My diocese held its annual convention in October. Costs included:
- Registration fee of $70/person, with about 150 attendees (this ignores late registration at $85/person and rounds the number of attendees) – $10,500
- Total clergy time attending Convention of at least 270 hours (6 hours, 45 clergy voting members), which is roughly 1/8 of a priest’s work year (~2000 hours) valued at an annual compensation package, including benefits, of $150,000 (compensation is high because of Hawai’i’s high cost of living) – $18,750
- Total staff time (includes all paid Diocesan personnel from the bishop to administrative personnel) spent preparing for or at Convention estimated at 500 hours, i.e., 1/4 of a staffer’s total compensation – $31,500
- Guesstimate of total travel expenses and the value of time spent traveling for delegates who do not live on Oahu attending – $10,000
In sum, Diocesan Convention’s cost exceeded $70,000. That’s an underestimate of the actual cost. For example, the itemized costs above omit congregational staff time spent registering delegates, volunteers’ time preparing for Convention, and other labor hours too difficult to estimate. Also, the estimated itemized costs are generally conservative. Thankfully, the Diocese kept costs low. It distributed the Convention Workbook electronically, provided each congregation just one hard copy Workbook at Convention, skimped on food costs and used meeting spaces provided by the Cathedral. Quibble with my calculations as you wish; the full cost of a diocesan convention is surprisingly high.
Many of the identified costs represent opportunity costs that we frequently ignore. Clergy and staff hours spent at or preparing for Convention divert time from other ministries or missions. Diocesan Convention also involved more than six hundred volunteer hours (100 persons attending for 6 hours). In addition to the dollar value of those hours, most volunteers consciously or unconsciously limit the time that they donate to the church; thus, hours a layperson spends at Convention typically represent realigning time that might otherwise support local missions and ministries. Taken together, these opportunity costs measure Diocesan and congregational use of staff and volunteer time, two valuable, scarce resources.
What did the Convention achieve? Business transacted included:
- Receiving several reports
- Passing three non-controversial resolutions
- Approval of the budget and a couple of other financial measures
- Honoring two persons for long and laudatory service
- Elections for Standing Committee, Diocesan Council, General Convention deputies, etc.
More than the business transacted, Convention’s real value may lie in attendees cultivating or renewing relationships. Unfortunately, neither Convention’s agenda nor schedule, as is also true for other dioceses and General Convention, is really conducive to nurturing spiritual and personal relationships.
Hawai’i is a small diocese, both with respect to the number of Episcopalians and its geography. Costs for conventions in other dioceses are probably of similar or greater magnitude. The analysis’ specificity is not to criticize Hawai’i, which had a well-run convention, but to add detail, perspective and especially motive to rethinking how Episcopalians can better live and work together as Christ’s body.
The Episcopal Church appears to have unintentionally devolved into emulating the Scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus reprimanded for tithing mint, dill and cumin while neglecting the weightier matters of justice, mercy and faith. Our connectional polity requires periodically addressing governance matters, e.g., reports, budgets, elections, and so forth. What our polity does not inherently require is adhering to an eighteenth-century model for handling that business. We can change Canons and Constitutions to permit email transmittal of reports, video conferencing and electronic voting. Twenty-first century methods will allow a diocese (or even the wider Church!) to transact business virtually for a fraction of a physical meeting’s cost. Continuing business as usual – “we’ve always done it that way” – constitutes poor stewardship of our resources, thereby unintentionally ignoring the weightier matters of justice, mercy and faith.
Furthermore, gray hair (including mine) predominated among attendees. The Episcopal Church in the islands, like on the mainland, disproportionately consists of the elderly. However, the proportion of youth and younger adults who attended Hawai’i’s Renewal 2019 that featured Bishop Curry significantly exceeded the percentage of youth and younger adults at the 2019 Diocesan Convention.
Imagine your diocese transacting its business electronically. Then imagine what your diocese could do with the $70,000 plus (or whatever amount) it now spends on its convention. You could party, celebrating your faith identity as brothers and sisters. Or, build a house, offering a gift of mercy to a houseless family. Or, organize a campaign for justice, marching on the state capitol to demand healthcare for all, prison reform, or support for rectifying any of a dozen other injustices. I’m confident that any of these proposals would generate more excitement, enthusiasm and engagement among the young and old alike than will holding yet one more diocesan convention. No more business as usual!
George Clifford served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years, has an MBA, taught ethics and the philosophy of religion, and now serves as priest associate at the Parish of St Clement in Honolulu. He mentors clergy, consults with parishes, and blogs at Ethical Musings.
image: bishop’s address at the 51st Convention of the Diocese of Hawaii (photo by Dio Hawaii)