First, we learn from ENS that the Executive Council, meeting this weekend in Salt Lake City, has essentially had to tear up the triennial budget adopted at Anaheim in 2009, with much fanfare about the multiple and drastic cuts it made, and after the Church spent ten million dollars to come together and adopt it:
The Episcopal Church's Executive Council began its three-day fall meeting [in Salt Lake City] Oct. 23 with an agenda that includes consideration of a Church Center 2011 budget that is five percent lower than the version adopted by General Convention in 2009.Revenue in the proposed reduced budget is $2.1 million less than originally projected, with income from dioceses projected at $682,946 less than expected. The revenue reductions come "as a result of an unpredictable delayed payment by one diocese," as well as major cuts in Church Center spending that also will result in less revenue, according to a memo to council members from the church's Finance Office. The specific diocese has not yet been disclosed.
Right off the bat, the ENS article needs interpretation between the lines. Note that the problem is attributed solely to an "unpredictable delayed payment" from one as yet undisclosed diocese -- but that the extent of the shortfall in projected diocesan contributions is just $683,000, while the total shortfall in projected revenues is more than three times that amount. That means one of two things: either the "unpredictable delayed payment" is a huge one, of $1.4 million (but they expect to get it in a later fiscal year, regardless), or else the additional $1.4 million shortfall is due to other, unnamed factors -- which together total twice as much as the factor they choose to name. This is not a stellar example of how to keep your constituents informed as to just what is going wrong.
Either way, the Church is faced with maintaining its full litigation budget of $3 million while slashing other items by $2.1 million:
The proposed budget calls for ceasing publication of the Episcopal News Monthly and Quarterly publications; closing the Episcopal Books and Resources retail bookstore at the Church Center in New York City and its online store; and ceasing the resource-shipping operation that serves EBAR as well as Episcopal Church Foundation, Episcopal Relief & Development and United Thank Offering. Those agencies have been offered alternatives for fulfilling their orders.
The proposed elimination of EBAR and the two publications means a loss of revenue, but also reductions in Office of Communications expenses. Proposed expense cuts in the Office of Communication total $812,332.
Episcopal News Service's online operation will continue and is due to be expanded in terms of multimedia. Its stories are available free to other church publications. The "Episcopal Church Welcomes You" signs, currently unique to EBAR, would be available for sale from the Christian Alliance for Media (an Atlanta-based organization that began in 1945 as Episcopal TV and Radio Foundation).
Another $790,000 would be cut from 2011 Mission Program operations under the proposal . . .
So how do you respond to a need to cut expenses? Do you settle any lawsuits? No, you simply close down some revenue-producing operations, which have, of course, expenses associated with the revenues they bring in.
Oh, yes, and you also cut more funds for mission -- because you need to devote those appreciated trust funds, given long ago for domestic and foreign missions, to the "mission" of domestic litigation against former parishes and dioceses. It must make sense to someone . . . but not to this Episcopalian or to many others, which is why overall contributions to ECUSA are declining precipitously.
This being the Episcopal Church, however, there is another priority which the shrinking budget has been called upon to meet:
During its Oct. 23-25 meeting, the council also will be asked to consider a plan to flesh out its February challenge to the church to raise $10 million to help rebuild the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti. At the request of Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin, the money would be targeted to the diocese's Holy Trinity Cathedral complex in Port-au-Prince. The complex once contained two schools and a convent, as well as the cathedral church with its world-renowned murals depicting biblical stories in Haitian motifs, which were crafted by some of the best-known Haitian painters of the 20th century.How do you come up with an extra $10 million in a budget which you are already slashing by $2.1 million? "Voodoo economics" is a term which Episcopalians may have to revive to apply to the solution for the hurting Diocese of Haiti which the Executive Council finds in this particular situation. Once again, I am somehow certain that whatever that solution turns out to be, it will not involve the settling of any pending lawsuits . . .
And then today, we have ENS's next item about the Executive Council Meeting, which reports -- among other things -- the opening address to it given by the Presiding Bishop. I hesitate to criticize the ENS reporter, who is an experienced professional, and has always has done her job superlatively. Therefore, in copying that reporter's exact words in what follows, I leave it to the reader to determine whether what is reported is, shall we say, more or less coherent:
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori challenged the Episcopal Church's Executive Council Oct. 24 to avoid "committing suicide by governance."
Jefferts Schori said that the council and the church face a "life-or-death decision," describing life as "a renewed and continually renewing focus on mission" and death as "an appeal to old ways and to internal focus" which devotes ever-greater resources to the institution and its internal conflicts.
Does anyone else besides this Curmudgeon perceive in these words a certain parallel -- not exact, I grant you, but close enough to be exceedingly troubling -- with a certain situation involving a sinking ocean liner, whose Captain is urging everyone, while facing a "life-or-death decision," not to spend too much more time rearranging the deck chairs, and instead to scramble for the lifeboats? Let's listen to a bit more:
"We need some structural change across the Episcopal Church," she said. "Almost everywhere I go I hear dioceses wrestling with this; dioceses addressing what they often think of as their own governance handcuffs, the structures that are preventing them from moving more flexibly into a more open future."
Later in her remarks, Jefferts Schori said "we need a system that is more nimble, that is more able to respond to change," calling for "a more responsive and adaptable and less rigid set of systems."
"Governance handcuffs"??? Could that possibly mean the handcuffs that 815 is trying to impose on every Diocese by suing it, if it dares so much as to question 815's authority to tell it what to do? Is the Presiding Bishop saying that she intends to let individual Dioceses act with more freedom? Somehow, I think that Bishop Lawrence and the Diocese of South Carolina would be deceiving themselves if they surmised that these words were directed toward them. Listen, if you can, to still more of the Presiding Bishop's opening remarks:
Jefferts Schori said that research shows that when the Episcopal Church tells its story well, it attracts young adults for its liturgy, social-justice stances and passion for mission; immigrants and women at transition points in their lives.
No, she is definitely not speaking to the Bishop or Diocese of South Carolina.
"However, I think we're in some danger of committing suicide by governance by focusing internally rather than externally," she said. "Dying organisms pay most attention to survival. Our Haiti initiative is a positive counter-force to that. It's an example of what's possible when we turn outward rather than inward."
There's that strange phrase again: "suicide by governance." What can she possibly mean by it? This is a Presiding Bishop whose grip on the reins of governance is tighter by far than any other Presiding Bishop in the Church's history. Obviously, it is not her governance with which she has a problem. No, it is someone else who is "too focused . . . internally" on governance. Let us continue with her remarks as reported further:
Jefferts Schori said, there is what she called "a sometimes rather adversarial attitude" in the council that is the result of "confusion about roles."
"Sometimes committees try to do the work of staff," she said. "Council sometimes forgets that its job is about policy-making and accountability, and we live with the challenge of having 40 people challenged to make decisions together. There's a reason why Jesus called 12 disciples, it's a manageable group for conversation."
Oh, my. A rational reader, if he has not become disturbed before this, should hear the alarm bells going off all around at this point. A forty-member Executive Council is "confusing its role" with that of staff?? All because of "a sometimes rather adversarial attitude"? And the result of that is to compare the Twelve as a much more "manageable group for conversation"??
(Purely as an aside at this point, I have to ask my more theologically inclined readers their opinion of this assertion by the Presiding Bishop that the purpose of Jesus' gathering His Apostles around him was for "manageable conversation.")
Could the Presiding Bishop here be complaining that she has to work with the full Executive Council? And could that mean that there are some of its members who are currently being less than compliant on accepting the current autocratic situation? If I were a member of the Executive Council, and if I had asked some inconvenient questions about why all the money was being spent on fees that were going to the Chancellor's own former law firm, for results that were middling to poor at best, I might feel as though I were the target of these cryptic remarks.
To continue with the report (I am skipping over a major topic, not germane to the present thread, which will have to form the subject of a separate post):
[The Presiding Bishop] urged the council to claim its "rightful function" to help the whole church focus on the "big-picture, long-distance view, not just bean-counting."Now this little speech definitely needs translation, because it is not addressing the most pressing issues. There is that reference again to the Council's "claiming its 'rightful' function"; while at the same time the Presiding Bishop seems to assert that management of the budget and the just treatment of Church personnel is not its function. She wants the Council to focus on the "big-picture, long-term view."
"The budget needs to be managed, personnel need to be treated justly; that's not our primary focus, those are vehicles for mission," she said. "We do have the capacity to think bigger and more strategically for life in the future."
One the one hand, I want to read between the lines to conclude that the Presiding Bishop is saying something like this to her Executive Council: "Do not get caught up in questioning how much is being spent for this or that. Leave the determination of legal fees and what they are being incurred for to the knowledgeable staff around me, such as my Chancellor David Booth Beers, and my able Special Assistant for Litigation and Church Discipline, Mary Kostel. Take instead the 'big-picture' view, the 'long-distance view,' and don't trouble yourself with bean-counting."
But on the other hand, this is the Executive Council we are dealing with. And what has been their foremost concern over the years? Is it the amount the Church is spending on litigation? Perish the thought.
No, what the Executive Council members have been most exercised about over the previous years are the layoffs in personnel at 815. And as I documented in this post and this one, the staff at 815 has not exactly been on the same page as the Executive Council when it comes to those layoffs that have already occurred. And now, more layoffs are apparently being proposed. So is all this undercurrent of disagreement about personnel layoffs, instead of about the enormous amounts the Presiding Bishop is paying her Chancellor's law firm?
If so, then what we have is definitely an argument about the rearrangement of the deck chairs on the sinking Titanic. For look at the extent to which the Presiding Bishop engages in circumlocution and evasion before she goes on to specify just what she considers a proper "long-distance view" that is worthy of the Executive Council's consideration:
Jefferts Schori said "we don't know what the future will look like ... but what we do know, if we're honest about it, it will look different than it did last year or 10 years ago."The future looks different now than it did a year ago, or than it did 10 years ago? Excuse me, but what does she really mean to say?
"Are we willing to choose life and new possibility or are we going to choke on a microscopic, regulatory, restricted focus?" she asked. "Can we help the whole church choose a more open future?"I am still not tracking with these remarks: just what does the Presiding Bishop mean by a "microscopic focus"? Or a "regulatory, restricted focus"? Would that be one that demands that she account for what she alone determines should be spent on the Church's legal fees? Or would it be one which focuses only on who is next in line to be laid off, and why?
She suggested that "choosing life is going to mean wandering in the wilderness for a while because we haven't done it before."Again, I say, this is a seasoned reporter who is giving us the substance of these remarks. We should not question the messenger, but the message: "Wandering in the wilderness?" One "chooses life" by deciding to "wander in the wilderness"?
The analogy is to the Israelites in Egypt -- but their choice was between freedom under God's guidance of the Exodus, or -- continued slavery in Egypt. Is the Presiding Bishop saying that we in the Episcopal Church (USA) are under a Pharaoh's yoke? And just what will this "wandering in the wilderness" achieve for the Church?
Jefferts Schori said that some of the issues the council might face include questions of whether the church still needs a large office building in Manhattan, whether the church can share ministry with other denominations, whether dioceses be challenged to do more together and whether seminaries can collaborate to serve the wider church.
(Emphasis added.) Oh dear, oh dear -- this is getting very worrisome. Now we are talking about selling the headquarters at 815 Second Avenue? And about letting other denominations and the individual dioceses combine to handle the responsibilities of ministry for which the DFMS solicited all those donations? And about training Episcopal, Lutheran and Methodist priests in a combined seminary? Well, those are certainly ideas to think about. But what about cutting down on litigation?
There is no report of that topic ever coming up, except possibly the (earlier) reference to the Council's adjournment into an executive session, to discuss a report from the Audit Committee. At the same time, this cannot be an issue just about staff layoffs at 815. The members of the Executive Council are expressly told to ignore the "abundant fear" they might experience in facing this "new future". Whatever else that "new future" may entail, it cannot be limited to one that is missing just a few people at headquarters.
And now, the report of the Presiding Bishop's remarks launches off into entirely new territory. If the past was prologue, what follows is complete and utter mystification. Listen to a truly astonishing example of the Presiding Bishop's voicing a concern that is utterly irrelevant to this entire discussion:
"I hear murmurings out there about what there isn't anymore," she said, citing a recent conversation with a priest who asked about a pastoral ministry desk that existed at the Episcopal Church Center in Manhattan decades ago.
"The murmuring isn't necessarily bad, but we have to test whether it's born out of fear," she said. "God's calling us in to a new future. Are we going to chose life? I want to invite us all to lift our heads and look into that future. It's not going to look like the past. It's going to take courage and perseverance because there will be abundant fear. There will be abundant resistance. There will be many cries for the leeks and watermelons and fleshpots of Egypt. What will we choose?"
We go in two paragraphs from a long-missing ministry desk to the "leeks and watermelons and fleshpots of Egypt"??? (The former two are a reference to Numbers 11:5, using in the case of "watermelons" the translation of the New English Bible. But the use of the term "fleshpots" for "pots of meat" [see Exodus 16:3] harkens back to the King James Version -- an anachronistic mixing of Bible translations which makes no sense at all, if one wanted to avoid the more sensational context of the term which dates, according to Merriam-Webster, from at least 1592.)
Thus one has to ask about the Presiding Bishop's references to the Torah, in comparing the choices which she sees ahead: what in the world???
Is that what the current choice is between? The future, to which the Presiding Bishop calls the Church under her sole guidance, or remaining with the "leeks and watermelons and fleshpots of Egypt?"
Now do you believe me that we are in a Constitutional crisis in the Episcopal Church?