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Budget Priority: Evangelism

In response to “a clarion call” of comments on the proposed budget that was posted in November (TLC, 12/3/2017), the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church added more than $1.8 million to the church’s planned spending for evangelism.

At the same time, thanks in large part to the booming stock market, the budget committee was able to close a $4.5 million projected deficit from the prior draft. The result was a balanced budget of $133.7 million for the 2019-2021 triennium, which the council approved unanimously.

In the church’s multi-step budget process, the spending plan now goes to the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget & Finance, a 27-member body appointed by the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies. PB&F will hold hearings in early February and has the authority to change the budget passed by the Executive Council. The budget will be adopted by the General Convention in July, subject to amendments from the floor.

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, said after the three-day meeting that there had been more than 200 comments submitted about the proposed budget, many of them protesting planned cuts in the evangelism budget. There was “a clarion call to increase that line item,” she said.

The budget story is quite complicated, and complexity increases the potential for conflict. The 41-page budget with hundreds of line items has been fundamentally reorganized, making apple-to-apple comparisons impossible in some cases.

Past budgets have been organized according to the Five Marks of Mission adopted by the 2009 General Convention, which meant that most of the spending lines of the budget were organized in groups named Proclaim the Good News; Teach, Baptize, Nurture; Human Need/Loving Service; Change Unjust Structures; and Safeguard Creation. In some cases, portions of departmental budgets were allocated to multiple categories.

The new budget format is called the Jesus Movement budget, drawing on Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s signature rallying cry. The budget organizes some programs under the three priorities adopted when Curry was elected at the 2015 General Convention: Evangelism; Reconciliation and Justice; and Creation Care. But more fundamentally, the new format organizes departmental budgets in a more conventional corporate structure.

The evangelism line in the budget adopted three years ago was a shade under $6 million, and the prior draft of the coming budget showed $3.5 million on that line. Finance committee members took pains to describe why the reduction was not as sharp as it seemed.

Church planting is a major portion of the evangelism budget, and the 2015 General Convention increased the church planting budget from $2 million to $5.8 million — including $3 million in direct grants to new churches, and $2.8 million to develop an infrastructure of assessment, training, and coaching to support church planters. This sharp increase was funded by a temporary increase of 0.7 percent in the draw from the church’s investments.

Tess Judge from the Diocese of East Carolina, who serves as chair of the Finance for Mission committee, told the council that the church’s reserves are too low to permit a repeat of the special draw. The draw reverts to its prior level of 5 percent, which is still higher than the 4.5 percent urged by some members of the committee.

So the reduction in evangelism spending can also be seen as the expiration of a one-time infusion of funds, and the proposed $3.5 million budget represented an increase over pre-2015 spending. Also, some expenses previously rolled up under evangelism had been moved to other lines in the reorganization.

Nevertheless, the evangelism budget had been cut, and some council members had made impassioned pleas for restoring funding. Over the course of the three-day meeting in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, the committee was able to shift money from other areas and take advantage of higher-than-expected investment income. The budget as approved has $5.3 million allocated for evangelism.

This is down from $5.9 million approved in the prior three-year budget, and even further below the $6.7 million projection for actual spending for 2016-2018. But Frank Logue, the council’s liaison to the church planting staff and a fervent supporter of the effort, pronounced himself satisfied.

Related: Video report on new ministry development

Judge told the council the prior $4.5 million projected deficit was eliminated by a combination of three factors: An increase of $1 million in income from investments, driven by strong markets; an increase of $2 million projected income from diocesan assessments; and $1.5 million in budget cuts identified by staff.

There was a widespread belief on the council that the budget process had worked as intended and had reached a good outcome. While the opening plenary session on Monday began with some tense exchanges, by the closing plenary on Wednesday the finance committee was leading the group in a rousing chorus of “The Hills Are Alive, With the Sound of Budget,” with several stanzas of well-cadenced lyrics projected on screens in the meeting space.

In other matters discussed by the council:

The Title IV disciplinary process is likely to come under scrutiny at General Convention, because of dissatisfaction with the trial of the former bishop of Los Angeles, J. Jon Bruno. The disciplinary process dragged on for more than two years, and in one sense has not ended, because Bruno, now retired, is appealing the three-year suspension he received for misrepresentation and conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.

Steven Nishibayashi, a council member and resident of the Diocese of Los Angeles, told a council committee that the protracted dispute had taken an emotional toll on the entire diocese and that clergy were frustrated by a lack of information during the process. The canons call for pastoral care to be provided to all who are affected by a Title IV proceeding, but no such pastoral care was provided to the diocese, he said.

There also were complaints about a lopsided lack of confidentiality during the process, which saw considerable vitriol directed at Bruno on social media. Both sides of the dispute over the closure of St. James the Great Church in Newport Beach had been directed not to comment publicly on the case, but there is no way to enforce such a prohibition against anyone who is not ordained.

Council member Polly Getz of the Diocese of San Diego said work is proceeding on a public website that will provide guidance and training for any parish or diocese involved in a Title IV matter. The website is to be launched at General Convention in July.

The budget as approved included funds to pay a salary for the president of the House of Deputies, a role that has always been filled on a volunteer basis. The Rev. Michael Barlow, secretary of General Convention, said the president’s role has evolved over the years into a full-time job.

The mandatory disclosure of five top executive salaries for any tax-exempt organization shows a $280,000 annual salary for the presiding bishop, $200,000 or more for three other officers, and zero for the PHoD. The $900,000 earmarked in the budget for salary and benefits for the coming triennium implies a salary in the same range.

The salary must be approved by both houses of the General Convention. The House of Deputies has voted in favor of compensation at the last two conventions, but the House of Bishops has not supported it. Because it is a demanding, full-time position, as long as it remains unpaid it likely will be filled only by persons of independent means.

Jennings, elected in 2012 and reelected in 2015, is eligible to serve one more three-year term. When asked if she plans to run for reelection, she laughed and said she would make an announcement at a later date.

Barlow said that the report of the committee that has been studying the matter since 2015 will be posted for public review “very soon.”

The Rev. Ronald Byrd made his first appearance at Executive Council in his capacity as Missioner for Black Ministries. He was hired in that role on Nov. 6, 2017, after serving six years as rector of a church in Williamston, Michigan. Byrd outlined for one of the council’s committees the work he has begun doing to build further relationships with black constituencies. He has close ties to the Union of Black Episcopalians, an independent organization, having served three years on its executive committee. Byrd said it was no secret that in the past there has been a strained relationship between UBE and the Office of Black Ministries. “That ended November 6,” he said.

Kirk Petersen


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