By G. Jeffrey MacDonald

As members of a General Convention budget subcommittee began making program funding decisions Sunday afternoon, they received a sweet treat from one of the organizations vying for millions in funding.

Episcopal Relief & Development (ERD) brought smiles to the faces of committee members by providing each committee member with a 3.5-ounce bar of Equal Exchange Organic Panama Extra Dark Chocolate. The bars sell for $3.99 each on Amazon, but are cheaper in bulk.

A man delivered the gift discreetly in a box and placed it at the side of Bishop Stacy Sauls, chief operating officer for the Episcopal Church. Bishop Sauls distributed the bars around the table.

“Those are a gift of Episcopal Relief & Development,” Sauls said.

A few panel members chuckled when they heard who was behind the largesse. No one questioned whether the committee should accept gifts from an organization that’s asking the panel for money.

ERD is an independent, non-profit organization that provides disaster relief services and promotes sustainable development internationally. The organization received $3.18 million in Episcopal Church funding during the last triennium, which covered the years 2013 to 2015. A budget draft for the upcoming triennium calls for ER&D to receive the same amount for 2016 through 2018.

The sweets arrived as the committee was beginning to go line-by-line through the proposed $35.5 million administrative program budget and make hard choices about where to increase funding and where to cut.

Several program areas are facing a reduction or elimination of funding, including total spending on domestic poverty (down 14 percent) and historically black Episcopal colleges and universities (down 19 percent). On the chopping block is the Episcopal Network for Stewardship (TENS), which trains clergy and lay leaders in money manners. TENS will not have any of its $385,264 in funding from the last triennium renewed, according to the current budget draft.

The committee had not yet reached the section of the budget that includes the ER&D line item when reporters were asked to leave before an executive session.

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