By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
General Convention’s Program Budget & Finance Committee is gearing up to use a $2 million budget surplus from the last triennium to make an “astonishingly attention-getting” statement about the Episcopal Church’s commitment to racial justice and reconciliation.
“People want to talk about reparations, but it wasn’t just the White House that was built with slave labor,” said Bishop James Mathes of San Diego. “Our church was.”
Meanwhile, advocates for new church planting and digital evangelization resources stand to see millions less than they requested.
A panel subcommittee on program expenditures informally agreed Sunday to allocate $2 million in new spending to racial justice and reconciliation. Church administrators would have discretion on exactly how the money is spent, but the statement would already be made.
“I’d rather go big with $2 million — at least we’re making this commitment,” said Patty Downing, assistant secretary of the committee.
Advancing racial justice has been a dominant theme of the 78th General Convention, which on Saturday elected the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry of North Carolina as the Episcopal Church’s first African-American presiding bishop.
“General Convention is where we Episcopalians have the ability not only to proclaim that black lives matter, but also to take concrete action toward ending racism and achieving God’s dream and justice for every single person,” said House of Deputies President Gay Clark Jennings in her opening address to deputies, who stood to applaud.
What might “concrete action” entail? The budget process could hold clues. If the subcommittee’s recommendation is accepted by the whole committee this week, then it can proceed, even if it’s not approved by both houses of General Convention.
Winning approval from both the House of Bishops and House of Deputies might be possible, however, in the current climate. To date, the 78th General Convention has shown strong interest in racial justice. One example: on Sunday morning, about 1,500 people lined up behind 79 bishops to march against gun violence in the streets of Salt Lake City. Several marchers carried signs reading Black Lives Matter, a reference to solidarity with young African-American men killed by police in the past year.
In budgeting for racial justice and reconciliation, size matters, according to Bishop Mathes.
“I’d like it to be shockingly big enough to where it says we’re really going to double down in this area,” Mathes said. “We need a societal change, and the church needs to lead it. We should walk out of this convention saying, ‘We’re going to lead it. And we’re going to put our money where our mouth is.’ I want it to be astonishingly attention-getting.”
Church growth initiatives, meanwhile, are still in line for some financial support, but not as much as advocates have sought. A digital evangelization initiative needs $3 million to scale up and improve online outreach, advocates say, but the subcommittee had a working number of $1 million as of Sunday.
“If we put $1 million in, we can accomplish the goal at the level that we’re able to do,” said Bishop Stacy Sauls, chief operating officer for the Episcopal Church.
The draft budget has set aside $3 million for starting new congregations, but that number could be reduced in coming days, according to subcommittee members in their discussion. Advocates have been seeking more than $6 million.
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