From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[ENS] Hearing on budget funding stresses challenges,

From "Mika Larson" <>
Date Fri, 1 Aug 2003 17:46:54 -0400


August 1, 2003

Hearing on budget funding stresses challenges, opportunities

by James Thrall
[ENS] General Convention decisions about issues of sexuality might - or
might not - affect the funding of the national church budget, the
Standing Commission on Program, Budget and Finance was told Thursday.

In the first of two hearings, attended by about 100 deputies, bishops
and visitors, the commission heard comments on funding the budget; a
second hearing Friday evening was set to address spending.

While comments ranged from requests for a more lenient funding process
to simple thanks for the commission's work, a common subtheme expressed
concern over financial implications of possible votes to confirm the
election of the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire or
to call for the development of a rite to bless same-sex unions.  

"If you haven't begun to think in terms of some contingency, then maybe
you ought to, given the decisions that may be made here at convention,"
warned Warren Thrasher of Virginia, a parish junior warden. "I don't
mean that in any way as a threat," but contributions from conservative
parishes like his are likely to suffer, he said. "We have people who
give voluntarily because of their beliefs in how they would like to see
the message of Christ taken to the world."

The Rev. Lorne Coyle, deputy from Central Florida, also warned of a
potential "perfect storm" hanging over convention. "I see in this
potential gathering storm two very strong fronts approaching each other.
And as I look ahead at the effect of that confluence, I worry about what
that might do to the budget proposals that you're making since the
budget is likely to be voted on after some of these events take place."

"We feel we are in the midst of a significant faith crisis," observed
the Rev. Geoff Chapman of Pittsburgh. "We are facing, we think, a
fundamental fracture in world Anglicanism and from our biblical
heritage. And that really concerns us."

His parish, he said, could face as much as a 15 to 20 percent loss of
membership and possibly a greater loss of income because "many of the
people who are inclined to leave would be some of the biggest givers." 

"If we change the church's teaching on [human sexuality], my predication
would be that there would an enormous decline in giving, in membership
and in growth of our churches," said the Rev. David H. Roseberry, deputy
from Dallas. "People will not join a church that is so conflicted on
this issue."

But Robert Wright, treasurer of the Diocese of North Carolina, said he
spoke for his bishop, Michael Curry, in stressing that "our decisions as
a church must not be governed by fear of the unknown or by real or
perceived threats, no matter where they come from, but rather by God's

North Carolina is "strong and consistent in its support of the national
church," he said, adding, "I am confident that we will continue to
thrive as a diocese."

The Rev. Barbara Cheney, deputy of Connecticut, also said, "The future
doesn't scare me one bit." The congregation she serves "is continuing to
grow and expects to continue to grow following this convention no matter
what," she said. "That's because there's a larger call than any one or
two issues that come before us."  

She urged the commission to stress the "language of partnership,"
modeled by her diocese's "glad support" of the national church, which
has helped her increase her parish's support to the diocese. "It's taken
many years, but it has come out of that sense of partnership and
gladness in giving to the national church."

Deputy David Davidson of Lexington suggested it is "not fair" that poor
dioceses like his struggle to give the requested 21 percent to the
national church, while richer dioceses give less. He urged support of a
resolution (B004) that calls for a study of the national funding system
to suggest ways to improve support of mission and mutual accountability.

Bishop Suffragan James Curry of Connecticut made a similar point about
accountability, noting that, although 62 percent of dioceses meet or
exceed the requested 21 percent contribution, "38 percent of the
dioceses of this church don't." While there are a host of reasons, some
quite legitimate, he said, why dioceses give less, some decisions to
withhold funding are "political decisions that in effect hold hostage
the mission of the church."

"As we gather in General Convention to make mission decisions," he said,
"the same people who are voting on that need to fund it. And we need to
be accountable to one another."

Perhaps the 21 percent request itself is just too high, several speakers
suggested. The Rev. John Hiers, deputy of Southwest Florida, proposed
that "10 percent could be more than 21 percent" if keeping the money to
use for local ministry encouraged local church growth. 

"A structure that requires 21 percent giving from its base is top
heavy," agreed the Rev. Andrew Cooley, a deputy from Colorado. "A
vibrant church for the future is one that will require a better, more
streamlined, more efficient use of our funds."

The Rev. Michael Burke, deputy from Alaska, however, said he just wanted
to thank the commission for their part in how funds are being used now.

"You know you spend an awful lot of time and effort, and a lot of
numbers get crunched," he said. "I'm blessed to be in a place where I
see real lives changed because of those numbers, because of those things
you do. The love of God is communicated, and faith in Jesus Christ is
restored, and people are healed and lives are saved, literally."

Letting people know just what their contributions do would help,
suggested the Very Rev. Barry Kubler, deputy of Southwest Florida. "You
can have more money, you can get more money, if you do a better job of
communicating to the people that you get the money from, what we do with
that money. Being accountable means sharing with them the information
about what happen with that money. I think we have a ways to go in doing

Deputy Patricia Abrams of Chicago also called for more accessible
information. "Most people don't speak financial lingo," she said. "They
are not on PB and F, and they are not on PB and F for a reason."

New demographics in particular require new ways of communicating, others
urged. The Rev. Mariann Budde, deputy from Minnesota, said growth in her
parish has been driven by an influx of an "extraordinary number of young
people and children" and noted that 50 percent of the congregation is
under the age of 18. "We don't feel we're on a precipice. We don't feel
there's any decision made here that would change our giving in any way,"
she said.

At the same time, she said, the "people that I serve give according to
their passions," making it vitally important that the church develop
ways "to get that passion across." 

Before the commission opened the microphones for comments, Deputy Arthur
M. Bjontegard, Jr., of Upper South Carolina gave an upbeat report from
the commission's audit committee. The most recent audit of the Domestic
and Foreign Missionary Society by the firm of Grant Thornton gave an
"unqualified opinion" on the church's financial statements, "noting no
material weaknesses, deficiencies, irregularities or unrecorded audit
adjustments and praised our strong internal controls," he said. "This is
the 'best' rating that a client may receive."

The audit finding was consistent, he said, with the report from the
church's previous auditing firm, Arthur Andersen, for the previous two

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