I was excited to see the Presiding Bishop’s budget proposal this week for a couple of reasons. While others (such as Susan Snook and Scott Gunn) are in a better position to comment on the numbers, I felt the budget made at least two huge strides forward.
First and foremost, putting $2 million at the beginning of the budget for church planting is enormous. We are never going to reach out successfully to the unchurched if we are not willing to plant new churches to meet their needs. In too many places where our church is dying, our unstated mission is to have Eucharist every Sunday where we once built a building. This budget proposal puts first things first, and our first priority should be putting resources into meeting the spiritual needs of those who don’t currently have a church home.
Second, as a parish priest, I am most grateful for the way this budget will allow me to explain to my parishioners how the Episcopal Church is spending their money. My parish pays our entire diocesan assessment, and our diocese (Northwestern Pennsylvania) pays its entire apportionment. My parish, therefore, pays over $10,000 annually to the Episcopal Church. If this proposal, or a similarly structured budget, is passed, I can go home and easily show my parishioners the positive things their money is accomplishing. Instead of trying to go through the (Salmon) Blue Book and explain that the church is doing more than arguing about sexuality (which will likely be so helpfully misrepresented in the local paper) or forcing us into a particular expensive health care plan, I can pull out a budget document and show how two-thirds of their money is being used on important mission. People in the pews at St. John’s know how tight our budget is and how tight their own budgets are. But they want to see the Good News proclaimed; they want to see new believers taught, baptized and nurtured; and they want to see needs met. If we are doing those things in dynamic, cost-effective ways, they will be proud of what the Episcopal Church is doing, and share that with their friends. A budget like the PB’s proposal is the kind of take-away from General Convention that will make my job as a congregational leader much easier in all the right ways.
Certainly there are other positives with this proposal. Reorganizing the budget based on mission priorities helps link the budget and mission. The reorganization is also a powerful example to dioceses and congregations who are stuck in the staff/buildings/programs/outreach budgeting process made up primarily of last year’s numbers. Our Presiding Bishop is stretching our imaginations a bit, and that challenge is healthy, especially for those who want to budget this way but haven’t yet found a way to do so.
Thank you, Bishop Jefferts Schori, for proposing a budget that can make the people back home proud.