[Episcopal News Service] Uncertainty over the future of the Episcopal Church after the pandemic permeated discussions this week as the Executive Council gathered online at its last meeting on January 25-27.
After three years of church-wide budget surpluses, council members considered how much of that money would be needed to fill potential budget deficits as they voted to move the proposed $ 101 million budget for 2023-24. The Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance reports 80th General Convention.
The council also considered proposed changes to the parish report, statistics on attendance, membership and finances, which are filled in annually by congregations and submitted by dioceses. And guest speakers shared shocking personal stories that stressed that the church still needs to work to support and welcome historically marginalized groups, especially transgender and non-binary individuals and racial and ethnic minorities.
A pandemic can also have a lasting effect on some of the normal routines of church governance. The executive council, the governing body of the church between General Convention meetings, has not fully met in person since February 2020, when it met in Salt Lake City, Utah, a month before the coronavirus began to spread around the world. In the future, the interim bodies will be asked to hold at least some of their online meetings to save money, as part of the Executive Council’s plan to balance the entire church budget for 2023-24. The Executive Council is also considering holding at least one of its six online meetings over the next two-year term.
“We have found a way to do it virtually, as we are currently doing, and that is a significant cost savings,” said Andrea McKellar, a member of the Executive Council of the Diocese of South Carolina, in a January 26 budget presentation.
80th The General Convention has been postponed for a year due to the pandemic, from 2021 to 2022. How plans to hold the rally in person this July in Baltimore, Maryland, are progressing, Reverend Gay Clark Jennings, Speaker of the House of Representatives, told the Council. options to protect the safety of participants. Masks and proof of vaccination will be needed, although church leaders have not specified what other measures could be applied.
The postponement of the General Convention was one of the reasons why the church ended the three-year period 2019-21. with a surplus of more than $ 15 million, of which about $ 2.5 million was transferred to the 2022 budget to cover the cost of the Baltimore reunion. Costs were further reduced during the pandemic due to restrictions on staff travel and personal gatherings, and the church also received $ 3 million as one of many U.S. employers who qualified for assistance from the federal payroll program.
The church’s annual surplus is not expected to continue, and the draft budget for 2023-24. which was introduced in October 2021, started with a deficit of 8 million dollars. Rev. Mally Lloyd, chairman of the Finance Committee, said departments of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, the Episcopal Church’s corporate entity, have been asked to look for ways to cut 5% of their budgets to help make up for that shortfall. Employees throughout the church will remain at 152 employees.
Diocesan assessment payments were generally in line with their promises during the pandemic, but church officials warn of potential downturns and greater financial uncertainty in the coming years. On January 27, the Executive Council voted to use up to $ 5 million from the surplus over the past three years to balance the proposed $ 101 million 2023-24.
“This draft budget reflects, we believe, a more realistic approach to our capacities over the next two years for which we are planning a budget,” Lloyd said.
The council is still considering what to do with the remaining surplus. One option discussed would be to keep money in reserve to help the church overcome unforeseen financial crises. The topic will be addressed again in April, when a meeting of the Executive Council is scheduled in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The proposed budget, meanwhile, now goes to the Joint Standing Committee on the Program, Budget and Finance of the General Convention.
The Executive Council has 40 voting members, including the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Representatives. Twenty voting members – four bishops, four priests or deacons and 12 lay people – are elected by the General Convention for a six-year term, with half of them elected every three years. The other 18 are elected for a six-year term by nine provinces of the Episcopal Church, with each province sending one ordained member and one lay member.
The governing body of the church devoted much of its last session to discussing the revised parish report, presented by the Rev. Chris Rankin-Williams, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on the State of the Church.
The Rankin-Williams Committee worked on a revised parish report even before the pandemic, focusing on new narrative issues that would encourage congregations to tell a more complete story of their services and community. The pandemic has created an urgent need to address short-term anomalies in canonically required data, such as average attendance on Sundays, or ASA, due to the period in 2020 and 2021 when personal worship was suspended.
As the church adapts to the latest COVID-19 crash and approaches a two-year pandemic, the parish report for 2022 will look forward to focusing on “the adaptation challenges the church faces,” Rankin-Williams told the Executive Council. “It’s really a tool for the congregation that fulfills it, and it’s something they can use to guide decisions for their future.”
Narrative issues remain a permanent part of the parish report for 2022 approved by council members. The form will ask congregation leaders to summarize the opportunities and challenges they have faced over the years and invite their stories of “naming, resolving and removing the injustices of racism in yourself, the assemblies and your communities”.
Some data, such as “reputable communicants”, may still reflect pandemic conditions, as not all members could receive or feel comfortable receiving communion. They could still be counted if the pandemic gave them a “good reason” not to take communion, Rankin-Williams said.
Questions about online and hybrid worship services relate to the ways in which these services are offered and the number of visits – without expecting congregations to report accurate figures. Rankin-Williams cited difficulties in comparing different measurements of online engagement and “we don’t want ASA 2.0. We really want to get people to look at church service more broadly. ”
The 2022 report will also ask assemblies to include the age and racial composition of their members. The addition of demographic data to the report sparked a debate among council members as to whether congregational leaders should record racial groups as a percentage of total membership or state the actual number of those individuals. The executive council eventually decided to ask for both percentages and numbers.
The first day’s plenary session of the Executive Council on January 25 included a 90-minute hearing session with seven clergy and lay leaders discussing how transgender and non-binary individuals often feel alternately supported and marginalized by the Episcopal Church. Speaking at the January 26 plenary session, Brant Lee, a bishop and law professor at Akron University in Ohio, spoke about racism and discrimination faced by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
One of Lee’s central points was that Americans of Asian descent throughout most of American history have been misunderstood and, at times, maliciously perceived as foreigners. They are also perceived as indistinguishable, although there is no monolithic Asian-American identity. Lee’s own ancestors came to the United States from China, bringing a culture and identity that differed from the culture and identity of other Asian immigrant communities.
A member of the Advisory Group of the Presiding Officer for the Implementation of the Beloved Community, Lee also said he thinks leaders across the church like those on the Executive Council generally understand racism and the persistence of racist systems. The question remains, what will the church and its members do to change those systems?
“You have to do something affirmative to reverse the systems that are in place,” he said. “They won’t fix themselves.”
During the committee meetings, members of the Executive Council also discussed the latest obstacles in the church’s ongoing work to support the financial sustainability of its dioceses in Latin America and the Caribbean, most of them in Province IX.
“We need to find a way to move dioceses away from the legacy of dependence,” said Honduran Bishop Lloyd Allen, a member of the Executive Council. Such efforts in his and other dioceses of Province IX struggled with ingrained poverty and the unpredictable impact of hurricanes and other natural disasters.
The pandemic was particularly devastating for the people and economies of the region, and some experts warn that COVID-19 has slowed the development of the region’s countries by as much as 20 years in its efforts against poverty and economic development.
“It’s important to start talking and discussing the effects of the pandemic on Latin America and the Caribbean,” said Blanca Echeverry, a member of the Colombian Executive Council, through an interpreter. “We need to analyze the real effects on the population and the real effects of the pandemic through these very difficult years.”
– David Paulsen is the editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. It can be obtained at [email protected].