Over at the Episcopal Cafe there have been a number of discussions on the Draft Proposed Budget for the Episcopal Church for the next triennium (2013-2015). We'll be discussing that budget in Indianapolis at the next General Convention soon, and as a Deputy I'll be voting on it.
The Budget goes to the Program, Budget, and Finance Committee of the General Convention. The Budget as it has gone to PB&F this year came out of a new process, one that didn't go smoothly. It sought to really focus on doing at the level of the national church those things that required action at that level (with more things being done more effectively at the diocesan or parish levels of the Church). You can see the Proposed Budget and also some commentary on it here.
Again, there's been a lot of discussion about this at Episcopal Cafe. There's a piece posted today with some reflections on the commentary (more than on the budget itself). Most of the comments on the commentary have seemed to me pretty bitter. This was my contribution to that discussion:
I have mixed feelings about this [Proposed Budget and commentary] myself. However, my concerns gore a number of oxen, if you will. Should the Executive Council have undertaken a different budgeting process in the first place? Perhaps not; but then if we're so intent on doing things differently, a different process for budgeting seems a good place to start.
Should they have started by polling leaders in the Church instead of working with staff? Well, it's one way to prevent staff from getting into "defending turf." It's also a way to reconsider priorities - another step if we really want to do things differently.
Again, should the standards have included a commitment to subsidiarity, to having only those things done at the church-wide level that required church-wide support and consistency? In these days when all the civil rhetoric is "less government," that posture is at least not a surprise. Moreover, if we want our Church's governance to cost less, that seems an important question to raise. (Note here especially that I'm concerned: I'm not one committed to "less government," either in the civil realm or the Church. I'm still not surprised.) And, if we do plan a church-wide budget focused only on those things that require church-wide support, isn't it going to look heavily centered on the staff with church-wide responsibilities? After all, we've trusted everything else to be done by someone else.
I had my concerns about the survey. However, I'm appalled by a paltry 17% response rate - and that's certainly not the fault of the Executive Council or its Executive Committee. I did complete it; but I have to wonder what it says about our folks in leadership that so very few did.
Should the Executive Committee decided to plan expenditures as if dioceses gave only 15%, even as they planned with hope that dioceses would give 19%? Maybe not; but considering the experience at the parish level of pledge shortfalls, not to speak of those dioceses that just flat fail to support church-wide work, one could argue that it's only prudent. There is no doubt that it is more painful; but one could argue that it's really more responsible to take the pain up front, rather than extending it.
Above all else, it seems to me that the Executive Council tried to use a new budgeting process, that intended to focus not only on mission per se, but especially on what was required at the church-wide level, and reflected a broad perspective not only on what mission was called for but on what that church-wide staff was useful for. It was a new process, and well-meaning but sinful people (not unlike me, really) struggled with it, and we can argue it didn't work very well. It may not ever be worth using again. If so, it's our job in General Convention to say so, to make the changes that we can, and then get on with it. But, I can't fault the intent to try a new way, or to ask a broad group of leaders outside the Episcopal Church Center to participate. I can't fault a budget planned on conservative predictions of revenue, even if I find it sad. I can't fault folks who were trying to lead in an effort that it appeared everyone agreed on, and that most of us here agree with: reconfiguring the structures of the Episcopal Church in light of the trends we seem to face for the future. And I can't fault folks for making some honest mistakes - especially when they're honest enough to air dirty linen in public, like the phone pre-meeting of five of the eight members of ECEC (talk about transparency!); and especially when I don't know that I could have done any better.