Restructuring by de-funding

The proposed budget to be presented to General Convention was released late this week. There are people across the church pouring over the details to see what has changed. Tom Ferguson, formerly the Ecumenical Officer for the Episcopal Church and presently the Dean of Bexley Hall Seminary points out that the changes he's seeing indicate that the debate over whether or not the church needs to restructure may be moot. The proposed budget is already doing that.

Tom, who writes online as the "Crusty Old Dean" (a Simpson's reference) makes his case:

"The numbers don't lie. Income is down. Income has been down for more than a decade. When has the church ever decided to face this reality and call for a conversation about how to prioritize what we do and how we do it? The narrative to the budget, of course, speaks of a survey distributed to gain input. But this survey was on the level at which certain ministries and mission should take place, and not about the prioritization of what the church as a whole should be emphasizing. There's a call for a churchwide consultation in the secondary budget narrative, and a line item for this in the budget. But the discussion will come after two successive General Conventions will have gutted our denominational ministries almost beyond recognition. And a churchwide consultation can always be ignored by the governing structures that in the end control the budgetary process. These are just a couple of flaws in the budget narrative that speak to the multiple flaws in the budgetary process.

This budget, like its predecessors, will be crafted by a small group of people and submitted to the church with eventually the only option being to adopt it or else. The budget will be tweaked, to be sure, and will again go through the prism of the pointless bickering between the PHOD and the PB and their various parties in the lead up to Convention. But the budget will still be presented for perfunctory approval by GC as part of the usual triennial budget presentation farce more becoming of a banana republic than this organization that supposedly enshrines democratic principle. Crusty Old Dean wouldn't be a member of a parish where a small group of people came up with the budget and told the annual meeting to take or -- well, take it because there is no other option. But yet that is what GC does, meeting after meeting.

We essentially are restructuring the church by de-funding program, without any discussion beyond appointed committees and unelected staff. This should sound familiar, because it's exactly what we did in 2009, when an appointed, unelected, unaccountable Chief Operating Officer had more input into the budget than the entire General Convention as a whole. Crusty Old Dean thought it was wrong then and said so then."

More of Ferguson's observations and analysis about the budget here.

Comments (19)

Jim wrote in the earlier thread on the proposed budget:

This is a problem throughout this document. You can't really create a budget for a brave new world until that world has been created, and it isn't up to the budget makers to do that. It's up to General Convention and the people of the church.

Likewise, Tom writes:

When has the church...call[ed] for a conversation about how we prioritize what we do and how we do it?

Both are right on.

We're very clearly now in carts before horses land. Our leadership is not yet asking the right questions of the Body, and our decision-making structures are flailing. I have a feeling this is going to be a GC to remember...

I'm in what I would characterize as vehement agreement with what much of Tom says here about the 2009 budget.

But here's the thing, once one says, 815 has too much power in the budgeting process--which I think is true--one is immediately open to being characterized as participating in the "pointless bickering between the PHOD and the PB and their various parties in the lead up to Convention."

We can't simultaneously lament the fact that the budget doesn't reflect the priorities of the church, and criticize those who want to move beyond lamentation and actually change the process.

Not saying that is what Tom is advocating, but there is a lot of it going around.

Isn't the general principle from the beginning of this restructuring talk been that more money will stay in local Dioceses and that things like youth and young adult work will be handled locally (and perhaps provincially).

As Bishop Sauls conveyed in his address posted here a few weeks ago, large amounts of these previous budget pieces were used to fly national employees all over the county at a nearly constant pace "consulting." Technology is changing the way we relate to each other. Do we need to keep doing it this way?

And it is no small thing that a greater emphasis will be invested in the Episcopal Service Corps, a program thy IS capturing the imagination of young adults in our church (and in young adults in our Oklahoma Diocese) and is cultivating creative leaders for the next generation. And ESC is sneakers on the ground ministry that will leave long-term imprints on folks. That is lasting investment.

Look, I dont want to be pollyanna here, and I'm relatively new to our church so I'm not as up-to-speed on a great amount of the inside aspects of all of this. But doing this kind of thing is always painful and someone always gets shut out. No perfect restructuring can EVER occur. Yes, a bit longer process MIGHT have been better but it might have made it worse (congress anyone?).

Call me naive, but I trust Katherine, Bonnie, and Bishop Sauls and those they have brought into the deliberations to make difficult decisions for the long-term benefit of the larger church. And they aren't making these decision without input, perhaps just not as much input as some would hope for. And time really is money in this case, right?

Again, too many voices could make the process unwieldy and could produce an unfocused outcome.

I guess I tend to be optimistic. Institutional change is just gross no matter how you approach it . Our emerging identity is very likely a self-fulfilling one. In what ways do we want to shape it? With vitriol? Or with hope that all shall be well?

Tim,

I agree we'll get there eventually. The only question is how long it takes and how messy it will be. Length of process is something we tend to handle. Messiness not so well! :-)

I have elsewhere condemned this budget for its lack of vision! The removal of funds for youth and young adult (college) ministries is a dreadful mistake, especially when set in contrast with increases for the staff of the PB and PoHD and our lobbying (or "advocacy") office in DC.

This budget for the 2013-2015 triennium, for example, has $0.00 budgeted for continuing the Episcopal Youth Event. I hope that everyone with any contact with EYE will get in tough with their diocesan Deputies to General Convention and let them know the impact EYE has had in their life or the lives of others they know! I've known several kids who attended (including my own) and it a significant and transformative impact on all of them. In fact, I know a lot younger clergy (my son among them) whose devotion to the church is (at least partially) a direct result of participation in an EYE!

The same is true of college chaplaincies! They are beyond doubt an incubator of ministry - how many of our clergy would be clergy if it weren't for the ministry of a college chaplain? I certainly wouldn't be! It was clergy I met during high school (in the dark ages before there were EYEs) and my college chaplain who set me on the path to ordained ministry. We cannot afford to defund these important ministries!

Eric,

I agree. The other piece often lost in these discussions is the amount is not as important as the focus the budget provides. In practical terms, even seed monies for these ministries can make an appreciable difference, and the triennial budget ought to provide leadership at least in this way, even in these times of financial stress.

I can say, that had it not been for the college chaplaincy program in North Carolina, I might not be a priest today. Defunding these programs, even if the funding was nominal, sends the wrong message....

I am greatly concerned about the gutting of campus and young adult ministries. Given that youth are both the most philosophically inclined to agree with TEC on social issues, and those who have the least built-in loyalty to the church, why in gosh sake would we reduce our committment in this area? Do we never learn from our mistakes?

Some will argue, of course, that these issues are best handled at the diocesan level. But the recent issues in the church illustrate the divergent approaches to come into play when issues are devolved to the diocesan level, and we may well be talking about the very survival of TEC in this country. Why, then, would we not do everything possible to bolster this most important ministry? It is shocking indeed that, as an organization, we do not appear to recognize the importance of building for the future.

Eric Bonetti

Eric,

Then the m.o. is to organize ahead of GC this summer. The budget isn't final until it's approved...

I would be the first to champion the funding of EYE, etc....except that isn't that precisely the problem we now face? We can't fund everything and we risk the budget discussion devolving into a turf war if all we are doing is arguing for our own pet program.

I think the intention is that the things that are "defunded" are taken up by the provinces or the dioceses. Here's the problem with that: Do we have a consensus among even a bare majority of dioceses that they are willing to "pick up" what gets "dropped" by TEC? In my (albeit limited) experience, what ends up happening when things are "dropped" to a more local level is that they are rarely "picked up"--they are just left. Most dioceses have no more money to spend then does TEC as a whole, for many of the same reasons.

If we want to have a conversation about restructuring, then let us have a budget that gives us the time and resources for that conversation and doesn't preempt the conversation by simply dropping things on the dioceses.

So is EYE now a "pet program" Tom? This is precisely the talk that eviscerated ministries across the Church geared to the next generation of Episcopalians.

Otherwise, I agree with you. Simply dropping funding without consulting the bodies who are expected to pick up the slack won't do.

And I take your point even more - turf battles are what we should expect until we've had a serious conversation as a Body about what our priorities should be and where the leadership and funding for these is best distributed.

I'm just going to say it: de-funding EYE is shortsighted and dumb. In four years of working with youth I haven't seen any other single event or experience contribute more to our young people's understanding of and commitment to being Episcopalians and Christians. This is a capital "M" mistake for an aging and shrinking church. Meanwhile we're upping our "advocacy" efforts? Dumb.

As this conversation continues, and I believe that it is a good one to be having, we need to remember that the staff at the church center does not create the budget. Executive Council created this budget with very little input from the staff. The two work separately from Executive Council.

The funding for Episcopal Service Corp and YASC, which are both church-wide programs, is wonderful, yet if there are no church-wide staff, who will provide the infrastructure, screening, training, etc., who will do these things?

This is more than about EYE. (And for the record, I love EYE. The impact it has had on my life every time I have gone as well as the lives of the other thousands who have gone is an amazing witness to the depth of this church). These budget cuts are about defunding the very thing that we are about - creating disciples. Yes, this can and is done at a local level, but with more and more Diocese eliminating children and youth ministry positions, more and more people are looking to the church center for help and support. For instance, there are a growing number of parishes that look to the Lesson Plans that Work for curriculum or ideas for their Sunday plans.

We need to think through all the implications and messages that this proposed budget sends before we come together at convention.

Let's also remember that this is not the passed budget and Program, Budget and Finance can change, adapt, or throw out this budget all together.

Shannon, I don't think it is quite accurate to say that the Executive Council created the budget with very little input from the staff. The Executive Committee of Executive Council created the budget. That committee includes the chief operating officer and the treasurer. They are staff people, and they had extensive input into this budget.

Executive Council didn't even get line item numbers until its meeting--arguably already too short to do this work--was well in progress.

I agree that now is a very good time for people to give feedback on the budget because, as you say, Program, Budget and Finance could significantly revise this budget.

I should add that I am not sure the various members of the Executive Committee are actually happy with the budget, but they did, in fact create it.

Jim, what you say is all true. I guess I should have said that some of the staff had input, others none at all.

And, yes, I'm sure there are members of the Executive Council that are not happy with it as well. Now is the time to speak - to your deputies, to your bishops, to Program, budget and Finance, and to your Diocesan and Provincial leaders.

You are right though, Shannon, that the broad staff had less input than in previous years. The process this time around was constructed in an attempt to avoid the train wreck that took place at General Convention 2009 when PB and F had to almost start from scratch when many of the budget assumptions were revised after Executive Council had signed off on them. I think it is a work in progress.

Amen to the Dean of Bexley! We've known for years that income was declining but have continued to bury our collective heads in the sand. At the same time, many of the same leaders involved in national conversations have lamented the number of congregations who have done exactly the same thing to the point where they could not continue in existence.
As for EYE, is there another alternative? The ELCA has a biennial national youth event that brings about 30,000 youth together. What's more important? Bringing youth together with other Christians to serve and worship or to be so focused on doing something that's "Episcopal" that we have to give it up?

The challenge is that literally NOTHING can happen with the budget between now and General Convention, and then there will be little more than a week to completely re-do it, if it needs to be completely re-done. This is for a multi-million dollar budget! What company--profit or nonprofit, works like that?

I also still think that a case can be made for continuing most funding at current levels, earmarking funds for a conversation about priorities and restructuring, and move on from there.

Forma (formerly NAECED) and our 350+ association members are tracking with this conversation and will be contributing to it as we lead up to General Convention and with a presence in Indianapolis. Wendy Claire Barrie, on staff at St. Bartholomew’s Church NYC and our board vice-president, and Vicki Garvey, with the Diocese of Chicago and our board secretary, will be taking the lead.

As Shannon put above, this amounts to a defunding of discipling resources at the national church level. That is hard to imagine if one of our primary callings as Christians is to go and make disciples. We are disturbed by this and also what it will mean for the livelihoods of the formation officers at the church center.

That put, as Christian educators who value collaboration and partnership, we can respond with care, creativity, and imagination to support the Christian formation that is so vital to the life of the Church.

We as a Forma board are considering a short-term response and a strategy to challenge General Convention to re-examine budget priorities in Indianapolis. If you have ideas for how we might partner with others to do so please contact Wendy at barrie@stbarts.org.

We are all in reflection and prayer for the current and future priorities of our Church.

Lyle SmithGraybeal, Forma board president

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