jQuery Slider

You are here

That Incredibly Contracting Episcopal Church

That Incredibly Contracting Episcopal Church
Presiding bishop berates dioceses that don't pay full apportionment
"We have embarrassed the parts of the body that lack the basic financial resources necessary for a full and vigorous life as a diocese in this Church"

By David W. Virtue DD
January 15, 2015

If you ever entertained the notion that The Episcopal Church had a glorious future with all the money for "Gods mission" pouring in to accomplish the Presiding Bishop's lofty goals, you are in for surprise and disillusionment.

The Episcopal Church is shrinking...as it has for the last 40 years, but more so of late as congregations age, parish size shrinks, with ASA averaging 61 And the average age now in the mid-60s with no rescue from millennials, busters, or boomers in sight.

The Executive Council met this week in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, in a diocese that recently distinguished itself by vomiting up a drunken bishop suffragan who just happened to kill a cyclist while texting and then abandoned the dying man on the side of the road. Symbolism is everything. A dying church talking about itself even as one of their own kills a cyclist while drunk.

The Episcopal Church has been on a drunken bender for decades, spending money on failed programs like the 20/20 vision to double the church, millions into the then Episcopal Diocese of Mexico only to see its leaders run off with the money, and endless political and social resolutions that have done nothing to build up the church.

Reality has finally hit the church with a wallop to its wallet and the church is taking stock. Nobody is pretending any more. TECs glory days are behind it and only the delusional believe otherwise.

The Executive Council has agreed to lower the annual giving to the national church from the dioceses from 19 percent to 15 percent over four years in keeping with growing decline and loss. "Gods mission" is taking the hit.

In a related move, the council agreed to establish a Diocesan Assessment Review Committee (DARC) to work with dioceses that do not to meet the full church-wide asking.

The Episcopal Church's three-year budget is funded primarily by pledges from the church's dioceses and regional mission areas. Those entities are currently asked annually to contribute 19 percent of their income from two years earlier, minus $120,000. It will drop to 15 percent by 2018 in keeping with the reality that the money is not there and will never be there again.

However, only 49 out of 109 dioceses (and three regional areas) paid their full asking in 2014. Church treasurer Kurt Barnes told ENS that if all dioceses participated fully in the asking adopted by General Convention for 2014, nearly $7.4 million more would have been available for church-wide ministry. Full asking is not canonically required and there are no penalties for those who don't pay the full percentage.

Bishop Mark Hollingsworth, chair of council's Joint Standing Committee on Finances for Mission (FFM), said the budget is far from final. The PB&F will meet Feb. 23-25 to begin work on the council's draft budget. The final budget proposal will go to General Convention to be voted on by a joint session of the houses of bishops and deputies where it must get approval of both houses. This is presuming, of course, that there is not a unicameral house also under consideration. At the last General Convention in 2012, the House of Bishops overwhelmingly passed a mime of the house resolution (B016) calling for a 15 percent rate for the 2016-2018 budget.

Interestingly enough, the message reached right down to the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church (TREC), which called for a lower but canonically mandated diocesan assessment. TREC did not suggest a specific percentage for a lowered assessment.

In her opening remarks to Executive Council, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori noted that TREC's requirement could be seen "in the same way that audits are expected of every diocese, in the same way that every part of the body is expected to care for the dignity of vulnerable persons, in the same way that each diocese is expected to share the same canonical limits and privileges adopted by the General Convention."

Hollingsworth described as "very realistic" the chances that all dioceses will meet the asking described but not mandated in the church's canons (Title I.4.6). He added that, if in 2018, the dioceses that pay less than 15 percent moved up to that level, it would result in an additional $2.7 million for that year. We shall see.

Barnes told ENS that the three-year movement to reduce the asking to 15 percent results in $74,931,206 in total revenue. This total assumes a $175,000 diocesan exemption and assumes that each diocese not paying the full asking will increase its percentage contribution by 10 percent above the rate it is contributing in 2014. Full participation in a mandatory 15 percent assessment for all three years of the 2016-2018 triennium, with the same diocesan exemption and growth in giving assumptions, would result in $80,236,645 in revenue, he said.

Unhappy at the drop in income, Jefferts Schori urged the council to change its fundamental approach to budgeting. She wanted them to consider whether the proposed budget asks "each part of the body of Christ for what is needed to support the growth toward full and abundant life of the more dependent parts of the body of Christ.

"I believe that means it ought to start with need, rather than an artificially determined base income," she said of the budget. "It should expect and plan for full participation by all who are able."

She told the council that "we have embarrassed the parts of the body that lack the basic financial resources necessary to full and vigorous life as a diocese in this Church. We have often failed to respond to their cries for help.

"At the same time, we failed to expect the full participation of other parts of the body in response to those cries for help. We need new courage and honesty, and we may need more accurate definitions of what a diocese is, and what constitutes a missionary district."

The resolution calling for a Diocesan Assessment Review Committee says FFM will discuss "further practical details/refinement" of the plan during the March 19-21 council meeting in Salt Lake City.

The committee could recommend that Executive Council grant a full or partial waiver of assessment to any diocese, based on financial hardship, having developed a plan for reaching the full assessment over time, or other factors, according to the resolution.

Any diocese that does not plan to pay its full assessment amount, and has not received a waiver, will be asked to "account in writing to Executive Council and the wider church for that choice," the resolution states.

A diocese that does not pay its full assessment in any year, and has not received a waiver of assessment, shall not be eligible to receive any grants or loans from the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.

So take that. Thumb screws will be applied episcopal style.


Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Trinity School for Ministry
Go To Top