Thank you, Bishops and Deputies, for Putting Our Money Where Our Mouth is


This morning I wrote a post (here) in which I said I hoped we would channel some of the good energy we’ve been putting into the full inclusion and equality of LGBT people into more directions. Specifically, I suggested –

  • Serious work of racial reconciliation (and $2 million had been designated for this work over the next three years)
  • True diversity – and some way to measure it so we know it is happening
  • Adult baptisms and professions – transforming lives, making disciples
  • More new churches ($3 million had been designated, which was more than last triennium but less than many had hoped)

While I was writing this, unbeknownst to me, a group of smart, dedicated, hard-working Deputies were developing a plan. When the budget came up for a vote, the first proposed amendment read as follows:

 Add line 4c as “Income from Unrestricted Reserves for Evangelism Initiatives” in the amount of $2,823,225.80

 Add Line 28 for “Evangelism Initiatives” also in the amount of $2,823,225.80.

In explaining his amendment, Deputy Frank Logue of Georgia said

 This Convention stands at a pivotal moment. We have elected a Chief Evangelism Officer (PB elect Curry). Both houses have concurred on evangelism efforts. But the proposed budget, while making many commendable changes, does not meaningfully add to our evangelism efforts. We have the means and resources to fund this vision. We only need to increase our draw on unrestricted funds by a mere .5% to provide our new PB with the support he needs to help us reach the world for Jesus Christ.

The amendment specifically applied to D005 (Creating Capacity to Plant Churches) and A086 (Create Task Force for Latino-Hispanic Congregational Development and Sustainability). Deputies approved this amendment 571-257, and approved the whole budget 799-24, sending it to the bishops for consideration.

I left the House of Deputies early to beat the crowds to lunch. On the way I saw several bishops (including mine) and told them how excited I was about this initiative and that I hoped they would support it. I described it as an increase on the endowment draw, not as a draw from unrestricted reserves (my mistake). But several said, “You know, I normally wouldn’t support increasing the draw, but I would for something like this.”

When our bishops began discussing the amended budget, they were initially cautious. They asked good questions about whether it was prudent to increase the draw. They asked what taking an additional $2.8 million out of reserves would do (basically eliminate our reserves, according to Bishop Sauls).

Then Bishop Hahn of Lexington (incidentally my predecessor at my parish) said this:

I see this as an investment. I would rather not be part of a church in years to come that has a growing endowment but declining membership.

And I think Bishop Hodges of North Carolina said,

I accept that we should be somber about the risks we are taking, but we are also at risk of not taking advantage of the kind of spirit we have experienced in these past few days. I would not be surprised if wiser heads prevail financially, but I would speak in favor of investing in the kinds of communities that don’t have the luxury of the kinds of reserves we are debating.

And Bishop Hiyashi of Utah said,

We have to make decisions in our dioceses. Sometimes we just have to take a risk, if that for which we are risking is what we believe is most important. We have spoken in this General Convention that evangelism and racial justice are of prime importance to us. I would hate to see us not go forward with this.

And Bishop Smith of Arizona said,

I concur with the Bishop of Utah. I remind the House we just with great excitement passed a resolution that increased our spending on evangelism. The House has spoken clearly on this. For us to say yes we’re in favor of evangelism but no we’re not going to fund it will look hypocritical. The mission of the church is not to balance the budget.

And Bishop Provenzano of Long Island said,

I encourage the House to support this budget as it has been amended and brought to us. Since 2008, there have been 99 church starts – over 70% are successful. There isn’t a business person associated with The Episcopal Church that would not take this risk with the portfolio. I would encourage us to take this risk.

And Bishop Ramos-Orench of Puerto Rico said,

The gospel says not to fear. I know there is risk involved. I encourage us to go ahead and support this new vision that we are living into. This budget will make it possible to do what we need to do in evangelism.

And Bishop Wright of Atlanta said,

I was on my way to lunch and was about knocked down by a clergy person in my diocese who was so excited about what was happening in the House of Deputies. The resolution that passed marriage equality, our Presiding Bishop-elect – and now this money allotted for evangelism. She was so excited – ready to run back to Atlanta. I would commend the courage and faith to us to make this decision.  

And Bishop Doyle of Texas said,

I was invited to participate in a documentary about John Hines. He said he believed if we gave away the whole church, but we achieved the transformation of the world, it would have been worth it. If we lose it all for the sake of the gospel it will have been worth it.

Then Bishop Sauls cleared up the confusion about the source of funds. The document you have attributes the 2.8 mill to unrestricted reserves. We’ve been talking confusingly about a 5.5% draw on endowment. What the HOD actually voted on was from unrestricted reserves.

Bishop Bruce of Los Angeles said,

I support what our Deputies have sent us. Let’s live with sense of abundance, not scarcity. What we are talking about here is God’s economics. It has everything to do with understanding that all we have is a gift from God, to be shared, not hoarded.

Then Bishop Andrus of California said that while we do want to encourage local initiatives, some things are best done by the diocese or the larger church. This is part of our charism as a church.

And the amended budget passed.

Though this may seem to be a risky decision, the good news is that we had three years of practice in the last triennium. In 2012 we started a practice of awarding grants for Mission Enterprise Zones – new worshipping communities among underrepresented groups in our church and new church starts. That experiment is working. This allows it to expand even farther.

In spite of this good news, a comment from my earlier post still holds. Now that General Convention has put the larger church’s money where our mouths are, I hope we can do the same at the diocesan level. Since the budget for the next triennium lowers what dioceses are asked to pay to the larger church over the next three years (currently 19%, 18% in 2016, 16.5% in 2017, 15% in 2018), those in dioceses that were paying at or close to 19% may have some resources available. Every deputy and guest here, start petitioning your bishop and diocesan council now to set aside those savings for starting and revitalizing communities of faith in your diocese.

Budgets are really mission statements with numbers. Our mission statement now says we are going to work on serious racial reconciliation, evangelism efforts, new faith communities, and Hispanic/Latino ministries.

Sign. Me. Up.