Executive Council advances 2023-24 budget with consideration for post-pandemic church amid uncertainty – Episcopal News Service
[Episcopal News Service] Looming uncertainty about the Episcopal Church’s post-pandemic future permeated discussions this week as the Executive Council gathered online for its final meeting Jan. 25-27.
After three years of churchwide budget surpluses, council members considered how much of those funds will be needed to fill any budget shortfalls, while voting to move a proposed budget of $101 million. for 2023-24 to the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance, reporting to the 80and General convention.
The Board also reviewed proposed updates to the parish report, attendance, membership and financial statistics completed annually by congregations and filed by dioceses. And guest speakers shared poignant personal stories that underscored how much work the church still has to do to support and welcome historically marginalized groups, especially transgender and non-binary people and racial and ethnic minorities.
The pandemic may also have a lasting impact on some of the normal routines of church governance. Executive Council, Church governing body between General Convention meetings, has not met fully in person since February 2020, when he met in Salt Lake City, Utah, a month before the coronavirus began to spread around the world. Going forward, interim bodies will be asked to hold at least some of their meetings online to save money, as part of the Executive Council’s plan to balance the 2023-2024 church-wide budget. . The Executive Council also plans to hold at least one of its six meetings online during the next two-year term.
“We’ve figured out how to do it virtually, like we’re doing right now, and that’s a significant cost savings,” Andrea McKellar, a member of the South Carolina Diocese’s executive council, said in a January 26 budget submission. .
The 80sand General Convention has been delayed a year due to the pandemic, from 2021 to 2022. As plans move forward to hold the in-person rally in July in Baltimore, Maryland, Reverend Gay Clark Jennings, Speaker of the House of deputies, told the Executive Board this week that additional options are being considered to ensure the safety of participants. Masks and proof of vaccination will be required, although church presidents did not say what other measures might be implemented.
The postponement of General Convention is one of the reasons the Church ended the 2019-21 triennium with a surplus of more than $15 million, of which approximately $2.5 million was transferred to the 2022 budget for cover assembly costs in Baltimore. Spending was further reduced during the pandemic due to restrictions on staff travel and in-person gatherings, and the church also received $3 million as one of many U.S. employers who qualified for using the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
The church’s annual surpluses are not expected to continue, and the 2023-24 budget proposal that was introduced in October 2021 began with an $8 million shortfall. The Reverend Mally Lloyd, chairman of the finance committee, said departments of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, the corporate body of the Episcopal Church, have been asked to look for ways to cut their budgets by 5% to help make up for part of this deficit. Church staffing will remain at 152 employees.
Diocese assessment payments have generally been on track during the pandemic, but church officials have warned of potential slowdowns and greater financial uncertainty in the years to come. On January 27, the Executive Council voted to use up to $5 million from the surplus from the last triennium to balance the proposed $101 million for 2023-2024.
“This draft budget reflects what we believe is a more realistic approach to our capacity over the next two years that we are budgeting for,” Lloyd said.
The board is still deliberating on what to do with the remaining surplus. One option discussed would be to keep the money in reserve to help the church weather unforeseen financial crises. This subject will be taken up again in April at the Executive Council meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The proposed budget, meanwhile, now goes to the Standing Joint Committee on Program, Budget and Finance of the General Convention.
The Executive Council has 40 voting members, including the presiding bishop and the president of the Chamber of Deputies. Twenty of the voting members—four bishops, four priests or deacons, and 12 lay people—are elected by General Convention to serve six-year terms, with half of these members being elected every three years. The other 18 are elected for six-year terms by the nine provinces of the Episcopal Church, with each province sending one ordained member and one lay member.
The church’s governing body devoted much of its final day’s session to discussing a revised parish report, which was presented by the Reverend Chris Rankin-Williams, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on the state of the Church.
The Rankin-Williams committee had been working on a revised parish reportt even before the pandemic, focusing on new narrative questions that would encourage congregations to tell the fuller story of their ministries and community. The pandemic has created a more immediate need to address short-term anomalies in canonically required data, such as average Sunday attendance, or ASA, due to periods in 2020 and 2021 when in-person worship was suspended.
As the church adapts to the latest surge of COVID-19 and approaches the two-year mark of the pandemic, the 2022 parish report will focus on “the challenges of adaptation facing the church,” Rankin-Williams told the Executive Council. “It’s really a tool for the congregation filling it out, and it’s something they can use to guide decisions for their future.”
Narrative questions remain a staple of the 2022 parish report approved by council members. The form will ask congregational leaders to summarize the opportunities and challenges they faced during the year and invite their stories to “name, address and dismantle the injustices of racism in yourselves, congregations and your communities”.
Some data, such as “communicants in good standing,” may continue to reflect pandemic conditions, as not all members could receive or felt comfortable receiving Communion. They could still be counted, if the pandemic gave them a “good reason” not to receive Communion, Rankin-Williams said.
Questions about online and hybrid worship services relate to how these services are offered and how attendance is counted — not yet expecting congregations to report hard numbers. Rankin-Williams cited the difficulty of comparing different measures of online engagement, and “we don’t want ASA 2.0. We really want to get people to look at the ministry of the church more broadly.
The 2022 report will also ask congregations to include the age and racial makeup of their members. The addition of demographic data in the report sparked a debate among council members over whether congregational leaders should record racial groups as a percentage of total membership or provide the actual number of those people. The Executive Council finally decided to ask for both percentages and figures.
The Executive Council’s first day plenary session on January 25 included a 90-minute listening session with seven clergy and lay leaders who discussed how transgender and non-binary people often feel alternately supported and marginalized by the Episcopal Church. The January 26 plenary session featured a presentation by Brant Lee, an Episcopalian and law professor at the University of Akron in Ohio, who spoke about the racism and discrimination faced by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
One of Lee’s central points was that Asian Americans throughout most of American history have been viewed incorrectly and, at times, malevolently, as outsiders. They are also seen as indistinguishable, even though there is no monolithic Asian American identity. Lee’s own ancestors came to the United States from China, bringing a culture and identity distinct from that of other Asian immigrant communities.
A member of the Presidents Advisory Group on Beloved Community Implementation, Lee also said he thinks church leaders like those on the executive council generally understand racism and the persistence of racist systems. The question remains, what will the church and its members do to change these systems?
“You have to do something positive to reverse the systems in place,” he said. “They won’t fix themselves.”
During committee meetings, Executive Council members also discussed remaining obstacles to the church’s continued work to support the financial sustainability of its dioceses in Latin America and the Caribbean, most of them in province IX.
“We need to find a way to move dioceses away from the legacy of dependency,” said Honduran Bishop Lloyd Allen, a member of the Executive Council. Such efforts in his diocese and other dioceses in Province IX have struggled in the face of entrenched poverty and the unpredictable impact of hurricanes and other natural disasters.
The pandemic has been particularly devastating to people and economies in the region, with some experts warning that COVID-19 has set back development in countries in this region. up to 20 years in their efforts to reduce poverty and promote economic development.
“It’s important to start talking and talking about the effects of the pandemic on Latin America and the Caribbean,” Blanca Echeverry, a member of Colombia’s Executive Council, said through an interpreter. “We have to analyze the real effects on the population and the real effects of the pandemic during these very difficult years.”
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at [email protected].