Diocesan support for church-wide budget varies widely

Almost 100 of the 109 dioceses in the Episcopal Church have made their pledges of support to the General Convention budget, and an interesting pattern continues.

• Only about half of the dioceses in the church give the 19% that the general church requests.

• About 40 percent of dioceses give less than 15 percent, the reduced asking rate proposed (but defeated) by member of Executive Council who want to keep more of the church’s money on the diocesan level.

• At least 17 dioceses will give less than 10 percent of their annual income to the general church.

(The numbers for 2010 and 2011 are here. The numbers under discussion in this article are not in one single location online, but have been gleaned from diocesan budgets and others reports.)

These numbers indicate that many dioceses can’t or won’t support the general church budget at the rate that General Convention requests, and that reducing the asking that the general church requests to 15 percent of diocesan income will have no effect on the budget of 40 percent of the church’s dioceses.

The dioceses that give ten percent or less include the Diocese of Springfield, which will contribute less than 2% of its $711,000 budget to the wider church next year, and the Diocese of Bethlehem, which will give 5.8% of its $1.2 million budget.

The “less than 10” contingent also includes dioceses that have all but stopped supporting the general church for theological reasons (Dallas, which hasn’t given a penny for years; South Carolina and Central Florida).

But some dioceses with significant budgets offer less than significant financial support to the budget of the general church. These include New York (10.8% on $5.5m), New Jersey (9.4% on $3.3m), West Texas (3.3% on $4.1m), Pennsylvania (3.3% on $4.5m) and the Diocese of Texas, the granddaddy of them all, which gives 5% of a $7.9 million budget to the general church—and which is hosting the House of Bishops Meeting that begins tomorrow at its camp and conference center.

These numbers raise challenging structural questions that have not received much attention in a budge debate that, thus far, has focused almost entirely on cuts to the Christian formation budget:

If a diocese can’t afford to support the budget of the general church at some minimum level (5%? 7? 10?) can it afford to sustain itself? If a wealthy diocese won’t support the general church at or near the asking, should it be penalized in some way? Or, should all dioceses follow the example of the those who make small contributions and keep their money close to home?

I don’t want to suggest answers to these questions. I do want to suggest that one can’t necessarily blame Executive Council or the staff at the Church Center if dioceses that are too small or too financially strapped to support themselves will not entertain the possibility of a merger. Nor does the fault reside with the Presiding Bishop or the President of the House of Deputies when dioceses with significant budgets don’t contribute their fair share to the budget of the general church.

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