Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Are We Heading for Our Own EpiscoShutdown?

Crusty just started a Twitter hashtag, #EpiscopalShutdownScenarios.  He doesn't expect it to take off, and he is not following it very much; COD fully expects Twitter to be mostly preoccupied with Panda Cam.

Crusty did, however, wonder how long before some elements currently impacting our federal
Coming soon to a General Convention near you?
government situation may be coming to a General Convention of the Episcopal Church in our near future.  After all, we have experienced several aspects of this narrative of defunding through manipulating budgetary crises already in the Episcopal Church.

One aspect is governance through manipulation of financial brinksmanship and deadlines.  COD is still disappointed with how the budgetary process was handled in the leadup to the 2009 General Convention.  It was apparent to anyone paying remotely any kind of attention that a massive deficit was staring the church in the face, but there was absolutely no broader discussion in the church about how this should be approached.  News releases from the January, 2009 Executive Council meeting lead with discussions of the Anglican Covenant (remember when Anglicans thought that was important?) and only then noted that expenses were ahead of projected revenues by $10 million.  Rather than any strategic planning or broader discussion, it was simply all deferred to General Convention, by which time the projected deficit between income and proposed budget had ballooned to over $20 million.  Please excuse Crusty for not posting more numerous links, but the link to coverage from the 2009 General Convention here no longer accessible.  You can read some previous thoughts I have about this whole fiasco here.

Crusty asks, isn't one way to look at the 2009 budgetary situation as individuals manipulating the budgetary process?  A budget with significant cuts was presented to Convention, more or less with the option to take it or leave it.  This is the absurdity of the budgetary process, where bishops and deputies are presented with a budget and told to take it or, well...take it, since leaving it is not an option.  Convention by canon must pass a balanced budget before adjourning, so the budget is passed with a minimum of discussion.  Bishops and deputies were told these were only numbers, and not program or staff decisions.  Meanwhile, staff were informed who was being laid off before the budget was even voted on; decisions about layoffs and program were already made days, if not weeks, before the budget was even presented.  Staffing and other budgetary cuts, including walking away from a union contract without any negotiations, were made not only without any input or discussion, but without articulating any kind of vision of of what kind of denominational entity was needed in a radically different incarnation of church.  We defunded and then a small group of people restructured.  Sounds like Congress?

If anything, sadly, the 2009 process was a model of efficiency compared to the 2012 process, or as COD likes to call it, "Budgetary Clusterf**k II:   Electric Boogaloo."  Read more of Crusty's previous ponderings here and here.  Similar to the current situation in Congress, where one wing of one party shutdown the government because it's demands were not
Nice to know Washington Post reads Crusty.
met, the 2012 process was marked by factions  demanding that the budget be shaped according to their principles.  Within the group tasked with producing an initial budget -- the Executive Committee of Executive Council, or ECEC -- a rump group met on their own and drafted their own budget with their own percentage of diocesan giving without discussion or consultation with other members of the drafting group.  Executive Council as a whole met a few months later and made an even bigger mess of the budget.  With multiple visions of a budget before it -- one based on a 15% benchmark of giving from dioceses, one based on a 19% benchmark of giving from dioceses -- with a difference in $5 million between these two.  Council made the decision to begin with the 15% budget, and then add back, piece by piece, line by line, the $5 million difference, resulting in a ungodly feeding frenzy.  Youth and Young Adult ministries ended up getting slashed by 90% whereas additional funding was giving to the Office of Government Relations not for any particular program but for their "good work."  Just a stunning, dysfunctional, train wreck of a budgeting process at Executive Council, with competing visions colliding with pork barrel spending decisions based on members' personal concerns and passions.  A full and complete narrative of how that budget was drafted was not released until JUNE, several months later.  And then the church was told that nothing could be done about the turd that Council produced until General Convention, when, guess what, we could all watch Budget Clusterf**k II:  Electric Boogaloo and see if the dysfunctional budgeting process could implode again.  Crusty ended up being mildly pleased pleased with the eventual budget passed, seeing it as a somewhat reasonable holding of the status quo while broader debates about restructuring took place.  He is also waiting to see if any real change or vision will emerge leading up to the 2015 Convention, or whether the whole thing will start over again.

So who are we as Episcopalians to sit back and roll our eyes at the dysfunction of government?  Honestly, at times Crusty sees little difference between what has happened in the last few years in our political governance -- dubbed by some commentators as budgeting by near-death experience, or budgeting by brinksmanship and financial crisis -- than the 2009 and 2012 budget experiences.

The reality is that the potential is for it to be even worse.  The day is coming that without structural reform we will see the shutdown of our own governance.  At some point very soon -- 2018?  2021? -- we will not be able to hold General Convention in its current format.  Convention is too large, too long, and wastes an inordinate amount of time.  (Note: this does not mean Crusty is an anti-democratic clericalist fascist, as he has been called.  Stop with the straw man that reform inherently means one is opposed to the democratic process and principle in the church.)  Read more of Crusty's extensive thoughts, from two years ago, before TREC was a glimmer in anyone's eye, and when only Crusty and Dwight Zscheile seemed to care about this stuff, here.  The amount spent just on Convention and our own governance is shocking.  We already have, already, shut down 815:  We have an entity at 815 Second Avenue which is a property management and rental company that has some people who also work for a denominational entity called the Episcopal Church and which gets smaller every three years.

Our window for reform may have already closed.  Maybe, as the Replacements once sang, "It's all
Westerberg for PHOD!
over but the shouting."  But as Crusty has said before, mission and ministry will move on.  There may be anxiety and angst in the church, but it will survive.  The Episcopal Church nearly died out after the American Revolution, but we adapted to a new context and were reborn.  Crusty lived in the Soviet Union for six months.  He's seen a church persecuted for 70 years nearly to the point of extinction.  The Russian Orthodox Church survived, and Communism fell.  Anglicanism will survive the collapse of 815 and General Convention.  Can we grasp the opportunity and vision in birthing a new church, or will we quibble among the wreckage of Christendom?


  1. This seems like the best possible place to post a disturbing piece of news which reached me yesterday. And I quote: "The Office of Young Adult and Campus Ministries is excited to report a record number of applications for Campus Ministries Grants this year. In total, we received 64 applications requesting $1.5 million.

    Of the 64 applications, 38 are for leadership grants to establish a new, restore a dormant, or reenergize a current campus ministry. Grants in this category will range from $20,000 to $30,000 for a two-year period. Leadership grants reflecting the same amount will be considered for future academic years in this triennium.

    There are 26 applications for innovation grants to provide seed money to assist in the start-up of new, innovative campus ministries or to enhance a current program. These grants will range from $3,000 to $5,000.

    These grant proposals are from dioceses, parishes or community college/college/university campuses for new as well as current campus ministries in higher education institutions in The Episcopal Church.

    With just $100,000 available in funding for this year ($300,000 for the triennium), the grants committee will have some difficult decisions to make in the coming weeks."

    Nurya again: It appears to me that we need greater strategic thought in the budgetary process when the average age of Episcopalians is 57, there are Episcopal entities throughout the nation organized enough to write grant applications to evangelize and include a younger generation, and we have appropriated only 1/10th of the funds that would make those ministries possible.

    1. Nurya - totally. Write lots of blogs and make lots of noise about this. It helps - I promise. :)

    2. Certainly makes amount of our budget which is spent on governance seem even more scandalous. Remember in the 2012 budget we cut the paltry $70,000 per year for seminarian debt.

  2. As Crusty knows, I am just as horrified by those previous budget fiascos as anyone. Since I am now on Executive Council and chairing the budget subcommittee, please know that we have been working very hard since the first meeting of this triennium to create a healthier budget process that includes input from lots of people. I can't promise that the results will be spectacular, since of course there will be many entrenched interests, and we are stuck with decisions made in previous years (like the debt to remodel 815). And furthermore, we are stuck with the complexity of hoping that reform / restructuring is coming, but having no idea what it will be - which is pretty hard to budget for. But we are working very hard on this, and I have a personal commitment to spending resources on renewal of the church, not propping up old structures (like the property management company at 815 2nd Avenue). More info here.

  3. Alas, we tend to treat symptoms instead of treating the underlying problem. The euphemism often heard in the corporate world is "rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic".

    Is it a surprise that the top-heavy structure in TEC cannot deal with the problem of falling income? No. The top-heavy structure *is* the problem. The analogy is asking a surgeon to remove his or her own appendix.

    Eventually the HOB or the HOD will have to speak with a radical voice in order to push the revolution, not evolution, that circumstances will require. Until then, we can expect more frantic rearranging of deck chairs and the associated turmoil and inconsistencies -- but without much progress relative to saving the ship.

  4. Crusty's brother (who is a heart surgeon) once offered to walk a colleague through a procedure to be performed on himself.

  5. I was glad to see the response of Ms. Snook, Chair of the Budget committee, here. That says many good things about a more open and transparent process. I worked for the GBEC in the Ellen Cooke days and I am assured things are better.

  6. Just curious, ye of the dog collar persuasion, but is there some particular reason why GC cannot be conducted online via Skype and encrypted voting from Delegates homes with the Convention chaired from 815 or what ever Diocese might care to "host" the Convention Officers? If this were done at a much more reasonable costs than real time GC might we also consider segregating some of the matters dealt with in GC such as resolutions on this, that, or the other for something a bit more substantive, such as ecclesiology, theology, or even, gasp! putting more of our theological education online supplemented by diocesan/parish resources rather than having seminarians rack up $70 K in debt?

  7. Crusty, I appreciate and agree with your conclusions. I am a parish priest out on the West Coast (blessed/cursed with a finance background) and trying to help my congregation "right size" itself. I find this joyful because I know the church will survive, and challenging since at no level of the church do I see responsible financial management happening. I am heartened by the Rev. Snook's involvement. I look forward to reading more from you.


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