Crafting a three-year budget more than a year in advance of its starting date is never an easy task, but the Episcopal Church's Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) acknowledged this week that the work is even tougher given the world's economic crisis.
The committee met March 24-27 at the Maritime Institute's Conference Center to begin work on the church's 2010-2012 triennial budget, which it will present for the 76th General Convention's approval this summer in Anaheim, California. Speaking to the timeframe involved in the effort, Episcopal Church Treasurer Kurt Barnes pointed out that work on the budget began six months ago and that Executive Council approved a draft version two months ago.
"The world has changed a couple of times" during that period, he said. The budget will not be complete until General Convention approves it, a vote now scheduled for July 16. The budget takes effect January 1, 2010.
Committee chair Pan Adams-McCaslin (lay deputy from the Diocese of Arkansas) told her colleagues that "this is the mission of the church that we're working on. It's not about this committee. God's using us to offer this budget to convention."
The committee spent time discussing how it might craft a budget that acknowledges the financial restraints the economic downturn is causing while at the same time articulating a sense of its agenda, called "finding blessing and abundance in what is hard and difficult."
PB&F member Tess Judge (lay deputy from the Diocese of East Carolina), referring to what she called the economy-based "fear factor," said that "it's a real time for us to do a lot of praying and thinking creatively."
House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson echoed that thought. "This budget cannot be business as usual," she said during opening remarks on March 25.
"It's your job to bring us a budget for [General Convention's] consideration that gives us all -- and everyone who will look at it -- a glimpse into the heart of the Episcopal Church," she added. "Be prayerful; be bold. After all, nothing is more important than doing God's work. Bring all your gifts to bear, but where your treasure is there your heart will be also."
During her opening remarks, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori summarized what she describes as the mission and ministry priorities for the Episcopal Church as it faces the next triennium. The priorities she listed were evangelism, growth and congregational development; what she called "mission to and with the least and poorest among us" and "innovation and efficiency and best practices." She said that those priorities "reflect significant continuity with where we've been, but I think they will continue to encourage us to grow and deepen our ministry to God's creation."
PB&F's first hearing at convention, scheduled for July 7 (the day before convention's official start), is meant to discuss what mission priorities the budget should reflect. The convention will vote on those priorities within the first few days, thus giving PB&F a framework for its work.
During their Maryland meeting, the PB&F members who review the program side of the triennial budget discussed reinstating the line item appropriating 0.7 percent in revenue for specific Millennium Development Goals spending.
When Executive Council passed its draft version of the 2010-2012 budget in January, it eliminated the line item in a budget-balancing effort. That line item in the 2007-2009 budget amounted to about $924,000. At the time, council said that the Episcopal Church actually spends "much more than 0.7 percent" on MDG-related programs, in the words of Executive Council Administration and Finance Committee chair Josephine Hicks.
PB&F members spent nearly seven hours over March 25 and 26 talking with members of the Church Center staff who explained their mission and ministry, and their budgets. In the past, these interviews have typically happened during PB&F's meetings at General Convention, but the committee decided it wanted to complete that work prior to gathering in Anaheim July 8-17 for convention.
During the time between the close of the March meeting and the beginning of their work in Anaheim, committee members will continue to review the Executive Council's draft budget section by section. Once at convention, PB&F will hold three open hearings. The July 7 priorities hearing will be followed by hearings on spending and revenue decisions on July 9 and 10.
Outside of those hearings, the committee meets daily at convention to craft a proposed budget, which must be approved by both houses. The committee holds closed sessions to discuss certain specific budget requests, but Adams-McCaslin reminded the committee that all votes on the budget are taken during sessions that are open to all convention participants.
The committee is scheduled to present its proposed budget on July 15 to a joint session of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies in the deputies' hall. A vote is expected July 16, the day before the end of convention.
In a related matter during the Maryland meeting, Diocese of Spokane Bishop James Waggoner told PB&F members about the work of the church's Budgetary Funding Task Force, which was appointed in response to the 74th General Convention Resolution B004 that called for "a comprehensive study on the [church's] systems and procedures for funding, budgeting, and expenditure." Waggoner, who chairs the task force and who is also a PB&F member, said that the task force saw the need to move beyond what he called "technical fixes" to the budgeting process to consider "adaptive aspirations" that better tie the budget to the Episcopal Church's identity and sense of mission.
"What kept emerging consistently in our work was how important identity is," Waggoner said. "We do what we do because of who we are. That's why we have common mission and that's why we fund the budget."
Diocese of New Jersey Bishop George Councell, a member of the task force and PB&F, told the committee that the task force would like to find way that would help all Episcopalians feel connected to the budget and the mission it funds.
"This is not about tinkering with the formula, rather this is about transformation â¦ we're looking for a deeper transformation of our lives and our church," he said.
House of Deputies President Anderson suggested that that goal coincides with the convention's plan to engage in an intentional conversation about the church's mission using the technique known as public narrative. That process will be introduced to the convention on July 7. The actual conversation is scheduled for July 11.
The budgetary funding task force will ask the convention to begin to consider restructuring the budget process to make it a nine-year cycle that would begin in the final triennium of each term of the Presiding Bishop's term and help inform the search for her or his successor.
"We believe such a process is a creative response to the need for renewed articulation of a vision formed by a shared sense of our common identity, pervasive communication of the vision and accountability to and for the vision," the task force said in its report to the 76th General Convention. "It will inspire a deeper sense of common mission, recognition of our bonds of interconnection and a greater commitment to fund the budget of [the Episcopal Church]."