The national church’s proposed $146 million budget for 2004-2006 is a work in progress, a search for ways and means to fund the five priorities of Executive Council in its fiscal plan for the next triennium.
Those priorities are: young adults and youth, reconciliation and evangelism, congregational transformation, justice and peace, and partnerships.
The revised budget proposal will be presented in a joint session of the two houses from 2:30 to 6 p.m. tomorrow. Each house will vote during regular legislative sessions Thursday.
After two nights of hearings on funding and spending, the Standing Commission on Program, Budget and Finance paused to consider its particular role — turning that proposed budget into a working document.
Commission members considered several options. Describing extreme alternatives, Bishop Drew Smith of Connecticut envisioned the commission as a “handmaid” of the Executive Council, essentially rubber-stamping the proposed budget with minor adjustments.
Or, he continued, the commission could radically reorder the budget according to mission mandates emerging at General Convention, perhaps causing “huge dislocation of program, committees and, yes, staff,” he said. “But it might align the church with the mission directives that we are sensing and hearing and seeing.”
“I don’t think business as usual is acceptable,” Spokane Bishop Jim Waggoner said, citing strong positive responses to the five priorities. “I think we have to look at being more focused, and maybe taking some more radical steps.”
Arthur Bjontegard Jr., of Upper South Carolina noted an emerging consensus around youth and young adult ministry and said: “If we walk out of here with what I understand to be the current level of funding, I’m not sure I’ll be facing anything other than tar and feathers when I get home.”
Susan Delgado-Park of Honduras noted that many speakers described ministries combining several priorities. Several ministries of Province IX, which includes her diocese, reflected all five.
Bishop David Joslin of New Jersey urged some middle way, straddling what he called the “reason” side of the Executive Council budget and the “feeling” side of ministries seeking support. “I don’t want to be washed away in that feeling, because I think there is real wisdom” in the Executive Council’s budget as it stands, he said.
Clergy Deputy Altagracia Perez of Los Angeles said she wished all the bishops had heard the presentations, as it would have helped them raise support in their dioceses for the national budget. It might help convince skeptics who ask, “why should we give 21 percent to that administrative, bureaucratic body?” she said.
“We’re not the first to be frustrated by this,” Joslin pointed out. “If you don’t have more things to spend money on than you have money to spend, then your God is too small.”
“It’s almost insulting, given the world in which we live, that we in the Episcopal Church can talk about scarce resources,” said Bishop Charles E. Bennison of Pennsylvania. Within his diocese, Bennison said, he has realized that it can be possible to “kill parishes with kindness” when it would be better to help “the people in those places … begin to own their own ministries and grow their own parishes.”
As a way to encourage dioceses not contributing the full asking to the national church, Dennis Stark of Rhode Island suggested that “perhaps we could have a faith piece that is beyond what is traditionally called a balanced budget.”
The additional ministries would, if necessary, be funded with a “one-time draw from our endowment principal,” he said, but with the hope “that that money would be covered with additional giving from those dioceses that do not now participate at the level that the other 62 percent do.”
A bit of hard-headed evaluation of expenses would also help, said Joslin. “We practice boutique religion in the Episcopal Church,” he said. “Our bases are small, our congregations are small, our dioceses are small.”
Compared with some other denominations “our overhead is considerably higher,” he said. Bennison agreed, noting that he understood that “we have the most expensive convention of any church in the country” as well as “the most expensive seminary system.”
The Rev. Canon Johncy Itty of Long Island, bishop-elect of Oregon, wished for evaluative criteria “to see if what has been done in the past has been effective and to use that in concert with the priorities that have been developed as the basis for future funding. Otherwise, we just will not know whether the things that have been asked for are working or not.”