By Kirk Petersen
“Something’s different about this one.”
When Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry thundered these words in his opening address to the Executive Council, he was referring to the public response to the death of George Floyd from the actions of Minnesota police.
But he could have been referring to the meeting itself. The Executive Council, which is the governing body of the Church between General Conventions, on June 8 convened its four-day meeting online for the first time ever. On its opening day, the council heard a financial presentation that was cautious but not grim, about which more below.
Curry’s “something’s different” could even have been referring to the tenor of his own remarks. The presiding bishop is among the most cheerful of men. He often displays great passion in the pulpit, but it’s normally exuberant passion in support of his message of love.
Angry passion is less common. Following is a portion of his remarks, as transcribed by TLC:
We have seen the blatant face of brutality, of the brutality of racism, that is very often far more subtle, and pernicious, and systemic, and institutional. But we have seen its brutal face.
We have seen fundamental challenges to the ideals of freedom, justice, and human equality, that are foundational ideals of the United States. In spite of the fact that the United States has not always lived up to it, the ideals were there.
We have seen fundamental challenges to the democratic fabric of American society, something I never thought I would live to see.
We have seen a ruthless virus, a plague in the land, sickness and death and hardship visited to one degree or another on all of us. But particularly on the most vulnerable among us. And it has exposed inequities and moral wrongs that shouldn’t be, in our land or in our world.
We have seen increased danger to the very earth itself. And the failure of the nations, including this one that I love, to stand up for our mother the Earth. Thank God there’s a little girl in Scandinavia who is willing to stand up.
We’ve protested before. This is not the first time. There were protests after Ferguson. There were protests after Eric Garner. There were protests after Trayvon Martin. There’ve been protests before.
But something’s different about this one. This time it’s not just black folk and a few white folk protesting. This time it is the rainbow children of God. This time they are black and white and Anglo and Latino, I mean, it’s amazing! They’re gay, they’re straight — they’re Mitt Romney! A Republican! This is something different going on. And that gives me hope.
God’s got a witness, and it is multi-ethnic, it is E Pluribus Unum, it is the rainbow children of God coming together to bear witness that we don’t wanna be like this anymore, we want a better world! We want a better America! Let the true America rise up! Let America really be America. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice – not for some, but for all.
Even if the crowds and protestors weren’t there, even when the cameras have gone away, even when the public attention is moved elsewhere, God will still be God. And our work goes on. Our struggle continues. And we will not quit.
In the business session, Treasurer N. Kurt Barnes told the council that while the Church remains in strong financial condition, “Economists forecast that the stay-at-home orders and other restrictions will produce the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression — worse than the recession of 2009-2010.”
Income and expenses for the first quarter of 2020 were roughly in line with the budget, although there was some volatility on certain line items. Travel expenses have been slashed — as evidenced by the fact that the meeting is being conducted online, rather than in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as had been planned.
The Church has an untapped $15 million line of credit, and $11 million in short-term reserves, well in excess of the target $9.5 million. The total budget for the 2019-2021 is about $135 million.
Although only a few dioceses have requested waivers from the mandated 15 percent assessment to the Church Center, “we shouldn’t be surprised if we see post-pandemic economic weakness over the next decade. We should plan ahead,” he said.
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, told the council that an ad hoc committee had been formed to develop principles for making reductions if it becomes necessary. Some of the specifics will be discussed over the coming days of the meeting.
“In the event that we experience a loss in income, the choices will be difficult, and reductions will be hard to make, recognizing that every decision made directly affects individuals who are created in the image of God,” Curry said. “We commit to being kind, loving, fair, and equitable. That is a commitment. But it is with regret that we have to acknowledge and recognize that depending on the length and duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic upheaval, there may be reductions required in staffing. That is not our hope, but we must prepare and be honest that it’s a possibility.”