Denial and delussion
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?”
From The Curate’s Desk 5 march 2012