The budget is coming! The budget is coming!

I’ve always loved the financial structure of our church. I give to my own parish out of gratitude for and in commitment to the good work of the Lord in my community. My generosity and that of all our other parishioners helps create a stable environment for God’s mission to shine through our church. Out of that stability comes the opportunity to fund that larger structure which gives us direction, our diocese. That stable environment creates the next opportunity … up and up the chain we tithe of our treasure to support the mission of God in our world. But it starts with me, and it starts with you, engaging in our local parishes by answering God’s call to give out of our abundance to share God’s abundance with our communities.

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? There’s a certain amount of humility in allowing the currency of the economy to be given over to the currency of Grace so that the Spirit might move as the Spirit pleases among us. Where we run into trouble is when we have to balance that humility and trust with our own need for thoughtful and clear governance and financial prioritization.

The Joint Standing Committee for Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) has set forward a draft triennial budget of $133.7 million. The unallocated funds for General Convention resolutions, or ‘fun money’ as we’re calling it, currently sits at $1.225 million. That’s roughly .9% of the overall budget. It’s a different kind of 1% than we’re used to hearing about in the media. How much is the total price tag on our current set of resolutions? So far, PB&F has received requests for about $12 million via resolution.

In the afternoon joint session on July 11, PB&F will present the proposed budget. It is a balanced budget. It was formed under the pressure of more than $12 million funds requested by resolutions recommended by committees. That’s without a provision for prayer book revision. Almost $8 million of that has already passed through at least one House via consent calendar without allowing for potentially difficult discussions about our priorities. The journey from $12 million to $1.225 million is a long and painful one.We’re not math experts here at The Herald, but we’re pretty sure those numbers reflect a daunting gap between our intentions and our capacity.

The vision for the work of our multinational church has been articulated clearly in the last three years by Presiding Bishop Curry.  It hinges on evangelism, racial reconciliation and justice, and creation care. And yet, we seem to want to fund everything and the kitchen sink. Is this good stewardship, both of our finances, the time of our leaders, and of our sacred mission? We weren’t given much to work with, that’s for sure. Less than 1% of the overall budget leaves very little wiggle room for the creative work of General Convention.

The Executive Council and PB&F should be commended for their work in this reorganization and prioritization in funding.  They should also be commended for anticipating many of the budget requests that have cropped up in the resolutions. For example, there is a line item which covers the $1.5 mill of the cost of meetings of about 20 interim bodies of General Convention for the triennium (see line 519 in the draft budget). Now, there are quite a few more than 20 interim bodies being proposed and approved, but the anticipation of that need was there. This takes some of the burden off of the 1%.

The question remains: how do we prioritize our financial commitments as a legislative body? PB&F does much of this hard work for us.  But are we capable as a body of saying ‘no’ to something that is worthy that doesn’t quite fit so that our ‘yes’ can be more effective? To the extent that we find ourselves unable to prioritize before and during General Convention, we cede the agency of the body to a select few to make the numbers add up, and we pray that they have listened carefully.  We also leave Convention without a clear understanding of what we just spent the last 10 days doing.

General Convention has become an open space for advocacy for the ministries we care about.  What would it look like to create space within our deputations, our provincial synods, and our respective Houses for more strategic conversations about our priorities as we seek to craft resolutions and a budget that lets our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’?

Posted by Eileen O'Brien