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The $15m question

The $15m question

ENS reports today on the capital campaign to raise $15 million to endow the College of Bishops amd the largely negative comments it has drawn since it was reported on Tuesday here at the Cafe, at The Episcopal Cafe Facebook page and elsewhere.


The defense that seems to be presented is that the College of Bishops is a highly valuable contribution to the common good, but that contributions to the campaign would not have otherwise found their way into a general fund for the common good of the church to be dispersed for the highest good.

ENS:

The “Endowing a Sustainable Future” campaign is chaired by the Bishop Clayton Matthews, the Episcopal Church’s bishop for pastoral development and managing director of the College for Bishops. He is joined by a group of about 30 other bishops from throughout the United States, the release said.

The campaign is not a “churchwide” fundraiser, Matthews clarified in a May 4 telephone call with ENS. “This initiative will be directed to specific donors through the bishop’s personal networks….

It is never a good time to begin a fundraiser, said Matthews, acknowledging the still crippled U.S. economy, dwindling Episcopal Church and diocesan budgets, and multiple other campaigns, including the church’s Fund for Haiti, but that like other 501(c) 3 organizations in the Episcopal Church — Episcopal Church Foundation, the National Association of Episcopal Schools and Episcopal Relief & Development – the College for Bishops, which is owned by the House of Bishops, has a responsibility to work toward self-sustainability.

The article says one source of funding for the college is ending: “CREDO provides financial and administrative assistance to the college. CREDO funding is scheduled to sunset in 2012, Matthews said during the telephone call.” [As Jim Naughton says in the comments below, “[Let’s] clear up any mistaken impressions that might be generated by that quote…. It’s [t]rue, but the funding that CREDO provides to the College of Bishops (like much of the rest of CREDO’s funding) comes from the Church Pension fund. So the decision to end the college’s funding–whatever one thinks of it–was made not by CREDO, but by the trustees of the pension fund.”]

That’s a statement of fact, but what’s the explanation? As Jim Naughton states:

This initiative was made necessary because the Church Pension trustees decided that they would no longer fund the College of Bishops. I have no opinion about the wisdom of this decision. But I am aware that the Church Pension fund is sitting on top of an enormous surplus collected from congregations to finance the clergy’s 18 percent defined benefit pension program.

And, later in the comments,

I want to bring us back around to the Church Pension Fund. It is sitting on a significant surplus–donated by the laity. Can we justify pulling that kind of money entirely out of the system at this particular time? I don’t know the answer, but I think the question is ripe for public discussion.

Mark Harris has weighed in.

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Carolyn Chilton

I am a lay employee of the church, with Pension Fund benefits, and a CREDO faculty member on one of the teams for Lay Employee CREDO conferences. I am distressed that the Church Pension Fund has also cut future funding for Lay Employee CREDO conferences after 2012. Where once there were four conferences/year for us, in 2011 and 2012 there will be only two, and none after that. Many clergy now have reduced funds or no funds for continuing education money, BUT most lay employees have never had access to any continuing education funds. CREDO is unique and vital to our wellness and the wellness of the church. We are losing it completely.

Jim Naughton

I’d like to clear up any mistaken impressions that might be generated by the following quote from the ENS story:

“CREDO provides financial and administrative assistance to the college. CREDO funding is scheduled to sunset in 2012, Matthews said during the telephone call.”

True, but he funding that CREDO provides to the College of Bishops (like much of the rest of CREDO’s funding) comes from the Church Pension fund. So the decision to end the college’s funding–whatever one thinks of it–was made not by CREDO, but by the trustees of the pension fund.

James Mackay

It seems to me that if this endowment comes to pass that a response of the General Convention could and should be to defund the twice yearly gatherings of the House of Bishops. For many years one meeting per year was sufficient. The monies that would be saved within the D&FMS budget by elminating the spring gathering, coupled with the amounts saved on a diocesan level by each diocesan/coadjutor or suffragan bishop, would be significant over the long haul. These funds could be invested in ongoing formation of the non-bishop leadership–both laity and clergy–which, I believe, is where the most significant need is.

The funds could also be used to strengthen the provincial structure. Alas, that is another post entirely.

James Mackay

Susanne Watson Epting

It is an interesting choice, isn’t it? As one who directs a professional and vocational association, we try to serve more than 3000 on a budget of around $100,000 each year.

Many deacons have never met others outside their diocese as they have no access to continuing education funds. We know that sometimes the church forgets its charge to us to interpret to the church the needs concerns and hopes of the world. Not the other way around.

I think most of us would suggest that, like deacons, and many, many households in our church, we learn to do more with less, and then steward the extra ever so carefully.

Susanne Watson Epting

Association for Episcopal Deacons

Michael Russell

+Matthews rationale is hardly convincing. It is entirely inappropriate for Bishops to hit on donors for a program for themselves. As a Standing Committee member I would want to have a serious conversation with the Bishop about the appropriateness of this endowment. We have other more pressing capital needs.

Club Mitre should be stifled.

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