The first version of the proposed budget came from the Presiding Bishop and her Chief Operating Officer, the Rt. Rev. Stacy Sauls. It maintains the percentage which the Church will ask for in contributions from its member Dioceses at the current 19% for the next triennium (it had been reduced from 21% to 19% in the budget adopted in 2009 at Anaheim.) It also projects a reduction of $5.9 million in income over the period 2013-2015, and calls for a corresponding reduction in outlays.
The second version of the proposed budget came from the President of the House of Deputies, Bonnie Anderson. It calls for a reduced asking of 15% from the Dioceses, and would result in a budget reduction of $19.3 million, which Finances for Mission Committee Chair Del Glover admitted would lead to (further) "personnel adjustments."
Both the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies made opening remarks to the Council, along with COO Bishop Sauls. (Bishop Jefferts Schori's remarks were not made from a prepared text, but are summarized in this ENS article.) Reading between the lines of each, and translating the Presiding Bishop's earlier prepared remarks about coming changes in structure, which may be viewed here, it is clear that the heads of the Church are not of one mind about how to deal with the challenges which it faces in the twenty-first century.
And those challenges are significant and substantial. They are summarized graphically in a presentation to the Council (zip file download is at this link) by Kirk Hadaway, who is the church official in charge of congregational research, and by Matthew Price, of the Church Pension Fund. Among other facts shown, 72% of Episcopal congregations were in financial stress as of 2010 (compared to 58% of other denominations for the same year) -- the highest level in the past decade, by far.
It is clear that there is momentum gathering for a proposal for structural changes in the Church, either to be presented at General Convention itself, or referred to its Standing Committee on Structure for analysis and a report to the 2015 Convention. There have even been hints that the Church cannot wait that long, and that a Special Convention might have to be called in the interim to make the cost-saving changes necessary if the Church is to adapt to the decline in its membership and finances. (Previously, I wrote about how the structure of the Episcopal Church as founded was not capable of carrying the modern superstructure which in recent times has been imposed upon it. Those observations are even more relevant now.)
The problem is that there are, as always, at least two conflicting constituencies striving for consensus on how best to make use of the Church's dwindling resources. The first constituency consists roughly of the Church's clergy, but its political power is wielded chiefly by the Bishops, through whom all constitutional and canonical changes must pass. The second constituency is made up of the active laity, along with many clergy, who do not have the time for the national politics of a socially activist church, and who want to see more resources remain with the Dioceses and congregations, for their mission efforts and local programs.
There is a third constituency as well, but its influence is waning. It may be said to consist of those clergy, bishop and lay activists who use the triennial General Convention as their springboard to launch ever more programs, Commissions, Committees, Agencies and Boards, and who then populate their creations in the interim between Conventions. This has resulted over time in a structure so top-heavy and convoluted that even Bishop Sauls complained he was having difficulty tracking all of them down when he began in his current position as COO. The interests of that constituency are unsustainable in a declining church.
The Presiding Bishop appears to float above the contesting factions, mouthing reassuring platitudes about the mission of the Church in a modern age, but then confers privately with her staff and her Council of Advice to map out the moves that will actually determine the future of the Church. The resulting tension between her and President Anderson is sometimes palpable, as may be seen in the presentation to the Executive Council of the dueling budgets.
These are indeed interesting times for the leadership of the Episcopal Church (USA). To this observer, who has been very critical of the quality of that leadership, the current deliberations at Lithicum Heights appear to signal that word has finally reached the bridge that the ship of the Church has struck some kind of floating object, perhaps an iceberg, and may be taking on water.
I say "perhaps" an iceberg, because there does not yet appear to be any open recognition, whether on the Executive Council or at 815, of just how much the disastrous policy of "sue first and worry about the costs afterward" has split the Church from its basic mission, has alienated thousands of churchgoers, and has certainly contributed to the severe decline in funds available for mission. The refusal to acknowledge facts extends through the entire House of Bishops -- as witness the remarks by Bishop Shannon Johnston of Virginia at his most recent Diocesan Council meeting (H/T: BabyBlue):
As all of you know, the matter of our size, resources and abilities has been–over the past five years–under worldwide scrutiny. Our diocese is navigating a complex set of circumstances regarding our effort to return Episcopal properties to the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia. It would be a big mistake to characterize this simply as a “legal” battle. Rather, at its core, this is (make no mistake about it) about theology, meaning who we are as a Church in relationship with Christ and the world. At stake is our polity, that is, our ancient and defining order of our being the Church. Thus, it is altogether a matter of nothing less than our very faithfulness. It will therefore take more than the courts to settle things. . . .It certainly will, Bishop Johnston, it certainly will. And you may eventually have to eat your next words, which I have emboldened for your benefit:
Despite the recent court ruling in our favor, we simply don’t know now what the future holds. Nonetheless, we have reason to be more confident than ever that our properties will be returned. For nearly two years, we have considered and discussed such a positive outcome, and now we must move to put contingency plans in place. We will be fully prepared for any eventuality... I strongly believe that we will be able to do what it takes over the next months and years to be faithful to the Church’s mission with respect to each one of the properties involved. . . .Bishop Johnston? You may want to review pages 11 and 12 of that presentation made to the Executive Council mentioned earlier. They show two maps depicting the changes in Average Sunday Attendance in each Diocese between 1995-2000, and 2005-2009. The first map shows the Diocese of Virginia among the group reporting growth between 5-10%. But the second map shows the Diocese of Virginia in the group of dioceses which lost between 10 to 25% in ASA. With what people, I ask again, are you going to fill the churches whose properties you just took back in your lawsuits, and thereby "be faithful to the Church's mission" for them?
As I say: big changes are coming, but no one seems to have a clue what has brought the need for them about.