Convention turns diocesan asking into a mandatory assessment in 2019

Resolution sets up process to study salary for House of Deputies president

By Mary Frances Schjonberg and Tracy Sukraw
Posted Jul 4, 2015

[Episcopal News Service – Salt Lake City] General Convention, meeting in the last hours of its nine-day gathering here, made mandatory the current voluntary diocesan budgetary asking system for the 2019-2021 budget cycle and imposed penalties for noncompliance.

Substitute Resolution D013 also conforms the church’s canon on the budget to the process that has actually been used in recent years to craft the budget.

Final approval of D013 came after convention took the relatively unusual step of referring to a conference committee the bishops’-amended version of Resolution D013. The conference committee process is used to create a final-form resolution for consideration by both houses in a shorter period of time than it would take for the amended resolution to be sent back to its regular legislative committee. The last time it was used was in 1997, according to House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, who served on it. It involved Resolution A053 to implement mandatory rights of women clergy under canon law.

The mandatory assessment will not apply to the upcoming 2016-2018 triennial budget, but becomes effective Jan. 1, 2019. Without getting a waiver, a diocese that does not pay the full assessment will be unable to get grants or loans from the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society unless the Executive Council specifically approves disbursing the money.

(The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society is the name under which The Episcopal Church is incorporated, conducts business, and carries out mission.)

The resolution allows the council to begin granting waivers to dioceses that do not pay, based on financial hardship, beginning Jan. 1, 2016. Council agreed in January to create a so-called Diocesan Assessment Review Committee to work with dioceses that do not  meet the full churchwide asking.

Dominican Republic Bishop Julio César Holguín Khoury addressed bishops through an interpreter during discussion on the resolution July 3, saying, “Please make note of the fact that there are some dioceses that receive subsidies to assist their budgeting function and what I understand here, it’s being required they pay the full amount of what is specified here. That would make a very difficult ,for example, for those dioceses in the ninth province. They might not be able to comply (with) that mandate.”

To which Florida Bishop John Howard replied: “Those are precisely the circumstances this resolution contemplates and for which most likely a waiver would be granted.”

The 2016-2018 budget convention adopted July 2 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.

Each year’s annual diocesan giving in the three-year budget had been based on a diocese’s income two years earlier, minus $120,000. The dioceses were this year asked to contribute 19 percent of their income from two years earlier, minus $120,000. The 2016-2018 budget increases the exemption to $150,000.

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.

A copy of the budget is here.

The major reason a conference committee met July 3 to perfect a version of the resolution upon which both houses could agree was the bishops amended the resolution proposed by General Convention’s Legislative Committee on Governance and Structure and adopted by the deputies to remove wording to provide a stipend for the president of the House of Deputies.

The Task Force For Reimagining the Episcopal Church called for such compensation in its report to convention (page 12 here) and its original Resolution A004.

“When someone volunteers to do a job, it is not an injustice not to pay them,” said Diocese of Milwaukee Bishop Steven Miller during debate in the House of Bishops on July 3.

Colorado Bishop Rob O’Neill, who later served the conference committee, told his colleagues during the same debate that a “conversation needs to be had with care and thoughtfulness apart from language that binds us up in canonical revision.” He said he wanted to provide time and space for that conversation to happen in an appropriate venue and way.

The conference committee added 10 resolves concerning a salary for the deputies’ president. They note that the roles of both the presiding bishop and the deputies’ president continue to evolve and the life and work of the church as a whole is “in a time of substantial transition” as “the structures of the church continue to evolve.” There are “increased demands on the time and energy” of the president of the House of Deputies, who also serves as serves as vice-president of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and vice-chair of the Executive Council.

The resolution notes that “the House of Deputies is of the view that only persons who are retired or who have substantial economic resources are financially able to serve as president of the House of Deputies,” but that it ought to be able to choose a president without regard to his or her financial circumstances. And the resolution says the deputies think the salary is a matter of fairness and that it is important for church to “explore fully and openly the issues of leadership,” including compensation for the president.

“The House of Bishops understands and appreciates the cogency of, and fairness issues inherent in, the position of the House of Deputies,” the resolution said.

The resolution calls for the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies to jointly appoint a task force to consider the issues of leadership and compensation. The task force will make recommendations to the next meeting of convention.

Minnesota Deputy Sally Johnson, who chaired the conference committee as well as the governance and structure committee, told the deputies that the conference committee, consisting of her, Deputy Vice President Byron Rushing, Southeast Florida Deputy Tom O’Brian, Florida Bishop John Howard, Colorado Bishop Rob O’Neill and Northwest Pennsylvania Bishop Sean Rowe (who is also bishop provisional of Bethlehem) worked for more than three hours on the compromise resolution.  It was, she said, a “frank and candid and very good discussion.”

The bishops, she said, “expressed concern” that it was premature to add a stipend for the deputies’ president at this time without more study and consideration.

The language of the resolution “is probably not perfect,” she said, adding that it might have been “more perfect” had it not been crafted in the middle of convention’s last legislative day.

After the deputies passed the conference committee resolution on a vote of 684-84, Jennings praised the conference committee process, calling it one of the tools available to foster “communication, collaboration and conversation” with the House of Bishops.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. Tracy Sukraw is a member of the ENS team at General Convention. The Rev. Pat McCaughan, ENS correspondent, contributed to this story.