Presiding bishop proposes alternative 2013-2015 budget

June 20, 2012

Editors’ note: Story updated June 22, 2012, to include comments from budget committee chair.

[Episcopal News Service] In a somewhat unusual step, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on June 21 proposed an alternative budget for consideration by the upcoming meeting of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention.

The proposal is “more clearly based on missional strategy than the current draft proposed budget” approved in January by the church’s Executive Council, Jefferts Schori said in an eight-page message that accompanied the proposed budget.

She said that “the heart” of the Episcopal Church is mission “in partnership with anyone who shares that passion” and her proposed budget “is intended to help us reorient ourselves to that passion.”

“The strategic and spiritual principle of this budget proposal is that the church is most truly itself, the Body of Christ, when it lives and breathes mission,” she said.

When asked by Episcopal News Service, the Rev. Canon Gregory Straub, General Convention secretary and the church’s executive officer, said that to his knowledge this was the first time a presiding bishop had proposed a budget after Executive Council had sent its draft budget to the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance.

“I didn’t know that Bishop Katharine was preparing her own budget,” House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson said via email June 21.

Anderson was attending an afternoon baseball game at Detroit’s Tigers Stadium and said she would “study what she has come up with when I get home.”

Diane Pollard, PB&F chair, told ENS that committee members have interviewed a number of people, including church center staff and people served by programs funded in the current budget. They also have attended provincial synod meetings and received a “wide variety of comments and ideas about the various items that we should include” in the budget the committee will propose to the General Convention.

“The document that was submitted by the presiding bishop today is another piece of information and we welcome that,” she said.

Pollard also posted a statement on PB&F’s blog here.

Diocese of Maine Bishop Steve Lane, who is PB&F vice chair, told ENS in a telephone interview that he too welcomed Jefferts Schori’s proposal.

“I believe that budgets are leadership documents and I had been hoping that the presiding bishop, as our leader, would make a statement about budget priorities and strategy,” he said. “I am very pleased to see that she has done that. I think that is an important offering to the church.”

While her decision to propose an alternative budget might seem “unusual,” Lane said, “I don’t see that it’s any kind of violation of canon or other things for the presiding bishop to make her own statement about direction and purpose.”

Lane said PB&F will make “the appropriate adjustments” to council’s proposed draft budget based on all the input it has received and what it will hear at General Convention. He called Jefferts Schori’s proposal “important data” that lays out some clear priorities and said that “Program, Budget and Finance will have to consider that along with the rest.”

He and other committee members are aware of “lots of proposals in the blogosphere, some of them quite specific,” and have been interviewing members of the church center staff and other church leaders “in order to be as prepared as possible when we gather” in Indianapolis July 4.

A zero-based beginning

Jefferts Schori said her proposal began as zero-based budget, to allow for “a more theologically based and strategic process” that is “spiritually enriching rather than depleting” and made for a forward-looking document.

She also noted that the proposal is more detailed in the areas of mission and administration because that is where she has oversight. It suggests an overall five percent reduction in governance costs and anticipates “allocating those costs collaboratively, in consultation with other elected leaders including the President of the House of Deputies, the Executive Officer of General Convention, and the Executive Council.”

The proposal is based on asking the church’s dioceses and regional mission areas to pay 19 percent of their annual income from two years previous (minus $120,000) during each year of the triennium. That percentage is the same as the asking for 2012 after having decreased from 21 percent in 2010 and 20 percent in 2011.

Council crafted its final draft version of the 2013-2015 budget by assuming the 19 percent asking and the spending outlined in a 15-percent version. To that spending scenario, council members then ranked their priorities for restoring parts of the budget to the 19 percent levels. Those priorities include investing in emerging networks and supporting existing ones, empowering local ministry and communications.

Among the staff of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, 12.75 positions would be cut under the presiding bishop’s proposal, although as many as five of those positions are currently empty.

Jefferts Schori centered her proposed budget around the Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission, which the General Convention endorsed in 2009 (via Resolution D027) and said the church’s 2013-2015 budget ought to center on the marks as “strategic priorities.”

Her message highlights six initiatives focused on the five marks and amounting to $8 million.

A change in budget organization

The presiding bishop also anchored her proposal in the continuing call by herself and others to restructure and reform the church. “As it is in every age, our church is in need of reform, in order to engage the mission God has set before us,” Jefferts Schori said. “This budget proposal is intended as the beginning of that reforming effort.”

The budget is organized by “spiritual priority” with mission being followed by governance and administration, she said, with the second and third being “servants” of the first.

The presiding bishop also noted that her proposal represents a change from the triennial budget’s usual canonical (Canon I.4.6(b) and (c)) budget model of lining out canonical, corporate, and program expenses. Such a model “no longer adequately serves the Church in responding to a world very much in need of our partnership,” she said.

Each line item in the proposal is designated as belonging to one of those three areas “in order to satisfy the canons,” Jefferts Schori said, “but the existing canonical categories do not seem strategically useful and the budget proposal is not organized accordingly.”

Jefferts Schori said this proposal is needed because while the Executive Council was “faithful” in its effort to prepare and approve a draft budget in a different way from previous convention years, “a coherent strategy did not emerge” from those efforts.

Jefferts Schori cited a portion of Canon I.2.4(a)(1) as her authority in making the proposal. The portion says the presiding bishop is “charged with responsibility for leadership in initiating and developing the policy and strategy in the Church.”

The presiding bishop, with the help of certain members of the church center staff, traditionally presents Council with a proposed draft budget in the months leading up to each General Convention. The council then may alter that proposal.

General Convention’s joint rules (in II.10 10 (a)) require council to give Program, Budget and Finance a proposed budget no less than four months before the start of convention. Neither council nor PB&F is allowed to change the budget document between the time it is sent by council to PB&F and the beginning of General Convention. Once convention begins it is up to PB&F to craft a budget for the convention’s approval.

However, there have been questions about and a certain amount of frustration with the budget process and the documents it has produced. At the end of its April meeting in Salt Lake City Executive Council issued a memo saying that the proposed draft budget released to the church “is not exactly” the one it passed.

On June 1, Jefferts Schori, Chief Operating Officer Bishop Stacy Sauls and Treasurer to General Convention Kurt Barnes released an annotated version of council’s draft budget.

Program, Budget and Finance began to study the 2013-2015 draft in early February. At General Convention it will hold three hearings:

  • July 4 at 12:30 p.m. on the framework of the budget and the budget process,
  • July 6 at 7:30 p.m. on funding, and
  • July 7 at 7:30 p.m. on spending.

PB&F will present its proposed budget to a joint session of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops on July 10 at 2:15 p.m.  A final vote on the budget is expected on July 12, the last day of convention.

“Program, Budget and Finance is facing a daunting task,” Lane said, noting that its work on the budget must be done by July 9 in order for the budget to be presented the next day.

Lane promised, “We will present to General Convention as clear a budget as we can manage to pull together in the time that we have.”

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.