Church Budget: Rubber, meet road

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file1341284659096General Convention passes an amazing variety of resolutions, from social justice to liturgical resources to sweeping new initiatives. But for convention, like many institutions, where the rubber hits the road is the budget. The big question is not, how many great ideas can we pass, but where are we willing to put our money?

Back in January, Executive Council proposed a draft budget for 2016-18 based on three years of work, listening to input from the church and its leaders about priorities for the next triennium. (Full disclosure: I chaired the process that produced that budget.) You can find that draft budget here. The Program, Budget, and Finance (PB&F) committee of Convention takes it from there. PB&F will listen to testimony about budget priorities in high-profile hearings during Convention, will pay attention to resolutions that are passed, and will present a budget proposal to Convention on July 1.

Here are some of the issues PB&F will have to consider. Watch for how these issues are addressed in PB&F hearings and committee meetings, and look for how they are resolved in the final budget proposal.

Diocesan Asking. A movement is underway to lower the diocesan asking from 19% in the current triennium, to 15% or lower. Council’s draft budget lowered it to 18% in 2016, 16.5% in 2017, and 15% in 2018. Will this be a fast enough drop to satisfy Convention? Conversely, will these asking rates yield enough revenue for the church to achieve its mission? Some proposed resolutions call for the asking to drop faster and further. In my opinion, a faster drop would not be healthy – it would mean gutting programs, terminating staff, and leaving a new presiding bishop with an immediate financial and organizational emergency. There are also resolutions to make payment of the diocesan asking mandatory, addressing the unhealthy current situation in which 47% of our dioceses don’t pay the full amount.

Development Office. Council’s draft budget proposed that the Development Office raise $2 million for church operations. Several proposed resolutions also would instruct the Development Office to raise money for specific projects. Look for discussion of the effectiveness of the Development Office over the last triennium, and questions about whether it is reasonable to ask it to raise additional money. Look also for concerns over the office’s projected $5 million cost.

Mission Grants. Council’s draft budget included money for grants for local initiatives, including $3 million for church planting, $800,000 for matching grants for local projects that do world mission work (money that would satisfy the Millennium Development Goals), and a $100,000 grant for Forma, an independent network of Christian education professionals. Look for a continued move toward using church-wide money to encourage local projects. Some significant resolutions have been proposed that would increase mission grants, including a church planting initiative and a congregational revitalization initiative. If those resolutions pass, the real test will be how much funding they receive.

Program and Partner Grants. A significant portion of the church’s budget goes toward program grants for affiliated entities, including a proposed $11.4 million for dioceses and $2.6 million of grants for other provinces of the Anglican Communion. These grants represent commitments we have made, and should keep, but they may cause discussion because of the high dollar amounts.

Sustainability Grants. Council’s draft budget includes money to help affiliated entities fund projects to help them become sustainable. These grants include $550,000 for Province IX, a $1.5 million fund for U. S. dioceses with high Native American populations, and a $400,000 fund for historically black colleges. Some of these entities would prefer to receive these grants in the form of program grants rather than sustainability grants. Watch for significant discussion on this issue.

Christian Formation Funding. Christian formation funding was cut somewhat in Council’s draft budget on the assurance by staff that the cuts would NOT impact youth or young adult projects. Questions have been raised about whether these cuts would in fact impact these high-priority ministries. PB&F will likely need to investigate this issue, as there is wide agreement in the church about the importance of ministries with youth and young adults.

Creation Care Initiatives. Before Council’s final draft budget was released, a grassroots network of people interested in creation care came together to request significant funding for these projects. Council’s draft budget allocated some money to this area, but not as much as was requested. Watch for more discussion here.

Funding for the Anglican Communion Office. In 2012, funding for the Anglican Communion was cut from $1.2 million to $700,000, partly for financial reasons, but partly out of concern over deteriorating relations with parts of the Communion. During the current triennium, Council has used excess funds to restore part of that funding, increasing it to $1,012,000. Council’s draft budget restores the full $1.2 million, a move that should be considered good news, as it reflects improving relationships.

Funding for Commissions, Committees, Agencies, and Boards (CCABs). The current triennium’s budget featured a large cut to funding for these groups, which now do most of their work electronically. The draft budget restores some funding, as bodies found that having few or no face-to-face meetings hindered their work. However, given the proposal by the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church to eliminate most CCABs, this area may be subject to cuts. Funding for task forces that would take their place would presumably be covered in the legislation establishing those task forces – but PB&F would need to find that money somewhere.

Administrative Expenses. The draft budget includes $35.5 million of administrative expenses, including finance, human resources, and legal expenses. This cost represents nearly 30% of the budget. Look for discussion of this area.

Program, Budget, and Finance has one of the hardest jobs at Convention – taking the dreams of 1,000 deputies and bishops and converting them into real commitments, measured in dollars. They labor heroically to make it all come together in a budget that is visionary, sensible, and balanced. Let’s pray for their work.

The Rev. Susan Snook is a deputy and church planter from the Diocese of Arizona. She is a member of Executive Council, and chaired the council’s budget process for the budget proposal to this convention. She is the author of God Gave the Growth: Church Planting in the Episcopal Church, recently published by Church Publishing.

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