[Episcopal News Service – Phoenix, Arizona] The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council concluded its three day meeting here June 12 by taking a series of actions focused on the good order of the church and answering the call to speak out for justice.
More support for mission and ministry in Navajoland
Council members agreed to increase the triennial disbursement to the Navajoland Area Mission, also known as the Episcopal Church in Navajoland, by $225,000 to $1.225 million.
The decision came after a June 11 committee presentation about the history of the church’s work in Navajoland, including its failings.
Navajoland Bishop David Bailey said during that presentation that when he came into the diocese in 2010 “there was no plan for sustainability; there was no plan about how do we live into the future.” He added that his description of the history of Navajoland is not meant to be a criticism but rather an acknowledgement that there was “a different understanding of ministry than what we have today.”
As such, Bailey has made raising up indigenous leadership a priority. In the first four decades of Navajoland’s existence, there were five ordained Navajo, he said. With two ordinations planned for June 14, there will be eight recently ordained Navajo and three others are in training, according to Bailey.
A number of council members and staff will travel to Fort Defiance in northern Arizona to attend Navajoland’s annual convocation and those ordinations.
“We truly are reorganizing and rebuilding Navajoland,” Bailey said. “That’s exciting but in the midst of that we’ve got continual difficulties in terms of infrastructure.”
The Rev. Daniel Gutierrez, canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of the Rio Grande, has helped Navajoland formulate a sustainability plan that he called a “sacred accountability of the funds of the Episcopal Church” that the area mission has received. He said the plan “addresses the major components” of what has to be done there.
Council member Steve Hutchison, who is also chancellor of the Diocese of Utah and of Navajoland, said the area mission had not had a consistent system of budgeting and documenting expenses “but we’re changing all that” and the mission is committed to a transparent and accountable process.
He added that the entire church has a responsibility to its only area mission.
Jefferts Schori echoed that sentiment, saying during the June 11 presentation that providing support to Navajoland “is a piece of accountability of the Episcopal Church to Navajoland of not providing adequate resources and oversight in the decades that it has existed.”
In 1978, the Episcopal Church carved out sections of the dioceses of Rio Grande, Arizona and Utah – areas within and surrounded by the 27,000-square-mile Navajo reservation – to create the Navajoland Area Mission. It encompasses 26,000 square miles over Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
In a related action, council passed a resolution giving thanks for the life and service of Chester Nez, one of the original Navajo Code talkers, who was recruited in World War II to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps and help develop an unbreakable code that aided U.S. forces in the Pacific. The resolution expresses “deep gratitude for the service of all veterans and in particular the many veterans of native and indigenous descent who have sacrificed much in the service of our nation.”
In other justice-related actions, council:
* Commended the city of Seattle and other cities for passing minimum wage ordinances higher than $10.10 an hour, expressed disappointment at the U.S. Congress’ refusal to consider raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and encouraged Episcopalians and dioceses to study and “stand in public solidarity with our low-wage brothers and sisters” in advocating for legislative change at the federal, state and local level that give low-wage workers greater access to economic prosperity.
* Reaffirmed the Episcopal Church commitment to comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship and called on the U.S government to improve the way it deals with families of detained parents. Council also discussed the unprecedented increase in the number of unaccompanied children attempting to cross U.S. borders
* Invited Episcopalians to join Anglicans in Canada in observing the Seventh Sunday of Easter each year as Jerusalem Sunday and to learn more about and support the role of the Diocese of Jerusalem and its affiliated institutions in providing healthcare, education, and other vital social services to the communities of the Holy Land.
A summary of all of the resolutions council passed during this meeting is here.
Location of the Episcopal Church Center
Among the items under the category of “good order,” council decided to spend up to an additional $100,000 to continue to evaluate the location of the Episcopal Church headquarters.
Council agreed to allow its Finances for Mission & Governance and Administration for MissionSubcommittee on the Location of the Church Center to continue to consider a wide range of factors, according to the resolution council passed, including cost and financial affordability, travel and geographic accessibility, employment and justice concerns, and partnership opportunities. The subcommittee can use what the resolution calls “necessary professionals and consultants” to do that work.
Prior to making the decision in open session with no discussion, council met in two closed plenary sessions, one on June 10 and one at the beginning of June 12, to discuss a new report from that subcommittee.
Jefferts Schori said during a post-meeting news conference that the council is “trying to do our best” to make fiduciary decisions “and we still feel we need more data and so we’re going to collect some more data and continue our consideration.”
The decision to continue the location work, the Rev. Gay Jennings, House of Deputies president, said during news conference ought to be seen as a “a signal to the church that council is taking [General Convention Resolution] D016 very seriously.”
That resolution, passed in July 2012, said “it is the will of this convention to move the church center headquarters” away from that building. The final text of the resolution was significantly amended during convention debate to remove directives that would have required council to sell or lease out the entire property and relocate the Church Center headquarters. The original text of the resolution and the final versions are here.
Five months earlier in February 2012 council’s Finances for Mission committee asked church management to study the possible relocation of the church center. It was conducted by the 10-person Executive Oversight Group. That report concluded the church’s headquarters ought to remain at 815 Second Ave. in Manhattan and consolidate operations to free up even more space to rent to outside tenants than the 3.5 floors that were then leased out.
In February of this year, council authorized spending up to $95,000 for additional professional expertise to assist in the review and analysis of future options for the church center.
Update on 2016-2019 budget process
Council members also got an update on the work that its Joint Standing Committee on Finances for Mission (FFM) is doing to prepare a draft 2016-2019 budget for the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance to use as it builds a budget to propose to General Convention in 2015.
The Rev. Susan Snook, who chairs FFM’s subcommittee on the budget process, said the committee is on track with its plan to have a version of its eventual draft budget done by the end of council’s Oct. 24-27 meeting. Some FFM members will stay at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, after that meeting to discuss the document with PB&F during its Oct. 27-29 meeting.
That version of council’s budget will also be released to the church for comment, according to the timeline Snook outlined. Then FFM will revise the budget based on those comments and plans to have a final draft budget ready to give to the full council during its Jan. 9-11, 2015 meeting.
PB&F is due to meet Feb. 23-25, 2015, to begin work on that draft budget. According to the joint rules of General Convention (joint rule II.10.c.ii), council must give its draft budget to PB&F no less than four months before the start of General Convention (essentially by February of convention year). PB&F uses the draft budget and any legislation passed by General Convention to create a final budget proposal, which is presented to the bishops and deputies for consideration and approval.
Snook also told council that FFM is considering a change in how dioceses are asked to fund the church-wide budget. She said a subcommittee will look at a progressive system of brackets based on diocesan income, where those dioceses with income in the first bracket would pay nothing. The percentage of the diocesan asking would be progressively higher with each higher income bracket.
“We feel that a system like this might very well allow us to give a break to lower-income dioceses while recognizing there are some wealthy dioceses can afford the full 19 percent or possibly even higher,” she said.
In the 2013-2015 triennium, dioceses have been asked to contribute 19 percent of their annual income to help fund the church-wide budget. Each year’s annual giving in the three-year budget is based on a diocese’s income two years earlier, minus $120,000. The list of 2012 and 2013 diocesan commitments is here.
The subcommittee also will consider some sort of “system of accountability,” Snook said. One idea involves council establishing a diocesan asking review committee to review the payments of any diocese that doesn’t pay the full amount of the asking. The committee would work with such a diocese to create a plan to bring it to the full asking and would have the power to grant a waiver to dioceses that cannot afford to pay the full asking. It would do these things “in an encouraging and inviting way to being people into the life of the church rather than isolate them or shut them out,” Snook said.
“We also have considered possible gentle sanctions against dioceses that do not receive a waiver and do not pay,” she said, adding that such sanctions might include being ineligible for Episcopal Church grants and loans.
Snook also showed members a spreadsheet that she said looked like a budget but “it’s not a budget at all yet.” It included projected income for the 2016-2019 triennium and all budget requests from church center staff, council committees or one of the church’s other committees, commissions, agencies and boards.
The document was projected on the screen in the meeting room. Snook and other members of FFM were hesitant to release it when some council members asked for copies to study. Diocese of Ohio Bishop Mark Hollingsworth, FFM chair, said his committee was concerned that the document would “get misinterpreted or signal a direction we don’t intend.”
Some council members said that if they could not study the document they will not know whether a specific line item in the eventual budget was proposed by church center staff, council committees or one of the church’s other committees, commissions, agencies and boards.
Council member Joe Ferrell, echoing the concern first raised by member Martha Gardner, said his committee was asked to comment on various requests but “we had no background information as to who had made the request and on what basis they had made the request.”
“If the entire council is going to accept responsibility for the final work product, I think we are going to need to have access to the background information in some way,” he said. “I am going on faith that you are doing a good job and I think you are. I’ll vote for your proposal but I’ll vote for it because I trust you, not because I have reached an independent judgment.”
Jennings told the members that this was the third council budget process she has been through and “this process without exception has asked for and received more input not only from individuals and committees of Executive Council but also from staff and committees, commissions, agencies and boards.”
While she said that she appreciated “passion” that people have for the budget request they made, “it’s clear to me that [FFM is] not favoring one group of suggestions over another” but is instead engaged in a “thoughtful deliberative process.”
She urged her colleagues to let FFM do the work council asked it to do in the way that council approved more than a year ago.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori suggested that FFM ought to work with the rest of council after the meeting to devise a way to securely share the document.
As a coda to the discussion, Hollingsworth noted that Internet was currently “abuzz with the conversation we are having right now.”
Some council members were tweeting about the discussion, which he did not criticize, but he noted a posting on the listserv for members of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops that read “Budget Discussion at Executive Council meeting #ExCoun062014 on Twitter. Lower ‘asking’ Punish slackers? Some of richest dioceses pay zip!”
“I just ask us in our leadership role to remember how important long, thoughtful discussion is to us,” he said, adding that such discussion will “help the whole church get this.”
Some council members tweeted from the meeting using #ExCoun062014.
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) by the nine provincial synods for six-year terms – plus the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies.
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.