Program, Budget and Finance committee faces realities of current economic climate

July 6, 2009

Many people are fearful and angry over the economic crisis and the world's troubles, said Pan Adams-McCaslin, chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F), and she suggested July 6 that her committee help the Episcopal Church rewrite the equation.

During the committee's first gathering here, Adams-McCaslin offered what she called a new fraction with hope on one side and grace and "our own experience of the love of God" on the other.

"We get to talk about the hope of this church and to help craft a document that we take to the floor on (July 15) that says to the church: 'this is an outward and visible sign of the hope for this church and that we ask you to support that,'" she said.

Later in the day she acknowledged to Episcopal News Service that the 2010-2012 budget "is going to be very, very tight."

The committee has already been told that income during the 2010-2012 triennium could be $9 million less than forecast last January, when Executive Council approved the draft churchwide budget it is required to give to PB&F four months before the start of General Convention. That figure will likely increase over the next few days as more dioceses respond to an on-going survey of bishops and diocesan financial officers.

During the July 6 gathering PB&F members said that Episcopalians have told them they expect the General Convention, the church's triennial policy-making gathering, to pass a three-year budget that reflects the realities of the economy they live with each day. The members also said they sense a commitment to mission and openness to creative responses to the crisis.

"What I am hearing is that we'd better be realistic about our income projections," said Diocese of New Jersey Bishop and PB&F member George Councell, who predicted his diocese's income will be 25 percent less in 2010.

"To continue to go on as if nothing's changed will send a completely wrong message to everyone," agreed Diocese of West Virginia Bishop Mike Klusmeyer.

The Rev. Canon John Floberg (North Dakota) said Episcopalians in his diocese are "wondering how we make it through these tougher economic times as a whole church without losing the least and the marginalized."

Deputy Larry Bingham (Kansas) suggested that "because of that atmosphere of crisis I think we can do some exciting, groundbreaking work."

Diocese of Ohio Bishop Mark Hollingsworth and Diocese of Kansas Bishop Dean Wolfe echoed Bingham's suggestion.

"Do I think that God has brought us all this way to leave us in this moment?" Wolfe asked rhetorically. "Hell no, I don't believe that."

Hollingsworth suggested that "this is the opportunity we've been praying for to have to do it better."

The committee acknowledged in its conversation that short-term budget solutions will not serve the church.

"We're in for a lean time that's going to last a long time, and we're going to undergo some pruning," Councell said. "I hope that it will be pruning that leads to greater growth, but there will be some creative dying that I think has to happen along the way."

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told the committee "we also need to think about long-term strategy."

"The response to this crisis is not for one year or one triennium," she said. "It needs to be thinking about how this church will be vital for the coming century."

She said she was concerned about emphasizing structure over mission. "Maintaining the structure is not our reason for existence," Jefferts Schori said.

Assisting Diocese of Atlanta Bishop Keith Whitmore reiterated that concern.

"There seems to me to be a great concern over the balance in our budget between bureaucracy and mission," he said. "Many feel that that balance is tipping towards bureaucracy, maintaining the past rather than doing things new and creative."

PB&F members acknowledged that they face a tough task.

"The hard decisions are yet ahead," Deputy Holly McAlpen (California) said. "They're not going to be popular and they're going to be hard to make … We can't do everything and if the budget isn't a perfect instrument for mission and ministry in the Episcopal Church, stuff is still going to happen and people will claim that and we need to claim that. We're doing a piece of the work, not the whole thing."

House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson, a one-time PB&F member and chair, warned the committee about the tensions inherent in having to make its decisions and the temptation to "pit things against each other," whether it's domestic versus foreign mission, deputies versus bishops or the canonical and corporate portion of the budget versus the program and mission side.

"Let's say that it's not an either-or," she said. "Let's say that it's a both-and. Let's say that God has an abundance for us and let's pray that we find that together. Let's call on the Holy Spirit to be with us, to sit next to us, to make her presence known as it's blown around our General Convention."

Adams-McCaslin told ENS that the committee has to deal with the tension, for instance, between what it is required to fund and what it would like to fund. The line between the two is not always clear, she added.

PB&F is beginning its deliberations "in a way that honors both parts of the budget -- the recognition that there are some things that are canonically required to fund, but not at the expense of the mission," she said.

For instance, Adams-McCaslin added, it is clear that the Executive Council and the church's committees, commissions, agencies and boards (all of which are on the canonical side of the budget) are also engaged in mission.

In addition, she said, the committee is "coming to convention with a realistic assumption about projected revenue," especially because in any given year dioceses are asked to contribute 21 percent of what their operating income was two years earlier.

Up next for PB&F

PB&F will hold three open hearings during the convention: one on budget priorities on July 7, one on spending decisions on July 9 and one on revenue July 10. All of those hearings will be broadcast live on the internet here.

Outside of those hearings, the committee meets in open sessions daily at convention to craft a proposed triennial budget. 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. Both houses must approve the budget. A vote is expected July 16, the day before the end of convention.

Bishops, deputies and registered guests may testify at those hearings, as they can at any legislative hearing. Testimony at the priorities hearing will be limited to one minute each, Adams-McCaslin said. Those who wanted to speak must sign up a half hour before the 12:30 start of the meetings, which will be held in rooms 207b and 207c. When participants sign up, they will be asked to indicate what non-program-specific topic they want to address. Testimony at the spending and budgeting hearings will be limited to two minutes per person, she said.

The July 9 and 10 hearings will last from 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the Anaheim Hilton hotel just outside of the convention center.

All three hearings are meant as a way for PB&F to hear from the church, Adams-McCaslin said, but they are also a way for Episcopalians to hear from each other.

"We have the responsibility to ask the hard questions and to make the hard decisions," she said. "We do see our roles as servant to the church; that we're doing God's work. The problem is we're seen more as traffic cops and the critical parent when in actuality our questions are for clarity so that we can provide a transparent picture to the church."