The Episcopal Church released its proposed triennial budget this past week. There are so many issues with this budget that it seems a rather sad mortgaging of our future.
I am sometimes reminded in the Church of a dissolute family of some distant means, lofty titles, and rich history living in a grand but drafty house that was gifted to it by generous and trusting forebears deciding that they will not only sell off the silver and linens but will take out a second or third mortgage and pass on only dissolution and inglorious decay to those who come after them.
Even as the Church talks of decentralization and horizontal structures we are continuing to engage in an almost perverse pursuit of ever-more centralized budgets and decision-making at the national level. As the Church struggles to get by (and barely) in so many areas we are caught up in increasingly inane power struggles that reveal a level of blind insularity that borders on a near pathological indifference to the realities of the Church around us and the future before us.
This is a budget that slashes young adult, campus, and youth ministries even as it pours ever more resources into the offices of the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies. In the name of moving those things “better done” at the diocesan level, like youth and young adult ministry, we are developing a budget that pools even more resources in offices that are now ahistorical anomalies that are growing (and absorbing resources) beyond their original scope and purview.
This amounts to what is often called an “unfunded mandate.” If the budget proposed to rebate the amount that was once spent on these ministries at the national level for dedicated use on youth and young adult ministry at the diocesan level, it would not be nearly so egregious. Yet the money was slashed (and moved to other administrative areas) and dioceses are now supposed to cover this even as we see cathedrals closing and dioceses slashing staff under their own budget crises.
I hear a lot of lip service being paid to what the kids want these days in the Church. People ask me about young adults and how the Church can best bring them in. What do the kinds want? What they do not want is a Church that not only ignores them but deems them irrelevant at the Churchwide level. This is not just benign neglect. It is abuse.
My deepest fear is that this budget represents the true belief of too many about the nature of the Church – that the Church exists not to change lives and souls through a lifelong encounter with Christ but only to push others to do good works. We are slashing the Christian formation budget so that we can fund the Presiding Bishop, the President of the House of Deputies, and the lobbying arm.
This budget further nudges the Episcopal Church toward being a political lobbying and advocacy group with little concern for its future as part of the church catholic.
This may sound harsh and yet we are proposing to swell the top offices and political lobbying while gutting young adult ministry, lifelong Christian formation, funding for historically African American colleges, dioceses with strong Native American populations, Hispanic/Latino ministries, ordination exams, and seminarian scholarships.
We are slashing our future to fund offices that spend their energy shifting blame for the failures of the present.
What are our priorities?
Presiding Bishop’s Office: +$364,000
President of the House of Deputies: +$212,000
Church Center Comptroller’s Office: +$421,000
Human Resources at the Church Center: +$271,000
Treasurer at the Church Center: +$120,000
Total Staff additions at the Church Center: +$1,400,000
Hispanic/Latino Ministries: -$40,731
Youth, Young Adult, Formation Ministries: -$2,800,000 from about $3 million to $286,000
Seminarian Scholarship Grant: -$195,000
Aid to historically African-American colleges and to dioceses with strong First Nations populations also cut. The General Ordination Exams are cut.
A Church facing the kind of numbers we are in attendance and giving should invert these numbers. We should engage in a massive crash program – a Manhattan Project – to bolster our commitment to mission, youth and young adults, and Christian formation.
Moreover, youth are not an add on to the Church. They are not superfluous to our life as the Body – they are full members of the Body. They are not just our future and it is not just practical concern for the future that calls us to offer more rather than less for their formation as living members. How should we care for those least represented in our counsels and deliberations as the Body?
We are a Church that is too happy to make statements rather than take stands. We make statements about this, that, and the next yet, when things are really on the line, where is our faith? Where are our hearts? This is no time to just keep making statements with empty diocesan resolutions and hollow proclamations in which we resolve to call on so-and-so to stop such-and-such.
Our budget is not simply a statement about our theology, spirituality, and priority. It embodies our theology, spirituality, and priorities. It declares how we live out our faith and hope. The time for making statements is long past. We have to make a commitment – a pledge.
The truly radical, hospitable, expansive, and contemporary thing to do would be to upend our priorities and place Christian formation, youth, and young adult ministry at the heart of our budget and our common life – to make the future our priority as we pass on all that is true and holy in our tradition. We need a commitment to tradition without an addiction to mere traditionalism. Sadly, just as people are forgetting what it even means to be Christian in this culture we have decided it is not really that important to teach them.
There is much more to be said that the Crusty Old Dean has taken on (well and with passion):
Highlights from the COD:
“As Jesus once said, where you treasure is, there you heart will be also. However these priorities were determined, where we are putting our funding is where our emphasis will be.”
“The Office of the Presiding bishop has $364,000 in additional staff. The President of the House of Deputies has $212,000 in additional staff. Neither of these offices lost anybody in the 2009 bloodletting, and they get increases here. The Controller’s office at 815 adds $421,000 in staff, Human Resources at 815 (despite laying off a lot of people on the national staff the past four years) adds $271,000 in staff, the Treasurer’s office $120,000. That’s $1.4 million in added staff costs.”
“Youth, young adult, and formation ministries are slashed about 90%, from about $3 million to $286,000. No more EYE or national Episcopal youth events. No more children and youth ministries, and on and on. Is there a person alive who is not completely delusional who honestly thinks that if GC consisted overwhelmingly of people under 40 instead of overwhelmingly people over 40 that this would happen?”
“COD felt in 2009 that the Episcopal Church was going to botch and bungle a once in a lifetime opportunity to rethink what a denominational organization should be and look like. Indeed, we have wasted more time on power struggles between individuals in the church than in any systemic discussions, spent more time determining whose side someone was on than what we all stand for in the end.”
“The reality is there needs to be a collaboration between local, diocesan, provincial, and national levels — not 815 dumping things it wants to cut and telling the church it now needs to do them. How is this democratic? Who is the General Convention to be the arbiter of what should be done on what level of the church?”
Robert, I find your analysis compelling on a lot of ways. I am indeed one who thinks that things best done locally should be done locally, and yet I am not in favor of increasing expenses for bickering units of our denomination, even if their existence themselves is mandated. Not sure what’s next, but your post is a good start.
Fascinating…I could have sworn that you were writing about the ELCA.
Has TEC ever told us the legal costs associated with churches leaving TEC?
Well said, Father. As a former youth worker and campus minister I have seen the effects of neglect of our youth and young adults up close: cuts and attrition at the congregational, diocesan, and national level sends a clear message that the needs of our young people are unimportant. What is even more shocking has been the assumption that they don’t notice, and I’ve got news for everyone – they do. Our young people know hypocrisy when they see it, and they fully understand that they are low priority even as we talk about how important the youth are in our church. In my opinion, any bishop or diocesan deputy who votes for this budget at General Convention should never be taken seriously again if they talk about “mission.”
Tony Hunt said:
I hear the youth are really into lobbying and comptrolling these days.
Excellent and poignant for all of the church! The total redecorating of the Titanic deck as she lists is absurd by those leading this sinking ship! Our future lies not with these hardening plaster statues (old leaders) but the viral bold revolutionary leaders who are re-embracing our calling and mandate from the Living God.
Steve Pankey said:
Thank you for putting to words what I couldn’t think to say. I am a huge fan of what the higher ups are calling “the subsidiarity principle” (terrible name, good concept), this budget embraces only half of that process. They are happy to push ministries that should be done on the local level to the local level, but are offering no way to fund it by still seeking 19% and boosting budgets for offices that have no historical (or in some cases, canonical) footing.
Pingback: Live to be Forgotten
Amen and amen. Thank you for this fair, cogent, and thoroughly accurate analysis. One can only hope that the groundswell of opposition to this budget will force us to reconsider our priorities.
I am a youth minister and the idea that the Episcopal Church could cut 90% of the youth ministry, formation, etc. budget is absurd! Dare I say it is blasphemous seeing as Jesus chastised the disciples for not allowing the children to come to Him. I took a group of youth to the last EYE and I can tell you that they had God experiences! EYE and youth ministries in general open our church up to a vibrant relationship with Christ. How does lobbying do that? How does the PB’s or Bonnie’s staff do that? Yes, grass roots ministry is vital but how can we fund diocesan youth ministries on top of paying for the budget? To those who agree with the budget I would like for you to come to my church and explain to my youth why adding an extra staff person for the PB is more important than they are. I’ll make space for you on Wednesday.
Reblogged this on Journeys with Jordan and commented:
From The Curate’s Desk (written by my internship director/one of my parish’s curates).
I understand perhaps the need to cut things (obviously), but as you pretty clearly argue, the disproportionate way that it’s been done (as in, some things don’t get cut at all?) is pretty ridiculous.
While I think that the Church becomes perhaps slightly more visible in lobbying, do they somehow think that that will attract people to the church, or sincerely help people? It’s completely wrapped up in the non-profit-political industrial complex.
Linda Snyder said:
Thank you for this wonderful post. And, I have to add to your commentary, as in your diocese, where are the many faithful ministry folks in the trenches to find resources and help when the leadership in christian formation, youth and young adult ministries at the diocesan level have been eliminated. No wonder this generation finds institutions (including the institution of the church) irrelevant.
Pingback: Why I believe in Subsidiarity « Draughting Theology
Sarah Dylan Breuer said:
I loved this: “COD felt in 2009 that the Episcopal Church was going to botch and bungle a once in a lifetime opportunity to rethink what a denominational organization should be and look like. Indeed, we have wasted more time on power struggles between individuals in the church than in any systemic discussions, spent more time determining whose side someone was on than what we all stand for in the end.”
Well, 2009 will never come again, but that doesn’t mean we can’t completely reimagine in 2012 what TEC might look like if we were just dreaming it up for the first time now as a movement perfectly attuned to engage God’s mission in the 21st century and beyond.
Invite everyone who wants to dream it all up again. I happen to know “unconferences” as a convenient way to gather creative people and give them all a hearing and the chance to form connections to make the coolest dreams real, so I’m getting some “unconferences” going. I just got a couple of phone calls today from people who have been involved in the Occupy movement and plan to convene gatherings to apply what they’ve learned there about what has and has not worked well about various ways of organizing in the camps.
For right now, a bunch of us are using this Facebook page to gather:
Please don’t be thrown by the name, if you don’t like it; it had to be called SOMETHING to start with.
Let’s not wait for the blessing of a corporation before we have the conversation, connect with one another (and connect one another with the resources we need), and claim TEC as a *movement*, not a museum.
Bring your friends to the conversation, and not just the Episcopalians. I understand perfectly well that millions of people of my generation (I’m 41) and others older or younger have been out there shaping the world we live in and founding and growing movements changing the world on a shoestring budget plus the ability to play well with others. Anyone who wants to see justice, peace, joy, and other good stuff writ large in our world is welcome.
Have an unconference, a picnic, or whatever else will get people together so we can do the stuff that needs doing. And then please share with others what’s working to connect people, create space for free-range ideas, and see some of those dreams realized.
Let’s have a blast listening to one another and getting behind the stuff that a critical momentum of us think just might change the world.
Keep in touch, please!
Pingback: Future Present Church « Red Shoes, Funny Shirt
Youth Minister said:
Thank you for your comments! We need to stand tall and fight. This is what happened in Connecticut. If you take a real good look at the budget you will see where the money was reallocated and the raises that immediately given once the cuts were made. Also look at the degrees at the diocesan level vs. the pay and experience. It is astonishing.
Barry Mc Murtrey said:
What in the world is the President of the House of Deputies spending 200K on annually? I mean: what do they actually do. And, if we can’t afford Youth Ministries, is it not time to re-think the globe-trotting, omnipresent nature of the PB?
Robert Edwin Deming+ said:
Well it was once said that the one who seeks to save ones life will loose it and those who loose their life for my sake and the Gospels will find it. I just stand in awe of how Caesar and expediency have become the meat of the Episcopal Church today! Jeremiah was not hired by God to be a lobbies t rather a youthful voice to proclaim the presence and judgement of God at the City Gate.
Pingback: On the Budget: A Voice Crying in the Wilderness | Plainsong Farm
Pingback: Episcopal Church Releases “Sweet Sixteen” Budget Bracket
Pingback: On the Budget: A Voice Crying in the Wilderness. (Updated 6.3.12) | churchwork