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COO asks church to engage in 'structural reform' conversations to shift focus toward mission

[Episcopal News Service – Quito, Ecuador] The Episcopal Church's chief operating officer has asked the House of Bishops to engage the laity and clergy in their dioceses in conversation in support of a potential structural reform that he said could shift the church's focus toward mission.

The Rt. Rev Stacy Sauls on Sept. 20 offered the bishops a "model" resolution for each diocese to submit to the 77th General Convention in 2012 for consideration.

"We find ourselves at an adaptive moment in the time of the church, if we choose to take it," said Sauls at the start of a presentation titled "Becoming a Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society: An Adaptive Moment."

Sauls gave his presentation during the Sept. 20 morning session of the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops Sept. 15-20 meeting being held at the Hilton Colón Hotel in downtown Quito.

The model resolution would call for a special commission to be charged with "presenting a plan to the church for reforming its structures, governance, administration, and staff to facilitate this church's faithful engagement in Christ's mission…."

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson would appoint members to the special commission. The resolution would also call for a special meeting of General Convention before the 78th General Convention in 2015.

The resolution, Sauls said, could be distributed at upcoming diocesan conventions or in committees to start the conversation.  

"This is a way of engaging the laity and clergy on the ground, not a bishop-centric thing," Sauls told ENS after his presentation. "We are asking the laity and clergy to have this conversation."
 
Sauls' presentation, he explained, stemmed from conversations and discussions going back to the 2004 formation of the Budgetary Funding Task Force. It began with the question: "Why reform?" From there Sauls used eight separate slides to list the church's 75 commissions, committees, agencies and boards -- those he could readily identify, he said -- and another five slides to list the 46 Episcopal Church Center departments and offices, all of which have multiple reporting structures.

And then, he said, there is General Convention, which has 46 legislative committees of the two houses, which meet together in another 23 cognate committees; nine provinces; and 110 dioceses.

He then offered a pie-chart break down of budget resources by percentage:

  • Mission – 53.2 percent
  • Administration – 26.3 percent
  • Other governance – 13 percent
  • General Convention – 7.6 percent

Sauls' next slide showed how the income earned by dioceses has declined in recent years. The Episcopal Church asks dioceses to contribute a percentage of their income to the denomination's budget, and thus revenue it receives from the dioceses has also declined.

That decline is coupled with a decision made at the last meeting of General Convention (2009) to reduce the percentage of the so-called "asking." It was 21 percent in 2010, dropped to 20 percent this year and will decline another percentage point in 2012. In addition, the convention increased from $100,000 to $120,000 the amount that dioceses could exempt from their income before calculating their commitment to the denomination.  

As it stands in the current budget process, governance is funded first, Sauls said, and then asked, "What would happen if we reversed that priority, starting with mission?"

In order to get a good rating from the Better Business Bureau, a nonprofit organization should spend no more than 35 percent of its budget on overhead, while the Episcopal Church, he said, spends 47 percent of its budget on such expenses. Ideally he added, the percentage spent on overhead should be closer to 15 to 20 percent.

Based on that, he continued, what if, in creating a hypothetical annual budget of $27 million, $19 million of that budget went toward mission and the remaining $8 million toward overhead? (The current budget is closer to $35 million, he said.)

Such a budget, he continued, could be funded by the church's investment and rental income and by a one-percent contribution of congregational income, based on full participation.

"One percent could fund mission and ministry at the church-wide level and leave more [money] for local mission and ministry," Sauls said.

From there he offered four principles: engaging conversations aimed at reducing overhead; redistributing oversight responsibilities based on strengths; creating a linear rather than a top-down approach to engagement; and emphasizing local participation.

Depending on how you look at it, he said, the fact that General Convention takes 7.6 percent of the church's resources is a major or a minor cost. Sauls went on to explain the estimated "total cost."

General Convention costs the church $8.3 million plus another $353,000 to church center departments and $3.5 million to dioceses to send its deputation and bishops -- a total of $12.2 million every three years, not including the costs to individuals, he said.

Reducing the frequency of General Convention to every four years would save 25 percent and every five years would save 40 percent, Sauls continued, adding that the length and size of the meeting, how business is presented and ongoing work also could be restructured to reduce costs.

If given an extra $1 million dollars, the Church Center could deploy 40 additional appointed missionaries, or 85 Young Adult Service Corps volunteers, Sauls said. And if the church center and the diocese split the cost of a YASC volunteer 50/50, they could deploy 170 volunteers.

"We are entering a period of leveraging our resources through partnership, but won't have resources to leverage unless we do things differently," he said.
 
Sauls ended his presentation by offering a "faith statement" about the people of the Episcopal Church:

"The people of the Episcopal Church want to engage God's mission," he said. "The people of the church want to participate in decisions about engaging God's mission. The people of the church want to fund God's mission."

Sauls then asked the bishops to talk at their tables about their own definition of what mission means and practical suggestions for reform. He also asked them to consider whether they would be willing to submit the resolution to their dioceses for support.

Sauls is scheduled to address the church center staff on Sept. 22, where he will begin a conversation with them on how they can begin to take some risks and shape their future rather than have it shaped for them, he said. 

Sauls became the church's chief operating officer Sept. 1, succeeding Linda Watt, who retired in June.

En español

-- Lynette Wilson is an editor/reporter for Episcopal New Service.

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