Friday, June 1, 2012

It's All Over But the Shouting: Annotated Budget

Never mind; it's all over but the shouting, just a waste of time.
And I suppose your guess, is more or less as bad as mine.

Or so sang Paul Westerberg from the Replacements.  At long last, some five months after the January Executive Council meeting which produced it, an extensive annotated budget with commentary on line items has been released.  And Westerberg is right:  it's all over but the shouting.  A small group of folks, apparently bickering amongst themselves, has fundamentally reduced the Episcopal Church's churchwide expression to administration and governance. 

The document released contains several sections: a forward from the Presiding Bishop, an overview of the budgetary process, an annotated draft budget, and several appendices detailing the survey produced to determine at what level certain ministries could best be done, previous draft budgets, and the memorandum from the Executive Council to the Program, Budget, and Finance Committee following their meeting.

There is a lot of material here, some we have seen before, some that we have not.   COD will make a few comments, but to be honest finds it difficult to write this post, since he finds the utterly dysfunctional process that has led us to this point so depressing.

1)  First of all, the Forward from the Presiding Bishop.  Noting that the process has caused "confusion" and that some think it was not "well-conceived," we are nonetheless told "this is what we have to work with."

COD is past asking for any semblance of accountability for mistakes made, or for putting any kind of procedures in place to make sure past errors can be corrected.  As predicted in a previous post, there will be absolutely no accountability of any kind for anything that has happened thus far.  COD has given up on hearing any of that sort.

What about some kind of acknowledgement of the pain, distress, confusion, and lack of trust in our governance that this process has created?

Is there no one, anywhere, who can offer the simplest apology for the complete disaster of this budgeting process?  The PB, the PHOD, any one of the 38 people on Executive Council?  No one?  Anywhere?   Of course not.  We're simply told to accept what we've been given.

2)  Having started out on that positive note, the next section is the narrative of the budgetary process.  WTF.  Good Lord, I am stunned that this is even more dysfunctional than I could have imagined.  Crusty Old Dean would not let any of the groups involved provide the snack for his son's soccer team.

Just a few snippets from the narrative.

A)  For this triennium, planning for the budget was placed in the hands of a new body, the Executive Committee of Executive Council (ECEC).  Prior to the group's first scheduled meeting, a rump group consisting of five of the eight voting members met on conference call without the three of the other voting members and without the non-voting members (Treasurer of the DFMS, Chief Operating Officer, Secretary of Convention) to come up with their own plans for the budget.  Nor did the rump group tell the other members they had met beforehand, it only came to light at the regularly scheduled meeting of the entire ECEC "when some realized other members...were working from a document at the November 8 meeting that not everyone had been given."  At the regularly scheduled meeting on November 8, the PB was called away due to an emergency.  The group met without her -- why not, more than half of them had met without the other committee members present at all.  The crux of the rump group's meeting was to draw up a budget based on a asking of 15% from dioceses, rather than the 19%, which would result in a greater reduction in overall revenue.

Unreal.  The puerile bickering between the PB and the PHOD was bad enough when it was eye-roll worthy; who thought it would be at the core of the struggle to reshape our churchwide structures outside of any democratic process?

B)  The Executive Council itself.  The ECEC met again in January to come up with a budget to the Executive Council (EC) as whole.  It considered the possibility of transition budget, keeping things more or less as they were, while working towards a revamped churchwide structure.  There it made a fateful decision.  The ECEC decided to present budgets based on both the 19% and 15% income askings.
Council decided to start with the budget based on 15%.  It considered what revenues would be like under the 19% plan, with the realization this amounted to about $5 million in additional revenue.  Then it decided, in plenary, to add the $5 million in additional revenue from a 19% plan back into the existing 15% budget in front of them.

I am not making this up.  I wish I was making it up.  The $5 million was added back in a feeding frenzy in a plenary session of the EC.  Is this any way to budget strategically?  Who can make the most impassioned plea?  Who can make it to the microphone to plead their case?  All along, staff were explicitly excluded from the budgetary process, perhaps so they would not lobby for their own particular areas.  So instead we got a budget that is the result of a fight between the PB and PHOD, combined with Executive Council members lobbying for their own particular causes.

The tension is palpable in the statements issued at the end of Council.  The PB spoke of it as the beginning "to look at restructuring of this church for God’s mission. It is the beginning of a process that is only one stage in what the reformers call ‘the church always in reformation.’”  The President of the House of Deputies, who did not get her 15% plan, groused that the budget was "captive to an ethic of survival of the institutional church as we know it" and that it continued  "the church’s continued reliance on an executive, staff-driven church."  A bit rich coming from someone who has spent the last six years making an unpaid office of governance into a Co-Primate, and has consistently increased the staff of her own office.  Apparently it is only some parts of the church where being staff-driven is a problem.

C)  And we have the budget itself.  Hard to believe it's even more f****d up in this version than in the mess that was spewed out in January.  

The highlights:  we are ending program as we know it to become a church devoted almost entirely to administration and the General Convention.  The portions marked "Canonical", summed up in line 248 (PB, General Convention, House of Deputies, Commissions, Executive Council, other required areas of governance and structure) and "Corporate" summed up in line 348 (chief operating officer,  administration like Human Resources, Controller, Treasurer, information technology at 815, etc.) are essentially unchanged.  Modifications to some line items here and there, but for those two categories as whole, the budget is essentially the same.

The lowlight for me :  in line 348 we slash the paltry $195,000 in aid to seminarians.  Our inability to function as a churchwide organization is simply stunning.  We budget $53,600,000 on our own governance and administration over a triennium and cut $195,000 in aid to seminarians.  By contrast, the ELCA churchwide organization, for instance, raised some $30 million and has given out nearly $6 million in direct scholarships to seminarians in the past decade.

Where your heart is, there your treasure is also.  Can't come up with $70,000 per year to help with crushing seminarian debt.  But we can certainly add staff to the PB's office and the PHOD's office.

D)  Since we're not cutting anything overall from the PB, PHOD, General Convention, or 815 administration, the cuts come from mission and program that is coordinated through the churchwide level.  Finally, in line 371, in the commentary, we get what no one has said in any statement so far.  Astonishing the lede would be buried so deeply.  There, in the commentary for the Evangelism and Church Planting line item, it says: "Executive Committee eliminated all program money consistent with the goal of focusing on a Diocesan Partnership Model in which services would be provided by making churchwide expertise available to support projects funded by individual diocesan mission plans."  It kept staff, just eliminated all program money.

This couldn't have been said elsewhere, earlier, in some kind of preface?  They couldn't just be honest in an executive summary and say, "We are balancing the budget cuts by eliminating program money from the following program areas."  Nope.  This has not been put into writing in the official statements up to this point.

Looking through the program section, similar language appears in the columns for Stewardship, Congregational Development, Liturgy & Music, and Ecumenical & Interreligious Relations.

E)  And then there is the whole matter of the Formation and Vocation area, slashed 90%, everything from Episcopal Youth Event to Campus Ministries.  At least here we get a description in the commentary of what actually happened.  In the original 15% budget proposed by the ECEC, this was cut $2.8 million.  According to the revenues from the 19% plan also floating around, Executive Council wanted to add $1 million.  Because of the feeding frenzy to spend the $5 million, this did not get allocated, only $150,000 to campus ministries got added back.  I guess those arguing for Formation and Vocation must have been in the bathroom when we decided to create a potential $550,000 boondoggle (line 357) to create services to offer to dioceses.

At least we now, at long last, know what "subsidiarity" means.  The only time this vaunted and central operating principle appears in the budget is in the commentary in the section on Formation and Vocation.  Subsidiarity apparently means your advocates didn't argue passionately enough for you or you didn't have the votes in EC when they started stuffing money back into the budget.  Good to know, at least, how they are using the term.

However, the commentary still does not explain why in the ECEC original budget Formation and Vocation was cut in such a draconian fashion.  Their own survey shows that yes, the question of Youth & Young Adult ministries was ranked fairly low on what was considered necessary to be done by churchwide organizations.  Yet it was cut disproportionately -- 90%! -- while other areas deemed equally if not less necessary kept staff and had their program budgets cut.   Congregational development, church planting, renewing black/Latino/Asian congregations, and Stewardship all ranked lower on the sacrosant survey but were not cut to the bone in the original proposed budget like Formation and Vocation.  Why? 

F)  In other areas, the Commentary is still opaque and reveals lack of transparency for decisions made.  Some examples...
In Line 709,  $860,000 is added to missionaries without any explanation.  Why is this added?  On what basis?  For what?

In Line 726, there was an addition to the Office of Government Relations based on the office's "good work."  Good heavens!  I didn't know these decisions on funding were merit-based or performance-based.  Do we have the criterion on why the OGR was considered doing better work, say, than any other department to deserve an increase?  And, apparently, not for any specific program:  the commentary then does not blanche to add: "What exactly would be accomplished was not specified."

Good to know we can get ride of Episcopal Youth Event, but because some people on Executive Council think the Office of Government Relations is so awesome we should just give them money with no particular goal in sight.  (BTW, I do think OGR is awesome; that's beside the point.  It's this unholy process which is the issue.)

G)  The survey.  The survey.  At long last a description of the survey that supposedly was the blueprint for figuring out budget priorities, when in reality this is just a farce, it is not the blueprint at all, since the budget decisions do not correspond to the results.  However, the first point we should make is that it is unfathomable that any major decisions were based on the survey.

For one thing, only 17% of people responded.  The director of research himself said that he had hoped for something close to 50%.  This was a tiny sample.  And it was overwhelmingly tilted guessed it...those involved in governance.  The single largest group responding were General Convention deputies.  The lowest number of responses received was from people serving on diocesan governing bodies.  How can we possibly determine what is best done at the diocesan level when they were one of the smallest groups represented?  And the questions!  For instance, for Formation and Youth...they were not asked whether "Supporting Youth Ministries" was necessary, but "Supporting Adults Who Work with Youth" and "Supporting Adults Who Work with Children."  What?  The understanding of youth ministry is supporting their adults in their work? Is that what we really think EYE, for instance, is -- supporting the grown-ups who work with children? 

Crusty Old Dean is completely, utterly, and totally disheartened at this point.  Bickering, dysfunction, incompetence, and lack of accountability pervade this entire process.  Decisions were made with no strategic thinking, instead based on infighting on the ECEC and then in a feeding frenzy in Executive Council.

In past General Conventions, we have simply been given a budget and told to adopt or all hell will break loose.  

It seems we only have a couple of options left (I'd welcome others):

1)  Adopt something like this budget, and accept that we have dismantled our entire churchwide organization based on not much more than fight between a handful of people over the vision for our churchwide organization, and wind up with Potemkin village for a churchwide organization, where administration and governance are protected by those with a vested interest in them, run by a Politburo in defiance of democratic process.

2)  DEMAND that a TRANSITIONAL BUDGET be adopted for the 2013-2015 to fund more or less our current structures with equal across-the-board cuts.  During this transition budget, allow for a churchwide discussion and consultation.  Find ways to make it happen!  Eliminate the across the Board 3% raises for the triennium.  Postpone the $1 million in additional staff proposed. Make it work somehow.

If not, then walk out and prevent a quorum necessary to pass this.  In the end, if we stand by and do nothing to try to prevent this injustice from moving forward, we forfeit our rightful place as the DFMS and instead accept this dysfunction as normative.  As Leviticus 19 tells us, if we see injustice, "you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself."


  1. Well done, sir. I hope people heed the call.

  2. I hope the people on PB&F are reading this, along with a bunch of bishops and deputies.

    So technically, PB&F can't touch it until GC. Okay, fine, whatever. I wonder what we could come with, just as an experiment, if we opened it up in sort of a wiki format to allow people from around TEC to provide feedback and create a budget. Of course, it wouldn't be anything official, but I suppose it could be given to the members of PB&F as, say, a suggestion.

  3. Maybe start circulating a petition to give to the members of PB&F "requesting" (i.e. demanding) that they abandon the submitted budget and come to GC prepared to start over from scratch?

  4. 236 years ago, colonists were convinced that British Parliament imposed financial controls for the benefit of Britain at the expense of the welfare of the colonists. In 2012 the budget "process" in the Episcopal Church is repeating history -- imposed financial controls for the benefit of the national administration at the expense of mission.

    May Diocesan bishops and delegates "just say no" to the proposed budget that slashes program for ministry and mission and increases funds for administration at the national level!

    Before the PB, Executive Council, and national administrative offices decide we can slash youth ministry and other missions while increasing national administrative budgets, shouldn't we ask whether we ever needed a PB, Executive Council, and national administrative offices in the first place? Shouldn't we ask whether we can afford them?

    We can be a church without a PB, Executive Council, and national administrative offices. We cannot be a church without youth ministry, evangelism, and mission.

    1. I think far more to the point, we were just fine with out the PB, PHoD, & EC in thier current forms. We also did well without the fancy HQ @ 815. A smaller staff dedicated as support not supervisory in a less expecive city would work wounders. The problem is not the positions, but the way they are utilized. The institution has becom unmoored from the ecclesiasiology, and it shows.

  5. It's hard to know which is worse: the budget, the process, the petty bickering, or the intrigue.

    It may be that the only path forward is to announce a 30-day standdown, in which we pay only our existing obligationsm such as mortgages, salaries, and utilities. During that time, we can take a deep breath, stop the wild running after our own tails, and start approaching this in a considered, quiet, reasonable manner.

  6. Actually, you can comment on this dreadful train wreck of a budget. Go to:

  7. I have no choice but to "just say no" to such a dysfunctional budget. But as a deputy, somehow I've always felt like we really have no voice in this budget; that it gets approved regardless. That has to change. Let's hope the rest of the HOD raises up in revolt as well!

  8. Can you imagine doing something like this at the parish level? "Oh, yes. We're cutting out Sunday School, Youth Ministry, and Outreach...In other news the rector gets a personal assistant."

    I think a vote of "no confidence" may be in order.

  9. Executive Committee of the Executive Council? How very GDR of them. What's the mechanism for questioning the creation of extra-constitutional bodies? Where is Gunter Schabowski when you need him?

  10. The budget is usually approved quite late at GC, right? If PB&F does come up with something like the proposed budget, what would happen if one or both houses rejected it? It always seems like the message that comes with the budget at GC is "Oh you have to approve it. There's no time to come up with a new one and get it voted on; so just rubber stamp it."

  11. It works thusly (Joint Rules of Order): PB&F present a budget no later than the third day prior to adjournment. The presentation is to a joint session of both houses and is informational. Then each House has to act on the budget and pass the exact same one, which needs to be balanced. This is why there's a sense of urgency: with barely two days left, the budget has to be passed in the same form by both Houses. So if you move an amendment to increase one line item, you have to specify where it comes out elsewhere. And, say, if the HOD approves it and sends it to HOB, and HOB amends it, it goes back to HOD to vote on an amended version, and the HOD could amend it...and so on. This is why it is almost always presented for an up-or-down vote. A rare case of trying to amend occurred in 2009 when the HOD tried to add funding to the President of the HOD's office, which did not succeed. By canon, we have to leave Convention with a balanced budget -- but there's lots of ways to do that.

  12. As a mere Canterburian who has only recently been introduced to what goes on in higher levels of the church, I read "Executive Committee of the Executive Council" and assumed it was a joke name, like Association of Redundancy Association. I guess I have much to learn...

    On a more serious note, I am disappointed to see the proposed cuts in Formation and Vocation. I am beginning to understand why people give such sympathetic looks when I say I'm looking toward discernment.

    As for the cuts in Youth programs and College ministry...don't they know that the " college ramen diet" does not apply to spiritual formation? One cannot subsist on a $0.37/bag "ramen ministry." Shame.

  13. In all fairness, even though ECEC sounds like something out of the old Terry Gilliam movie "Brazil," many church organizations have a smaller group which handle decisions in between meetings of the larger governing body. Wardens & Rector handle some things for a parish between Vestry meetings, many dioceses have a Diocesan Council in addition to Standing Committee, the Board of Trustees of my seminary has an Exec Committee which, for instance, takes an initial crack at the budget. It's not the concept itself, it's the dysfunction, that is the issue.

  14. I hope that some future PB eliminates all this bureaucracy and returns to the primitive simplicity envisioned by William White.

  15. I know this is hypothetical, but what would happen if the budget is voted down? They've got to pass a balanced budget before Convention ends, and it doesn't seem like there would really be enough time to start over from scratch or determine and make the kind of substantive changes necessary for passage. However, I'd imagine that extending GC would be logistically impossible.

  16. Correct me if I am wrong, but this result was predictable—certainly to those paying attention, which I must admit that I was then not doing—at least as long ago as mid-1996. It was then that Executive Council, whose responsibilities, as I had been given to understand, were to deal with those issues arising between triennial General Conventions which were of an urgency that "could not wait" for the next GC. But even I, admittedly not paying close attention to the workings of 815, was able to identify the nature of the problem by the early Fall of 2008.

    The source of the problem has not changed in the interim, it has only become increasingly obvious, and has done so in a more or less continuous manner. The event which should have given away the plot to all was EC's action formally to affiliate with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

    What was it that made mid-1996 so critical that EC had to act in the stead of GC? And why was it not trumpeted about at the time? The answer was then the same as it has remained ever since, and as identified in the letter cited at the link I have referenced above. The Episcopal Church is governed by outlaws and brigands—people who consider themselves above the law, at minimum above human law, and once one sees that one must ask the next question: Do they not also consider themselves above God's laws? I would humbly suggest that the answer to the latter is obvious and in the affimative.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  17. This is a much longer and systemic issue, I think, Keith. This has its roots in the 1919 General Convention which established the National Council (predecessor of Executive Council) and made the Presiding Bishop an elected office and chair of the Council. Over the years, both institutions, Council and PB, have developed and evolved. We could go even further and argue this has its roots in 1789, when the Episcopal Church established a unitary form of governance, with only a legislative body and no executive no body capable of adjudicating disputes. While Crusty Old Dean can snark it up with the rest of them, outlaws and brigands is a strong term, and for that matters also not applicable. In any institution there can be a drift over time as to the nature and function of governance. Rather I think the church as a whole must wake up and assert that we are the DFMS take oversight of our governing structures seriously.

  18. I am frustrated with the budget process as well, however I disagree that the PHoD has "has spent the last six years making an unpaid office of governance into a Co-Primate."

    Do you not agree that the office of PHoD is equal to - NOT less than - the office of the Presiding Bishop? Why then is President Anderson considered power driven when she holds her own? I'd like to hear more about your reason for this statement.

  19. In terms of governance, yes: both are presiding officers of their respective House. As some kind of co-primate or #2 in the church - no. See here for more thoughts: I never used the words power-driven; I think it's more mission creep than anything else.

    And I have castigated both the PB and PHOD for adding staff or attempting to add staff at times when we have gutted program in 2009 and are planning to do so again in 2012 without any systematic plan in place.

  20. Hmmmm Well for what it is worth I note that the uproar over our church's governance and administration is arising at the same time Americans are up in arms about the proper role(s) and level of governance and administration nationally. Perhaps there is some bleed over going on here? The trend seems to be toward local over national, participation over passive assent, and a demand for accountability - true?

    I would say that several different issues need attention as soon as possible - here are my thoughts and a few suggestions.

    First, the Church, as I understand it, is based on serving others as directly as possible - SO, hierarchy and administration can only be justified to the extent it directly supports local direct ministry.

    Second, while having Offices to represent the Church in Washington and at the UN is "fun" it strikes me that letters from 100 bishops diocesan and their Standing Committees to decision makers will make more impact on issues than a single representative giving a pro forma speech. It also eliminates redundant functions and allows each diocese to speak with its own voice.

    Third, perhaps rather than having 815 staff to provide technical support and expertise to Dioceses and Parishes, either each Diocese AND/OR the various Religious Orders and Communities (and their Affiliates) could be asked to put their particular charisms at the disposal of the Church Entire in exchange for financial support? This would alleviate the need for rent on 815, make much better use of the existing talents within the Church, and reinvigorate the role of Religious within TEC.

    These are only first thoughts, but I'd appreciate hearing critique and correction of them, please.

    1. I think it is absolutely true that upheavals in our churches coincide with upheavals in not only American politics, but in world politics. Everywhere there is a suspicion of the hierarchy and the demand for more accountability coupled with a desire to return authority to local levels.

  21. Well, be fair, Crusty Old Dean - they couldn't have apologized for the mess. If they had, they would have been unable to spin the whole thing as God's calling us to something new, or presenting the restructuring as somehow tied to the Reformation. See - it's not 815 or EC or any other human agency that's to blame for the mess - it's God.

    Nothing to see here, folks - just God's will. Move along (but first, rubberstamp this horrible, inadequate budget that God came up with)...

  22. So, I'd be interested in hearing what this option would look like:
    "DEMAND that a TRANSITIONAL BUDGET be adopted for the 2013-2015 to fund more or less our current structures with equal across-the-board cuts. During this transition budget, allow for a churchwide discussion and consultation. Find ways to make it happen! Eliminate the across the Board 3% raises for the triennium. Postpone the $1 million in additional staff proposed. Make it work somehow."

    I know a lot of deputations have been unhappy with the Provincial presentations, but are unsure of how to move forward and what we should be pushing for...

  23. Stay tuned to Crusty Old Dean -- he's not all talk, and will be putting forward so very concrete suggestions (COD is not a deputy, after all). I am recruiting co-conspirators right now.


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