The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council just finished its meeting in Chicago. We meet three times a year, and the meetings are generally gracious, prayerful, and carefully deliberative. This one was no exception. I am grateful to serve alongside such wise and dedicated servants as my fellow Council members.
This meeting opened with some anxiety, and I think some anticipation of fireworks to come. Happily, fireworks did not go off in my presence. However, the Council addressed some important issues.
The Conflict over the United Thank Offering. Without going into the details of the current UTO controversy, I can say how Council addressed it. I think that some people were looking for Council to sail in and resolve the issue at this meeting. With deep conflicts, however, a quick fix is often a mistake, resulting in a mere band-aid that doesn’t treat the underlying injury. The issue was taken up by the Governance and Administration for Mission committee, which properly addresses questions of by-laws and governance. In executive session, GAM heard what I understand to be very frank and sometimes emotional explanations of how different people experienced the conflict. I don’t serve on GAM, so I don’t know the substance of those conversations. In plenary session, the full Council approved a resolution (see the news story here), and heard that GAM and the UTO each plan to appoint four members to a working group that will spend significant time addressing the issues and the decisions that need to be made. This has now become a matter for Executive Council rather than staff, as I hoped it would. It will appropriately go through Council’s normal channels: in-depth research by a committee, followed by a report and recommendation to the full Council. I expect we will hear that report in February. I appreciate the calm leadership of Steve Hutchinson, the chair of GAM, and I trust this group to address the conflict carefully and with appreciation for the ministry of the UTO and the historical leadership of Episcopal Church women in its decisions.
Please note, regarding the UTO: 100% of money collected goes to grants, and this will not change. UTO administrative costs are paid out of dedicated trust funds managed by the Church Center. You don’t have to withhold your contributions to UTO out of fear they will end up in the wrong hands, or be used for the wrong purposes – this will not happen. And speaking as a member of Council, we have no interest in interfering with UTO grant priorities. If it turns out that some sort of legal rule requires that Council approve grants, I can promise you that it will be a rubber stamp, as it is with a number of other grants that Council approves.
Location of the Church Center. In 2012, General Convention passed resolution D016 to move the Church Center away from 815 2nd Ave. in Manhattan. In February 2013, the Executive Oversight Group of the Church Center issued a report recommending that the Church Center NOT move. This recommendation caused significant controversy, and led to Council creating a joint subcommittee of GAM and Finances for Mission (FFM). I serve on that subcommittee (and on FFM). Up until this meeting, I was concerned about the pace of the subcommittee’s work, but after this meeting, I am convinced that work is proceeding and the right investigations are happening. We are exploring two issues: (1) what kind of Church Center (if any) does the church need? and (2) what is the best and highest use of the real estate we own in Manhattan? I can’t say very much about what we are discussing, due to the sensitivities of talking publicly about real estate plans. But I can say that we have retained outside experts to advise us, and are working on both questions. Very soon, we will be issuing a survey so church members can weigh in on what kind of Church Center we would like to have. Be patient, because this is a complex question – but I can promise you that D016 is being taken seriously.
The Budget Process. I am the chair of the new budget process, by which we will come up with a budget to propose to the 2015 General Convention. Program, Budget & Finance is working closely with us on this process. Our goal in creating a new budget process has been to avoid the total fiasco that erupted with last triennium’s Executive Council budget, which was created by a small cadre of inner-circle leaders, with last-minute input from the rest of Council in plenary, and some significant mathematical errors by staff. We don’t want those problems! Our goal is to get wide and visionary input from ministry leaders (not just staff or Council) about what the church should be doing. So far, we have reached out to ministry leaders in Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards (CCABs) and other groups for their priorities, hopes and dreams for their areas of ministry. We are currently working with Council standing committees to assess the input we have received and to set priorities among all the proposals named.
A couple of notes about what we have experienced so far:
> More than a few CCABs are not functioning very well this triennium. I think this may be because of the lack of money for face-to-face meetings, along with a lot of turnover in some CCABs. Whether this makes a difference to the 2015 General Convention remains to be seen. I’m guessing we don’t need as many CCABs as we have, anyway.
> Some responses indicate that it is too early in the triennium to know what kind of budget needs ministries will have. Our system expects budgets to be decided at the last minute by major advocacy efforts. As Bishop Mark Hollingsworth (the chair of FFM) says, “we need to re-train our system.” Can we train ourselves to think with more vision, and longer-term? I hope so – budget fiascos at Convention get a little wearisome.
> There’s a lot of work ahead of us to put together a visionary, coherent budget!
More Money to Spend! Due to better-than-expected collections from dioceses, TEC will have more revenue this triennium than budgeted, to the tune of about $1.5 million. Church Center leaders and the leaders of the Advocacy & Networking committee of Executive Council (A&N) came in with a proposal to hire a new racial reconciliation officer. After in-depth and difficult discussion in both FFM and plenary session (see the news story here), the Council decided to approve the new officer. This brings up some issues that I believe Council and FFM need to address before our February meeting.
> No one doubts that the racial reconciliation officer will do worthy and important work.
> However, it is troubling from a process perspective to have one priority funded immediately when others were proposed and not funded (at least not right away), including:
>> A heartfelt plea to restore Anglican Communion funding to 2012 levels, due to greatly improved relations in the Communion, from World Mission, Presiding Bishop Katharine, and Canon Chuck Robertson (Canon to the Presiding Bishop who leads our diplomatic relations with the Communion, and whose excellent work is greatly responsible for our improved relations), even though funding was cut at General Convention. This decision was deferred to February because FFM wished to consult with PB&F about the action they took to cut the funding at the last Convention. However, we advanced 2015 funds into 2014 so that the 2014 allocation will be as high as if we had made this decision.
>> Long-delayed and very important work on digitizing the Archives – decision deferred to a later date.
>> Support for Navajoland, which we believe will be necessary in 2014 – they will run out of money by June. What are we going to do to support them?
> Many other priorities that might have been proposed if their advocates had known that money was available. Church Center leadership knew about the money, and proposed their highest priority. Would Council’s decision have been the same if we had been presented with a list of priorities and asked to choose among them?
> Joseph Farrell of North Carolina made the very good point that in his state legislative work, they follow the principle that a one-time increase in funding should not be used to fund a need that will continue (such as a staff position, which obligates us into the next triennium). Careful stewardship means making judicious decisions that consider such points.
> John Floberg of North Dakota, who serves a Native American population, noted that when racial tensions arose in his area last year, the local churches organized and acted on their own, without the need for a church-wide officer to do it for them. This brings up the whole question of subsidiarity. Do we really need more church-wide officers at a time when we are trying to empower more ministry at the local, rather than the church-wide, level?
> There were a number of priorities passed by the last two General Conventions that were not funded. Instead, we have funded a new position that was not proposed at the last Convention and does not have legislative support. (BTW, this is not the same position as the anti-racism officer that was cut in 2009 – this position has a completely different job description.) Should we have gone back to unfunded legislative priorities first, before coming up with new initiatives? I think particularly of an area I am interested in, Latino/Hispanic ministries. In 2009, we passed a Strategic Plan for Latino/Hispanic ministries, with great enthusiasm, and it was partly funded. In 2012, we forgot about it altogether, instead funding Mission Enterprise Zones, but abandoning strategic initiatives that were planned such as marketing to Latinos and raising up and training Latino lay and ordained leaders. Our attention span is so short that we swing from one priority to another without thinking broadly about our overall strategy as a church.
I believe that FFM needs to come up with a plan (before the February meeting) about how future excess funds are to be allocated. This should involve consulting with PB&F about unfunded initiatives from the last two Conventions (and, I believe, giving them priority over new initiatives), and some sort of process to open up invitations for funding requests to a wider constituency than knew about this opportunity.
I do support the new racial reconciliation officer, and I’m sure she/he will do excellent work. I just hope that we can change our approach as a governing board to think about how we use our resources in a more encompassing and strategic way.