A budget for evangelism

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Yesterday morning the Rev. Frank Logue of Georgia went to the microphone in the House of Deputies and moved an amendment he didn’t think had much chance of passing. In effect, he asked the General Convention, on the second-to-last day of its triennial meeting, to add more than $2.8 million to the budget for church planting initiatives, with a special focus on Latino ministries.

Funny thing is, the amendment passed by a 571-257 margin after deputy after deputy spoke in favor of increasing the church’s draw on its endowment by half a percentage point in order to create new faith communities and, as Logue put it “to move out of this convention having provided out newly elected Presiding Bishop [the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry] with the support he needs to assist us in reaching others with the love of Jesus Christ.”

In the afternoon, the House of Bishops passed the church’s budget with Logue’s amendment intact, despite opposition from Bishop Stacy Sauls, the church’s chief operating officer, who spoke against the amendment twice, and pessimistic testimony about its impact on the church’s endowment from Chief Financial Officer Kurt Barnes.

“I’d rather not be part of a church with a growing endowment and declining membership,” said Bishop Douglas Hahn of Lexington.

On his way to a news conference after the budget had passed, Logue said he felt “like a dog who chased a car and caught it.”

His amendment brought to $5.8 million the amount devoted to planting churches and non-traditional communities of faith in the 2016-18 budget, which also includes $750,000 for a “digital evangelism” effort that seeks to connect seekers with local churches by identifying them through Google search terms and online formation materials. The $6.5 million total represents a significant financial commitment to evangelism at a time when most Christian denominations in the United States are losing members.

The Rev. Melody Shobe of Rhode Island told the House of Deputies that the investment in church planting was well-timed, given the predominantly white church’s emphasis on reaching new audiences.

“New churches can … start from day one reaching out to different demographics,” she said. “Amending the budget to add evangelism initiatives to the [$2 million] we have budgeted for racial justice and reconciliation is the exact right move at this unique moment in the life of our church. … Evangelism and justice go hand in hand as our social justice works makes our faith real even as our evangelism shares our faith with others.”

On Monday, Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry asked the Program, Budget and Finance Committee that developed a budget given to “Put Jesus up front. Put sharing that good news in front.”

In addition to passing a budget with funding dedicated to spurring growth, the House of Deputies yesterday passed resolutions:

  • calling upon the Investment Committee of the Executive Council, the Episcopal Church Endowment Fund, and the Episcopal Church Foundation to divest from fossil fuel companies and reinvest in clean renewable energy in a fiscally responsible manner.” The House of Bishops had previously exempted the Church Pension Fund from the legislation, an action the Rev. Patrick Funston termed “shameful.” (C045)
  • directing the standing commission on the structure of the church to “explore unicameral models of church governance including the polities and the legislative processes.”  The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church had recommended that General Convention change from a bicameral to a unicameral body. (A002)
  • allowing the Houses of Bishops and Deputies “to sit, debate and vote together” on occasion by majority vote of both houses. (D008)
  • allowing dioceses “to develop a process whereby a Faith Community can petition for permission to provide comparable health insurance coverage outside the Denominational Health Plan.” (D021)
  • directing the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to “prepare a plan for the comprehensive revision” of Book of Common Prayer and bring it to next convention.” (A169)

The resolutions on environmental investing and Prayer Book revision have passed both houses of convention. The resolutions on church structure and the denominational health plan await action by the House of Bishops.