Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the number of churchwide staff positions based on budget documents that included some government-funded positions. Based on the correct figures, the proposed change in church-funded positions is a reduction from 141 to 140.
[Episcopal News Service] The Joint Budget Committee on Oct. 26 presented its latest draft of a churchwide budget for 2025-27 totaling $145 million, as Executive Council reviewed anticipated income and spending for the church’s first full budgetary triennium since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted financial expectations.
Despite expectations that church operations would settle into a new post-pandemic normal, the Joint Budget Committee began its work estimating it would need to fill a $12 million shortfall – reflecting long-term structural deficits that previously had been filled by unexpected pandemic-related surpluses. Members of the budget committee led by its chair, the Rev. Patty Downing, explained that they filled the gap by tightening some spending lines, finding cost savings and seeking additional revenue, including $1.5 million over three years from Episcopal Relief & Development for the agency’s continued reliance on church services and staff.
The draft also would reduce the number of the presiding bishop’s canons from three to two, eliminating the position of canon for mission within the church. The committee anticipates dioceses will collect 2% more in revenue during the new triennium, and the draft churchwide budget would maintain the current 15% assessment that dioceses give to support the churchwide budget.
Those assessments make up the largest single source of churchwide income – $93.6 million in the 2025-27 draft, or 64%. Bill Fleener, one of the committee’s members, acknowledged that some dioceses are expected to ask General Convention to lower the assessment rate. The committee decided to leave the rate unchanged, rather incorporating even steeper spending cuts than the ones made in consultation with the church’s leadership team. Maintaining that revenue could be particularly important next year, he said, given the upcoming election of a new presiding bishop who will take office in November 2024.
“We didn’t want to have a situation where a new presiding bishop was coming in with a budget that wouldn’t function to enable the ministries that he or she was called to provide for the church,” Fleener said.
The proposal to seek $1.5 million, or $500,000 a year, from Episcopal Relief & Development generated the most questions and discussion by members of Executive Council. The agency operates as an independent nonprofit but works closely with The Episcopal Church and its dioceses in responding to disasters and humanitarian crises around the world.
Some questioned why the church would ask for such a contribution from a nonprofit organization that has earned praise for its effectiveness and efficiency. The Joint Budget Committee and department heads responded that Episcopal Relief & Development has been granted free use of office space at the Episcopal Church Center in New York, and it is supported by Episcopal Church departments, such as human resources and accounting.
Kurt Barnes, the church’s chief financial officer, noted that $500,000, though a significant amount of money, represented about 1.5% of Episcopal Relief & Development’s $30 million annual budget. He and Jane Cisluycis, the church’s acting chief operating officer, are scheduled to meet with Episcopal Relief & Development in November to discuss the matter further.
Other members of Executive Council asked if the budget committee and the church’s financial planners could revise the draft budget to more clearly compare the spending proposed for 2025-27 and the actual spending from previous years. Barnes said his department would consider ways of improving those comparisons, but he cautioned against basing future plans on past budgets that were upended by the pandemic.
“We’re not going to have apples to apples,” Barnes said.
Before the pandemic, the General Convention last adopted a three-year budget plan in 2018, authorizing $134 million in spending for 2019-2021, or an average of $44.6 million a year. The pandemic forced Executive Council to approve a one-year budget for 2021, while the 80th General Convention was postponed to 2022. When it convened, it approved a budget spanning only two years. The budget estimated that overall spending for 2022-24 would total $153 million, including expenses from an unexpected two meetings of General Convention in three years.
The draft budget for 2025-27 would average $48.4 million in annual spending. It also would reduce the number of church-funded staff positions from 141 to 140, and it would maintain the annual 3% cost of living adjustments for those staff members’ salaries.
Public hearings on the draft budget are scheduled for Nov. 9, Dec. 6 and Dec. 12, after which the Joint Budget Committee will make its final revisions and present the plan for Executive Council’s approval on Jan. 26. Under the new budgeting process that was implemented during this cycle, Executive Council will send the approved budget proposal to the 81st General Convention, and “it cannot be altered until it is on the floor of General Convention,” Downing said.
“The Joint Budget Committee will convene following General Convention and consider all resolutions that have funding implications,” Downing said. The current proposal would set aside $2 million to fund additional resolutions as needed.
– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.