Blue’s Clues: Church sundries

sundries sign

This is the twenty-seventh post in Blue’s Clues, a series on the resolutions and reports of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention. The index of posts is here, and my index of resolutions and likely votes is here.

With this post, we get past the Blue Book, the set of official reports and 173 resolutions from committees, commissions, agencies, and boards. As of today, there are 49 more resolutions, beyond the Blue Book, touching on various topics. These additional resolutions come from bishops, dioceses, provinces, and deputies. (There’s also one straggler resolution from executive council; we’ll deal with that here too.)

I won’t keep up with the coming flood of resolutions, because as General Convention gets closer, there will be more at the last minute. There simply won’t be time for me to blog them. But I’ve decided to try to get most of them. In the next three posts, I’m going to blast through 49 resolutions. Today, we’ll look at church sundries: resolutions about polity, committees, policy, and so forth. Next, I’ll look at a bunch of resolutions on matters political. Finally, there are a few resolutions about liturgy. These are somewhat arbitrary divisions.

Without delay, let’s look at some resolutions.

A174: Create Advisory Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations. Full text. Likely  vote: NO.

This resolution would create an “Advisory Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations to be appointed by the Presiding Officers.” Over in the report of the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution, and Canons, they looked at almost this exact same issue, as I blogged earlier. The SCSGCC was asked to consider writing a canon to restore a standing commission on ecumenical and interreligious relations. They concluded that the task-focused committees, such as the one monitoring Methodist-Episcopal dialogue, were sufficient. I think that’s right. We don’t need more committees when our existing groups have the job in hand.

B001: Set Rates for Funding Church Budget. Full text. Likely vote: YES, if amended and vetted carefully.

At present dioceses are asked to pay 15% of their income to the churchwide budget. Starting in 2019, that’s to be a mostly mandatory assessment. (It’s more complicated than the last two sentences, but I think this is close enough for our purpose here.) The point is that it’s a flat amount, regardless of diocesan size.

This resolution changes the assessment to a progressive percentage, so that dioceses which spend small amounts would be asked only for a little, while dioceses which spend a lot would have a higher percentage. The proposed scale goes from 2.5% to 20%. Also, it’s based on diocesan spending per congregation. Generally I’m favorably disposed to the idea. We shouldn’t ask Haiti to pay the same percentage that New York pays.

One might have concerns about whether the numbers would be manipulated? Does this give counter-incentives to closing churches? After all, if I close a church, my per-congregation number goes up, and that could kick me into a higher bracket. That probably wouldn’t happen. But someone has to think through the potentially unintended consequences of a new system. What is gained in this change? What is lost?

I think the top bracket shouldn’t be 20%. That’s a huge percentage to send off to the churchwide budget. Maybe the top bracket is 15% or even 17% or 18% (which was everybody’s number a few years ago). The explanation says that this plan would yield a modest increase in income. What if we, instead, lowered the percentage on some of our less well resources dioceses, and our income went down? As our church shrinks, it doesn’t make sense to sustain structures like we’ve had at a much larger size.

There’s a lot to think through here. The idea is attractive. If the math works — and the percentages are tweaked a bit — I could gladly vote for this.

In case you’re wondering, this resolution comes from the bishop of Georgia. While the request for 2018 is 15%, their plan as of the most recent report was to pay 12.8%. If this plan passed, if I did the math right, their assessment would drop to 12.5%.

C005: Appoint Task Force to Study Implementation of Canon III.1. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Canon III.1 is perhaps my second-favorite canon. It reads:

Sec. 1. Each Diocese shall make provision for the affirmation and development of the ministry of all baptized persons, including: (a) Assistance in understanding that all baptized persons are called to minister in Christ’s name, to identify their gifts with the help of the Church and to serve Christ’s mission at all times and in all places. (b) Assistance in understanding that all baptized persons are called to sustain their ministries through commitment to life-long Christian formation…

This resolution would create a task force that would present “recommendations for the implementation of Canon III.1 in all parishes, dioceses, provinces, and the wider church, focusing on full engagement of all the Baptized in their ministries beyond Sunday in their daily life, work, and leisure.”

This is a real challenge. Commissions on Ministry, who ought to be doing this, usually spend all their time, energy, and resources being gatekeepers on the ordination process. We don’t really do a good job, as a church, at nurturing a sense of vocation among our laity. I’m passionate about this, which is one reason I love the work I get to do at Forward Movement. But how do we get Canon III.1 to have effect?

Here’s the thing. Creating a task force won’t, in my view, do much to change the reality on the ground. Instead, a better plan would be for a group of people in a diocese or a congregation to find a way to do this really well. Create an example. Be the change you want to see and all that. Then tell the story of what has worked. Top-down studies and reports won’t do much. Grassroots stories of transformation will lead to change in our church.

C006: Guidelines for Inclusion of Transgender Youth in our Churches, Schools, and Camps. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

At first glance, this seems a bit redundant to A048, which I blogged about earlier. That resolution creates training materials based on Model Policies for the Protection of Children and Youth, which cover some issues especially relevant to transgender people. But it also makes sense to have clear guidelines to inform creation of policies and procedures to ensure that our church is a safe place for all.

C009: Becoming A Sanctuary Church. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution does a lot of reaffirming, urging, and recommending about how we as a church should respond to the real needs of immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants. Of course, we should do this. I don’t see how that would be a question. But this resolution does little more than allow us to feel like we’ve taken a stand, all without any real cost.

Part of my beef here is with the title. It reminds me of a church I know which proudly proclaimed itself a sanctuary church. Once lawyers arrived to train staff on how to respond to search warrants and possible arrests, in the event they sheltered undocumented immigrants, their enthusiasm waned. I do understand. The possibility of arrest is scary. But we want the limelight of saying things like “we are a sanctuary church” without the cost that comes with it. It also reminds me of an urban church I visited with a large “We Are A Sanctuary Church — All Are Welcome Here” sign out front. The doors were all locked.

I hope we will truly offer sanctuary to all who seek it. But let’s not say we’re doing a thing unless we’re going to do the thing.

C019: Church-Wide Paid Family Leave Policy. Full text. Likely vote: YES, if amended.

I’m not sure why we don’t have this figured out yet. It’s a case study in the ineffectiveness of General Convention to get things done, perhaps. In 2000-C042, convention urged dioceses to establish family leave policies for clergy. Resolution 2006-D065 asked Church Pension Group to study of pension waiver for clergy who take time off. By 2009-A166, we finally remembered that lay employees are a thing, and that resolution urged dioceses and congregations to provide clergy and lay employees with equal access to parental leave. In 2015-D030, we got totes serious and strongly urged church organizations to provide parental leave.

It’s time to stop dithering and get it done. What we need is not more urging — even strong urging — but rather canonical requirements. That’s why we have parity with lay and clergy health insurance. That’s why lay and clergy pensions (though not at parity levels, alas) exist. So let’s write canons to require parental leave. It’s the right thing to do.

The resolution needs to be amended. Instead of just asking a task force “to research and create a proposal for a church-wide paid family leave policy,” let’s tell them to write canonical changes to get this done. Let’s make sure at least one chancellor or canon lawyer is on the task force. No more delays. Lay and clergy employees should have generous parental leave.

C021: Climate Change and additional support for EC Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This resolution calls “upon the Executive Council and its Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility (CCSR), in conjunction with the Church Pension Fund, to identify 10 companies significantly impacting the environment, and be either the primary filer or co-filer for shareholder resolutions creating a designated climate scientist position on their boards of directors.”

I think we need to consider whether or not it makes sense to divest from certain kinds of industries. But surely we can all get behind some shareholder activism if we’re holding stocks where we can make a difference. There’s no downside here, only upside. This is a good example of ways the church can wield its influence to force conversation in the public square.

C023: Medical Trust Provider Option. Full text. Likely vote: YES, if amended.

If passed, this “requests that the Church Pension Group make available at least two health insurance providers in each diocese” and further that “in any diocese or area in which only one health insurance provider is available under the Church Pension Group Denominational Health Plan, and in which the availability of only one provider would have a material negative impact on the diocese’s employees, congregations, new recruitment, or overall well-being, that diocese will be permitted to seek other insurance options outside of the Denominational Health Plan.”

This makes sense to me, based on what I know. I’ll be the first to say that my knowledge of health insurance and provider options is less than basic. So please correct me if I’m wrong here, dear reader.

If CPG can’t provide two (competitive) options, it makes sense to allow a diocese to look for other options. However, and this is a big however, we need to specify that the outside option should have similar benefits to the church-provided plans. It will do no one any good if dioceses cheap out and pick plans that require clergy and lay employees to receive routine medical care in emergency rooms, for example. But I think the idea of asking for two options, and providing an exit if that can’t be done creates flexibility — and keeps the Medical Trust on its toes.

C025: Amend Canons I.9.1, II.3.6(d) and III.5.1(b). Full text. Likely vote: YES.

We started calling our European outpost the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, not “American Churches in Europe” some years ago. A few places in our canons need to be cleaned up to match our current terminology. This does pretty much the same thing as A096, which came out of the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution, and Canons, as I blogged before. I’m saying YES here, but either this one or that one will do just fine.

C026: Amend Canon I.20.1 – Building Full communion with Church of Sweden. Full text. Likely vote: YES, but it might need a referral.

This basically says, “we’ve been acting like full communion partners of the Church of Sweden for a long time, so let’s make it real.” If passed, this just adds the Church of Sweden to our canonical list of full communion partners. I’m no expert on ecumenical relations, so I don’t know if it really is as easy as this resolution makes it sound. If it’s more complicated than the resolution writers think, by all means let’s refer this to a task force. Seems like healing division in the church is always a good thing.

C029: Clergy Compensation by Race. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

There are a few resolutions floating around that address inequity or discrimination in clergy compensation. This one “directs Church Pension Group to develop a strategy for collecting, compiling, and reporting clergy compensation data by race” and tells them to present their plan to Executive Council for approval in a few months. For the sake of discussion, let’s assume it’s appropriate for General Convention to direct CPG this way (is it? I dunno). The timeline is quick. Whether this is feasible can get hashed out in committee. What I like about this is that it requests a very specific snapshot of data for a report that CPG typically offers, a churchwide clergy compensation report. At the moment, they tell us that we have a gender pay gap (which is sinful and outrageous), and I suspect this resolution would result in the reporting of a race pay gap (also sinful and outrageous).

One way to help us get our house in order is to understand where we are falling short. Whether it’s this resolution or another like it, I hope we’ll take an honest and sober look at our systemic racism in compensation.

C036: Create Task Force to Implement Title III, Canon 1. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution is almost identical to C005, which I blogged above. As I said there, I think the best way to raise up ministry of all baptized persons is to show success stories, not publish studies.

C039: Amend Parochial Report. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

If passed, the parochial report would be amended “to include data on the annual consumption and costs of electricity, oil, and gas of all church properties.” It’s quite likely that the State of the Church committee will be updating the whole parochial report, so I suppose if they think this is a good idea, they can make this happen. But I think this is a well-intentioned but flawed idea.

In the explanation, the writers say, “The availability of such data will enable individual churches, deaneries, dioceses, and Provinces to aggregate their energy consumption and take their demand to the marketplace. The Episcopal Church then can become partners rather than just consumers in energy generation and infrastructure.”

OK, so that’s a worthy goal, but the parochial report is not the place to effect a new program like this. Someone can organize an energy co-op or similar system and aggregate people who want to opt in. Forcing churches to gather more data for a reporting process that people already complain is onerous is not likely to yield good data.

C040: Amend Canon III.4.1(a). Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution removes “Eucharistic Minister” from the list of licensed ministries in the canons. At the moment, the list of ministries for which a lay person must receive a license from a bishop includes, “Pastoral Leader, Worship Leader, Preacher, Eucharistic Minister, Eucharistic Visitor, Evangelist, or Catechist.” The explanation gives a reason for the proposed removal:

This would not eliminate the ability of lay persons to assist in the administration of the sacrament, but will make it a local license. Thus, the Bishop would no longer be the person issuing licenses for Eucharistic Minister, saving much unnecessary paperwork.

My experience in parish ministry was that lay people took this particular ministry very seriously in part because they had to apply for, and receive, a license to do it. I’m not sure how onerous it is for diocesan offices to complete certificates or licenses (which could be done electronically), but I think the minimal effort is worth it for a ministry which literally touches on our sacramental identity as Eucharistic communities. Now is a time to increase our engagement with common prayer, not decrease it.

D002: Funding the Work of The Beloved Community. Full text. Likely vote: YES, if amended.

If passed, this asks the budget committee for “a budget allocation of $1.0 million for the triennium for the implementation of this additional work of organizing our efforts to respond to racial injustice and grow a community of reconcilers, justice makers and healers for the implementation of this resolution” and this money is “to make grants to agencies and dioceses of The Episcopal Church for the establishment of such programmatic activities aimed at addressing the issue of Racial Reconciliation…”

We didn’t manage to spend all our allocated money on racial reconciliation in the last triennium. Perhaps one way to use churchwide resources — and a way that has worked very well in the church planting community — is to make grants, and then tell success stories. So in addition to creating churchwide programs from scratch, some of our resources can be used to fund innovative, transformational work.

If we give away a million dollars to dioceses and agencies working on racial reconciliation, we’ll learn a great deal about what works. This just needs to be amended to clarify who makes the grants (committee of executive council? church center staff?) and to whom the recipients report. We need to make sure that every single grantee publicly shares how their project has worked or not worked. Maybe it’s an ENS article. Maybe it’s a blog. Maybe it’s a series of videos. But something.

Disclosure: I serve at Forward Movement, an agency of the Episcopal Church.

D005 Gather Racial/Ethnic Statistics About Episcopal Elections and Clergy Compensation. Full text. Likely vote: NO, because there are better resolutions on this subject.

This is another resolution to gather data on clergy compensation and, in this case, demographics on episcopal election processes. As I’ve said before, we need to gather the data on clergy compensation by race (in addition to gender, as we do today). And we need to gather data on episcopal elections. I love the idea behind this resolution, but there are better ones floating around, which are the ones likely to make it out of committee.


Stay tuned for the next batch. Blue has a lot of political resolutions to sniff out!

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9 Responses

  1. Sarah Lawton says:

    Scott, as a member of a sanctuary congregation – we are currently supporting three young people who have fled violence in Central America, two of them unaccompanied minors still in high school – I wonder why you are so quick to focus on the legal issue of providing harbor for immigrants under final deportation orders. Some churches may be called to a ministry of protection and civil disobedience in that circumstance, but most churches are not called to that, for various reasons.

    We need more involvement in all aspects of the sanctuary movement, mostly in the form of action that is perfectly legal: accompanying families to court, helping kids navigate social services and school, advocating with our statehouses and local law enforcement to back down from routine reporting of people to ICE; in some cases, training as rapid responders who can be witnesses when a raid is taking place.

    Sanctuary is about witnessing with word and deed, within a broken system, to the dignity of every person, including our immigrant neighbors. It’s saying that while laws exist, and nations and empires grant all kinds of statuses to all kinds of people–and take it away, too–that in our sanctuaries, in our view of creation, we are all, first, children of God.

    There are many ways to do this, 99% of them legal. At a minimum, can’t our congregations commit to praying for refugees and immigrants each Sunday? This is all part of being called to be a sanctuary church.

    You make it sound like declaring this is empty words, but look at what the Diocese of Los Angeles has done since declaring themselves a sanctuary diocese in December 2016 – see I actually agree with you that the way of Jesus is costly, if we take it seriously. I see people getting pulled into this work, and forming relationships, and giving more of themselves than they expected. If things keep going as they have been, more may be asked of us, as a Christian community. I hope we’re ready. I see this resolution as calling us to a deeper response.

    By the way, there will be a joint hearing for Committees 7 & 8 (US and International Social Justice) on all the migration resolutions, on the morning of July 7. I expect it will be well-attended. There are more resolutions coming, including at least one with an international perspective. Human migration is only going to increase in coming years thanks to climate change – and faith-based communities have a role to play to lifting a moral voice and offering practical help.

    • Scott Gunn says:

      Thank you, as always, for your comment here. I very much appreciate your consistent (and patient!) engagement here.

      You are absolutely right to remind me — and readers of the blog — that the sanctuary movement is broader than the couple of examples I gave. I should educate myself a bit more, clearly, on when “sanctuary” applies as opposed to generally helping folks with immigration issues. These are all noble and holy ventures; my only question here is when the term sanctuary applies.

      Anyway, all that aside, I just don’t see how this particular resolution will do anything. I just don’t see much of a connection between people sitting in a convention center casting an easy vote and the hard work that you describe. If there were specific, actionable, resolves, sure. If there were proposed policy changes, sure. If we adjourned from voting for a day to engage in political action, sure. But I fear that too many of us feel that we have taken a prophetic stand when resolutions such as this one pass, and I don’t see that.

      As I’ve said many times before, I do hope our church acts boldly and prophetically.

  2. jimboston says:

    In regard to “C029: Clergy Compensation by Race”, this was studied about a decade ago by the Pension Fund. To their surprise, there was a pay gap between white and African American clergy. The African Americans had significantly higher compensation. The details can be readily obtained from their research office.

    • Scott Gunn says:

      The study you refer to, from 2006, does say that “African-American clergy, on average, have higher levels of compensation than Caucasian clergy, while Hispanic clergy have lower levels of compensation than both African-American and Caucasian clergy.”

      What we don’t know about from the study is regional differences. For example, if African-Americans primarily service coastal or urban communities, that would skew the averages. We’d need to see regional differences by race to know what’s going on here.

      And this hasn’t been studied since 2006, which is a real problem.

  3. jimboston says:

    In regard to Sarah Lawton’s input on the sanctuary movement, one of the topics addressed at the 2015 Annual Conference of GEMN (the Global Episcopal Mission Network) was how refugees and migrants are a concern of most of Province 9 dioceses. One could start by talking with the bishop of Puerto Rico or Colombia.

  4. Sarah Lawton says:

    Scott, you ask a good question about when the term “sanctuary” applies. I think of this in several ways.

    First is a context that is increasingly brutal, both in the USA and globally, for migrants and refugees. Our US immigration system has been broken for a long time, and the brokenness predates the current administration; however, our current president has greatly intensified our malicious treatment of immigrants, by design, and in violation of international law–most recently, in the new official policy to separate children from their parents as they are seeking asylum. We are also seeing an international context of increasing nationalism and xenophobia. All this even as we know that global human migration is going to increase in the coming decades due to climate change, both because loss of human habitat and because of climate-driven conflict and economic instability.

    This is not a normal time in which we as a church maintain our (excellent) professional and well-oiled services to aid refugee resettlement as any well-off nation, and all Christians, should. This is a time of terrifying crisis for our neighbors already here and for those arriving at our borders, and it’s not going to resolve itself anytime soon. In a time of crisis, we are called to act in extraordinary ways.

    Second is the word “sanctuary,” which means a place of refuge or safety, and also, a holy place. As Christians, we certainly live in this world and are governed by the laws of whatever nation we live in; but we are also not of this world, through our baptism in Christ. The word sanctuary is meant to convey not just a physical space of refuge, but a spiritual community of refuge and holiness, within which we live out our promise to respect the dignity of every human being.

    As Christians, we a have a prime directive, right? To love God and love our neighbor. We know from Jesus that our neighbor includes the stranger – and we know from Hebrew and Christian Scriptures that we are called to welcome the stranger. So if the immigrant strangers among us – who are really our neighbors – are being terrorized–and they really are being terrorized–then how do we witness to their humanity? How do we stop the violence being waged against them? How do we act, to paraphrase Bishop Michael Curry, as if we really are all one human family?

    There are so many ways–many listed as suggestions in the sanctuary resolution. Start by praying for immigrants and refugees, because it’s really hard to make someone “other” when we’re praying for their well-being. Call the Roman Catholic priest down the street–is their parish working with immigrants, and could they use our help? What about local social service agencies? There may be interfaith coalitions and community organizations already active in our towns and cities that are holding vigils at detention centers and sponsoring busloads of advocates to go to the state capital to work for more humane laws– and they may call themselves the “New Sanctuary Movement.”

    The point is not to put up a sign on the church and wait for people to come. The point is to go out into our community and see what needs to be done, and how we can help. If we do that, believe me, the word will get out that we are a welcoming sanctuary for immigrants – both a refuge and a holy place. If we do this, it will transform us. It will bring God into our communities in ways we can’t imagine until we encounter it. Physical sanctuary in the narrow sense may be a part of it, for some churches, but it’s so much wider than that. It’s how we relate to the world, and our neighbors.

    Please know – I don’t expect the world to shift on its axis because of a General Convention resolution. I’m a church geek, but I’m not delusional. Still, it matters. Speaking personally, I can’t stop bringing this tremendous lament and cry for justice of my neighbors to the councils of the church. How can we do otherwise? We can’t not talk about this crisis and our response to it. This is not only about making a statement; it’s about deepening the conversation, as leaders of the church from all over, about how we can respond, how we must respond, because this crisis is going to deepen. It is already enveloping our neighbors, and they need our help.

    The word “sanctuary” is a powerful one for us Christians. Wherever we are, whatever nation we live in, we should be asking if we are that kind of community a holy community, a community that loves our neighbors and welcomes the stranger – and if not, we should be praying for the Holy Spirit to lead us there.

    Scott, thank you for providing this forum and for letting me go on. I also have appreciated our conversations in the context of this series. I look forward to seeing you in few weeks in Austin.

  5. Sarah Lawton says:

    PS – Jim Boston is absolutely right – we also must be engaging this issue internationally, through the UN global compact on migration process for faith-based consultation, and by talking with our dioceses in Province IX and their needs and concerns. It’s one world we live in – this crisis crosses borders.

  6. Matthew Mead says:

    Hi Scott,

    Thanks for your summaries and thoughts. I want you to know that it is very much appreciated. Your blog serves as a nice refresher after reading through everything.

    I have one comment that I want to share with you because your platform is large, and you offered public support for B001, and I think a critique is warranted. Perhaps others will read it.

    B001 is an interesting idea, but I believe it would prove quite problematic if enacted.

    1) COST OF LIVING. It doesn’t take into account Cost of Living differences between various locales. For example (to use my diocese and the proposer’s) NY and GA have quite different Costs of Living. Food is more expensive, utilities are more expensive, rent is more expensive, salaries are lower, taxes are lower, etc.

    You can compare cities easily and there are numerous online resources to do so. Compare Poughkeepsie which is one of the lesser known and blue collar cities in EDNY to Savannah, Georgia.

    $25,000 in Poughkeepsie, New York is equal to $19,038 in Savannah, Georgia.

    Money from diocesan budgets that support congregations include programs, grants, staff, etc. Throughout NY these are higher in large part because the cost of living is much higher. This is true throughout the Northeast. I’m not sure how accurate the online searches are, but you can do them all over the place and easily determine cost of living differences between two given cities. Sometimes the difference is enormous, and generally the Cost of Living is much higher in the northeast than in the south or the midwest. This is also true of the west-coast, as well as places like Chicago. Some places simply cost more to live and (surprise) keep a church open.

    A diocese in a high cost of living area might offer “the same” support to a congregation that a diocese in a low cost of living area might, but that “same” support is going to be significantly more dollars in the high cost of living area. Tying the assessment percentage to that dollar amount means that every diocese in high cost of living areas will be punished for being in a higher cost of living area, while dioceses in low cost of living areas will be given a financial break. There is more to it than “if the math works”. You have to actually take into account the reality behind the numbers.

    2) SUPPORTING CONGREGATIONS IS A GOOD THING: The Cost of Living issue aside, the underlying assumption seems to me to be that it is BAD for dioceses to support their congregations. If you support your congregations above a certain dollar point, then you get punished with a higher assessment, which in turn means you probably have to ratchet back your support for congregations. This is backwards, and it will make it seem like the dioceses that aren’t, can’t, or don’t need to support their congregations are the models of good diocesan oversight and collegiality. This is just not the case. We ought to be encouraging financial support of our congregations, not punishing dioceses that do that. Tying increased assessment percentages to increased dollars given to congregations basically says: Dioceses that support their congregations more must support TEC more, so that they won’t be able to support their congregations as much.

    3) RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH: This resolution cites no research. Maybe there is an appendix that I missed (if so, please point it out). It seems to be a stab in the dark by picking a formula that slightly ups the dollar amount for TEC and doesn’t decimate the diocese(s?) of the sponsors.

    I have some experience in this, and I get it. From 2015-2017 the Diocese of New York ran a Strategic Plan. I chaired the Task Force on Finances (I’m also the chair of our budget committee and have been since I have no idea when). We looked at our assessment formula for months. We gathered info about what other dioceses do, we ran spreadsheets, we had scores of formulas and models, we received and tried numerous ideas. Often someone would come up with what seemed like an interesting idea, but once that was run through some models it became clear that an out of the box or interesting idea isn’t always good policy, in fact it often turns out to be very bad policy, even “if the math works”. We ended up realizing that we needed more study before we could make any recommendation. Changing the assessment formula in any meaningful way would have huge repercussions across the diocese, and we wanted to make sure that if and when it was done, it was done thoughtfully and carefully.

    That wasn’t good enough for everyone. “Have you tried ______?” was invariably a question we were asked again and again. “Yes. It would decimate 20-30 healthy churches.” OR “Yes. It would force us to lay off half the diocesan staff and stop all grants, which in turn would decimate 80-100 small congregations.”

    “How can you be sure?” “Because we did the research.”

    Every diocese is different. Some are huge, some are small, some are poor, some are wealthy, some have lots of healthy churches, some have lots of struggling churches, some are a mix, some are in lower cost of living areas, some in high, etc. A diocese, unlike an individual, doesn’t have the luxury of fleeing to a low cost of living and low tax area, nor does it have the luxury of choosing to have mostly healthy churches that don’t rely entirely on diocesan support.

    This resolution does not have any research attached to it. We haven’t even settled into the most recent assessment model, and we are trying to change it without doing any research?

    I agree that a flat tax of 15% isn’t necessarily the best. If we are going to change models or formulas we need to do significant research to see how it will affect every diocese, not just a few, not just the TEC bottom line, not just our own dioceses. Proper research means seeing what affect this would have in Georgia, Haiti, NY, and every single other diocese.

    Anyway, just my two cents. See you next week!


    • Scott Gunn says:

      I 100% agree that this plan, as proposed is not the right plan. And I also think that a 15% flat rate is the wrong plan. So there’s probably a way to do better than a flat 15%. We certainly do need to think through the math. So, I think we’re agreed.

      My YES comes because I have to vote YES or NO on every resolution in the HOD, so I have to come down on one side or the other here, too. My hope is that, most of all, this resolution engenders conversation about our slightly broken assessment system.

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