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Executive Council begins fall meeting faced with 2011 budget constraints

Members also expected to consider plan for rebuilding Haiti

[Episcopal News Service -- Salt Lake City, Utah] The Episcopal Church's Executive Council began its three-day fall meeting here Oct. 23 with an agenda that includes consideration of a Church Center 2011 budget that is five percent lower than the version adopted by General Convention in 2009.

Revenue in the proposed reduced budget is $2.1 million less than originally projected, with income from dioceses projected at $682,946 less than expected. The revenue reductions come "as a result of an unpredictable delayed payment by one diocese," as well as major cuts in Church Center spending that also will result in less revenue, according to a memo to council members from the church's Finance Office. The specific diocese has not yet been disclosed.

Total revenue is projected to be $37,147,458, while total expenses are budgeted at $36,966,829.

The proposed budget calls for ceasing publication of the Episcopal News Monthly and Quarterly publications; closing the Episcopal Books and Resources retail bookstore at the Church Center in New York City and its online store; and ceasing the resource-shipping operation that serves EBAR as well as Episcopal Church Foundation, Episcopal Relief & Development and United Thank Offering. Those agencies have been offered alternatives for fulfilling their orders.

The proposed elimination of EBAR and the two publications means a loss of revenue, but also reductions in Office of Communications expenses. Proposed expense cuts in the Office of Communication total $812,332.

Episcopal News Service's online operation will continue and is due to be expanded in terms of multimedia. Its stories are available free to other church publications. The "Episcopal Church Welcomes You" signs, currently unique to EBAR, would be available for sale from the Christian Alliance for Media (an Atlanta-based organization that began in 1945 as Episcopal TV and Radio Foundation).

Another $790,000 would be cut from 2011 Mission Program operations under the proposal and the Mission Funding Office, meant to solicit major gifts to the church, would be reconfigured. The budget proposes hiring a full-time development director who would work with an existing support staff person. "Donor cultivation, communication and outreach will be provided by part-time consultants," according to the finance office memo.

If approved by the council as is, the budget would require elimination of several positions at the church's New York office. The scope of those losses has not yet been made public.

When the triennial meeting of General Convention passes a budget for the next three years, it expects that the Executive Council will adjust each year's budget to take into account changes in revenue projects. The goal is to end the triennium with a balanced budget.

In July 2009 General Convention passed a $141 million budget for 2010-2012 that asked for less money from dioceses and drastically reduced church-wide spending by $23 million. The budget changed the formula for asking the 110 dioceses to contribute to the cost of funding the wider church. The then-current request for 21 percent of diocesan income (known as "the asking") was preserved for 2010, but is due to drop by one percent in 2011 and 2012. In addition, convention raised the $100,000 income exemption to $120,000, thus leaving more money with the dioceses.

Approximately 40 staff positions out of 192 in the Episcopal Church's New York and regional offices were eliminated and the reductions prompted the need to rethink the work of church center staff.

The convention-approved 2010-2012 budget is here and the details of that budget are here.

As to the 2010 budget, another Finance Office memo to council members says that budget results through September "look very favorable compared to the full-year 2010 budget" and that "with constrained spending, we expect to complete the year in line with budget." A summary of current budget results is here.

Endowment performance through September showed a 6.3 percent gain, the memo said. A summary history and management policies are available here.

The council's Finances for Mission Committee began discussing the budget on the afternoon of Oct. 23. That discussion will continue Oct. 24 and council is expected to act on the proposal either later on Oct. 24 or on Oct. 25.

During its Oct. 23-25 meeting, the council also will be asked to consider a plan to flesh out its February challenge to the church to raise $10 million to help rebuild the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti. At the request of Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin, the money would be targeted to the diocese's Holy Trinity Cathedral complex in Port-au-Prince. The complex once contained two schools and a convent, as well as the cathedral church with its world-renowned murals depicting biblical stories in Haitian motifs, which were crafted by some of the best-known Haitian painters of the 20th century.

Members of the council's Finances for Mission and World Mission committees heard during a joint meeting on Oct. 23 that members of the Haitian diocese see restoration of the cathedral as a source of diocesan and national pride, and symbolic of the efforts to resurrect the country following the Jan. 12 magnitude-7 earthquake.

The Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4 (1)(a). The council is composed of 38 members, 20 of whom (four bishops, four priests or deacons and 12 lay people) are elected by General Convention and 18 (one clergy and one lay each) by provincial synods for six-year terms, plus the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is a national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and editor of Episcopal News Monthly and Episcopal News Quarterly.

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