SOUTHWEST FLORIDA: Convention reduces giving to Episcopal Church

December 3, 2006

The Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida will reduce its giving to the Episcopal Church in 2007 by more than $200,000 in order to bring the amount in line with the Biblical concept of the 10 percent tithe.

At the diocese's annual convention December 2 in Venice, Florida, clergy and delegates voted 149-128 to amend the diocese's $3.1 million budget to reduce the amount to be given to the Episcopal Church next year from $529,262 to $314,017.

Each of the 110 dioceses in the Episcopal Church is asked to give 21 percent of its yearly budget to fund the wider church's mission and ministry. Until now, Southwest Florida has always given the full amount.

The budget amendment was introduced by the Rev. John Hiers, rector of the Church of the Ascension in Clearwater. He said that churches in Southwest Florida give only 10 percent of their budgets to the diocese and the diocese is healthy.

"The Biblical principles of tithing have worked very well in this diocese and I think it's time that we continue to follow that for health of our diocese," he said on the floor of convention. "I think this also applies to the diocese and the national church."

Hiers has pushed for a reduction in giving to the Episcopal Church for several years. As a deputy to the national church's General Convention, he introduced resolutions to change the national standard to 10 percent in 1997, 2000 and 2003. Each time, the idea was soundly defeated in the House of Deputies.

Several delegates unsuccessfully urged defeat of the amendment. "The Old Testament tithe was never intended as anything other than an individual's obligation to God," said the Rev. Doug Remer, rector of St. John's Church in Tampa.

The current formula used by the Episcopal Church applies to everyone, he said. "For this diocese to attempt to opt out of that unilaterally, I think, is a denial of our obligation to the national mission and ministry to which we are committed," he said.

After the vote, Bishop John Lipscomb said he would ask Diocesan Council to consider using those funds outside the diocese, "for the mission of the wider church."

Lipscomb added he did not agree with the vote. "As a rector of a parish, I never thought it was appropriate to not pay a full apportionment. I must say as bishop I am somewhat disappointed and that's only appropriate to pay your full apportionment," he said.

"I hope this will go to ministry at least outside the diocese and not be use for operations."

With that amendment, convention approved a $3.1 million budget. In brief, revenues, in the form of apportionments paid by individual congregations to the diocese, are expected to increase 5.7 percent next year.

Investment income is also expected to increase slightly. Major expenditures in 2007 include a $35,000 line item to pay for the consecration ceremony of the bishop coadjutor who will be elected December 9.

The budget also includes 11 months of compensation for the new bishop, consisting of $102,667 in salary and $46,237 in benefits and professional expenses. Another new line item in 2007 is $8,000 in sabbatical expenses for members of executive staff with at least five years of service.

Convention passed a resolution endorsing the Alliance for Fair Food, groups working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to advance the right of farm workers.

Another resolution, which would continue the authority to divert the apportionment funding from the Episcopal Church to the Dominican Republic was ruled out of order.

Information on the two resolutions as well as a series of courtesy resolutions is available here.

Lipscomb's convention address will soon be posted on the diocese's website.

The Diocese of Southwest Florida comprises 37,210 Episcopalians worshipping in 78 congregations.