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Restructuring by de-funding

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.

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Lyle SmithGraybeal

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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Tom Sramek Jr

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.

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Mary Carson

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?

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Jim Naughton

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.

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Shannon Kelly

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.

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