By Kirk Petersen
Executive Council concluded its four-day meeting in Phoenix on October 20 without passing a great deal of legislation, but with a fire-hose-thorough orientation for new members, and copious opportunities for relationship-building as they prepare for a truncated two years as the council’s junior class.
The most consequential governance development was another step toward sunsetting PB&F — the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance, which for decades has duplicated the efforts of the council’s Finance Committee in establishing triennial budgets.
To that end, the council is developing bylaws changes to implement Resolution A048, which was passed by General Convention in July with the enthusiastic support of multiple members of the committee that is to be abolished.
As TLC reported in July:
“The Finance Committee of Executive Council spends two and a half of its three years working on the budget coming up for the upcoming triennium,” said the Rev. Nancy Koonce, a deputy from Idaho and former member of the Executive Council and its Finance Committee. “In January of the year of General Convention, that budget gets turned over to PB&F,” which essentially starts the process over again on a much shorter timeline.
PB&F reviews the budget, solicits feedback from church constituencies, makes budget changes if it sees fit, and presents the budget to the General Convention for approval. The process requires enormous effort in a tight window of time — not only on the part of the 27-member PB&F, but also by Executive Council members and church staff.
PB&F will be replaced by a new Budget Committee, with members drawn from both within and outside Executive Council, which will work with the existing Finance Committee to fulfill PB&F’s role of providing a second set of eyes for the budget.
In committee meetings in Phoenix, it became clear that there are still details to be resolved, and a special online meeting of Executive Council will be called in November to finalize the changes before year-end. Nobody on the council has expressed opposition to the broad outlines of the plan.
A council committee heard from Sarah Shipman, the recently installed director of Episcopal Migration Ministries, who provided an update on how the agency is reimagining itself after President Donald Trump threatened its very existence by dramatically slashing the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States.
Shipman reported that to date in 2022, EMM has processed 1,533 arrivals from a variety of countries, and 3,739 arrivals from Afghanistan. The Afghan resettlements were in response to President Joe Biden’s abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country after 20 years of war.
Shipman is an attorney and former state cabinet secretary from Kansas — and a postulant for the Episcopal priesthood. She spoke passionately about “the difference we’re making in real people’s lives.”
In an unusual public-private partnership, EMM is one of nine agencies, six of which are faith-based, that contracts with the federal government to resettle refugees.
The council approved $115,000 in grants to support creation-care projects in nine dioceses — including Cuba and Ecuador.
But the majority of the meeting was dedicated to a combination of team-building exercises and in-depth briefings on the workings of church governance. Veteran council members and newbies alike said they benefitted from extensive staff briefings on their fiduciary duties, on their need to develop as a board of directors, on church canons and polity, on the church’s finances, and on corporate social responsibility.
Executive Council members typically are elected to six year terms, but because of pandemic delays the new members will serve five years — and only two years before they take over as leaders of the council.
After the meeting adjourned, TLC asked a number of the new council members to share their impressions of their orientation.
“As I am about to leave, I’m comfortable knowing that I can do what I need to do, but also realizing that, oh, yeah, there’s a lot of work to be done!” said the Rev. Wilmot Merchant from the Diocese of South Carolina.
“I was surprised at how effective the community building portions were,” said the Very Rev. M.E. Eccles, Diocese of Chicago. “I’m still learning the acronyms. … I was honored and a little overwhelmed at how much people sort of jumped in the water trusting each other. We talked about some pretty difficult topics, but with what felt like deep honesty, and naming some truths that need to be named.”
Canon Annette Buchanan of the Diocese of New Jersey said she is looking forward to working with colleagues to determine how to make church governance more effective. “I’m certainly not interested in maintaining the status quo, to the extent that the status quo does not benefit the church.”
Tom Chu of the Diocese of New York said he previously had interacted with the council as a member of the churchwide staff under three presiding bishops, ending in 2008. “I found that this was the most racially and ethnically diverse council that we’ve ever had.”