[Episcopal News Service – Linthicum Heights, Maryland] The Episcopal Church’s Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) left its three day meeting here ready to listen to the church’s opinions about which work ought to be done on a church-wide level in the next three years and how to pay for that work.
That listening will inform the General Convention budget committee’s preparation of a budget to propose to the June 25-July 3 meeting of General Convention in Salt Lake City.
PB&F prepared itself for the listening phase of its work by doing some listening – and inquiring – of its own after it received the draft 2016-2018 triennium budget that Executive Council passed last month. (General Convention Joint Rule II.10.c.iii calls for Executive Council to give PB&F a draft budget no less than four months before the start of General Convention, essentially by February of convention year).
Diocese of Maine Bishop Stephen Lane, PB&F vice chair, told the committee at the outset of the meeting that “we are in a receptive mode.”
Diocese of Ohio Bishop Mark Hollingsworth, chair of council’s Joint Standing Committee on Finances for Mission, and the Rev. Susan Snook of Arizona, who chaired FFM’s budget subcommittee, led PB&F members in a detailed explanation of the draft budget. The committee then spent time studying the budget’s line-by-line assumptions and allocations, and its larger issues.
Those larger issues included the role of the budget in guiding the church through a time of change and the desire on many people’s part for the church-wide structure to operate in a different way to better respond to the challenges the church faces. The committee also faces the uncertainty of crafting a budget while the church considers the recommendations on structural changes to the church made to General Convention by the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church. Those recommendations will come to Salt Lake City. Some of the church’s other committees, commissions, agencies and boards could also propose structural changes for this summer’s convention to consider, as could deputies, bishops and dioceses by way of resolutions.
And, convention and PB&F will also be aware that the 27th presiding bishop, due to be elected at this meeting of convention, might cast a new vision for the church during his or her nine-year term and beyond.
Also during the meeting here in Maryland, PB&F members heard Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, House of Deputies President Gay Jennings, Chief Operating Officer Bishop Stacy Sauls and Executive Officer of General Convention the Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe describe their visions for the 2016-2018 budget and the process being used to build it.
Jefferts Schori urged the committee to continue to think about building the budget around those things that can be done best or most appropriately by church-wide structures. Some of the types of work she suggested were supporting growth toward mutual responsibility and interdependence of the church’s individual and institutional members; stewarding the resources of the church including its corporate decision-making tradition, finances, property, reputation, the historical record, liturgical norms and tradition, and what she called boundary norms such as anti-racism, inclusivity and clergy discipline. Jefferts Schori also cited fostering relationships with other churches and religious communities, as well as relationships with governments and supranational institutions such as the United Nations.
The presiding bishop praised the work done in the last few triennia to develop a “coherent vision of what mission is about; that it’s about building the reign of God in our own day.” She noted that this vision has increasingly been anchored in the Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission. The 2016-2018 draft budget is built around the structure the marks provide, as is the 2013-2015 budget.
Jennings reminded the committee that “our stewardship of money is a spiritual matter, and the budget is a deeply theological document.”
She also warned the members that during the budget debate there were “bound to be disagreements, misunderstandings, and even confusion” and she urged them to “examine budget decisions using the lens of how we can empower, equip, and support congregations in every manner possible.”
“Ask the hard questions, use fresh eyes, anticipate the questions of deputies and bishops, remember the poor and underserved, and let Jesus be your companion,” she told them.
Sauls said he believed that “the church exists to do two things: to serve the poor and create servants of the poor.”
He told the committee the story of St. Laurence of Rome, a third century deacon, who was ordered by a Roman prefect to bring him the treasure of the church. The prefect was expecting to receive the church’s money and property, including vestments and communion vessels made of precious metals and jewels. Instead, on the appointed day, Laurence assembled before the prefect the poor people of Rome. Laurence was martyred because of his answer.
“That is a terribly important thing for us to remember,” Sauls said. “The church as I see it, as it administers its property which, though it rarely feels like it to us, is vast, exists to be the trustee of those who are poor.”
Barlowe said “we need a healthy, growing, loving, serving, transforming church at every level of its being.”
PB&F members “have the critical responsibility of helping General Convention consider how a church-wide budget can best strengthen and inspire the whole church in restoring people to unity with God and with each other in Christ.”
Thus, he said, framing the budget through the Five Marks of Mission moves the church towards that goal.
“But as with any system of classification, the Five Marks of Mission can become a very confusing filter if we try too hard to make something fit into the marks and then leave other things outside of the marks,” he said.
He urged the committee to confront that possible confusion and explain to the church how those budget items classified as Five Marks of Mission spending and those outside of that structure “work together to serve the mission of the church.”
As is expected at this stage of the budget process, PB&F made no changes in council’s draft budget. The Rev. Canon Mally Lloyd of Massachusetts, PB&F chair, recollected the gospel for the First Sunday in Lent, the previous day on Feb. 22, during which Jesus is tempted in the wilderness for 40 days.
“Our temptation here in the next few days is that we will try to start to tinker with things that are in the budget as given to us, to try to respond to our own inner leanings about how we should fund different parts of the church and to respond to people that have already begun to talk to us,” she said.
Lloyd said the purpose of the meeting was instead to study the draft budget and learn from Hollingsworth, Snook and church-wide staff members who were present so that the committee members could understand council’s proposal and be prepared to get feedback from the church.
“Jesus was tempted for 40 days,” she reminded the committee. “We have 117 days. Gird your loins.”
PB&F’s listening initially will come in two primary forms. First, committee members will get comments and questions as they make budget presentations to the pre-General Convention synods about to begin in each of the church’s nine provinces. Second, a web-based comment process open to the whole church is due to be available within the week.
The committee’s listening proceeds from surveys about the budget conducted by Executive Council and its FFM committee, along with feedback FFM received after it released for comment a preliminary version of its draft budget last fall.
Once in Salt Lake City, PB&F’s listening phase will end with two hearings. The first on the evening of June 25 will focus on the income the draft budget assumes will be available during the 2016-2018 triennium. The second hearing the next evening will center on how that money would be spent during those three years.
PB&F will use the comments it receives, council’s draft budget and any legislation passed by or being considered by General Convention to create a final budget proposal. That budget must be presented to a joint session of the Houses of Bishops and Deputies no later than the third day before convention’s scheduled adjournment. According to the draft convention schedule, that presentation is set to take place at 2:15 p.m. MDT on July 1.
The two houses then debate and vote on the budget separately. Both houses must approve the same version of the budget, which takes effect at the beginning of 2016. Executive Council often has to revise each of the three annual budgets of the triennium based on changing income and expenses.
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an Episcopal News Service editor and reporter.