Tuesday, June 26, 2012

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 


  1. Susan,

    I have been following your budget analyses with great interest and thanksgiving. I especially appreciate your clarity that pretty much ONLY the staff at 815, which includes the PB and COO, have access to the data and narrative about staffing. Thank you for pointing that out so clearly, and thank you for the extraordinary efforts you have taken to do the spreadsheet work.

    With gratitude,

    Member, Executive Council 2015

    1. Thanks, Lelanda. Thank YOU for your dedication to our church and your service on Executive Council!

  2. Thanks you, Susan -- I look forward to reading your continuing commentary and analysis of the proposed budgets. Personally, I look at numbers and want to close my eyes, plug my ears and go "lalalalalalalalala" while those with these gifts carry the water. Your clarity makes this understandable even to me.