. Howard Anderson also suggested including those who teach in the mission priorities, saying, "Christian educators are the Green Berets of the church." He also urged inclusion of lifelong learning as a priority, given the emphasis being placed on that concept by proposed revisions to Title III, the canons on ministry.

Three people spoke on behalf of funding for Appalachian ministries, which are slated for reductions in the proposed 2007-2009 budget. They noted that small grants from the Episcopal Church have been leveraged into larger budgets that have a real impact on this impoverished region. Michael Maloney, president of Episcopal Appalachian Ministries, said support for this work should be included under the existing priority of peace and justice ministries.

One person spoke on behalf of funding for prison ministries. Jack Taul, a deputy from the Diocese of Florida, said the fastest-growing population in the United States is prison inmates, and that faith-based programs result in a lower recidivism rate than other efforts.

The Very Rev. Martin Yabroff, dean of St. James' Cathedral in South Bend, Indiana, asked that evangelism be included as a priority for the church. He said while the Millennium Development Goals are important, they should not receive all the church's attention. “We need to focus on the unique and particular calling of the church to set forth the gospel of Jesus Christ, to lift up Jesus to do the work of evangelism as the gift we are called to bear to this world,” he said.

The committee will submit a resolution with its priority recommendations on June 13, Adams said.