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 committee drafting a churchwide budget plan for 2025-27 has sharply reduced the revenue it expects from Episcopal Relief & Development after receiving strong opposition from some Episcopal leaders to a proposed first-time contribution from the agency.
The Rev. Patty Downing of the Diocese of Delaware, who chairs the Joint Budget Committee, gave the revenue update on Nov. 20 during an online listening session with fellow members of Executive Council, the church’s governing body between meetings of General Convention.
An earlier draft of the $145 million budget plan anticipated collecting $1.5 million over the three years from Episcopal Relief & Development for the agency’s continued reliance on church support services and staff – particularly finance and human resources – as well as its free use of church-owned office space. 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.
The budget draft also would reduce church-funded staff positions from 141 to 140, and Downing said in the Nov. 20 session that budget planners previously had not accounted for an additional $1 million in personnel savings. In the latest update, they were able to reduce Episcopal Relief & Development’s contribution to $450,000, or $150,000 a year.
Some Executive Council members expressed continued frustration at the difficulty of comparing the church’s projected spending in 2025-27 to its actual expenses from 2022-24. Members of the Joint Budget Committee cautioned that final totals from the current budget won’t be available before Executive Council is scheduled to vote on the new plan in January 2024. It also won’t be feasible to make true “apples to apples” comparisons because of the various ways the pandemic disrupted the church’s revenue and spending in recent years.
Dianne Audrick Smith, an Executive Council member from the Diocese of Ohio who serves with Downing on the Joint Budget Committee, sought to reassure fellow members that the draft budget proposal takes those factors into account, along with input from the church’s executive leadership team, while staying focused on the church’s ministry priorities.
“We’re trying to work within all that we hold dear as Episcopalians,” Audrick Smith said. “We are also working within an understanding that we will have a new presiding bishop who will have some direction that he or she will take, that they will take, in the coming triennium that we cannot foresee.”
Alongside passing the 2025-27 budget, electing a new presiding bishop will be one of the top actions taken by the 81st General Convention when it convenes in Louisville, Kentucky, in June 2024. The new presiding bishop will be installed Nov. 1, 2024.
A public hearing was held Nov. 9 on the draft budget, and two additional hearings are scheduled for 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. From that point, no revisions will be possible until it reaches the floor of the 81st General Convention for final consideration and adoption.
If approved, annual spending for 2025-27 would average $48.4 million. The budget plan would maintain the 15% rate of assessment on diocesan revenue, which is the largest source of income in the churchwide budget.
– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.