Part 2: The story the budget tells

by George Clifford

The first part of this post analyzed TEC’s financial plight arguing that the proposed 2012-2015 budget shows that TEC:

1. Highly values ecclesial governance and structure

2. Faces significant organizational problems

3. Intends to continue business as usual

4. Lacks a clear vision of, and focus on, TEC’s mission.

This post recommends a four-part strategy for charting and fixing TEC finances.

First, the story that TEC’s budget tells should be one of mission rather than Canonical, Corporate, and Program. The latter reflect nineteenth century concerns; today, those few Christians still committed to a denomination want to participate in mission. General Convention 2009 Resolution D027 actually called for moving in this direction, adopting the five Anglican Marks of Mission as TEC’s mission, and requiring budget priorities to reflect that mission.

The five Anglican Marks of Mission are:

1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom

2. To teach, baptize and nurture new believers

3. To respond to human need by loving service

4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society

5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

With computerized accounting systems, reformatting the budget to tell the story of TEC engaged in mission is a relatively simple task (people familiar with accounting might describe this change as moving form an organizational to a product/service budget). For example, the percent of her time that the Presiding Bishop (PB) spends proclaiming the Good News is the percent of costs associated with her office attributable to the first mark. This form of cost accounting can quickly identify any activity unrelated to the five Marks of Mission. Expenses not directly attributable to one or more of the five Marks of Mission may be reasonable overhead (e.g., accounting, human resources management, or information systems); otherwise, TEC should probably eliminate the expense from the budget. If the five Marks of Mission are an incomplete or incorrect statement of TEC’s mission, then General Convention 2012 should revise the Mission Statement accordingly.

A TEC budget focused on mission provides leaders and opinion makers the material with which to excite the passions and stimulate the commitment of Episcopalians. Discussing funding for General Convention (GC) evokes yawns or worse; funding the five Marks of Mission can give people a reason to feel good about being part of the Episcopal Church and is a story that TEC should tell frequently, loudly, and proudly.

Second, TEC should aggressively minimize governance and other overhead costs. Few people put their money in the offering plate wanting to fund costly TEC governance or overhead. Since two consecutive GCs must approve canonical changes, TEC needs to move quickly and aggressively to reduce governance and overhead costs; each triennium budget appears certain to force progressively more painful program cuts.

Sadly, the current budget dramatically understates the true cost of governance. For example, the proposed GC budget shows a net cost of $10.5 million. That sum does not include the PB’s time and travel, time and travel of other TEC staffers, the time and travel of all other attendees, and costs associated with all of the preliminary meetings related to GC. The true cost of GC is probably closer to $20 if not $50 million. Other national governance costs include audits, legal advice and representation, Executive Council costs, etc. Framed differently, I suspect that national governance costs each of the 2 million Episcopalians $25 per year from diocesan and national funds. Given the choice, I wonder how many Episcopalians would spend their $25 on governance or one of the five Marks of Mission.

TEC benefits from democratic governance but current structures and procedures are not the only or perhaps even the preferred democratic option. For example, technology can help to reduce governance costs. I’ve previously suggested conducting GC and other meetings using a virtual format (Rethinking Episcopal Church structure – part 1 and Rethinking Episcopal Church structure – part 2).

Selling TEC’s New York headquarters might cut operating costs, reduce staffing costs, and result in a net gain for the endowment after purchase of a new headquarters. With the internet and other forms of electronic communication, relocation need not disrupt ecumenical/interfaith relations, diminish TEC’s public profile, or make travel more difficult (indeed, TEC might find relocating cuts travel costs). TEC moving some of its offices out of New York is a first step in this direction.

Virtual meetings and relocating TEC offices may not be the best tactics for reducing governance and overhead costs. However, TEC failing to adopt a strategy that substantially cuts governance and overhead costs will be one bell chiming TEC’s death knell. If not virtual meetings and relocation, what tactics will TEC choose?

Third, the subsidiarity principle provides TEC a heuristic for evaluating all TEC activities and programs. Which programs/activities could congregations, dioceses, or provinces operate more effectively and perhaps less expensively than TEC does? Reformatting TEC’s budget to include overhead in program line items is an essential preliminary step for answering that question. By excluding overhead, the current budget understates TEC program. Furthermore, shifting programming to provinces, dioceses, and congregations will generally broaden opportunity for involvement and can increase the sense of ownership that Episcopalians feel toward various programs and activities. Congregational development, for example, seems basic to the work of dioceses rather than to TEC.

Fourth, TEC should assess the effectiveness of its activities and programs, terminating those endeavors deemed unlikely to produce results proportionate to costs. For example, although I have strong personal sympathies with the work of the Office of Government Relations (OGR), in an era of billion dollar presidential campaigns, funding this office with a paltry $2.6 million may not produce significant results. Focusing the OGR on anti-poverty instead of its current shotgun approach (i.e., shoot at every legitimate target) may produce greater results. TEC could apply any savings to reducing fiscal shortfalls, asking for a smaller percentage of diocesan budgets, or expanding efforts that are more effective.

The $0.5 million included in the proposed budget for funding a Churchwide Consultation is a step (probably too small) in the right direction. However, that step fails to express the urgency with which TEC must act and the magnitude of the problems. Speed can kill. However, speed can also liberate, allowing TEC to discard outmoded processes, refocus on mission, and generate fresh enthusiasm. For such a time as this, God will bring us together in Indianapolis.

George Clifford is an ethicist and Priest Associate at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years and now blogs at Ethical Musings.

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