By Joe Thoma
Before General Convention held its first legislative sessions July 5, conversation on Independence Day centered on funding for outreach, evangelism and administration despite a shrinking budget.
The Episcopal Church’s Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance voted during its first working meeting July 4 to model its proposed 2013-15 budget on Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s Five Marks of Mission proposal [PDF].
“Program, Budget and Finance made that decision without commitment to any of the specific line items within the Five Marks of Mission proposal,” a PB&F statement said. “Program, Budget and Finance made its decision because the Five Marks of Mission budget provides a clear missionary framework for budgeting and is based on updated information regarding income.”
Through hearings, and after input from the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, the committee will continue to amend income and expense lines for the final budget presentation on Tuesday, July 10.
Several deputies and visitors spoke at the working meeting and in committees for retaining certain areas of funding already in the budget or proposed for the next triennium. Some favored projects include:
• Resolution A109, which relates to the church’s “covenant relationship” funding, or block-grant funding for overseas province and dioceses, including Liberia, Brazil, Philippines, Mexico and the Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de America. “Until the past triennium, The Episcopal Church has always fully honored its financial commitments as stated in its covenant and bilateral agreements,” the resolution says. “In several instances, our mission partners were not informed of reductions and were surprised by unilateral actions of The Episcopal Church. Such actions, without consultation and in apparent violation of some of the agreements, may damage our relationships with our mission partners.”
• Continued funding for Episcopal Relief and Development, which says it helped save the lives of more than 100,000 children in 2011 through its Nets for Life anti-malaria project,
• Campus ministry, which is “an important symbol” of the church’s support of young people and should continue to receive funding at the national level, said Jean Pierre Seguin, president of the student vestry at Canterbury House in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “These are important places where students can grow.”
• Dianne Aid, president of the Episcopal Network for Economic Justice, spoke on behalf of continued funding for the Jubilee Network, which reaches out to marginalized communities.
• The Rt. Rev. Gregory Brewer, Bishop of Central Florida and a member of the convention’s evangelism committee, said he favors Resolution A073, which proposes “diocesan mission enterprise zones” for mission and evangelism that engages “under-represented groups, including young people, people of color, poor and working-class people, people with a high-school diploma or less, and/or people with little or no church background or involvement.” Bishop Brewer said: “I thought this sounds perfect for our diocese, especially in working to elevate Spanish-speaking congregations.”
The Very Rev. David W.T. Thurlow, a deputy from South Carolina, argued for reducing some portions of the budget.
He said that just as Resolution A015 calls on the federal government to be more transparent in accounting for spending, the Episcopal Church should release information about legal costs for battles over property rights.
Thurlow, rector at St. Matthias, Summerton, said General Convention has affirmed that transparency and accountability is essential in governments at home and abroad. He cited Resolution A15, which commends the Arab Spring, as an example.
He also called for curtailment of the recently expanded disciplinary rules and procedures for clergy in the Title IV canons. Critics say the new rules remove procedural safeguards for clergy.
“I’m asking that we defund certain areas, particularly the Title IV Canons; it’s nice to see that it’s down over 25 percent of what it was three years ago. But we all know that Bishop [Edward] Salmon [retired Bishop of South Carolina] and other statesmen of the church have recently been charged for publicly expressing his views that counter that newer understanding that we are a unitary form of government. … I would ask you to defund that nonsense. It sends a very negative message to the world at large when we are engaged in these things with one another.”
“The cost of this is money that should be going to pay for such things as anti-malaria nets,” Thurlow said after the hearing.