Friction over shares of a shrinking financial pie has animated the opening days of the 77th General Convention, meeting 5-12 July 2012 in Indianapolis. The House of Deputies has called for the sale of the church’s national headquarters at 815 Second Avenue in New York City, while deputies have protested proposed cuts in funding for favored projects.
While the Church’s Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) has yet to submit a final budget to convention for approval, competing interest groups have sought to preserve their share of the church pie.
The Executive Council, which is charged with presenting a budget to convention, presented a draft budget to PB&F early this year. However, two weeks before the opening day of convention, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori presented a rival budget that forecast higher diocesan contributions and allocated spending on a template drawn from the Anglican Consultative Council’s “5 Marks of Mission.”
In its opening session the PB&F committee agreed to use the presiding bishop’s template over the Executive Council’s and recast spending from the traditional categories of “Canonical, Corporate and Program” into categories labeled “Mission, Governance and Administration.”
PB&F “made that decision without commitment to any of the specific line items within the [Presiding Bishop’s] Five Marks of Mission proposal,” the committee said, adding that the new template “provides a clear missionary framework for budgeting and is based on updated information regarding income.”
The Five Marks of Mission adopted by the ACC and endorsed by the 2009 General Convention are: To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom; To teach, baptize and nurture new believers; To respond to human need by loving service; To seek to transform unjust structures of society; and To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
The tensions between the presiding bishops’ office and some members of the Executive Council were aired at a 5 July press conference. Executive Council member and Fort Worth deputy Katie Sherrod on 24 June stated there was a breakdown of trust amongst the different branches of the church.
Writing in her blog about the budget process, Ms. Sherrod stated: “I’ve experienced what happens when the balance among the ministries of bishops, priests, deacons and the laity gets out of whack. Things get toxic very quickly. And when one-sided unchecked power moves in, trust dies and soon love moves out.”
Asked at the press conference if she had anyone in mind when saying the process was toxic, Ms. Sherrod said she was not talking about an individual but the environment. Asked to clarify her remarks, she did express disappointment with remarks made by Bishop Stacy Sauls, the presiding bishop’s chief operating officer.
The deputies also have yet to settle upon a uniform interpretation of how the marks of mission are translated into spending and administrative priorities in a restricted financial environment.
At the 4 July PB&F hearing, South Carolina deputy the Very Rev. David Thurlow questioned whether the church was being hypocritical in making demands upon the government that it would not honor itself, citing a pending resolution.
Resolution A015 in part called upon the federal government to provide a“full accounting of how United States foreign aid, including military aid, is used in the Middle East and North Africa, in recognition that transparency is critical for requiring accountability from aid recipients.”
Dean Thurlow urged the Episcopal Church to disclose the legal costs it had incurred in its property battles with breakaway dioceses and congregations. "I also ask for transparency and accountability when it comes to how much money has actually been spent on the legal costs that continue to escalate,” he said.
He added that the church should “defund certain areas, particularly the Title IV Canons; it's nice to see that it's down over 25 percent of what it was three years ago. But we all know that Bishop Salmon [retired Bishop of South Carolina] and other statesmen of the church have recently been charged for publically expressing his views that counter that newer understanding that we are a unitary form of government.”
“I would ask you to defund that nonsense,” he told PB&F as it “it sends a very negative message to the world at large when we are engaged in these things with one another."
On 5 July the Committee on Structure heard testimony on resolution D016, “Church Center Location.” In its discussions, committee vice-chairman the Rt. Rev. Andrew Doyle bemoaned the difficult financial future facing the church.
“The budget process does not work. PB&F right now is restructuring the Church by deciding who gets money and who doesn’t, even before we get the resolutions to vote,” he said.
The present system of church government was not working. It “is broken and we can fix that.”
Episcopalians were “not happy with us spending this much money to talk to each other” at General Convention and to do nothing. “People are not happy that we have a building in New York that takes millions of dollars out of our missionary operations. They are not happy, and we have known that for years.”
“Let’s sell [815 Second Avenue]. We in this committee have the power to make change happen,” he said. The committee went on to endorse an amended resolution that “directs the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church to sell the Church Center Building at 815 Second Avenue, New York City, prior to the 78th General Convention and to report to that Convention on the sale.”
On 6 July the House of Deputies voted to accept the committee's recommendation to sell "815." The resolution now passes to the House of Bishops for final action.
In its first legislative session, the resolution that drew the largest number of speakers was D034, proposed by Dr. Ruth Myers of Chicago. Her resolution asked the House of Deputies to change its Rules of Order so that if any deputy sought to speak on a resolution “calling for the expenditure of any moneys, including the proposed Budget …the member shall also state the per cent of diocesan income that deputy’s diocese has committed to The Episcopal Church for the current year.”
Dr. Myers said the “intent”of the resolution was “to help the House be aware of the disparities” in giving by different dioceses. It was “important to recognize the disparities” so as to give deputies extra information when discussing fiscal matters. The Rev. LeeAnn Watkins of Minnesota also spoke in favor of the resolution saying “this is about awareness.” It was a “move towards greater accountability in the church.”
The Committee on Rules of Order recommended rejecting the resolution, while speakers from a number of poor and small dioceses urged its defeat. The Rev. Terry Star of North Dakota said it was “unfair. If you don’t’want to hear our voice, don’t invite us to General Convention.”
John Wabash of Milwaukee argued the resolution was a poor model of stewardship. “What would this look like on the diocesan level or at the parish level”he asked. “If we are modeling for the rest of the church,” the resolution sets a bad example, he argued. The resolution was defeated on a voice vote.
The question as to what constitutes a mission mark also arose in debate over resolution C033, “Statehood for the District of Columbia.” After Virginia deputy Russell Randle spoke in favor of the resolution arguing it was a matter of pressing political concern for the church that residents of the District did not have representation in the Senate, Springfield deputy Elisabeth Langford asked why this matter was even being considered by General Convention.
“We are a church and should be about spreading the good news of Jesus Christ,” she said, questioning how the resolution furthered this goal.
Los Angeles deputy the Rev. Susan Russell rose in response and said it was “one of the Anglican Marks of Mission.”
“Transforming unjust structures of society” was a mission goal of the church, Ms. Russell said, and giving the residents of the District of Colombia the right to elect senators was a matter of “justice” that should be affirmed by the Episcopal Church.