Thursday, May 31, 2012

Health Insurance and Justice: The DHP

Justice for lay employees – this was the purpose of the Denominational Health Plan passed in 2009 (Resolution A177).  After all, we have passed resolutions calling for universal health care coverage in the U.S. – why not take the first step and provide it to our own employees?  Most of our clergy (at least those with full-time positions) are covered; it is the lay employees that are often left out of our benefit structures.  Resolution A177 attempts to remedy this injustice.

It seems, however, that it is easier to call for justice when the payment is coming out of someone else’s pockets than it is to do justice when we have to pay for it ourselves.  The Denominational Health Plan has caused a lot of anxiety because it increases employee benefit costs at a time of very tight budgets. 

To date, a number of resolutions have been proposed to modify the Denominational Health Plan, which was passed in 2009. I am married to an actuary, Tom Snook, who is a Principal specializing in health insurance with the international actuarial consulting firm, Milliman Inc. Tom has helped me understand some of the economics of health insurance which are relevant to this health plan, and which I would like to share with you.  

To begin, I’ll review the requirements of the 2009 DHP legislation:
  • The DHP ensures parity between health insurance benefits offered to clergy and lay employees, requiring that the same benefits be offered to both, as long as they work 1,500 hours or more per year (i.e., ¾ time or more). 
  • The DHP requires that health insurance be purchased from the Church Pension Group’s Episcopal Medical Trust.  The Medical Trust is not a direct provider of health insurance; instead, it negotiates with providers such as Blue Cross, Aetna, etc., to come up with plans for each region of the country. 
  • The 2009 legislation asks dioceses to come up with specific regulations for implementing the plan, including questions of whether employees of diocesan schools and other non-church organizations must be included, how much of the cost the employee is required to share, whether domestic partner benefits must be included, etc. 
  • The DHP comes into effect on Jan. 1, 2013. 

Because the requirement to cover lay employees equally with clergy employees promises to cost many congregations money, the plan has resulted in some controversy.  Proposals to modify the DHP requirements are in the works, including:
  • Several proposals to delay the DHP’s implementation;
  • Several proposals to allow insurance to be purchased from other providers than the CPG Medical Trust;
  • Several proposals that require equity between geographic regions of the country; and
  • A proposal from the Diocese of Olympia (C047), which I’ll get to later. 

Taking these categories one at a time:

(1) Delay in implementation – I imagine the goal here is to simply buy time before congregations have to pony up more money.  Is the hope that the recession will end before we have to come up with more money, that people with deep pockets will start flooding into our congregations between 2013 and 2016, that we who have to run stewardship campaigns will have retired before the plan comes into effect, or some other forlorn hope?  Is it true that justice delayed is justice denied?  I am not sure what we hope to gain here.  But I believe that a delay could result in negative economic consequences for all of us – read on to understand more. 

In addition, please note that the new Healthcare Reform law (if upheld) could impose penalties beginning in 2014 on employers who have 50 or more employees and who don’t provide adequate insurance.  (Click Here for info.)  Most parishes do not have 50 employees, but this penalty could affect dioceses, which are the legal employers of all mission congregation employees.  The penalty is $2,000 per employee, so it could add up to $100,000 if there are 50 employees!

(2) Purchasing insurance from other providers – I get the appeal here.  If you can go out and buy coverage more cheaply from someone else, why pay more for the Denominational Health Plan?  To understand this, you have to understand a concept known as “adverse selection.”

To illustrate: let’s say I have two lay employees in my congregation: Gus and Janet.  Gus is 62 years old, has had numerous heart problems and a previous bout with cancer.  He is nearly uninsurable under any individual plan, because the insurance premiums for him would be astronomical.  He comes to work for the church for next to nothing, just for the benefit of being added to the group health insurance plan provided by CPG, which saves him a fortune.

Janet, on the other hand, is 30 years old and is in excellent health.  She could get health insurance far cheaper on her own, through an individual plan, than she could get it through CPG.  This is because she is far healthier than the average CPG participant (since that average person is, let’s say, a 58-year-old priest).

What is the natural result of allowing the free market to operate on these two employees?  Janet, the younger, healthier employee, goes and buys her insurance elsewhere.  Gus, the older, sicker, nearly uninsurable employee, buys his insurance through CPG. 

Now multiply that effect throughout an entire church of people who have their choice of where to buy health insurance.  What do you end up with?  CPG is covering a population full of older, sicker employees, and CPG insurance is accordingly extremely expensive because of the nature of its covered group.  Note that as it stands now, CPG covers mostly clergy employees, and as we all know, clergy are, on the average, older than the general population.  That means they are less healthy and more expensive. 

Other things being equal, the general effect of requiring all employees, all congregations, and all dioceses to be covered through CPG is that the average cost of insurance through CPG goes down substantially.  That’s because the younger, cheaper folks can’t opt out, and they bring down the average age of the whole group, saving money for everyone. 

Yes, I know it sounds reasonable to allow everyone to buy insurance where they want to.  It’s a free country, right?  But we need to understand the economic effects of the free market on the insurance world before we start waving that free-market banner.  (And, with 50 million uninsured Americans, I’m not sure we can hold up the free market as a good health insurance exemplar.) 

(3) Requiring equity between different geographical regions – again, this sounds like simple fairness.  And sure, it is perfectly possible to calculate health costs across the entire country and charge the average price to everyone, everywhere.  But wait.  If you charge the average to everyone – some people’s rates are going to go down.  And some people’s rates are going to go UP. 

The fact is that health insurance premiums vary in different geographic regions because the underlying health costs vary across different geographic regions.  They vary a LOT.  My husband Tom was kind enough to point us to this report issued by his firm, Milliman, detailing health costs across the country.  I point you specifically to Figure 6 on page 4.  If you live in New York City, Miami, Chicago, etc., you probably pay health insurance costs above average for the country.  Therefore equalizing premiums on a national basis will mean your costs will go down.

However, if you live in Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas, Seattle, Atlanta, or Phoenix, you probably pay health insurance costs significantly below average.  If we equalize costs across the country, your premiums are going to go UP.  In effect, you are going to be paying more in order to subsidize the higher health costs in New York City and elsewhere.

Maybe this is a fair result, and maybe it is a good thing for cheaper regions to subsidize more expensive ones.  But we need to understand that this is the result we would be voting for. I’m not saying it’s bad – you be the judge. 

(4) The Olympia Proposal simply requires that the DHP implementation deadline be suspended, with no new date specified.  It asks that dioceses be given the flexibility to decide what is just and feasible in their own contexts.  Basically this proposal would deep-six the entire Denominational Health Plan, making it go away forever, saying goodbye to churchwide parity between clergy and lay employees (a justice issue, remember?), and giving up any benefits that a churchwide plan could provide.

I must say that the rationale provided in the explanation to the Olympia resolution seems exceedingly weak to me.  There are two reasons given, and basically both reasons are: we can’t trust Episcopalians not to behave badly.  First, according to the explanation:

One unintended consequence of Resolution A177 would be that vestries would tend to see the minimum level established by the Diocese as an “accepted standard” and reduce existing paid coverage to this level. Then
clergy and lay employees presently receiving more than this minimum would see their benefits package reduced. In the case of clergy whose congregations presently pay premiums for dependents this reduction could be devastating. Yet any attempt by a vestry to transfer lost benefits to another category of remuneration would go against the principle of equity.”

Really, guys, here I just have to say – you don’t have to wipe out the entire DHP in order to solve this problem.  You don’t even have to bring anything to the attention of General Convention.  If this kind of finagling by vestries is a problem in the Diocese of Olympia, my suggestion would be that Olympia pass a diocesan resolution that prohibits vestries from doing it.  Period, end of story. 

The second rationale is this one: 

“Another unintended consequence of Resolution A177 would be that financially hard-pressed congregations would tend to reduce the hours of lay employees and clergy so that they fall under the threshold of eligibility.”

Again, I say, really?  We want to wipe out the whole health care plan because we fear that we might be tempted to artificially reduce an employee’s work hours from 1,500 to 1,499 with the stroke of a pen?  And your employees put up with that?  And your Christian workplaces are willing to do that to their employees? 

I am a vicar (soon to be rector) in a congregation myself, and I have to say that good employees are really hard to find.  I honestly cannot imagine jeopardizing the ministry of a good employee by denying them benefits that they deserve.  Look, I know that the coming health insurance rules are going to be hard for us to pay for.  I just can’t stomach overturning these rules – intended to provide justice and equity – on the basis that we can’t trust each other not to be dishonest.  Surely The Episcopal Church can come up with a better vision than that. 

Please note: +Greg Rickel, the Bishop of Olympia, has shared with me (and given me permission to share with you, Gentle Reader) that he does not support Olympia’s proposed resolution.  Here is a direct quote from Bishop Rickel, shared with his permission:  “Time will not solve any of the issues they bring up, and that is all this offers, for us to wait, yet again, to do what we call on the rest of the world to do at every convention.”

Money-Saving Proposals

As Bishop Rickel points out, The Episcopal Church is good at proclaiming that other people should act justly, but not so good at acting justly ourselves when it costs us money. I’ll let the irony of that statement speak for itself. 

But what should we do about the fact that the DHP costs money, and we don’t have so much money these days?  How should we encourage ministry to keep happening, employees to keep being employed, and churches to keep running even as we are mandating increased employment costs?

I think we can do this without making any changes to the 2009 legislation at all.  Let me point out that the DHP legislation allows dioceses to set minimum coverage and cost-sharing guidelines for churches.  We don’t HAVE to pay 100% of a very rich benefit plan and include the entire family of every employee, even though that is often done for clergy under the current system.  A diocese could create different rules. 

In fact, although A177 does not specifically allow it, a diocese could achieve parity for clergy and lay employees over a period of years by creating a phase-in scheme.  According to a CPG representative I corresponded with, although A177 does not provide for a phase-in scheme on the parity rules, the bishop of each diocese is the one responsible for enforcing the canons of the church.  Therefore, if a diocesan scheme satisfies the bishop that it will achieve the goal of parity in a reasonable period of time, CPG is not going to play compliance police. 

So, if I were going to create a diocesan implementation plan, here is what I would propose to my bishop:

  • “Grandfather” the benefits of every person who is already covered under a CPG plan.  All those clergy with 100% family coverage of rich-benefit plans can keep their insurance, and newly added employees do not have to receive the same benefits.
  • People working 1,500 hours or more who are not currently insured will have to be added to the plan as of 1/1/13 (unless they meet one of the exceptions, like coverage under a spousal plan).
  • Newly added employees (new to the plan, or new to the job, either one) would have to have parity with each other – no difference between clergy and lay benefits.
  • The diocese would decide on a minimum amount of coverage required.  Churches could decide to provide more than the minimum, and employees could opt to pay for more than the minimum.  Some of the options below could be chosen by the diocese as minimum standards in order to save money:
          > The minimum could be a high-deductible, low-cost plan.
          > It wouldn't have to include free family coverage. 
          > Employees could share part of the cost of premiums.
          > Employees could pay more to upgrade any of the above.
          > Note, this is similar to what many secular employers do. 
  • The grandfather clause takes care of the problem that we have a number of employees who are already covered under very rich benefit plans, and it is an economic hardship to give the same benefits to many newly added employees.  Only newly added employees would be counted in the parity rules. 

The result would be that over a reasonable period of time, we would offer justice and parity to our lay employees, without reducing benefits for people already covered under the old system.  Essentially, as clergy covered under the old system retire, and new clergy come into the system, parity, and justice, will be achieved.  And it will happen without the huge hit to parishes’ bottom line that many people fear is coming next year.  It’s a win-win.  And it doesn’t require any new legislation at all. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Turning Outwards

On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were all huddled together in one room, praying, when the Holy Spirit blew through.  We see in Acts what the Holy Spirit does to a group of inward-focused disciples.  The Holy Spirit turns them outward – teaches them new languages, inspires them to accomplish new missions, sends them out to new people they never would have dreamed that God was interested in.  From a circle turned inward, tightly closed against the dangers of outsiders, the Church turned outward and began reaching out to the world.  Because reaching out to a broken and hurting world in need of God’s salvation is the mission of the Church.

Sadly, the Church's constant temptation is to turn back inward and focus on ourselves instead of on our broken and hurting world.  What are the signs of an inward-focused church?
  • Decline in membership
  • Confusion and discomfort about the purpose of evangelism, and resulting failure to do it very well
  • Focus on the people with money and power, rather than, say, powerless children and youth
  • Lack of clarity about what mission is
  • Focus on internal conflicts rather than external mission. 

Oh, those things would never happen in The Episcopal Church, would they?

If Martians came to visit The Episcopal Church, what would they think the church was for?  What is our purpose, our mission, our goal?  I am not sure that they would see widespread evidence of the Spirit turning us outward. 

Our Martian friends would, however, discover lots of inward focus.  Clearly they would detect right away that our mission includes maintaining a headquarters in Manhattan, housing a large staff.  Quite likely they would conclude that our mission includes maintaining a great number of costly and beautiful buildings, which are lightly occupied for one hour a week.  And most of all, I think they would conclude that our mission was to argue with each other. 

After all, since 2003 if not before, our church has been convulsed with one argument after another. 
  • The ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson, which brought to a head the disagreement over the place of gays and lesbians in the church.
  • The resulting breakups, spinoffs, and property lawsuits.
  • The Proposed Anglican Covenant, now thankfully put to bed for a nice long nap by our friends in the Church of England. 
  • The whole question of “restructuring” the church, which has highlighted various disagreements over mission, not to mention tussles over leadership between Convention, Executive Council, Church Center staff, and the House of Bishops.  Who’s in charge here?  

Oh goodie, another conflict to sink our teeth into.

In the meantime, membership, attendance, participation, and finances in The Episcopal Church continue to drop.  See Nurya Love Parish’s blog post here for a rundown of the numbers. 

(Parenthetical note:  I have to point out that engaging in frequent conflicts over “issues” is characteristic of the way that Baby Boomers, the current generation of leadership in our church, operate, according to William Strauss and Neil Howe .  Strauss and Howe call the Baby Boomers an “Idealist” generation, who will often engage in conflicts over values they see as absolute.  In the conflict over gays and lesbians, for instance, the “conservatives” see themselves as guardians of Truth, while the “liberals” see themselves as crusaders for Justice.  Well, in a conflict between Truth and Justice, no one is ever going to back down.  Compromise is hopeless.) 

Now that the conflict over gays and lesbians is beginning to fade a bit (so we can hope), “restructuring” threatens to convulse us in another internal controversy.  Who is right here?  Those who argue that the Church Center staff needs to lead, or risk having the future imposed upon them?  Those who argue that representative government is a founding hallmark of our church structure, and should not be tampered with?  Those who truly believe that bishops are ordained and called by God to lead, in preference over the other orders of ministry?

I would have a wonderful time addressing all these questions, if I thought they were the most important thing right now.  But they are not.

Here is what is important.  This church has a mission, and the longer we expend all our energy on internal squabbles, the more that mission will slip out of our grasp.  Let’s forget about arguing with each other.  Let’s see how we can refocus, together, on mission.  Let’s turn our faces away from those oh-so-fascinating internal conflicts, and turn them outwards toward a world that needs to know the reconciling love of Christ. 

After all, Jesus didn’t say, “Stay here and talk about theology and church politics with each other, with an occasional worship service thrown in.”  What Jesus said was “Go.” 

Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to do everything that I have commanded you.  And remember that I am with you always, to the end of the age.  Matthew 28: 19-20.

Not stay here and argue.  Go and do mission.  Don’t sit around and spend all your energy on internal conflicts.  Go out there where the people are – the ones who haven’t heard that God loves them, the ones who haven’t had their lives transformed by Jesus Christ, the ones who are hungry and hurting and in despair.  Go. 

We need to change our structures, yes, to get rid of all the things that are causing us to stay put in old, inward-focused, hierarchical structures (like an office building in Manhattan).  We need to streamline our governance, yes, to allow the leaders of our church to operate in ways that are visionary and mission-oriented rather than being consumed with the minutiae of legislative procedures and Robert’s Rules of Order.  We need to re-think our budget, yes, to empower mission at all levels of the church rather than pay for the internally-focused structures that are keeping us stuck. 

And doing all these things will require some internal politics to make them happen.  But let’s make decisions that will allow God’s Holy Spirit to blow through our church.  Let’s create structures that require and empower us to focus on mission. 

Here are three proposals that attempt to do just that.  Please contact me at if you have suggestions, comments, or are interested in co-sponsoring these resolutions. 
  • Proposed Resolution 1 calls for a churchwide visioning process, involving all levels of the church, based heavily on Bible study, prayer, and discernment of God’s Spirit, leading to a restructuring plan.  Let the Holy Spirit blow!  Don’t do this by political maneuvering!  Do it by prayer and letting God show the way!
  • Proposed Resolution 2 requires us to refocus our budget on true mission, rather than on administrative and governance costs.  If a budget is a missionary document, let’s refocus ours on mission.
  • Proposed Resolution 3 looks toward a future when we will no longer have a hierarchical-model corporate headquarters in Manhattan, but will be leaner, more horizontal, and less expensive in our churchwide staff structure. 
Click on the links above to see the full texts of the proposed Resolutions.

A Resolution Calling for a Churchwide Visioning Process

Here is a resolution for General Convention 2012 calling for a churchwide process of prayer, Bible study, and discernment of God's mission, leading to a plan for how best to achieve that mission.  This proposal is based on my blog post here.

Resolved, the House of ____________ concurring, that the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies shall appoint a Task Force on the Vision and Mission of the Church by October 31, 2012, composed of twelve to eighteen Episcopalians, including lay, clergy, and bishop members; and be it further

Resolved, that the Presiding Bishop, the President of the House of Deputies, and Executive Council each appoint one person to serve in an ex officio capacity on the Task Force as a liaison to their office or Council; and be it further

Resolved, that the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies be encouraged to include a significant number of members on the Task Force who are not otherwise involved in high levels of governance in the Church; and be it further

Resolved, that the Task Force on the Vision and Mission of the Church shall train facilitators to engage the whole church in a spiritual discernment process including Bible study, prayer, and group discussion, to discover where God is leading local churches in mission and ministry, and how the churchwide structure can best support and empower that ministry; and be it further

Resolved, that each diocese of this church shall be invited to engage in this spiritual discernment process, and that other entities related to the church, such as ministry networks, provinces, seminaries, or Episcopal-affiliated entities, be permitted and encouraged to participate in the process during 2013, and be it further

Resolved, that the Task Force on the Vision and Mission of the Church shall also be empowered to investigate and make recommendations, in conjunction with other church bodies, on a plan for: 
  • Future location of offices of the Church Center;
  • Most effective staffing organization and structure for the Church Center;
  • Possible changes to governing structures of the Church for the purpose of increased effectiveness and reduced cost;
  • An improved budgeting process that empowers the Church for mission and ministry; and be it further 

Resolved, that the Task Force on the Vision and Mission of the Church shall use the results of the discernment process and other investigations to make a report to Executive Council and the Standing Commission on Structure by February 2014, containing recommendations for how the churchwide structure, staff and budget might best be organized to empower local and churchwide ministry, and be it further

Resolved, that the Task Force on the Vision and Mission of the Church shall be given the authority to propose “A” resolutions to the next General Convention or Special Convention in order to implement the recommendations in its report, and be it further

Resolved, that Program, Budget, and Finance be asked to consider an appropriation of $500,000 to implement the requirements of this resolution.

Many people believe that it is time to restructure the church to reduce costs and effectively empower mission; however, people at the grassroots level of the church must be engaged in the discussion if a truly new and empowering solution is to be implemented.  This resolution allows for a group of people, including some outsiders to current governing structures, to engage the whole church in a process of prayer and discernment of God’s will for the church.  By asking for God’s guidance in a very intentional way, and by engaging the broadest possible variety of groups in this discernment process, the church has the best chance of restructuring for God’s mission in the next century.  In addition, the grassroots discernment process has the capability of helping local and diocesan groups awaken their own hopes and vision for ministry at the local level.  Further, the group will have the ability to propose changes to churchwide structures, including governance, location, staffing, and budgeting, that will enable The Episcopal Church to adapt to a rapidly changing 21st century ministry context.  

A Resolution to Base Budget on Marks of Mission

Here is a proposed resolution for General Convention 2012 (see blog post HERE for explanation):

Resolved, the House of _____________ concurring, that this Convention reaffirms its commitment to the Anglican Communion, and accordingly reaffirms the Anglican Five Marks of Mission as an appropriate statement of mission in this church; and be it further

Resolved, that the Five Marks of Mission are:
  • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  • To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
  • To respond to human need by loving service
  • To seek to transform unjust structures of society
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth; and be it further 
Resolved, that this Convention affirms the following categories of ministry as further important Components of Mission of this Church:
  • To build Religious Relationships, including such ministries as ecumenical relations, Anglican Communion relations, and Federal Ministries, and
  • To develop Stewardship and Leadership; and be it further 

Resolved, that Program, Budget and Finance be directed to center the churchwide budget on these seven priorities, clearly delineating which costs are attributable to each category, and ensuring that at least sixty percent of the budget for the 2013-2015 triennium be directly allocable to these priorities; and be it further

Resolved, that expenses not attributable to the Mission categories described above be reduced so that they comprise no more than thirty percent of the churchwide budget by the 2016-2018 triennium. 

The Anglican Communion has recognized the Five Marks of Mission as examples of how God works in each culture.According to the explanation of the Five Marks on the Anglican Communion website: 

Mission: Announcing good news
The first mark of mission, identified at ACC-6 with personal evangelism, is really a summary of what all mission is about, because it is based on Jesus' own summary of his mission (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:14-15, Luke 4:18, Luke 7:22; cf. John 3:14-17). Instead of being just one (albeit the first) of five distinct activities, this should be the key statement about everything we do in mission.

Mission in context
All mission is done in a particular setting - the context. So, although there is a fundamental unity to the good news, it is shaped by the great diversity of places, times and cultures in which we live, proclaim and embody it. The Five Marks should not lead us to think that there are only five ways of doing mission!

Mission as celebration and thanksgiving
An important feature of Anglicanism is our belief that worship is central to our common life. But worship is not just something we do alongside our witness to the good news: worship is itself a witness to the world. It is a sign that all of life is holy, that hope and meaning can be found in offering ourselves to God (cf. Romans 12:1). And each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we proclaim Christ's death until he comes (1 Cor. 11:26). Our liturgical life is a vital dimension of our mission calling; and although it is not included in the Five Marks, it undergirds the forms of public witness listed there.

Mission as church
The Five Marks stress the doing of mission. Faithful action is the measure of our response to Christ (cf. Matt. 25:31-46; James 2:14-26). However, the challenge facing us is not just to do mission but to be a people of mission. That is, we are learning to allow every dimension of church life to be shaped and directed by our identity as a sign, foretaste and instrument of God's reign in Christ. Our understanding of mission needs to make that clear.

Mission as God-in-action
"Mission goes out from God. Mission is God's way of loving and saving the world... So mission is never our invention or choice." (Lambeth Conference 1998, Section II p121). The initiative in mission is God's, not ours. We are called simply to serve God's mission by living and proclaiming the good news.

This resolution calls The Episcopal Church to reaffirm its commitment to the Anglican Communion and to doing mission in a characteristically Anglican way.  It calls the churchwide structure away from over-spending on administrative and governance costs, toward refocusing on empowering the people of The Episcopal Church for mission, by requiring that administrative and governance costs be contained and that costs of mission become the priority of this church.  Executive Council’s proposed budget for the 2013-2015 triennium proposes that expenses falling into the five Anglican Marks of Mission categories, plus the two additional Mission categories named above, comprise only 55% of the total budget.  The remainder of the budget is composed of administrative and governance expenses.  This resolution recognizes that these levels of administrative and governance costs are too high, and requires that these costs be contained over a reasonable period of time.  

A Resolution to Move Out of 815

A proposed resolution for General Convention 2012 (see blog post Here for explanation):

Resolved, the House of _____________ concurring, that this Convention supports moving the Church Center headquarters away from the Church Center building at 815 2nd Ave., New York City, as soon as it makes economic sense to do so; and be it further

Resolved, that Executive Council be directed to appoint a Task Force on Real Property including knowledgeable real estate and finance experts, working in cooperation with the Cushman & Wakefield study that is already in process, to explore alternatives and make recommendations for the most effective economic way of selling, leasing, or otherwise disposing of the Church Center building at 815 2nd Ave, New York City; and be it further

Resolved, that the Task Force on Real Property make its report to Executive Council by February 2013; and be it further

Resolved, that Executive Council proceed with all appropriate speed to place the building at 815 2nd Ave., New York City, on the market for sale, lease, or other disposal, in accordance with the Task Force Recommendations, as soon as it makes economic sense to do so; and be it further

Resolved, that Executive Council appoint a separate Task Force on Church Center Location to identify other suitable alternatives for locating the Church Center, giving special attention to available properties owned by Episcopal-affiliated entities, locations close to large airports, ease of travel, cost of living for Church Center employees, and cost of acquiring or leasing the properties; and be it further

Resolved, that the Task Force on Church Center Location make its report to Executive Council by February 2013; and be it further

Resolved, that Executive Council be prepared to relocate the Church Center headquarters to the new location or locations as soon as it is economically feasible.

The Church Center building in New York City is too large and too expensive for the church’s needs, and wiser, more economic alternatives are available.  The Church needs to move away from a hierarchical-model corporate headquarters in Manhattan, toward a less expensive Church Center that is more accessible to a broad spectrum of Episcopalians.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Empowering Mission

This is the fourth post in a series.  For the other posts, see:
Day One: Deck Chairs

A few days ago, I argued that the real problem facing The Episcopal Church isn’t our budget, or our budget process, or our churchwide structure.  The real problem is the fact that we are declining precipitously in attendance, membership, and finances.  Those other things are just symptoms of the real problem. 

And yes, we are declining because the culture has shifted around us, because our core membership group isn’t having babies at the same rate it used to, because immigrant non-Episcopal and non-Christian groups are growing as a percentage of the population, because we live in a post-Christendom world where many people are spiritual, but not religious, and don’t identify as members of any religious group. 

These are reasons, but they are not excuses. 

After all, we are called by Jesus to join him in God’s mission.  That mission can be described in many ways, but most assuredly it includes the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20: 

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In other words, we are called to the ministry of evangelism.  We are called to reach new people with the good news of Christ.  We are called to do all the work of discipleship – evangelism, teaching, baptism, and acts of loving service. 

But how can we inspire our church to a spiritual reawakening?  How can the churchwide structure help a group of loyal Episcopalians do the work of evangelism when many Episcopalians are watching their churches decline, don’t understand the reasons why, and don’t know how to make a change?  How can we provide a space for the Holy Spirit to move and bring us to a place of new hope and new inspiration?  After all, as Jesus says in Luke 10:2:

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

God’s harvest is more abundant than ever.  How can we become the laborers we’re waiting for?

In Diana Butler Bass’ book, Christianity After Religion, she makes the point that the change we are experiencing is occurring in many places, and it is important to recognize the universality of the phenomenon while simultaneously taking steps to address the environment for which we are accountable.  

One of the arresting comments in her book is this: “In this terrain, changed minds and hearts – that is, what we think about ourselves, God, and the world – precede institutional change (which means, of course, that those people who seek to change minds by changing institutions are probably working backwards).”

Yes, we need to re-think churchwide structures, cut costs, and reorganize governance.  But that’s not the most important thing.  The most important thing is to change our minds and hearts, to open ourselves to the movement of the Spirit, to allow God to show us God’s deepest dreams and hopes for us. 

I think we need a churchwide process of spiritual discernment that includes Bible study, prayer, and visioning about the future of our church and our ministry.  I think this discernment process needs to involve people at all levels of the church, not just General Convention or provincial or diocesan leaders.  I think this process should be led by people who are not already leaders of our current church structures, so that they can listen for the feedback coming from the people, and use it to make Spirit-led proposals that are not bound by the current structures of the church.  Only then will real change be possible. 

Here is what I am proposing:

Create a churchwide consultation to engage all levels of the church in a visioning process, helping people who are NOT involved in current governing structures – i.e., those who are busy with local ministry and who don’t have a churchwide voice – to express their own longings and dreams for the church.  What would they like to do, if only they had the money?  How could the churchwide office empower them for mission?  What resources do they need and long for?  How is God calling them to move in their own ministry? What harvest do they see waiting, ripe and golden, in their neighborhoods, if only they had the laborers to go out into the harvest?

The visioning process, if constructed creatively for discernment, would itself be a catalyst for local ministry, even without considering the feedback brought back to the churchwide level.  We could ask them about structure too, but frankly I don’t think they care. They care about local mission.  And that’s as it should be.

And guess what – the visioning process would help people at all levels of the church focus on the real problem – their need to respond to God’s call to do mission, ministry, and evangelism. 

Because I don’t think this ship is going to sink.  I think the Holy Spirit is going to use this process to make this church into something new, a renewed, inspired, reawakened church that transforms many lives in this century, and for centuries to come.

Next Post:  Where I Think This Ship is Going

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

About That Elephant

See Part One of this Series Here:  Deck Chairs.
See Part Two Here:  Will the Real Subsidiarity Principle Please Stand Up?

In our continuing series about how to spend The Episcopal Church’s money strategically, to empower mission, ministry, and evangelism, today we are addressing the burning question:

  • What should we NOT be spending money on?

I will try to restrain myself from gleefully rubbing my hands together.  So many living room elephants to choose from – so little time!

Look, we don’t have enough money to do all the things the Church Center has done in the past.  Where to cut?  Two major arguments have been advanced:  cut governance (because it is too costly and cumbersome), and cut program (based on the subsidiarity principle). 

What huge white-elephant category of expenses is being ignored by both the anti-governance and the pro-subsidiarity arguments? 

Administration.  Administration at the Church Center is getting a free pass.

A few weeks ago I did an analysis of the proposed budget that divided it into 7 categories: the five Marks of Mission categories, and two additional categories: (6) Administration and  (7) Governance.  Since then, I have refined my analysis.  Some folks have rightly pointed out that the five Marks of Mission categories don’t include a classification for Other Good Things – like ecumenical relations, which everyone agrees should be done at a churchwide level and which aren’t really administrative in nature.  (I had included these costs in administration because there was no Marks of Mission category to put them in.) 

Therefore, I have added two new categories to my analysis:  (8) Building Religious Relationships (including ecumenical relations, Anglican Communion relations, and Federal Ministries); and (9) Stewardship & Leadership Development (including the Development Office, Congregational Vitality, Transition Ministries, the Office of Pastoral Development, etc.).  With these two new categories, the proposed churchwide budget breaks out as follows (if you would like to see my calculations, please email me at

Anglican Marks of Mission                                                 Amount         Percent

1. To proclaim the good news of the Kingdom                $  2,283,270      2.15%
2.  To teach, baptize, and nurture new believers               $     286,438      0.27%
3.  To respond to human need by loving service               $26,428,618     24.91%
4.  To seek to transform unjust structures                          $  4,600,551      4.34%
5.  To sustain, renew life of the earth                                  $     106,470      0.10%

Not included as marks of mission, but categorized as:
6.  Administration                                                                 $46,823,109    44.13%
7.  Governance                                                                      $12,298,810    11.59%
8.  Building Religious Relationships                                    $  5,207,010      4.91%
9.  Stewardship and Leadership Development                   $  8,067,497      7.60%

Do you see what I see?  After all is said and done, the glaring enormous over-inflated budget item is not Christian Formation, not at all.  It is Administration.  When pared down as noted above, it comprises over 44% of our churchwide budget. That doesn’t even count the cost of General Convention!  

Yes, Administration is the same category of expenses that gives us a finance office that costs over $7 million to run and can’t add a budget spreadsheet up correctly.  (I am sorry to have to point out the obvious.  I would rather be churchy-nice and not point out or ask for accountability for expensive mistakes.) 

It is also the same category of expenses that brings us an office building in Manhattan, the most expensive real estate on earth, based on that old Eisenhower-era hierarchical corporate headquarters model.  Based on the proposed budget, the costs of operating that piece of real estate are:

            Debt Service                                                  $ 8,700,000
            Facilities Management                                 $ 6,443,156
            Offset by Rental Income                              ( 4,050,000)
            Net Cost                                                        $11,093,156

I do not understand why we are going after Program Expenses before we go after the hyper-inflated costs of administration at the Church Center. 

Here’s what I propose: 

  • Sell, lease, or otherwise dispose of 815, and look for a more economic alternative elsewhere, such as using vacant space at cathedrals, seminaries, etc.  This will take some time, so it won’t save us money immediately – we need to understand this.  But there’s no more time to dither about it!  Do it!
  • Reduce the asking to the dioceses, and cut the total budget to $101 million (right now it stands at $106 million, counting the Development Office error explained here – it is a deficit budget of $1.25 million). 
  • Require that administrative expenses comprise no more than 35% of the 2013-2015 churchwide budget. That’s a significant decrease from the current 44% of the budget. In 2016-2018, the administrative percentage would be required to drop to 30%.  The phase-in allows some time to study the situation and make adjustments necessary.  (Note: the percentages depend on the way I have classified administrative expenses: for instance, I have included Communications, part of the cost of the PB’s office, etc.  If you quibble with the way I have calculated administration, fine, but if we change that, we need to change the percentages too.)
  • Freeze salaries at the Church Center.  The proposed budget includes across-the-board salary increases of 3% per year.  How many folks working for local churches get that kind of guaranteed raise these days?
  • Look into outsourcing certain departments like Human Resources, streamlining personnel in administrative departments, or other strategies for reducing administrative costs. 

Yes, we can also streamline governance expenses.  I am skeptical of the idea of holding a Special Convention (very expensive and unlikely to produce real change unless it is preceded by a real visioning and change process), but I certainly believe that we can “sunset” some CCABs and significantly reduce the expenses of others.  And we can consider ways to reduce the cost of General Convention itself, such as allowing much work to be done beforehand, electronically, or reducing deputation size. 

However, we cannot count on any cost savings for these possible changes in the current triennium, because they would require a constitutional convention, and no changes would take place this triennium. 

What we can do, right away, is address the unacceptable level of administrative expense at the Church Center.  We can make a real decision to sell 815 and move to a less-costly alternative, and we can realign our staffing structure, outsourcing some departments and streamlining others.  

We can do it because it’s worth it.  Because you and I aren’t writing those pledge checks every week so we can maintain  $46.8 million of administrative expenses.  We’re writing them because we believe in the mission, ministry, and evangelism of this church.  What we have is worth sharing, and it’s worth spending money on – strategically.  But not on elephants.  

Stay Tuned for Tomorrow's Post: Empowering Mission.