Thursday, June 21, 2012

The PB's Budget: You're COD's Guitar Hero.

This fancy that I'm on has been going on too long;
It's time we stopped pretending things are real.
'Cause I've been living deep in sin, I've been living blind.
--Gram Parsons

Crusty Old Dean thought of these words as he chanced upon a bit of news, the fact that the Presiding Bishop has released a budget proposal -- the entire thing can be found here, from the Presiding Bishop's message to the budget itself.  So COD put some Gram Parsons on Spotify and got to work.

Before getting into some discussion of the budget itself, it would appear that a few preliminary remarks are warranted.

1)        It’s time we stopped pretending things are real; this is Gram’s painful acknowledgement to his lover that the relationship they are in is no longer functioning, and he just can’t live that way anymore.

One is to acknowledge that the budgetary system and process put in place for this triennium was a complete, total, and abject failure, from the Executive Committee of Executive Council to the probably well intentioned but disastrous efforts by Executive Council to allocate funding in a feeding frenzy of a plenary session.  In case you’re new to this blog, COD has been saying all along that he would like to see some actual, coherent, concerted effort to connect an understanding of mission, ecclesiology, and structure to our budgetary process.  Restructuring by defunding, without much explanation or consultation, was the path chosen in 2009.  Restructuring through dysfunctional implosion seemed to be the way we were going in 2012.

2)        We’ve been living deep in sin: the sin of different parties in the church with hubris to think that they, somehow, are the guarantors and preservers of the integrity of the church.  This had been the corrosive dysfunction that has been laid bare these past few months.  Time to acknowledge that sin:  to repent of it, all around, on all sides.  It is getting us nowhere.  It is destroying us.  We need to seek a way to move forward.

3)        We must solve the systemic difficulties between Executive Council and the Presiding Bishop.  As originally laid out in 1919 and refined in the 1920s, the Presiding Bishop was chair of the National (later Executive) Council, which oversaw and coordinated the church's ministries.  Council had inimtate oversight of what we would now call the mission work of the church.  Yet in the 1940s and 1950s, we moved to an understanding of the PB as CEO and the staff as "his" (now "her") staff.    This is an oversimplication, to be sure, but shows the relationship between the two has developed over time, and we need another redevelopment.  There needs to be a recalibration and appropriate shared oversight, so there is not the enmity and tension between Council and the Presiding Bishop -- which, BTW, the PB herself proposes in this budget (see below).

4)        OK, on to the budget.  There are several things COD commends about this budget:

---        It is based on our actual governance.  Instead of entrusting the budgetary process to ways that has never been done before (the Executive Committee of Executive Council; competing budgetary proposals based on 15% and 19% asking; having Executive Council itself willy nilly add to line items), this one is actually grounded in governance:  the Presiding Bishop’s canonical authority.  The responsibility for initiating and developing strategy rests with the Presiding Bishop. We have a Presiding Bishop, and the understanding of this office has undergone over a century of discussion, with specific responsibilities outlined by enactments of canons of the General Convention. 

My thanks to the Presiding Bishop for showing the courage to exercise the leadership entrusted to that office as decided upon by the church as a whole.  This does not, of course, negate the other aspects of our governance, as those who will surely denounce this as some sort of circumventing power grab know quite well:  This budget must, of course, be subject to the other mandates and provisions as outlined in the Constitution and Canons and Rules of Order. 

Crusty Old Dean is alarmed that, at times, there is at best hue and cry, and at worst cynical and knee-jerk anti-clericalism, when our governing structures do what they are supposed to do.  Take, for instance, some of the reaction to the proposal to the House of Bishops to call a Special General Convention:  well, the reality is that only the HOB can call a Special General Convention.  It’s our governance; if we don’t like it, then change it, but can we fault those who are actually using the processes laid down in our governance?  (BTW, COD would support such a change in this instance, making the calling of a Special Convention require broader input, whether from Executive Council, or a certain number of diocesan conventions, whatnot).  We have a layering of episcopal, clerical, and lay say in the governance of the church.  Let’s trust it, and not necessarily presume or impugn motive.

---        This budget actually explains things.  Recall, in the Executive Council budget, buried on line 372 was the acknowledgment that cuts were coming from the program aspects of several departments, leaving us with the situation that there would be staff but who had no budgets to coordinate or organize meetings.  This profound ecclesiological shift was nowhere laid out, buried in few line item descriptions.

This budget, for instance, explains the increase to Province IX, showing how it emerges from the sustainability conferences held.

---        It stands the old budget on its head, and redefines it in terms of the marks of mission.  This is something COD has been arguing for all along:  if we really, truly are going to shape our budget around these understandings of the marks of mission, then let’s actually do it.  This gives a sense of coherence to this budget, sorely lacking in the previous version.

---        A sense of mission strategy emerges.  The budget approved by Executive Council was simply mind boggling, with numbers added to various line items without any kind of overall organizing or operating principles.  In this budget, we can see clear patterns emerge.  For example:

It explains the $1,000,000 in additional funding to Young Adult Service Corps and Episcopal Service Corps and restores sensible and reasonable funding to the Formation section; these issues are also interconnected. The old budget increased funding for missionary and internship opportunities while slashing youth and young adult ministries 90%.  Where are we going to recruit young people to go into these internship programs if we have slashed every other formation and feeder program for them, from EYE to campus ministries?   Complex and interconnected issues require complex, interconnected solutions.

---        It restores program funding to several areas. Cutting program funding and insisting that other levels of the church now have sole responsibility for certain things is simply bereft of any true sense of the interconnected nature of the church. We cannot simply dump things every three years and ask dioceses and networks to step up and do work without getting buy-in, providing training, getting input and feedback from them.  Do we need dioceses and network to collaborate and co-create new ways of doing the mission of the church?  Aboslutely.  But General Convention deciding every three years what to dump on dioceses and networks without any discussion or planning at all is not doing that.  It’s what we did in 2009, and were set for a repeat in 2012. 

---        There are across the board reductions.  No single area is asked to take on a reduction which is out of proportion – unlike the Executive Council budget, where some areas had increased funding and others were cut 90%.  This budget acknowledges the reduction in 12.75 staff positions, spread in several areas.  Far from being centralized or staff-preserving, it reduces staff by nearly 10%.  The challenge will be not whether we are too staff driven -- we have consistently cut staff over the past decade -- but if we are willing to cut into governance.  We have cut over 40 staff positions at 815 in the past three years, yet there is a resolution to lengthen General Convention before us this summer.

---        Make sure you read the entire statement, not just the tidbits posted in various places. 

For one thing, at the end of the narrative statement, the PB states that she has asked Chief Operating Officer Stacy Sauls to "to conduct a thorough study of the location of the Episcopal Church Center."

For another, while this will be seen by some as a rebuke or even an effort to circumvent the work of Executive Council, the PB states that much of the implementation and living into these proposals will call for "collaborative cooperation" with Executive Council -- and further notes that this kind of collaborative cooperation has been possible in the past.  

Crusty Old Dean still has some concerns.

---        One is whether the numbers truly add up.  This budget seems to be based on the following assumptions:

a 19% asking formula and a realistic expectation of diocesan commitments, and
a budget surplus from various cuts which in turn
                        --allows for a reduction in principal on debt owed
                        --which in turn allows for a $5.3 million reduction in debt service

This combination of increased diocesan commitments and reduced debt payments is what allows for the $4.4 million in additional revenue in the PB budget from the EC budget.  Will these numbers add up?

---        The draw from principal to fund the development office remains in this budget proposal.  Crusty Old Dean just has concerns in general about funding things outside of the normal budgetary process. George W. Bush funded the Iraq and Afghanistan wars but special appropriations out of the budgetary process.  If something is worth doing, it’s worth budgeting, so that we can have a grasp of the actual cost.

Overall, though, this is a breath of fresh air, providing a budget which outlines and explains a coherent strategy based on the five marks of mission.  Bishops and deputies on PB&F, please give it the thorough hearing that it deserves.

Crusty Old Dean has switched over from Gram Parsons to The Clash on Spotify, which is apt:  Katharine Jefferts Schori, as Joe Strummer once said to Mick Jones, “You’re my guitar hero.”


  1. Quick Note, COD: I don't think you are correct regarding the $5.3 million reduction in debt service. Interest payments of $3.4 million are listed on line 329. Principal payments of $4.5 million are listed on line 367. This total of $7.9 million compares to Exec Council's $8.7 million. Why the $800,000 difference requires further analysis. Working feverishly to analyze here!

    1. Then I don't know how else to read the following: In line 329, the Executive Council budget has $8.7 million in interest payments; The PB's proposed budget has $3.4 million. That's a $5.3 million difference. Notes say this is because of a $4.5 million payment on debt principal from line 367. Line 367 in turn, in based on line 364, where a budgetary surplus is used to fund the principal payment.

  2. I'm glad the two of you (COD and Susan Brown Snook) are doing these analyses! Since I am not a deputy, I'm merely an interested by-stander, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to go through these things with a fine-toothed comb. It's good to know people I trust are doing so.

  3. I believe Exec Council's $8.7 million included both interest and principal.

  4. Now, there you go, standing on the polity of the Epicopal Church and remebering that "Episcopal" has somthing to do with Bishops having authority. I think that is what is rankeling some of the Deputies the most, that they have been reminded that they are not in the drivers seat alone.
    There is a sizable portion of the our membership that has an almost pathological dislike of authority. "Stick it to the Man" and all that. What makes that sad is that many of these people are now in positions of authority in TEC and are still trying to stick it to somebody.

  5. COD, one of my concerns about this new budget is the context of its own vacuum. While defining a budget based on the "Five Marks," makes sense, collaboration makes more sense. Now we have Church Center Staff "collaborating" separately. I keep wondering what happened to the idea that the church, as the larger body, discerns (oops, do we still use that word) vision and mission priorities, and the Church Center is configured to carry that out, not the other way 'round. It also still asks us to take a lot "on faith," not unlike the other budget, that really contains few line items. It pretty much keeps the 1% in business as usual, but I guess it does look a little more theological.

    1. Sorry, this last comment is from Susanne Watson Epting

    2. I see this budget as doing exactly what you describe -- the church discerned, adopted, and endorsed the 5 marks of mission; the Church Center staff are presenting a budget identifying some areas where we live into those marks of mission (while reconfiguring and stopping to do some things).

      And yes, it does ask us to take a lot on faith, but in my opinion I think there's significantly more detail here in this budget. The previous budget would have given us less room, I think, to live into new ways of collaborating since it was a haphazard dismantling.

  6. Do we need dioceses and network to collaborate and co-create new ways of doing the mission of the church? Aboslutely. But General Convention deciding every three years what to dump on dioceses and networks without any discussion or planning at all is not doing that.
    guitar lessons
    learn guitar


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.