Number Chomping

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This entry was originally posted July 15, 2009 as part of the website “Slouching Towards Anaheim.”

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on it. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” -Matthew 6:25

There’s nothing like a massive worldwide financial crisis to make you reevaluate the way you organize things.

Today from 2:00 to 3:30 we had a joint session with the House of Bishops (they come and join us in the HoD room) for the presentation of the Triennium Budget as prepared by the Program, Budget, and Finance Committee. We greeted the Bishops with applause as they took their seats next to their respective dioceses, and the Presiding Bishop took point on leading the proceedings. She started with a prayer, and then gave a short speech to the House. She asked us to be prepared to help and console those who will suffer from the budget changes. She encouraged us to “think creatively,” and noted that even hardship can bring great things. “There will be resurrection because of this budget” she said.

Every emotion in the room was palpable. The fear, the sadness, the resignation into despair. The Presiding Bishop asked the chairs of the Program, Budget, and Finance Committee to come to the podium and as they silently walked forward I leaned over to Rev. Steven Moore, saying, “I don’t think there’s a worse job to have right now.” He agreed.

The committee chairs began by going over a few very important ways in which the budget had changed: things that had been added and things taken away. They announced that they had managed to include the 0.7% promise we had made to fulfill the Millennium Development Goals (see Vocabulary page), and that we had allocated 0.7% to ending domestic poverty. They said that the Standing Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards would only be funded for two meetings a year for the first two years, and that they were to do the rest of their work electronically and through phone conferences. General Convention would also get an electronic upgrade, going as paperless as possible when we meet again in Indianapolis in 2012 (consider the savings when you decide not to mail the 800 page bluebook to some 1200 people and tell them to download it instead). General Convention 2012 will also be two days shorter, going from ten to eight days, which will hopefully take some of the financial burden off of the Dioceses who must fund the bishop and deputies’ trips every three years. In addition, they also intend to reduce the Diocesan Asking (the amount each diocese gives to the greater church) over the next three years.

Then came the hard part: The budget was passed out. Nearly everything took a cut, some more than others and some line items being done away with completely. It is a harsh thing to look at, and too complicated for me to explain (or really even understand), but we all knew it had to happen. The hope is that the cuts have been made in such a way as to get rid of the structure while maintaining the work of the church. It is so easy, over time, to build up the design. We create a task force and then a Standing Commission. We vote in legislation that then needs education and implementation. In the end, one has to wonder if the only good we have done is create jobs. Creating jobs is a wonderful thing and we are brokenhearted that these cuts will dictate the firing of many people, but if it has to happen this is probably the best way. We must chip away at the system and hope the mission can survive on its own.

When we had finished with the presentation and asked all of our questions of the committee, the chairs walked back to their seats. Without prompting the entire room – bishops, deputies, visitors, everyone – rose to a standing ovation. The work of the Program, Budget, and Finance Committee is difficult if not impossible. They have had to make decisions the rest of us are not brave enough for, and then they have to stand in front of everyone and announce them. I commend them for their work.

Tomorrow we will debate the proposed budget and entertain amendments from the floor. Pete Strimer will attempt to put some life back in to the publication Episcopal Life, and we will see what comes of it. I honestly hope that the debate is short and the decision to adopt made quickly. The fact is that there is nothing we will be able to do to “fix” the current budget. It will be a sad mess no matter how much you move the numbers around.

It was hard to look at. It was hard to listen to. It was hard to see the faces fall when they finally found the line item they care most about. But this is where we are. I had the pleasure a few months ago of listening to the current Artistic Director of On the Boards (a Seattle theater space for the performing arts) speak. He said he looked at the situation in a very selfish way, assuming that it is all designed to teach him the lessons he needs to learn. “Well, I haven’t experienced a recession yet, so of course we have to have one.”

The one thing I can tell you is that from 2:00 to 3:30 today, there were 1200 people in Conference Room D at the Anaheim Convention Center, and not a single one of them was thinking about sexuality. We talk about moving past, about moving on. It would seem now that we have no choice but to do just that.


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