Committee confronts varied challenges in balancing 2025-27 churchwide draft budget plan

By David Paulsen
Posted Jan 8, 2024
Joint Budget Committee

The Joint Budget Committee meets Jan. 8 at the Maritime Conference Center in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, to finalize its draft of the 2025-27 budget plan. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Linthicum Heights, Maryland] Members of a churchwide budget committee began their three-day meeting here Jan. 8 focused largely on the mix of income sources that will help them balance a $145 million three-year draft budget plan for The Episcopal Church.

The Joint Budget Committee is for the first time overseeing the development of a triennial budget under a new streamlined process that was adopted in 2022 by the 80th General Convention. The committee, meeting Jan. 8-10 at the Maritime Conference Center in suburban Baltimore, expects to vote this week on its draft budget plan. Later this month, it will recommend the draft to Executive Council for approval; council then will forward it to the 81st General Convention for final adoption in June.

The committee’s most pressing challenge is to address what stood, as of Jan. 8, as an estimated three-year total income shortfall of more than $1.5 million. That still-fluctuating gap between budgeted expenses and revenues was created partly by the decision not to seek a budgetary contribution of up to $1.5 million from Episcopal Relief & Development for its use of church staff and office space.

The church also is likely to increase its grant to the Episcopal Church in Navajoland by at least $225,000 over the 2025-27 triennium to cover health insurance costs for the area mission’s staff, who had been without insurance until the start of this month. Executive Council approved emergency funds to pay for the insurance.

“I believe it a matter of absolute justice. We must do this if we are going to be a beloved community,” said San Diego Bishop Susan Brown Snook, a committee member who also serves as vice chair of the Task Force to Advise the Church on Denominational Health Plans.

The Joint Budget Committee also is wrestling with uncertainty over diocesan assessments, which generate a majority of the income in the churchwide budget – $93.6 million in the 2025-27 draft, or 64%. Some dioceses are advocating reducing the assessment rate from the current 15% to as low as 10%, which could create a significant income gap if the move is endorsed by the 81st General Convention. For now, the Joint Budget Committee is poised to recommend keeping the rate at 15%.

In a separate discussion, committee members generally favored maintaining the church’s 5% annual draw on investments to support the churchwide budget. At least one member of Executive Council, the church’s governing body between meetings of General Convention, has pressed the Joint Budget Committee to increase the draw, arguing that leaving the 5% draw unchanged, which is seen as a more conservative fiscal approach, would mean less money to spend on the church’s priorities.

Bill Fleener, a budget committee member from the Diocese of Western Michigan, spoke forcefully against raising the draw. “I don’t think it’s responsible for us to change the number,” he said in the morning session Jan. 8.

A mix of bishops, other clergy and lay leaders from eight of the The Episcopal Church’s nine provinces – 13 total voting members – serve on the Joint Budget Committee. It is chaired by the Rev. Patty Downing, a priest in the Diocese of Delaware. Some committee members, like Downing, also serve on Executive Council.

Part of the Joint Budget Committee’s task this week is to review the feedback it received at four online hearings – three open to the public and a fourth with Executive Council members.

Downing began the discussion Jan. 8 by reading a summary the spending priorities participants had identified in their hearing testimony. Those priorities included racial reconciliation efforts, creation care initiatives, campus and youth ministries, mental health care trainings and increased financial support for the two historically Black colleges with Episcopal roots.

In past budget cycles, the Finance Committee of Executive Council had produced a first draft of the triennial budget and presented it to a committee of General Convention known as Program, Budget and Finance. Church leaders at the last General Convention concluded that the former process was unnecessarily cumbersome. Instead, the Joint Budget Committee now shepherds the budget from start to finish.

After the 81st General Convention adopts the 2025-27 budget, the committee will convene again to discuss adjustments based on approved resolutions that call for additional spending.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


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