By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
When deputies and bishops debate a proposed $120 million budget this week, they will weigh what the budget committee calls “bold new initiatives,” especially in racial justice, church planting, and evangelism.
But they will likely hear less about the financial health of the Episcopal Church, which currently receives only 61 percent of its income from diocesan assessments. The rest comes from other sources, including endowment funds and property rental.
Bishop James Mathes of San Diego flagged the 61-percent figure for the Program, Budget, and Finance Committee on Tuesday as the panel prepared its budget narrative for presentation. He said the church should know what that number represents.
“I think it is our responsibility to note that, with a lesser and lesser percentage of the Episcopal Church’s budget being paid by assessment, we are living more and more on the generosity of the past,” Bishop Mathes said. Thus the church is increasingly spending money that its members have not donated, he said.
“I think we just need to call that out,” Mathes said. “When we see that in congregations, that’s a sign of less and less health.”
But the committee opted not to unpack the significance of the 61-percent figure before General Convention.
“I think the 61 percent shows up pretty graphically in the pie chart,” committee chair Mally Ewing Lloyd said. “If we put a sentence in that says, ‘This represents 61 percent of the income,’ with no further comment, people can draw their conclusions.”
Financial pressure on dioceses will be gradually lifted over the next triennium, according to the budget committee’s plans. Currently dioceses are expected to send 19 percent of operating income to the Episcopal Church Center in the form of assessments; the first $120,000 is exempt.
But two-thirds of dioceses do not meet that standard. One third of dioceses contribute less than 15 percent of their operating income.
The new system would raise the exemption level to $150,000 and phase in a reduction in diocesan assessments. Those levels would drop to 18 percent in 2016, 16.5 percent in 2017, and 15 percent in 2018.
“What we really are hoping for is that this provides an occasion, an opportunity for a fresh start, and people can come together around their support of the church,” said Bishop Stephen Lane of Maine, vice chair of the committee.