By Kirk Petersen
Executive Council concluded its busy four-day meeting January 27, having passed a two-year budget, a statement of support for Ukraine, and, as reported separately, significant changes to the annual parochial report. Also the council learned that a committee is studying fallback alternatives in the event General Convention cannot be held in person in Baltimore this July.
The council learned at its October meeting that the church expected budget surplus for the 2019-2021 triennium of nearly $16 million, and the finance committee has been wrestling ever since with how to allocate the money.
The effective amount of the surplus is “only” $13.5 million, because $2.5 million in costs for General Convention were moved from 2021 to the one-year budget previously passed for 2022. Twenty percent of that, or $2.7 million, was allocated to short-term reserves, in keeping with the council’s 2017 decision to allocate 20 percent of any surplus to short-term reserves, and to invest 80 percent.
That left $10.8 million, nominally for investment purposes under the 2017 resolution. The council left the 80/20 formula in place, but approved the 2023-2024 budget as “an exception,” because pandemic. The council voted to spend up to $5 million as part of the “biennial” budget, and to defer any decision on what to do with the remaining $5.7 million, reasoning that more emergencies may arise. The $100 million, two-year budget does not become official until approved by General Convention — and is subject to possible change by Executive Council after that.
Recognizing that some of the dioceses are struggling financially, the council provided some relief in the assessment formula. The assessment remains at 15 percent, but the amount excluded from assessment will rise from $140,000 to $200,000, which will reduce income to the church center by $1.9 million.
This comes after the council voted last April to make unrestricted grants of up to $40,000 to each of the 109 dioceses. That could represent more than $4 million in reduced revenue to the church center, if all dioceses apply for the maximum. The Rev. Mally Lloyd, who chairs the hard-working finance committee, said she believed one or two dozen dioceses had not yet applied, although they have until November to do so.
The Executive Council typically meets three times annually, for three or four days, and the finance committee had suggested continuing with one online meeting annually even after the pandemic subsides. But some council members pushed back hard against this, noting that a lot of work and relationship-building occurs in the corridors and at meals when the council meets in person. Also, after General Convention, half of the current council will rotate off, and their successors will have to cope with a truncated two-year term.
The budget as approved includes funding for five in-person meetings, and the General Convention Office will look for budget savings to enable the sixth meeting also to be in-person.
Of course, the pandemic gets a vote, too. As of now, the April 2022 meeting is scheduled to occur in person in Puerto Rico, which has been hit harder by the omicron variant than the United States as a whole.
Russia & Ukraine
Pope Francis called for a global day of prayer for peace on January 26, as fears mounted of another Russian invasion of Ukraine. The council waived its own procedural rules to pass an emergency resolution expressing “serious concern about the escalation of tensions and military buildup along the border of Russia and Ukraine,” denouncing any possible invasion, and condemning “the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.”
The resolution urged the United States “to respond wisely, condemning any violation of territorial integrity while holding armed intervention to be a last resort.”
“Because of my [law] practice in export control, I have to follow these issues more closely than most of us,” said council member Russ Randle, Diocese of Virginia. “It would be fair to say that we’re at greater risk of armed conflict with Russia than we’ve been since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when we went to red alert.”
He continued his grim assessment by saying a Russian invasion could lead to “follow-on action by China against Taiwan, where we have a diocese of this church.”
Transgender Priests Share Feelings of Not Being Welcome
Time and again, council members said they were deeply moved by the personal witness of five transgender or non-binary priests during a 90-minute listening session January 25. A lay woman with a trans sibling also participated.
Gay and lesbian priests are now broadly accepted in much of the Episcopal Church, but the speakers said the church has a long way to go in being fully welcoming to transgender and non-binary priests.
The Rev. Gwen Fry recounted the reception she got in 2014 when she announced to her parish that she was transitioning from male to female. Her bishop had expressed support for her decision, but one staff member resigned on the spot, and she was forced out of her job within days.
“That pretty much ended my formal career as a parish priest,” she said, adding that she has only been able to serve as a supply priest. She served for a time as president of Integrity USA, a storied but now-troubled LGBT Episcopal advocacy group, and has been active with TransEpiscopal, a group that started as a listserv in 2004. Fry did not say where the 2014 events occurred, but on the TransEpiscopal website she has said it was in the Diocese of Arkansas.
Another speaker was the Rev. Rowan Larson, a curate in Massachusetts who uses the pronouns they/them and identifies as transgender, non-binary, and queer. Larson spoke about nomenclature and etiquette, acknowledging that the components of the LGBTQ+ community can be confusing to cisgender people (cisgender being the opposite of transgender — people who identify with the gender on their birth certificates). They urged council members to do a bit of Google research before approaching queer people with questions that may be considered insensitive.
The often-moving listening session was streamed online, but is not available for archival viewing. Egan Millard captured more of the discussion in an article posted by Episcopal News Service.