By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
The first Executive Council meeting of the 2015-18 triennium adjourned Nov. 18 with early steps for implementing the resolutions of the 78th General Convention.
The four-day event, held at the Conference Center of the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies, balanced attention to the nuts-and-bolts of church governance with early attempts to empower the church for evangelism and racial reconciliation.
“Our work was done in the context of a deep commitment to following in the way of Jesus, to take that more seriously and to go ever deeper in that,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said at a press conference after adjournment.
Executive Council’s 40 members began to explore what it will mean for them to oversee the work of national church staff. General Convention added the words oversee and oversight to the council’s canons in an attempt to distinguish its duties from those of senior staff. But interpreting what oversight should or will entail will require time.
Business matters involved laying a foundation for a council that’s just beginning its term. That included orientation on church structure, council members’ fiduciary duties, and the status of the church assets under their purview. Those range from real-estate holdings in New York and Texas to $388 million in assets held in trust funds.
Treasurer N. Kurt Barnes delivered some good news in detailing the $125 General Convention budget for the current triennium. The budget is expected to end the period with a $3 million to $4 million surplus as a result of increased diocesan commitments and other factors. The announcement of an expected surplus led a parade of funding requests on Tuesday afternoon in the Joint Standing Committee on Finances for Mission.
“Everyone wants to spend the surplus,” said Rev. Canon Mally Lloyd of the committee. But it’s not just free money, as committee members discussed, because the council has a duty to use surplus funds to replace funds drawn from trusts in the past.
Barnes advised the council that it will need to make specific financial decisions. The church has drawn down its short-term reserves (i.e., surpluses from past triennia) by $9 million in recent years, Barnes said. He flagged that the council, in consultation with the treasurer, still needs to find $2.82 million for new evangelism initiatives within a purse labeled “unrestricted reserves.”
The council elected two at-large members, Warren Wong of the Diocese of California and the Rt. Rev. Ed Konieczny, Bishop of Oklahoma, to serve on its executive committee. In a new twist, the executive committee is expected to be involved in creating new staff positions and setting salary levels for each job. That committee’s involvement on behalf of the council will satisfy canonical requirements that had been disregarded in the past, according to Bishop Curry and House of Deputies President Gay Jennings.
The council also created committees to monitor economic-justice loans and oversee corporate social responsibility initiatives, including shareholder advocacy. A new ad hoc committee will assess the legal needs of the council and the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society as the church prepares to fill the new position of chief legal officer.
On racial reconciliation, the board considered the possibility of commending some type of study-group format to dioceses and congregations, but such ideas are in an early stage. That work is likely to proceed in earnest under a new canon to the presiding bishop on evangelism and racial reconciliation, who likely will be appointed in coming months.
On evangelism, council members began setting expectations for staff. The Committee on Local Ministry and Mission told Alex Baumgarten, director of public engagement and mission communication, that it wants to see the communications staff do more to share Episcopalians’ success stories in church-planting and mission enterprise zones.
“There are many resources out there, but nobody can find them,” said George Wing, a council member and ministry and mission committee member from Colorado.
In managing his first Executive Council meeting as Presiding Bishop, Curry began fulfilling his vision of CEO as “chief evangelism officer.” He floated programmatic ideas for helping Episcopalians become more comfortable in sharing their faith in Jesus. He noted that it takes time to do that kind of work, but the Diocese of North Carolina did it with 1,000 people who participated in Sharing Faith Dinners, a program offered by the Diocese of Texas.
In North Carolina, he said, “small groups of people came together and actually shared their faith stories in ways that were not intrusive and were genuinely safe,” Curry said. “There are about two million of us. Imagine the two million going out, Sunday by Sunday, week by week, and actually intentionally following in the way of Jesus and witnessing to the love of God that we know in Jesus. We could change the world.”
Images of Executive Council and treasurer N. Kurt Barnes by G. Jeffrey MacDonald