Friday, June 29, 2012

The Acts 8 Moment: A Call to Prayer and Action

What time is it?  It's 2012, but it's not the end of the world!  Instead, it is a time of transition in the church, a time to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit, a time to go where God says to go.  It's a time for action, but first and primarily, it's a time for prayer, conversation and discernment.  Together with Scott Gunn and Tom Ferguson, I am hoping to start a new conversation at General Convention.  Come and join us to think, pray and dream!  Read more at the bottom of this post.  We would like to open up a space for the Holy Spirit, because ...

This is an Acts 8 Moment.  

It’s a dark time for the church.  Social forces have impacted believers so that it’s not clear how the community of faith can continue.  The institutions that have held the church together are breaking apart, and people are scattered, unsure of their next step, uncertain that the gospel will survive into the next generation.

The Episcopal Church in 2012?  No – the Followers of The Way in Jerusalem, 40 A.D.  Acts Chapter 8 has the story.  A persecution has broken out against the followers of Jesus.  In Jerusalem, the apostles have created an organization, with assigned roles and delegation of responsibilities to deacons and others.  It seems to work, until Stephen speaks out of turn, insisting that the older Temple organization is not necessary.  Stephen gets killed as a result, and a persecution begins.  The fledgling institution is destroyed and scattered, and no one knows what to do.

No one, that is, except the Holy Spirit.  Where human plans have failed, God is doing something new.  It turns out that the very persecution that scatters the believers and destroys their institutions now becomes the seed of new life in unexpected places.  The Twelve had assumed that the main life of the church would always continue in Jerusalem, headquartered in the Temple.  But the Spirit flung the church out into new and frightening places:  Samaria and the road to Gaza and a place called Azotus.  Simon the Magi and an Ethiopian eunuch become Christians.  Baptism happens in a puddle of water alongside a road, instead of in a carefully planned liturgical ceremony.  What will God think of next?

Here in The Episcopal Church, we are not in any danger of being martyred as Stephen was.  But our anxiety over a changing world and a changing role for the church has created a transition point for us, as it did for the church in Jerusalem so long ago.  Our institutions are no longer useful in the same way they once were, society around us often seems hostile to our mission, and we’re not sure what’s coming or how the church can survive into the next generation.  We are being scattered, flung headlong into a new world.

This sounds like a job for the Holy Spirit.  Where human plans fail, God may truly be planning a new thing, something that none of us anticipated.  And the new thing that is coming may well be the very thing that brings life where we least expect to find it.  We may find ourselves in our own symbolic Samaria, on the road to Gaza, or in Azotus, reaching new people in new ways with the good news of God’s grace to us in Jesus. 

The Episcopal Church in 2012 is in an Acts 8 Moment.

Where Should We Go From Here?

As we approach General Convention, we seem to be consumed with questions of “restructuring” and the budget and how we will organize our institutions in the years to come.  I’ve been paying a lot of attention to some of these questions myself.

But I don’t think our structure or our finances or even our decline in membership is what we should be focused on. 

I think we need to focus on what the Holy Spirit is doing. 

How do we do that?

>  First, don’t make any hasty decisions.  In 2009, we restructured by slashing the budget.  No long-term strategic thinking went into what line items were slashed, even though those cuts resulted in long-term changes in how we did our mission.  PB&F was faced with an impossible task, and they did what they could. 

But restructuring by budget-cutting is not a healthy way to run any organization.  Let’s pass a transition budget that does some responsible and sensible cuts, but gives us the time we need to seek out the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

>  Next, don’t deceive ourselves that changing the way General Convention operates, or the place the Church Center does its work, or way we create our budget, or any other organizational fix, is going to get us where we need to be.  Those might be good things to do, but they’re not going to put us on the road to Gaza.  Restructuring our organization isn’t the answer to our problems.

>  Then, allow some space for the Holy Spirit to do its work.  Philip listened, and the angel of the Lord told him to go out to the Gaza Road.  We need to listen too. 

The Episcopal Church in the 21st century is not in a restructuring moment – we’re in an Acts 8 moment.  Let's open up a process of prayer and discernment that allows people across the church to pray together, to study the Bible together, to dream together about what the church could be.  Let's put everything out on the table, including our dearest structures.  The disciples learned that they didn’t become Christians in Jerusalem – they had to move to Antioch.  Everything has to be open to change, and we have to be ready to listen. 

>  And let's make sure that the group that is coordinating this churchwide discernment process IS open to change.  Yes, we should listen to the voices of experienced folks who have worked on Structure and Executive Council and 815 and other positions of leadership.  But if we are truly going to change, then we can’t depend on our current leadership structures to initiate that change.  We need outsiders to lead us into a new era.  We need Gen Xers and Millennials.  We need people in minority groups.  We need people who understand technology.  We need evangelists and teachers.  We need dreamers and thinkers and organizers.  Let’s get a group together who will lead us into a new generation. 

What’s Next?

A whole bunch of folks will be together at General Convention!  Let’s get the conversation started there.  I am working with Scott Gunn and Tom Ferguson – go check out their blogs too.  Together, the three of us would like to invite anyone who is interested to come together in Indianapolis at 9:30 p.m. on July 5 (location TBA - like us on Facebook or follow the Acts 8 Moment on Twitter for details).  We want to start the process by gathering, praying, reading the Bible, and talking together about the church we dream of seeing.  Let’s listen for where the Holy Spirit is calling us to go!  Let's hear each other's prayers and dreams!  Let’s enter into our own Acts 8 Moment.

History belongs to the intercessors, who believe the future into being….The future belongs to whoever can envision … a new and desirable possibility, which faith then fixes upon as inevitable. This is the politics of hope. Hope envisages its future and then acts as if that future is now irresistible, thus helping to create the reality for which it longs.”
Walter Wink, 1992 "Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination" Augsburg Fortress p. 299 (reprinted  in Avery Brooke's "Healing in the Landscape of Prayer")

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Part Two

This post is continued from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Part One.

The Bad and the Ugly

When Clint Eastwood rides into town wearing a poncho, people pay attention.  It must be ... The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  

I talked about The Good points of the PB's budget proposal here.  And I want to be clear - the good points of this proposal are enough to win my support.  This proposal is a vast improvement over the Executive Council proposed budget that came out a few months ago, and caused such a brouhaha.  A kerfuffle.  A dustup.  A mad dash to find the Confederate gold ... no, wait, that's Clint Eastwood again.  

I think we should vote for the PB's proposal, with some adjustments that will no doubt be considered carefully by PB&F as they listen to input in their hearings.  Mostly I support the PB's proposal because it adopts a mission-based and much healthier format that the tired old Canonical, Corporate, Program format, and also because it has much better information regarding necessary staffing levels than Executive Council had.

But as we go to a vote, we need to understand also the negative points of this proposal: the Bad and ,,,

The Ugly.

I really don't have to explain the Ugly to you.  I will leave the astonishment over the crazy process that gave rise to the current budget fracas to Katie Sherrod and the Crusty Old Dean.  I just have to say that I am truly troubled that people have been hurt, that well-intentioned input has been disregarded, that there are mysteries to what happened in this budget melee that still have not been unraveled.  When we in the church start disrespecting, disregarding, and hurting each other, I am concerned that we have lost our way.  Our beloved BCP says that the mission of the church is "to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ" (p. 855).  We are not modeling that reconciliation well within the church; why would others want to join us in our unreconciled differences?  

Can't we make a pact to give each other the benefit of the doubt at this Convention?  Can't we give each other credit for loving Jesus and following him the best way we know how?  Can't we listen, share, and discern God's way forward in atmosphere of trust and respect?  Rodney King has just died - in his honor, can't we all just get along?

It's time for a change in the way we do things ... a big, sweeping change, led by the Holy Spirit, putting an end to old things and taking on new things for a new era.

But more on that later.  For now ... back to Clint Eastwood.

The Bad

It's maybe a bit of an exaggeration to call this "bad" (but we're sticking with Clint Eastwood, by gosh).  But there are a few things I think we should be aware of.  

> This proposed budget does not increase the percentages of funding devoted to mission as much as it appears to.  The pie charts at the back of the document would have us believe that "mission" has increased from 53% (in Bishop Sauls' famous presentation to the House of Bishops) to 67%.  A lot of this apparent increase is due to some accounting reclassifications.  For instance:

  • $4.5 million of principal payments on the 815 debt were moved out of administrative expenses altogether, and shown in the PB's proposed budget as a discretionary use of cash surplus rather than an administrative expense (which it was in the EC budget).  The money is still being spent, on exactly the same thing it was before (that lovely hierarchical-model headquarters building), but it's no longer counted as administrative expense, or any kind of expense.  This is not a reduction in administrative expenditures.  But it makes the percentages look better.  
  • The new budget takes $4.6 million of administrative services provided to affiliated organizations, like ERD, ECF, UTO, etc., breaks them out separately, and includes them in the percentages devoted to "mission."  Those same expenses were incurred in EC's budget, but included in administration.  Again, it makes the percentages look better while changing nothing.
  • Funding for the Development Office in this budget, as in the EC budget, comes from a special draw on the endowment, shown in income.  The EC budget had an inexplicable error that needed to be corrected: it showed expenses less than income for this item of $1,250,000.  Therefore the EC budget was actually a deficit budget of this amount.  The PB's budget has corrected this error and described the costs of the Development Office as a "mission" expenditure.  The correction needed to be made.  But again, it increases the percentages.
  • The PB's budget shows a special collection for Haiti, spearheaded by the Development Office, in the amount of $1.6 million, and also shows it in "mission" expenditures.  The expense is a wash - income equals expense, and presumably if the Development Office doesn't succeed in raising the funds, the money won't be spent - but it increases, once again, the "mission" percentage.  
  • I calculate that if the above items were treated consistently with EC's treatment, the percentages in this budget would be Mission - 60%; Governance - 11%; Administration - 29%.  Still an improvement over the percentages in Bishop Sauls' presentation.  Just not as dramatic an improvement as it appears on first glance. 
  • Please understand, the accounting treatment of all the above items is appropriate; we should just not understand them as actually improving our situation.  

> I am not convinced that it is appropriate to fund a new Development Office from the endowment.  I generally think we do need a Development Office, but unless that office is raising funds for the endowment, I do not think it should be funded from the endowment.  This is drawing down our permanent asset base to pay operating expenses.  According to a copy of the Development Office Strategic Plan, the initiatives it is planning to support include the Archives, rebuilding in Haiti, church planting, and support for Navajoland and other area missions.  These are operating expenses.  If this office is important to us (which it probably is), we should find a way to fund it from operations.  Or, be honest about it and change the percentage draw we are taking from our endowment investments to show the Development Office as an operating expense.

> Likewise, I am not sure where the special initiative for Haiti, which is listed as a separate income item and which the Development Office is supposed to support, comes from.  Who created this priority?  If Executive Council agreed with this priority, why was it not in their budget?  If staff created this priority, I think it needs to be agreed to by General Convention.  Which I guess is what we're doing in this budget.  I just think things need to be clearly stated and justified.  Rebuilding Haiti is a great cause, and I support it. I just think we need to decide together on this priority.  

> Speaking of which, this budget allocates our entire 0.7% MDG commitment to Haiti.  Let's decide on this together.  

> Like the EC budget, this budget eliminates the General Board of Examining Chaplains.  I am not crazy about the GOEs myself, remembering long hard days tortuously slogging my way through those things.  I commend to you Crusty Old Dean's alternate proposal for GOEs.  But in the meantime, it is a canonical mandate.  I asked Bishop Sauls how you de-fund a canonical mandate.  He said that the existence of the GOEs is a canonical mandate, but that doesn't mean the funding of them is a canonical mandate.  Sophistry, angels dancing on heads of pins!  He said that perhaps, for instance, the GOEs could be funded entirely from user fees.  So there's that.  But I think this is an example of restructuring by de-funding, which I do not believe is a healthy way to operate.  If we are going to de-fund something, I think we should have a good reason, corporately decided (not by 815 staff), and a plan for how to get that function accomplished otherwise.

Now, Gentle Reader, if you have followed me this far, I congratulate you.  You have now heard my take on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in this budget proposal.  After all is said and done, in my opinion the Good outweighs the Bad or the Ugly in the PB's budget proposal.  Clint Eastwood may now ride into the sunset!  

I think we should adopt the PB's budget, with perhaps a few changes.  Because:

>  It directs our attention to Mission.
>  It contains a few new and needed initiatives.
>  It shows a good level of conscientious budget-cutting, backed up by much better data than EC had.
>  It restores Christian Formation and Vocation, which is the subject that got me (and maybe you) all worked up about the budget in the first place.  
>  It does not make the mistake I believe we made in 2009 of making long-term restructuring decisions based on short-term budget-cutting measures.  
>  And therefore, it provides us some breathing room.  We can work together, beginning at this Convention and continuing into the next triennium, on discerning God's will for this church.  Structure?  It's not about Structure.  It's about the mission of the church.  God's mission.  Let's pray, read the Bible, study, and discern together where God is leading us.  

More on this tomorrow.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Part One

The Episcopal Church's budget process this year could be renamed, as the title of the old Clint Eastwood movie goes, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  Many faithful and well-intentioned people have worked very hard to create a budget - the Good.  In many ways, they have failed, because of the impossible weight of the bureaucracy and the administrative structure we are saddled with - the Bad.  And, umm, a lot of people on all sides have gotten hurt, polarized, sidelined, disrespected, and disregarded.  The Ugly.  

I honestly have no way of judging the politics that brought us to this state.  All I can do is look at the competing budget proposals that are before us and do the best I can at analyzing them and judging between them.  (And by the way, before I picked up this church gig, I was a CPA, which is why I have some minimal level of competence at doing this).  This is what I have been doing, these last few days, with the help of some people at 815 who were willing to answer my questions about their budget proposal (as Executive Council members were willing to answer my questions about theirs).  And as I analyze the PB's budget proposal that is before us now, again I see that it contains ... The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  

No one is perfect and no budget will do a perfect job.  After carefully investigating and weighing the proposals, I am going to come down in favor of the PB's proposal.  Today and tomorrow, I'll tell you why.  I'll spell out what I see as the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and I'll tell you why I think we should support this one after all is said and done.

The Good

        1.  This budget is framed in terms of mission.  2009 Resolution D027 named the Five Anglican Marks of Mission as the strategic priorities for the church, and required that Executive Council and PB&F center the 2013-2015 budget around these priorities. 

Maybe you don’t care about the Marks of Mission, and I will certainly agree that they are not perfect.  But here is what I like about them.  I have seen an alarming (to me) tendency in The Episcopal Church to equate “mission” with social service.  Social service is a good thing, and we should be doing it out of our Christian convictions.  But the church is not a social service agency with stained glass windows.  We are a worshipping community that follows Christ and strives to live into the kingdom of God that he proclaimed and embodied.  The Marks of Mission recognize this – in fact, they declare that proclaiming the good news of the kingdom is not one distinct activity among several, but is the key statement about everything we do in mission – including worship, which is itself a witness to the world.  Mission, say the Marks, is the act of God in which we join God in the divine mission of loving and serving the world.  Go and read what the Anglican Communion website has to say about the Marks. 

I believe that in adopting the Marks as priorities, we make central two vital priorities that have been pushed to the sidelines in The Episcopal Church in recent decades:  evangelism (Mark 1) and forming disciples (Mark 2). Let’s refocus our churchwide priorities to list these first.  Are the Marks perfect?  No.  Are they helpful to The Episcopal Church at this stage in our history?  Absolutely.  Do they push us do things that have been neglected, but should have been central to our identity all along?  Without a doubt.    

Executive Council reportedly discussed the Marks of Mission, but their proposed budget shows no evidence of it.  Whatever discussions they had did not show up in the line items of their proposed budget. 

(This is probably not Executive Council’s fault.  They are a group of volunteer leaders serving for limited periods of time each year without access to good information.  Staff at 815 hold all the keys – finance information, staff to put it together, full-time familiarity with the work being done on a churchwide level.  Why was this information not shared with Council before?  Oh wait, that question belongs in “The Ugly.”)

The PB’s new proposed budget shows exactly how each of the priorities are being met.  I find a few of the classifications a bit questionable – for instance, the PB and almost her entire office spend all their time doing nothing but Proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom (Mark 1)?  Really?  And the House of Bishops Theology Committee and the College for Bishops belong in Mark 2 – Teaching, Nurturing, and Baptizing New Believers?  Seriously?  (If the bishops are new believers, I guess we should give thanks that they have finally seen the light.)    

Nevertheless, the mere fact of arranging this budget by mission categories rather than the tired old categories of Canonical, Corporate, and Program, means that our attention gets focused on how we can go about accomplishing each component of mission.  And that’s a good thing. 

        2.  This budget increases the percentage of funds devoted to mission as opposed to administration and governance.  Not as much as the pie charts at the back would have you believe.  At first glance, you might think that this budget increases mission from 53% (according to Bishop Stacy Sauls’ famous presentation to the House of Bishops last fall) to 67% (according to the pie chart at the back of the newly released proposed budget). 

Not so.  Most of the change in percentages happens because things have been reclassified from one category to another.  (More in “The Bad,” tomorrow.)  I think the percentage of real, new funds devoted to mission are increased here by 2 or 3 percentage points at most.  But in a $100+ million budget, you know, a million here, a million there, soon you’re talking about real money.  There is an increase.

        3.  Some of that real money comes from new initiatives.  Again, not as much as you would think at first glance.  But some.  Each Mark of Mission category includes a large new line item that wasn’t there before.  But a great deal of this money was just reclassified to this line item from other line items that were already in the budget.  According to information provided by 815 staff, here is the actual new money for new initiatives this budget contains:

Mark 1: $2 million includes $175,000 from line 174 (Latino/ 
               Hispanic Ministries); new money is $1,825,000
Mark 2: $1 million is entirely reclassified from line 157 (Grants);
               no new money here
Mark 3: $1 million includes $380,000 from line 94 and $560,000 
               from line 95 (Young Adult Service Corps); 
               hardly any new money here
Mark 4: $1 million includes what was formerly on line 182 
               (Jubilee Ministries), which spent almost $1 million last 
               triennium; hardly any new money here
Mark 5: $1 million includes $106,000 from line 180 and 
               $200,000 from line 236; new money is $694,000

In other words, the increases in Marks 2, 3, and 4 are negligible.  There are new programs – I think – in Marks 1 and 5. 

I believe there NEEDS to be new money in Mark 1 if we are to grow, and this money is supposed to go to church planting, a vital cause for our church.  I am a bit unclear about the relationship between this new money and the Church Planting office that already exists at 815.  The “Reclassified” money in this category comes from the Office of Latino/Hispanic Ministries. 

I am not sure that new money is required at the churchwide level in Mark 5, Care of Creation.  If ever there was a ministry that cried out to be accomplished at the local level, this is it.  If I were PB&F and were looking for money to cut from the budget, I would look for it here, in this new $694,000. 

815 has also not released any details of how these new initiatives are to be carried out.  If there is a plan, I would like to see it.  If there is no plan, I would like to know how one is going to be created, and by whom.  If there is no plan for creating a plan, I would like to know why we need these initiatives.  Other, that is, than to increase our percentages devoted to mission. 

     4.  This budget accomplishes staff cuts in a much more reasonable way than anything Executive Council or PB&F could come up with.  I know, because I tried creating a budget proposal on my own, and it basically involves applying across-the-board percentage reductions without any knowledge of the underlying staffing needs.  815 has access to the information needed to analyze particular positions.  This budget decreases the cost-of-living increase from 3% to 2% and eliminates 12.75 positions.  Many of these are positions that are presently unfilled.  At least one is a program officer who will no longer be an 815 employee, but will receive funding to work for a churchwide network and accomplish the same mission.  The other positions that are being cut have not been released – but I will have to say that 815 leaders are in a much better position than anyone else to make these assessments.  They know their people and their staffing needs – we don’t. 

The cuts are deeper in the area of administration and governance, including a percentage cut in each area, in addition to deep cuts in Human Resources, IT, finance, etc.  More cuts could be realized if we didn't have to pay for 815 (the building) - but any savings to be realized from a sale or lease there won't come this year, maybe not this triennium.  It takes time to sell a large building like that, even if it is the right thing to do.

     5.  The income projections for Diocesan Commitments appear to be reasonable.  Contrary to some reports, the Diocesan Commitments line does NOT contain the full 19% as if every diocese was going to pay its full share.  These amounts have been carefully counted for reasonableness, and take into account partial (or no) payments by many dioceses.  Development Office and Haiti Collection, I'm not so sure about, but these are "wash" items - income and expense cancel each other out.  

With regard to the investment income, I am informed that the Investment Committee projected the investment returns at 8%, but the budget projects only a 5% draw.  I am not qualified to make a good judgment on this, but it seems reasonable.

     6.  This budget restores Christian Formation and Vocation. Executive Council didn’t mean to cut it – how it got cut is lost in a bureaucratic maze.  It’s back in the budget.  Thanks be to God. 

Tomorrow: The Bad and the Ugly 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

More on the Denominational Health Plan

Yes, I know there's an alternate budget proposal on the table!  I'm working that issue and will publish a post as soon as I finish my analysis.  In the meantime, here's this!

Over at Seven Whole Days, Scott Gunn has proposed a principle on political resolutions at General Convention:

Let us tell the world what we are going to do about political problems, rather than telling the world what they should do about political problems.

Well, General Convention has certainly told the US government what IT should do about the problem of health care coverage in the United States.  In 2009 alone:

2009-C071 called on all parts of the church to advocate for universal basic health care for all;

2009-D048 called for universal health care coverage and a single-payer heath care plan;

2009-D088 called for national universal health care reform.

Now it’s time for us to put our money where our mouth is.  That’s what the US government should do; well, what should we do?  It’s easy enough to demand that someone else do something about people who lack health insurance; can we stand behind our convictions when it is going to cost us money?

That’s what we decided to do in 2009.  Resolution A177 established the Denominational Health Plan, to be administered by the Medical Trust of the Church Pension Group.  The DHP has two basic goals: 

  • Containing healthcare costs for the church in light of rapidly increasing healthcare costs nationwide; and
  • Equal access to healthcare coverage for clergy and lay employees.

Worthy goals – but the DHP has run into some controversy.  Mostly because we have suddenly discovered that covering additional people will cost additional money!  Surprise, surprise!  Justice requires some sacrifices!

Let’s make a couple of points absolutely clear:

  • It is absolutely essential for the economics of the plan that everyone be required to participate, because of the concept of “adverse selection,” which I explained in detail here.  Basically, this means that without a mandate, healthier and cheaper employees and groups will be motivated to buy their insurance elsewhere, leaving CPG to cover only older, sicker employees, raising the cost of CPG insurance for everyone. 
  • The mandate has not gone into effect yet!  It does not become effective until January 2013!  That means that we have no basis yet on which to judge the effectiveness of the Denominational Health Plan. Don’t judge the DHP as ineffective when we haven’t even seen it at work yet!
  • Some folks have complained that since adopting CPG insurance, their health insurance premiums have continued to increase, and cited this as evidence that the DHP isn’t doing its job.  Folks – health costs across the country have continued to increase, by about 9% a year.  A CPG representative tells me that CPG insurance has increased by an average of about 5% a year.  This lower percentage increase is direct savings to us ($37 million so far, according to CPG), attributable to the fact that numerous dioceses have already joined the plan.  Don’t blame CPG that health costs in the U.S.  continue to rise!
  • The fact is that the Denominational Health Plan directly pits the interests of clergy employees against those of lay employees.  I believe that clergy need to be very, very careful about voting their own interests in opposition to lay interests.  Lay people are vastly underrepresented in the councils of our church, because there are far more lay people than clergy people, but we have the same number of deputies to General Convention.  If anything, clergy need to bend over backwards to protect the interests of lay people, without whom we wouldn’t have much of a church.  We clergy should not be using our disproportionate power to trample on lay interests.  

Now, on to some more specifics.  The controversies over the DHP fall into three categories:

     1.  Requiring clergy and lay benefits to be equal means either you have to reduce clergy benefits, or you have to offer lay people the same Cadillac benefits the clergy have been getting all these years.  And make no mistake, many clergy people receive true Cadillac plans.  Where most secular employers these days offer high-deductible, low-cost plans, and require employees to pay part of the premiums, clergy have gotten used to expecting low-deductible, benefit-rich plans, fully paid by the church, including full family coverage.  Such a plan in my diocese (Arizona) could easily cost $25,000 a year. 

This is a way, way better plan than the average American worker can expect to receive.  According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average American receives a plan worth $15,073 per year, and personally pays 27.3% of the premiums, or $4,129.  (Click Here for the report; click on “Report” and see Figure 16 on page 25.)

So, in a limited-resource world, do we bring the clergy down from a Cadillac to a Chevy in order to provide a Chevy to lay employees too?  I argued here that dioceses actually have the power to create transition rules to phase the new rules in over time, not taking away anyone’s Cadillac, but providing Chevys to all new employees.  I think this is a reasonable result.

Honestly, I think the gospel call to provide health insurance to our full-time lay employees who don’t have other coverage (such as spousal coverage, etc.) really couldn’t be clearer.  I am stunned that anyone who follows the gospel would think otherwise.  See Scott Gunn's post here for a few cogent arguments about this.

     2.  Some people believe that CPG insurance costs more than insurance under other plans.  This may well be true because of the nature of The Episcopal Church’s covered group – mostly clergy, who are older (and therefore less healthy and more expensive) than the average American.  Requiring all employees to be covered may well bring down the average cost for everyone, because as it is, the expensive older employees are the only ones who have an incentive to join the CPG plan.  That's adverse selection for you!  If you don't know what I'm talking about, click here for info.  

Again, the DHP is not fully implemented yet; until it becomes mandatory on Jan. 2013, we will have no way of judging how powerful the effect of the mandate will be.  It is not fair to judge the DHP as inadequate when it hasn’t even gone into effect yet. 

     3.  Differences in price among various groups in the church (for instance, geographic groups).  According to a CPG representative, before the DHP was implemented, CPG health insurance had 14 different pricing “bands,” or price structures, based on factors like geography, demographic characteristics of the group, etc.  They have already reduced this to 10 bands, and will go to 7 bands when the mandate is implemented next year.  This means that pricing differences are being narrowed already, at CPG’s initiative.  

Please note that it IS possible for CPG to institute one standard price that applies churchwide.  However, this would mean that lower-cost groups would be subsidizing higher-cost groups.  It would mean that dioceses in lower-cost areas like Phoenix and Seattle would be paying extra to account for the higher cost of medical care in New York City and Miami.  We as a church should decide whether we are willing to do this. 

The economic risk of letting low-cost groups subsidize high-cost groups is that CPG insurance would be noticeably more expensive than private insurance in low-cost areas, providing an incentive for those cheaper dioceses to drop out of the plan, raising the average cost of insurance for everyone left behind.  Adverse selection at work, again!  Participation in the plan must be mandatory for it to work. 

So – back to the beginning. Should we spend another convention telling the US government what it should do about health care reform? Or should we act on our own to do justice for our lay employees?

As Scott Gunn says, let’s stop telling the world what they should do, and start telling the world what WE are going to do.  Let’s make sure our lay employees are covered.  It’s responsible, it’s fair, and it’s our gospel call to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

PB's Budget Proposal: Initial Thoughts

I'm working hard on analyzing the PB's budget proposal.  There will be more later, but here are some initial thoughts before I run off to an Arizona deputation meeting!

> It's irregular for the PB to come out with a budget proposal that competes with Executive Council's proposal.  Nevertheless, I am not interested in irregularities, power struggles, or who is allowed to do what.  As Scott Gunn points out, any church member in Alabama could come up with an alternative budget proposal.  I've thought about doing it myself.  What I'm interested in is the substance.  Is there some substance here we can get behind?

> The PB's budget proposal does what I have been advocating, and calculates the budget according to Marks of Mission categories rather than the tired old categories of Canonical, Corporate, and Program (yawn).  I am glad to see mission categories become a priority.

>The chart released with the budget proposal shows that, compared to Executive Council's budget, "mission" has been increased from 59% to 67% of the total budget.  First question:  Do these percentages reflect actual differences in the way we are spending our money, or do they reflect reclassifying things from one category to another?  Initial review shows there's a little of both going on here.

> Nevertheless, there are some terrific new proposals here.  Just one example:  $2 million in grant funding for new church planting.  Friends, we have been needing to do this for years.

> Apparently the PB's staff has been pounding the pavement, burning up the telephone wires in calls to dioceses to wring some additional "asking" commitments from them.  Income has thus been increased by $2 million.  Let's hope this is real money.  But 815 is in a good position to count up actual commitments - a much better position than I am.

> This budget proposes to reduce staff costs at 815 by eliminating 12.75 positions (partly including unfilled positions) and limiting cost of living increases.  Great news - and again, 815 is in a much better position to offer these cuts than I am, or than Executive Council is - they know what the staff does and what is necessary.

> This budget restores Christian Formation as a priority of the church - Hurray!

I will offer more thoughts when I have more time to analyze - but here's what I'm thinking right now.  If we are a dysfunctional church, we will let this proposal get bogged down in questions of who is allowed to do what, miring ourselves in canonical analysis and power struggles.  If we are a church that is focused on change and mission in the 21st century, we will analyze this proposal on its merits, as members of the same team, as co-workers in the fields of the Lord of the harvest.  Let's work together on this.

Monday, June 11, 2012

But What About Jesus?

Is it important that we speak compellingly about Jesus? asks Jim Naughton on Episcopal CafĂ©.  There is a lot we can talk about in church: social justice, exegeting the Bible, even church structures, for God’s sake.  But what about Jesus?

I believe that Jesus was the most compelling human being who ever lived.  He could look at people, speak a few words, and change them forever.  People gave away everything they owned to follow him, up to and including their very lives.  Two millennia later, his life and witness is still so compelling that he has over 2 billion followers in the world – almost a third of the earth’s population. 

Yet sometimes I fear that in today’s Episcopal Church, we are losing sight of Jesus.  We get so involved in our structures and our social programs and our conflicts that we somehow lose sight of the main thing: the Son of God lived, proclaimed, and enacted the Kingdom of God.  And the Resurrected Son of God still lives and calls us to follow him in proclaiming and enacting that Kingdom.

But look, once again, at the matters that consume our church. 

  • We follow a Savior who had no place to lay his head, yet we maintain a vast, hierarchical, corporate bureaucracy, headquartered in Manhattan of all places, which will spend over a hundred million dollars over the course of the next three years – 55% of which is on administration and governance!  What about Jesus?
  • We have so many canonical requirements that we have no money to spend on Christian Formation (or, rather, we choose not to spend that money).  Empowering local congregations to make and teach new disciples is apparently not a high enough priority to spend money on (though the churchwide finance department is worth $15 million to us), so we are willing to jettison any kind of churchwide support for Christian Formation.  Evidently we assume that somehow, someone will pick up the slack – even though we have made no transition plans to make sure that happens.  We have forgotten that Christian Formation is a vital way that people come to know Jesus.
  • The time and energy of over 800 deputies (including me) and however-many bishops will be consumed this summer in an adversarial process to pass legislation that will necessarily create winners and losers and cause some minority voices to go unheeded.  We will sit through hearings, and amendments, and amendments to the amendments, and points of personal privilege, and many of us will privately wonder whatever happened to Jesus. 
  • For some Episcopal leaders, “mission” seems to be equivalent to charity work.  The Millennium Development Goals have become the reason for our existence, under this way of thinking.  Worthy and exciting as those MDG goals are, I fear that we are in danger of becoming nothing more than a social service agency with stained glass windows.  The kingdom of God is bigger than that.  It includes worship, and service, and evangelism, and teaching, and healing, and proclamation - all the ways in which we follow Jesus.
  • We are in chronic, long-term, unfocused conflict.  Just at the time when the long-running conflict over the place of gays and lesbians in the church seems to be heading toward a settlement, people who were once on the same side of that issue are in conflict with each other over a new set of issues.  We have lost trust in each other as faithful servants of Jesus.

And at the same time, our witness to Jesus is not being heard.  Surely, Jesus is faithfully preached, week after week, in our liturgies, and God’s grace in him is made present in our sacraments.  But membership, attendance, and finances in The Episcopal Church are all continuing to decline.  We are not proclaiming Jesus in a compelling enough way that people are coming to meet him in our church.  And we can’t even focus on that decline because we are too busy arguing with each other.

It is time for a change.  The mid-20th-century bureaucratic corporate paradigm was right for the time it was created, but it is not right for our time.  We need to change the way we order our common life together.  We need to find a way through all this conflict.  We need to use our resources wisely, for the mission that Jesus is sending us to do.  We need to follow Jesus. 

Let’s put everything on the table at this Convention – the budget, the structures of the church, the shape of Convention itself.  Let’s not spend our time wrangling over niceties in an endless series of resolutions that will make no difference to the church.  Instead, let’s have a conversation about where Jesus is leading us.  Let’s pray and read the Bible and discern where God is calling us to go.  Let’s network and share and listen for the voices of the ones who aren’t often heard – the younger, less experienced people who have a better understanding of the future that lies ahead. 

Let’s set the stage for a real conversation about mission.  I argued here that it is a mistake to make long-term restructuring decisions based on short-term budget considerations.  So let’s not do that.  Let’s pass a transitional budget, as I proposed here, correcting errors, keeping major programs in place and refusing to add new ones.  Then let’s spend the next three years praying, discerning, and talking together, on a grassroots, churchwide level, about Jesus.  Let’s ask Jesus to guide us.  Let’s become a church that, in every part of our common life, loves, follows, and proclaims Jesus.