General Convention passes budget with money for evangelism, racial reconciliation

Evangelism decision comes as amendment from deputies

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Jul 3, 2015

[Episcopal News Service – Salt Lake City] The General Convention adopted the 2016-2018 triennial budget July 2 after agreeing to add $2.8 million for evangelism work.

While the addition passed with relatively little debate in the House of Deputies, it faced some opposition in the House of Bishops.

The 2016-2018 triennial budget is based on $125,083,185 in revenue, compared to the forecasted $118,243,102 for the triennium that ends Dec. 31 of this year. The expenses are projected to be $125,057,351. The budget comes in with a negligible surplus of $25,834. Its revenue projection is based in part 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 version of the budget presented July 1 by the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) also included a major new $2 million initiative on racial justice and reconciliation, even as it reduces the amount of money it asks dioceses to contribute to 15 percent by 2018. The initiative remains.

The new money for Latino-Hispanic initiatives and church planting amounts to some but not all of that called for in resolutions A086 and D005 respectively. Together, the two resolutions called for $6.5 million.

The budget proposed by PB&F already contained $3 million for starting new congregations. The budget noted that PB&F anticipated a collaborative effort to assist underserved populations, including Hispanic communities.

The approved budget will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

The Rev. Frank Logue, a Georgia deputy and PB&F member, proposed adding the extra money for evangelism, saying “this convention stands at a potentially historic moment” having elected a “chief evangelism officer” when it elected North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry as its next presiding bishop. He said while both houses had concurred on resolutions A086 and D005, the proposed budget “does not meaningfully add to our evangelism effort.”

“But the good news is we have the means to match the will of this body,” he said, proposing the half-percent additional draw on investment income.

Doing so, he said, would “allow us to move out of this convention having provided our newly elected presiding bishop with the support he needs to assist us in reaching others for the love of Jesus Christ.”

While Logue suggested that the $2.8 million be gained through an added half-percent draw on income from the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s approximately $220 million in unrestricted invested assets, his amendment to the budget called for adding the money in a line named “Income from Unrestricted Reserves for Evangelism Initiatives.” The DMFS’ unrestricted invested assets and its short-term reserves are two different pools of money. The $2 million allocation for racial reconciliation and justice work is also due to come from short-term reserves.

The Rev. Susan Snook of Arizona, Resolution D005’s sponsor, told the deputies that “it is time for us as The Episcopal Church to put our money where our mouth is, to be bold, daring and passionate in the belief that we have something to offer every community, every culture, every place where we are The Episcopal Church.”

“No investment in changing lives is ever, ever wasted,” she said.

The deputies voted 571-257 to add the $2.8 million.

Deputies also agreed, 455-368, to move $150,000 out of the amount budgeted for the church’s development office and grant it to The Episcopal Network for Stewardship. The $266,530 the group received in the current budget had been viewed as a one-time grant, and PB&F did not renew it.

The Rev. John Floberg, deputy from North Dakota and a member of Executive Council and PB&F, then took to a microphone to urge deputies to stop changing the budget.

Calling this one of the most open budget processes the church has ever known, Floberg said: “It’s time for this house to allow the budget that was presented and is now amended to remain in place. This is not the time for deputies who haven’t been hearing all of the information about all of the requests that have come through to be pitting one thing up against another. It’s time for some trust.”

The budget then passed 799-24.

The House of Bishops debated the evangelism provision with most bishops calling for its acceptance.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to take the risk,” said Bishop Scott Hayashi, of the hosting diocese of Utah. “We have spoken that evangelism and racial reconciliation are important to us. If we really believe that, we need to find a way to do it.”

“To say yes, we’re in favor of evangelism but we’re not going to fund it would make us look pretty foolish,” said Arizona Bishop Kirk Smith, adding, “The mission of the church is not to balance the budget.”

Diocese of Los Angeles Bishop Suffragan Diane Bruce told her colleagues “it’s important that we remember we’re talking about God’s economics, not man’s or woman’s economics.”

The bishops approved the budget as sent to them by deputies on a voice vote.

The impetus for the budget’s racial justice and reconciliation initiative came from Resolution C019 that calls on the church to respond to systemic racial injustice. It asks for $1.2 million for that work.

“It was the sense of the (PB&F) committee that given the atmosphere we’re living in now – the shootings and the plight of African-American men – that we wanted to do more,” the Rev. Mally Lloyd of Massachusetts, PB&F chair, told ENS the day before the budget was presented. “Give them $2 million and a blank slate to really try something new for the church that we hope will have major impact.”

Lloyd said the committee decided to leave the dimensions of the work “for the movement of the spirit” to guide the church’s leaders.

The $2 million will come from the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s short-term reserves and is part of the $4.7 million surplus with which the 2013-2015 triennium is predicted to end.

“We’re taking a risk as a church that we don’t have an emergency that would call on those reserves,” Diocese of Maine Bishop Stephen Lane, PB&F vice chair, told ENS. “We’re seeing this as an extraordinary circumstance and an extraordinary opportunity and, therefore, using extraordinary means to support it.”

The original budget as proposed by PB&F is here. ENS’s coverage of PB&F’s budget presentation is here and includes more detail about what it contains.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service. Tracy Sukraw, a member of the ENS General Convention team, contributed to this story.