Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Counter Proposal to the Less Than 1%

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What follows below is a counter-proposal in the form of a quasi-General Convention resolution (Relax, COD knows the following is not in proper resolution form -- it's a conversation starter, people). You can look through the archives of this blog and see that COD has proposed lots of different options and possibilities for adapting our governance and polity to be in the service of how we do our mission in the church and in a world which is not changing, but already changed (check out the Pew Research report on the millennial generation). However, the truth of our budget realities give greater urgency to this whole matter of how we structure ourselves to do what we are called to do. (FYI -- COD uses the acronym DFMS a lot -- that stands for Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, which is the actual legal name of the Episcopal Church and is used as a catch-all for things like PB staff, General Convention, etc.)

--We need, as church, to have the conversations about prioritizing the mission and ministry. Emphasis on conversation. A conversation where all levels of the church and all orders of ministry have input. Bishops, priests, deacons, lay persons; provinces, dioceses, and parishes -- and including the dizzying array and variety of organizations outside our formal structures that are engaged in mission. Things like the Episcopal Public Policy Network, National Association of Episcopal Christian Educators, and on and on.

--Even with full buy-in and best intentions, it will take anywhere from 6-12 years for the General Convention to make any kind of institutional reshaping at the national level. In the quickest process, calling a Special Convention in 2015 that makes recommendations to a 2015 regular General Convention that acts on them at that Convention and then has a second vote at the 2018 General Convention for any constitutional changes needed. Of course, in 2015 we're also electing a new Presiding Bishop, so "people" may want that PB to have a say, so "people" may put things off until 2018, which means no second reading until 2021, and things don't come into effect until the next calendar year, so no real changes until 2022. That's a decade. And that's assuming buy-in and best intentions, and not those who derive power and authority from our current system digging in their heels to do anything to prevent losing that power and influence.

Since constitutional changes take two successive General Conventions, our recent track record shows there is no reason to believe anything could be accomplished at all. After all, it's been over a decade that we have endlessly debated removing the vote from retired bishops (which nearly every other episcopally governed church in Christendom does except the Episcopal Church, including the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and other Anglican churches have done) and have voted on this question in 1997, 2003, 2006, and 2009 and have been unable to do get two consecutive conventions to pass the same legislation in both houses. If we can't even get something like that through, really does make one wonder how we would ever pull of sweeping change and reform.

It is therefore time, as Gram Parsons once sang, "to stop pretending things are real." With the actions taken in 2009, and with this budget proposal before us for 2012, we are setting ourselves down the path of GC dumping different program areas every three years without consultation, discussion, or conversation with the networks supposedly picking up that work. In 2009, the budget that was adopted dropped staff with responsibilities for theological education & formation, women's ministries, liturgy & music, and anti-racism, with no discussion. In 2012, it is youth & young adult ministries slashed almost to nonexistence, shifts in funding from historically African American colleges and domestic dioceses to Province IX, from the Anglican Communion office to individual provinces, increases in staff to administrative offices, again with no discussion.

This happens because of the way the budget is developed, drafted, and presented. At Convention, it is presented in a joint session where Bishops and Deputies gather together, where questions are asked; then, in each house where it is voted on. The message is clear: the budget is presented is a fait accompli; adopt it, or else. It can't be revised because it has to be balanced so any increase in one area has to be offset. Oh and any changes have to be approved by both Houses. Oh yeah and we only have 72 hours before we adjourn and we can't leave without a budget. So everybody hold you nose and vote for it because there's no other options.

To be honest, this at times reminds COD of the words out of Lambeth Palace on the Anglican Covenant to the Episcopal Church and the rest of the Communion: adopt this Covenant, or else. Or else the Communion as a whole will fall apart. Even though it's not perfect. Even though you may not have been consulted in its development or will be consulted in its implementation. Or else, in the words of Bill Murray from Ghostbusters, we are "headed for a disaster of biblical proportions. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!"

There is tremendous resistance to this line of reasoning when we hear it from Lambeth Palace -- yet why do we accept it in our own budgeting process in our church which we always say enshrines democratic process?

It's time to end this dysfunction. There is something we can do.

Reject this budget.

This summer, in Indianapolis, give the General Convention and national church a provisional skeletal budget to do only what is absolutely necessary for the next triennium, and spend those three years having the discussion we should have had years ago. Have the kind of discussion, conversation, and consultation that takes into account the WHOLE church and not just the less than 1% that put this budget together.

Here is a proposed substitute:
Resolved, House of ______ concurring, that the following be substituted for the budget presented by the Joint Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance

i. Canonical and program work be funded by the draw from endowed funds; voluntary contributions from dioceses in an amount at the sole discretion of the diocesan convention; and that each Episcopalian be strongly commended to provide a voluntary $25 per person annual contribution to the work of the DFMS and GC. These monies will be given as a block grant for Executive Council to distribute, with preference for canonical over program expenses as outlined by canon.

ii. The canons affected by section i above (we'll list them here) are suspended for the 2013-2015 triennium while new models for budgeting and mission work are developed; the suspended canons will be replaced with substitute canons in 2015.

Be it further resolved that

a) Dioceses are asked to hold special diocesan conventions in the first six months (Jan-June) of 2013 in order to identify priorities for mission and program. These special conventions are to be funded in part by monies which would have gone to the the former 19% assessment to the triennial budget.

b) Provinces are asked to hold special provincial synods -- or regional convocations in larger provinces such as Province 8 and 9 -- in the second six months (July-Dec) of 2013 to reflect on priorities identified by dioceses and consider what may be done at the Provincial level. These special synods are to be funded in part by monies which would have gone to the the former 19% assessment to the triennial budget.

c) That representatives from all non-DFMS and General Convention networks that do mission and program work (NAECED, seminaries, EPPN, Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers network, etc.), chosen by those bodies in a manner according to their own governance and structure, gather in late 2013 to coordinate how these networks will work with dioceses, provinces, and parishes in carrying out the mission and program of the church. This meeting to be funded in part by monies which would have gone to the the former 19% assessment to the triennial budget.

d) Representatives from the ELCA and their cognate networks shall be invited to all of these gatherings; other ecumenical partners as best suited to local circumstances.

Explanation: This church takes seriously the call to do the mission of the church on the level or levels that are most appropriate. The church, however, needs to engage in sustained reflection on what should be prioritized, and how different levels of the church should collaborate with other agencies and networks.

OK, that's the draft resolution. If we are really going to devolve mission and program to the appropriate level, let's mobilize the entire church in a conversation on that for the 2013-2015 triennium. Restrict the DFMS, Executive Council, and General Convention solely to governance while we try to figure this out. Let the dioceses, provinces, parishes, and networks have real input and decision making, not the less than 1% that have an inordinate say in the governance of the church. Currently we spend about $50-55 million for the triennium on administration and governance (yes, this number can be argued in different ways, this is an estimate based on the proposed budget, using their categories).

This funding proposal above would give $25,000,000 in endowment income for the triennium (in the current proposed budget). We currently count about 1.9 million members and approximately 700,000 in average Sunday attendance. If we can get 400,000 Episcopalians (a little more than half the people in the pews on a given Sunday or about 20% of our members) to donate $25 per year, that's $10 million per year or $30 million for the triennium. Would any rectors out there try and run a parish based on about 20% of the congregation giving? Why try to run a denomination-wide organization if we can't get 20% of our members to support it?

Voila! There's $55 million for the triennium for the DFMS and GC. If the DFMS can convince people of all the wonderful things it is doing and get folks to give more, or get dioceses to give voluntarily or to specific programs, or get more than 400,000 people to give, then they will be able to do more. Like in a parish: if you can't raise the money, maybe it's something you shouldn't be doing, or maybe you need to communicate better.

Reduce the diocesan giving to being purely voluntary. This will let dioceses actually have funds to do the mission and program work they are now being asked to do instead. I mean, good God, think about it: in 2009 the GC dumped program work on the dioceses and will be dumping more in 2012, and has reduced the diocesan assessment from 21% to 19%. Do all of this additional work we're telling you to do after we've cut it without asking you, and by the way only reduce the money you're sending to us by 2%. This makes absolutely no sense: is it nothing more than a enormous unfunded mandate the Convention is passing on to the dioceses and networks?

This proposal will require massive and radical restructuring instead of trotting out an ever more gutted version of the old system every three years, which is the pattern we have set ourselves on, a pattern which will end up in a DFMS and GC that does only governance, anyway, in another 9-12 years or so because they've cut everything else. What would this massive restructuring look like? GC meeting once every 4 years and dealing only with constitutional and canonical questions? Selling the Church Center and moving out of New York? Being forced to collaborate more intentionally with the ELCA? Radically rethinking how we can do mission and program instead of just dumping a different program area every three years? Maybe all of these, maybe none of them. COD is under no illusions this proposal will lead to anything other than stunning, widespread, and at times traumatic change. But it will be change that we consciously set out to do, involving the whole church, and not one which we stumble through every three years, with consultation and input only when the power structures permit.

Radical change is coming, no matter what we do or don't do: do we want to have a hand in shaping it or be shaped by it?

COD is also under no delusion that anything even remotely like this would make it through the parliamentary shenanigans at the General Convention. But we need to stop thinking the only alternative is the one we have.

PS: Crusty Old Dean notes that, strangely enough, he consistently has readers in Russia. You can track these things on blogger. After the US and UK, Russia is third in traffic to this blog. Since COD took 8 years of Russian, majored in Russian History and Literature, lived in Moscow for six months, and has a master's degree from an Orthodox seminary, here's a shout out to those on the East Side who may have celebrated Торжествo Православия this Sunday:

за дружбу и мир! будь здоров!


  1. It would be one thing if that $1.8 million or so from the youth and formation budget was passed back to the Dioceses and provinces to enable the kind of subsidiarity that the budget (and presumably, GC, but I can't find a resolution to that end anywhere) envisions. But it's not; it's shuffled over to PB, PHOD, and GC.

  2. Most important comment from COD: "we need to stop thinking the only alternative is the one we have." But how?


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