We’ve been debating restructuring in the Episcopal Church for some time now. As General Convention approaches, things are livening up. Yesterday, the proposed budget for the 2012-215 triennium was released. It’s shocking because of the priorities it sets, the lack of transparency, and the lack of conversation about where the church should focus its energies. Information about the budget is here. Tom Ferguson’s passionate, thoughtful, and provocative take is here.
I don’t have the expertise, time, or inclination to read the budget as carefully as Tom has, but I’m not sure it isn’t a deliberate in-your-face to all those of us who have been advocating a thorough restructuring. There’s more money for the Presiding Bishop’s office, more money for the General Convention office, more money for the Chief Operating Officer’s office. Meanwhile, funding for formation, youth, and young adults, is slashed. These things, the budget documents say, can better be done on the diocesan, provincial, or local levels. Perhaps. As Tom points out, if the national church can do anything, it can provide resources that are of use throughout the church, rather than forcing us on the diocesan or even parish level to come up with our own.
The misguided nature of the budgeters’ thinking is even more obvious in other places. There will be no funding for General Ordination Exams. This, too, the budget suggests can be better done on a local level. This is absurd. I suspect we will have one or two candidates for ordination in the Diocese of Milwaukee. How much time and energy, how many hours will be taken up in 1) trying to figure out how to assess candidates’ competencies in the canonical areas, and 2) actually doing the assessing? How much time and energy, therefore will be diverted away from ministry and mission on the local level in order to do the assessment that will have to be done in every other diocese across the church? It’s nonsensical!
But let’s increase funding for the Washington office so the Episcopal Church can do more advocacy. Why isn’t it more appropriate for such activities to take place on the local level? Or for our interests to be expressed by our ecumenical partners? Does every denomination need a Washington office?
Can we have a conversation about where the national church should focus its efforts, which efforts are more appropriate for dioceses or parishes (spare me the whole idea of provinces), and yes, about restructuring? Why don’t the central offices–Presiding Bishop, General Convention, COO, begin by decreasing their budgets by the percentage decrease in total income. Let’s talk about mission and ministry priorities only after they’ve done that.