[Episcopal News Service – Linthicum Heights, Maryland] The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council Jan. 11 approved a draft budget for the 2016-2018 triennium that is based on reducing the amount of money asked of dioceses to 15 percent by the last year of the triennium.
In a related move, council agreed to establish a Diocesan Assessment Review Committee to work with dioceses that do not to meet the full churchwide asking.
The Episcopal Church’s three-year budget is funded primarily by pledges from the church’s dioceses and regional mission areas. Those entities are currently asked annually to contribute 19 percent of their income from two years earlier, minus $120,000.
Council’s draft budget increases that exemption to $175,000. Its revenue projection is based on asking the church’s dioceses and regional mission areas to give 18 percent of their income to fund the 2016 budget, 16.5 percent for the 2017 budget and 15 percent in 2018.
The budget is far from final. Council must give (Joint Rule II.10.c.ii) its draft budget to the General Convention’s Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) no less than four months before the start of the next meeting of convention (essentially by February of convention year). The budget will be released to PB&F and the rest of the church in early February, said Bishop Mark Hollingsworth, chair of council’s Joint Standing Committee on Finances for Mission (FFM).
PB&F is due to meet from Feb. 23-25 to begin work on council’s draft budget. The committee uses the draft budget and any legislation passed by or being considered by General Convention to create a final budget proposal. PB&F must present its budget to a joint session of the houses of bishops and deputies no later than the third day before convention’s scheduled adjournment. The two houses then debate and vote on the budget separately. The budget needs the approval of both houses.
Out of 109 dioceses and three regional areas, 49 dioceses paid the full asking or more in 2014. A list of 2013 diocesan commitments and payments made, and 2014 commitments, is here. Kurt Barnes, treasurer for The Episcopal Church, told ENS that if all dioceses participated fully in the asking adopted by General Convention for 2014, nearly $7.4 million more would have been available for churchwide ministry. Payment of the full asking is not canonically required and there are no penalties for not paying the full percentage.
The Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church called in its final report, issued Dec. 15, for a lower and canonically mandated diocesan assessment. In her opening remarks to council on Jan. 9 Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori noted that TREC’s requirement could be seen “in the same way that audits are expected of every diocese, in the same way that every part of the body is expected to care for the dignity of vulnerable persons, in the same way that each diocese is expected to share the same canonical limits and privileges adopted by the General Convention.”
TREC did not suggest a specific percentage for a lowered assessment. At the last meeting of General Convention in 2012, the House of Bishops overwhelming passed a mind of the house resolution (B016) calling for a 15 percent rate for the 2016-2018 budget.
Hollingsworth told the council during a Jan. 10 briefing on FFM’s work to that point that the committee is “very realistic” about the chances that all dioceses will meet the asking described but not mandated in the church’s canons (Title I.4.6). However, Hollingsworth said, if in 2018 the dioceses that pay less than 15 percent moved up to that level, it will result in an additional $2.7 million for that year.
Barnes told ENS that the three-year movement to reduce the asking to 15 percent results in $74,931,206 in total revenue. This total assumes a $175,000 diocesan exemption and assumes that each diocese not paying the full asking will increase its percentage contribution by 10 percent above the rate it is contributing in 2014. Full participation in a mandatory 15 percent assessment for all three years of the 2016-2018 triennium, with the same diocesan exemption and growth in giving assumptions, would result in $80,236,645 in revenue, he said.
FFM’s decision to move to a 15 percent asking in 2018 came in part as a response to the “overwhelming support” for a reduced asking expressed by those who commented on a version of the budget after its November release, Hollingsworth said. Many of those people called for 15 percent while a few wanted the churchwide budget to go to an annual biblical tithe of 10 percent, he said.
FFM received 334 responses, he said, and 90 percent of them came from Episcopalians who are not bishops and deputies.
In her opening remarks Jefferts Schori challenged the council to change its fundamental approach to budgeting. She wanted them to consider whether the proposed budget asks “each part of the body of Christ for what is needed to support the growth toward full and abundant life of the more dependent parts of the body of Christ.”
“I believe that means it ought to start with need, rather than an artificially determined base income,” she said of the budget. “It should expect and plan for full participation by all who are able.”
She told the council that “we have embarrassed the parts of the body that lack the basic financial resources necessary to full and vigorous life as a diocese in this Church. We have often failed to respond to their cries for help.”
“At the same time, we failed to expect the full participation of other parts of the body in response to those cries for help. We need new courage and honesty, and we may need more accurate definitions of what a diocese is, and what constitutes a missionary district.”
Jefferts Schori based her challenge in the Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ statement developed at the last Anglican Congress in Toronto in 1963.
The resolution calling for a Diocesan Assessment Review Committee says FFM will discuss “further practical details/refinement” of the plan during the March 19-21 council meeting in Salt Lake City. However, at present, the resolution calls for committee members, appointed by the presiding bishop and president of the House of Deputies, to talk with leaders in those dioceses that do not pay the full asking to learn the reasons for that decision. The committee could also review diocesan financial statements and “encourage and work with” dioceses to create a plan for reaching the full assessment amount.
The committee could recommend that Executive Council grant a full or partial waiver of assessment to any diocese, based on financial hardship, having developed a plan for reaching the full assessment over time, or other factors, according to the resolution. Any diocese that does not plan to pay its full assessment amount, and has not received a waiver will be asked to “account in writing to Executive Council and the wider church for that choice,” the resolution said. And a diocese that does not pay its full assessment in any year, and has not received a waiver of assessment, shall not be eligible to receive any grants or loans from the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.
The Jan 9-11 meeting took place at the Maritime Institute Conference Center.
Some council members tweeted from the meeting using #ExCoun.
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.