Executive Council spent much of its spring meeting talking about money, politics and evangelism: how to safeguard the church’s endowments, the international crises in Haiti, Sudan and the Anglican Communion, and how to stem recent membership decline.
Meeting in Louisville, Ky., June 13-16, council members addressed racism and issues of equal opportunity within the church, participating in eight hours of anti-racism training and hearing a challenging report from John Colon, human resources director at the Episcopal Church Center in New York.
After investment advisers warned that the current 5.5 percent rate of payout could seriously diminish the church’s endowments over time, council voted to reduce the rate to 5 percent.
Roughly 25 percent of the church’s budget comes from endowment income. That half-percentage-point reduction will amount to about $1 million from the budget, according to Administration and Finance Committee members. Even with the payout rate lowered, the chance that the endowment will remain stable – with no decrease in the value of assets – was only 49 percent, they said.
John Vanderstar asked council not to agree to the cut. “This will certainly cut mission … Yesterday we were asked to accelerate church growth, now we are asked to cut $1 million out. What frills are we going to get rid of?”
Committee member Diane Pollard responded, “I hate to see the reduction in program, but I think this is the wiser way to go.” Twenty-one of the 40 council members present voted with her.
Reports from Haiti, including a poignant letter from Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin, provided a bleak picture of a nation deteriorating into chaos.
“Civil order has broken down,” Duracin wrote to Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold. “In recent weeks, an administrator at one of our hospitals was kidnapped and held for ransom. A bright, young public-health worker in our nutrition program, … was murdered. Several priests have been robbed. One was shot.
“Conditions are decidedly worse than one year ago… No one travels safely in Haiti today.”
Saying he had sent missionaries home and cancelled visits and medical clinics, Duracin asked Griswold to speak publicly on behalf of Haiti and draw attention to the “dire conditions.”
Council called for Griswold to alert the U.S. administration to the church’s concerns for its largest diocese and to urge “immediate action to support an enhanced multinational peacekeeping force.” Council’s resolution also calls for “temporary protected status” for U.S.-based Haitians in danger of deportation.
The intensifying crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan prompted council to call for international intervention. Council’s resolution urged a mandate “to enforce the ceasefire [and] facilitate a stable environment in which a meaningful peace process can move forward.”
The Rev. Brian Grieves, the church’s peace and justice officer, called the situation grave. “Four hundred thousand have perished, and the number is rising all the time. Two million are displaced. Our president and Congress have termed this genocide.”
“The crisis exceeded that of Rwanda,” said Richard Parkins, director of Episcopal Migration Ministries. “Are we going to stand by and let what happened in Rwanda happen again?”
Urgency and hope
During a plenary session devoted to the 20/20 movement, council heard sobering data about membership decline and hopeful recommendations for reversing losses. “Average Sunday attendance began to decline in 2002,” reported the Rev. Charles Fulton, director of congregational development at the church center. “For about 10 years we had been stable … that decline continued, in fact doubled, in 2003.” The decline in Sunday attendance was 23,000, or 2.8 percent, in 2003, according to Fulton.
“It is systemic decline,” said Fulton, “not traumatic decline.” In other words, it’s not related to a single event or action or reaction, he explained. “I don’t think anyone can deny that the actions of [the 2003] General Convention contributed, but so did probably 1,000 other actions.”
Fulton said traumatic decline actually would be easier to deal with. Systemic decline “is much more complicated,” he said. “You’ve got to do something to reverse it. It won’t get there on its own … won’t wear itself out … Time will not be our friend here. There is a tendency to deny and blame, and then there is a tendency to under react.”
The Rev. Jim Lemler, the church’s director of mission and former chair of the Standing Commission on Domestic Mission and Evangelism, took that cue to list 10 “elements contributing to vitality and growth.” He named mission vision, a plan for the future, emphasis on evangelism and outreach and a climate “of hope, trust and optimism.”
Lally Lloyd of Massachusetts, evangelism commission member, asked council to “accelerate” financial commitment to mission.”
“God will give the growth as we cross boundaries … use all our skills and strategies,” she said. “No program is going to make that happen. It has to be what we are about all the time.”
The first evening and all the next day, council members participated in an anti-racism dialogue with the Rev. Canon Ed Rodman of Massachusetts, Richard Bowden of Atlanta and Bonnie Anderson of Michigan, all trainers in the church’s ongoing effort to end racism in the church.
“Our goal,” Rodman told them, “is not guilt but reflection, repentance, reconciliation and transformation.” Using quizzes, videos, personal revelation and group discussion, the three helped members focus on injustice and appropriate responses to it.
Their learnings made Colon’s report about equal opportunity employment at the Church Center all the more compelling. From a high point in 1999, the goal of “reflecting the diversity of New York City” in hiring practices has declined, he said. In 1999, out of 179 employees, 50.3 percent were people of color. In 2005, 41.2 percent are. Of those, 62.8 percent work in clerical jobs, 13 percent in management.
“We do work to recruit,” Colon said, “but most of our people of color are found in the lower-echelon positions.”
In other business, council discussed ways to listen and respond to Anglican companions around the world as the conflict over sexuality issues continues; released or granted funds for work in Liberia, Long Island, Malawi and more than a dozen domestic dioceses; affirmed new initiatives with youth and young adults; agreed to appoint a committee to plan for a new site for the church archives; and recommended an evening of study at General Convention 2006 on issues of conflict in Israel-Palestine.
For detailed coverage of the Executive Council meeting, see the Episcopal News Service report at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_62899_ENG_HTM.htm.