In my previous post, I talked about TREC’s (the Taskforce for Reimagining the Church’s) recommended reforms on Governance and Administration in general. I pointed out that the financial effect of their suggestion to reduce the diocesan asking to the biblical tithe (10%), while a great idea, could cost DFMS as much as $27 million in revenue, and said that we will need to take some serious looks at how we spend our money if we are going to take such a cut. In this series, I will assess the recommendations in general and try to estimate the costs (or cost savings) involved. In this post, I will take about their recommendations for General Convention.
Why do we have a General Convention? What things do we need it to do that no other structure can appropriately do? What needs to happen between Conventions to keep the work of the church going?
We have a General Convention because we believe in shared episcopal, clergy, and lay leadership. We believe in electing representatives to do the governance work of the church. The founders of The Episcopal Church probably never dreamed that the church would grow to 110 dioceses, or 880 deputies – it is certainly an overwhelmingly large gathering.
But interestingly, if you take a look at the way TEC actually spends our money, General Convention is not that expensive in the overall scheme of things. the 2013-15 triennium shows a cost of $2.1 million for Convention itself. And guess what, we receive $1.2 million of revenue from General Convention, meaning the net cost of Convention at the church-wide level is just a little under $900,000 – less than one percent of our $111 million budget. The rest of the $13 million “Governance” cost (12% of our overall budget of $111 million) relates to governance functions of the PB’s office, the President of the House of Deputies office (the PHoD herself is unpaid, but she does have staff and office expenses), the General Convention Secretary’s office, the Archives, Executive Council, CCABs, etc. In this whole restructuring movement, an exclusive focus on General Convention in order to save money is misguided: we spend 31% of our budget on Administration, for instance. (Click here for the full 2013-15 budget passed by the last Convention.) Why does Administration get a free pass on restructuring? Maybe TREC is planning to look at it sometime – but their report is supposed to be about “Governance and Administration,” and I don’t see them talking about Administration at all. I will talk about it, in Part Three.
Well and good: back to Convention. TREC has proposed to reduce the number of clergy and lay deputies per diocese from eight to six, and to limit voting in the House of Bishops to active bishops. These are good proposals. There might be some side effects: some folks argue that such a reduction would reduce age and race diversity in the House of Deputies, but I am not convinced. It is clear, however, that it would make our voting system less conservative. Right now, controversial issues are subject to a “vote by orders” in the HOD, which means that to pass, we need to have a majority of clergy and lay deputations voting 75% or more in favor. The reduction from four to three deputies per order in each diocese would mean controversial issues would only need to pass by 67%. Are we okay with that?
The proposal to reduce the number of deputies would save money at the diocesan level: if each diocese sends all of its voting representatives plus one alternate in each order, the average diocese would send nine people to Convention (including the bishop) rather than eleven, an 18% cost savings. My own diocese, Arizona, appears to budget $45,000 per triennium for General Convention, so maybe it will save $8,100 over the course of three years, or $2,700 a year. Not huge, but maybe it will pay a few expenses.
At the church-wide level, we don’t save much on this part of the proposal. The cost to DFMS might be somewhat reduced because a smaller meeting space might be found, though I doubt it would save 18% of the meeting cost, since 660 deputies still need a pretty big room, and we still need an exhibit hall, a room for the bishops, etc. Reducing the total time of Convention would save some money, but not if the extra time is used for a “Mission Convocation” instead. And our total cost might actually increase for the Mission Convocation: we would need meeting space for the convocation, speaker fees for the great folks who will be teaching us stuff, etc. I’d say that at the church-wide level, this proposal is a wash – we won’t save any money on this, all things considered. We might actually spend more.
Note: I think having a Mission Convocation is a great idea. I am not sure whether it would be successful – for one thing, will laypeople who are attending Convention on their hard-earned vacation time come for two weeks when the main work they were elected to do happens in one? However, if that many members of the church are getting together to do something, by all means let’s make it a learning and enriching experience. My hope would be that such a gathering would be different from a regular conference, though. If it’s just a programmed gathering with a few keynotes and lots of workshops led by approved luminaries, it doesn’t sound that interesting. How about a lot of keynotes and then open-source gathering time for any group to bring people together that wants to reserve a space/time slot? It would be up to the group to gather a crowd interested in participating. That’s what we did in 2012 for the Acts 8 Moment, and that gathering was a wonderful respite in the midst of an otherwise exhausting Convention.
Back to reducing the cost of Convention: while we’re at it, can we look at other ways of reducing Convention’s size? What about looking hard at small dioceses that are not financially viable, have tiny populations, yet have the same representation in Convention as high-population giants like Los Angeles, Texas, and New York? Could we start working hard on combining unviable dioceses, taking a step toward more-proportional representation? If not, maybe we should truly take a look at proportional representation, allowing small dioceses to be represented in proportion to their population.
And can we take a look at our provincial structure? Is there a reason we still need to organize by geography in the digital age? Our dioceses are expected to pay assessments to provinces, which work with varying degrees of effectiveness. Why not do away with this whole level of organization and trust that in the digital age, we can communicate with others who are across the country, just as well as we can with those who are two hours’ drive away? (Or, in the case of my own gigantic Province VIII, as much as 8 hours’ airplane flight away.) For those provincial network groups that are still valuable, such as the Province VIII young adult gatherings, there is nothing to prevent them still meeting if they want to, even if this whole level of governance doesn’t exist. I don’t understand why TREC is not asking these questions. Maybe it plans to, and just hasn’t gotten there yet.
Regarding General Convention: TREC has correctly identified the most important things that only Convention can do:
- constitutional and canonical changes
- changes to liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer
- adoption of a budget
- elections canonically required to be held at GC (maybe we could reduce their number!)
- governance and structural reform
Their proposal to establish a screening process to permit only the most important resolutions on social justice issues has caused some alarm. But if we are honest, we have to admit that often, in cases that are not high-profile issues, many deputies are voting on issues they have may not have much knowledge about, trusting the relevant committee to have made appropriate judgments, and voting “yes” on what they recommend. Even on high-profile issues such as Israeli-Palestinian peace, the legislative committee in 2012 did significant work to sift through competing priorities and controversial and complex issues that the rest of us were not privy to, especially if we were serving on other committees. We had to trust the committee to make responsible judgments.
That means the church’s social justice portfolio is already effectively in the hands of a small group of people. Here’s one idea: elect this group of people at Convention and empower them to make judgments on social justice issues while Convention is not in session, only involving all of Convention on the most high-profile issues. The fact is that many social justice priorities arise in the interim between Conventions anyway, and Executive Council ends up creating positions for the whole church (at the recommendation of the relevant Council committee, an even smaller group). We don’t wait three years between updating our thoughts on these matters.
My major concern with the proposal to limit legislation is with mission matters. How about this: at the last Convention, we approved the concept of Mission Enterprise Zones to give grants for new church communities. PB&F (Program, Budget, and Finance) responded by giving $2 million to this priority. In 2009, we approved the Strategic Plan for Latino/Hispanic Ministries, and it was partially funded in response to overwhelming support on the House floor and in PB&F hearings. What happens if we’re not allowed to bring such creative resolutions to the floor? Should PB&F be in charge of dreaming up cool mission priorities all by its lonesome?
I might agree with TREC’s proposal if it is broadly stated enough to allow such creative mission priorities to come to the floor and get the opportunity for funding. Perhaps these initiatives fall under the category of “adoption of a triennial budget.”
TREC’s other proposals about streamlining the work of legislative committees make sense, though I don’t see what reducing the number of legislative committees will accomplish. It’s not like the legislative committees fill up their spare hours by dreaming up more resolutions to waste Convention’s time with. They respond to the resolutions that others submit. Reducing the number of committees just increases the workload of each committee, taking more time to bring legislation to the floor and potentially lengthening Convention, while increasing the number of deputies that don’t have a committee to work with and therefore aren’t fully utilized.
Allowing legislative committees to meet in advance is a good idea, and will promote efficiency. There will be some additional costs for electronic meetings and so forth – not significant, but they will be there. This is not a cost-saving measure per se, but it might save time on-site.
Reducing the number of CCABs is a perfectly fine idea. From my work on Council, I am aware that some of the CCABs don’t really even know what they are supposed to be doing. There’s no use having groups just because we’re supposed to have them. Appointing task forces to do real, identified work is a good idea. The work of thinking up resolutions to submit to Convention, which CCABs are supposed to be doing now – that’s what deputies and bishops are elected for, right? Get to work, deputies and bishops – band together, dream up good ideas, and file those resolutions. We don’t need to appoint groups to have meetings, spend money, and do it for us.The Money Scorecard So far, if you’re keeping score on the money issue: the proposal to eliminate most CCABs is the ONLY proposal that will save us much money (let’s say, $400,000 over the triennium, a generous estimate of the savings). The other proposals to change Convention will save the dioceses some money, but may even increase costs at the church-wide level.
Next Post: I will continue discussing the work of the Presiding Bishop, Executive Council, and the Staff.