[Episcopal News Service –Austin, Texas] Faced with a record number of resolutions, many of them asking for money, but also aided by a strong financial foundation, General Convention’s budget committee finished crunching numbers July 10 on the Episcopal Church’s 2019-2021 budget.
“This is the missionary budget for the Jesus Movement in the Episcopal Church,” Maine Bishop Steve Lane, vice chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance, told Episcopal News Service during an interview after the committee reached its goal of balancing the budget.
The budget, with a bottom line of $133.8 million in both revenue and spending, is a plan “from a new kind of church” that has a “continued focus on evangelism, racial reconciliation and creation care,” Lane said. Convention set those three priorities during the last meeting of convention in 2015 at the urging of then-newly elected Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.
According to Lane and PB&F chair Barbara Miles, deputy from the Diocese of Washington, $10 million is allocated across the budget for racial reconciliation work. Evangelism has $5.3 million to work with, and it is money allocated from anticipated income rather than the one-time draw on the church’s short-term reserves as it has been in the 2016-2018. There is also $1 million for care of creation.
PB&F’s 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. That presentation is set for 2:15 p.m. CDT on July 11. To meet that deadline, the committee had to complete its work the day before. Once they receive the budget, the two houses debate and vote on it separately. Both houses must approve the same version of the budget, which takes effect at the beginning of 2019.
PB&F uses the draft 2019-2021 triennium budget that Executive Council passed in January and legislation passed by or being considered by General Convention to create a final budget proposal. It also holds hearings for people to explain to the committee why their resolutions should be funded. The budget process at convention runs parallel to the resolution process and, often, one process overtakes the other.
During this convention, the most visible example of this is the question of prayer book revision. At the time the committee finished the budget, the convention had not yet decided whether to begin a years-long process of revising the Book of Common Prayer. Deputies passed a resolution to do so on July 7. Bishops began debating the issue on July 9 but recessed without voting and took up the question again on July 10 after PB&F had completed the budget. That house approved a substitute resolution; the deputies will have to debate and vote on it.
“We could not predict how the church will ultimately move on prayer book revision,” Lane said. “After lengthy conversation, we determined that putting aside a large amount of money for something that wasn’t certain was poor stewardship and putting in a token amount was disrespectful of intended work.”
Thus, PB&F did not budget any money for such work. Lane and Miles believe that the Executive Council, the officers of the church and the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music will have to craft a budget process if the convention decides to go forward on prayer book revision.
There is good news in the budget at many levels, beginning with the practical. At the beginning of the 2016-2018 triennium, less than 50 percent of the church’s 109 dioceses and three regional areas contributed the then-voluntary 15 percent of their income to the churchwide budget. In this final year of the three-year cycle, more than 80 percent are doing so. Diocesan funding is the budget’s primary source of income.
“My sense is that this is some of the best financial news in a generation for the Episcopal Church,” Lane said. “We are very close to the place where all of our dioceses are equal partners in the mission of the church in terms of funding. That can’t be celebrated too much. It’s tremendous good news.”
Miles acknowledged that there are those who say the budget has less money to work with because the last meeting of convention lowered the asking from 18 percent in 2016 to 16.5 in 2017 and then to 15 this year. “They’re really not correct,” she said. “We’re doing better now than we were when we had a higher number that people couldn’t reach.”
The convention listened to dioceses who wanted to be able to keep more money for mission and ministry at home, Lane said. Moreover, “many dioceses were seeking a way not to be second-class citizens” because they could not give the total percentage asked. Lowering the ask helped more of the smaller dioceses become full partners, he said.
The General Convention in 2015 turned the voluntary diocesan budgetary asking system into a mandatory assessment, beginning with the 2019-2021 budget cycle. If all dioceses paid the full 15 percent, the budget would have $88.8 million on that income line.
Not all dioceses pay the full asking for a variety of reasons. Diocesan commitments for 2016 and 2017 are here. Dioceses may ask for full or partial waivers, and Lane said only 19 dioceses are asking for those waivers and $5.5 million is in the budget to account for those waivers.
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 (the name under which the Episcopal Church is incorporated, conducts business and carries out mission).
Each year’s annual giving in the three-year budget is based on a diocese’s income two years earlier. PB&F’s draft budget allows dioceses to exempt $140,000 of income from their assessment calculation. The exemption was $120,000 during the 2012-2015 triennium.
Even with that solid financial grounding, the committee was challenged in its work with more than $12 million in new spending requests that were not in council’s draft budget.
Lane and Miles said PB&F had three principles guiding its work in considering those spending requests. The first was not to add to the churchwide staff if the position did not have what Lane called “significant new work.” The second was to favor the creation of networks and time-limited task forces, rather than new canonically required standing commissions. And, third, the committee focused on keeping money in dioceses by preserving the assessment rate at 15 percent and encouraging dioceses to be engaged in networking with other entities for work they felt was important rather than putting it back in the churchwide structure.
Those principles echo the recommendations made to the 2015 General Convention by the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) after it spent approximately two years in a dialogue with Episcopalians about the structure of the church and its relationship to mission.
PB&F did not want to “rebuild the bureaucracy” of the churchwide operation, Lane said.
“We don’t believe that the church has yet lived into the culture change that was proposed by the TREC report,” he said. “Part of our struggle at this convention was responding to the outpouring of resolutions asking for things to be restored and rebuilt, rather than seeking new ways of doing work. We want to encourage the church to continue to look at a leaner, more flexible way of operating – a way of operating closer to the ground.”
Miles said one task force only asked for $100 to cover the phone bill for meetings via conference call. “Good for them,” she said.
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.