Sunday, July 19, 2009

Eliminating Evangelism

I was disheartened to see this on Fr. Terry Martin's blog:
A drastically reduced budget has been approved by General Convention. Among the cuts are various programs at the Episcopal Church Center.

I'm sorry to have to inform you that the entire Evangelism program, including my position, has been eliminated from the budget.

Other program officer positions eliminated include Worship and Spirituality, Women's Ministries and Lay Ministry.

All together, 37 positions at the Episcopal Church Center have been cut. No explanation has been offered as to why these programs were chosen for elimination.

One of the most frustrating things about this unexpected development was that it follows right on the heels of the positive time I spent last week with the Evangelism Legislative Committee as they carefully crafted various resolutions. There were plans in place to host evangelism events with our ecumenical partners, create an innovative evangelism "toolkit," and develop training programs for evangelists, among other things. All these resolutions passed both Houses.
To think that "the entire Evangelism program ... has been eliminated from the budget" of the Episcopal Church! And with "no explanation given"?

We Episcopalians love to tout the Baptismal Covenant in The Book of Common Prayer. As we should. So what about the Baptismal Covenant promise to "proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ" (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 305)?

In light of how often during the year we typically renew this covenant promise to be evangelists, as well as the general ineptitude of most of us in the Episcopal Church when it comes to claiming and living out what it means to be an evangelist, what does it say that we will not be putting our money where our mouths are?

If, as Jim Wallis has often pointed out, "a budget is a moral document," then the values expressed in a budget that cuts the entire Evangelism program are crystal clear. It says that evangelism is not sufficiently valued at the highest level of our Church to merit funding. Which means it's just not that important, period. Sorry, folks, you'll just have to figure this out on your own at the provincial, diocesan, or parish/mission level.

So what is more important than evangelism? Perhaps this report from The Living Church, which shows that litigation funding was dramatically increased, suggests an answer:
Virtually every department saw a reduction in funding from what Executive Council recommended with the exception of the Presiding Bishop’s Office, especially legal funding. Legal Support for reorganizing dioceses was increased 900 percent to $3 million over the next three-year period. Title IV and Legal Assistance to Dioceses was increased to $4 million, an increase of 122 percent. These items are all categorized under the Presiding Bishop’s Office, whose overall budget increased 15 percent.
This suggests a strong maintenance as opposed to mission mindset. The message this sends is that we will protect the institutional Church at all costs, even if that means failing to do the most basic work the Church exists to do: effective proclamation by word and example of the Good News of God in Christ.

All of this renews my concern that the leadership of our Church has failed to heed the wake-up call issued by C. Kirk Hadaway, our Director of Research for the Episcopal Church Center, in the recently issued "Episcopal Congregations Overview: Findings from the 2008 Faith Communities Today Survey," as well as the report submitted to General Convention by the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church. Both of these documents very clearly show the crisis we are in, a crisis which we are failing to adequately address. As I've noted on a previous posting, that crisis can be summed up as follows:

Aging membership + conflict + declining financial health + little interest in or understanding of evangelism = no viable future.

It sounds like we are responding to the reasons why we are losing membership and money by not funding efforts to deal with the loss of membership and money.

There may be an elephant in the Episcopal Church living room ...


Peter Carey said...


I am equally shocked and saddened by the cutting of this whole budget! It seems short-sighted...

...not only that, so much work was done at GC09 to think creatively about this and other areas.

I blogged a bit about it today:

Thank you for your post!

Peter Carey+

Joe Rawls said...

This makes as much sense as a Fortune 500 company eliminating its marketing department. I deliberately choose a business analogy because 815--along with most dioceses and many parishes--have seen themselves as lightly baptized corporations instead of the Body of Christ. That model does not seem to be working so well these days.

I think the most effective kind of evangelism is word of mouth. That presumes, of course, that there is a meaningful word in the evangelist's mouth to begin with, and that your parish is a place to which you'd really want to invite someone.

BillyD said...

The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society eliminated its evangelism budget??

Bryan Owen said...

I've edited the piece to reflect a report from The Living Church which shows that while we are gutting things like evangelism, we are dramatically increasing litigation funding. Priorities, priorities ...

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many people who leave the TEC, if given an 'exit interview', would cite, among other things, the litigation, depositions, lawsuits targeting individual vestry members, etc. Count me as one of those, although there were many other reasons.

By the way, a superficial glance at your website indicates to me that you have at least a passing interest the Eastern Orthodox churches. Should things really get bad for you in the TEC, please remember that the Orthodox churches will be there, and will accept you with open arms. They survived the Ottoman empire and the communists, they will still be there regardless what is in store for us in the coming decades.

- Steve

plsdeacon said...


I have some thoughts on this over at the Deacon's Slant

Eating the Seed Corn.

Phil Snyder

BillyD said...

"Should things really get bad for you in the TEC, please remember that the Orthodox churches will be there, and will accept you with open arms."

Yeah, Father! And all you have to do is admit you're not really a Priest, that the Sacraments you've received (much less administered) aren't really Sacraments, and that it's all been a big mistake. Nothing simpler! :-\

Not meaning to answer for Father Owen, but I've been there , done that (except for the renunciation of Orders bit). Swimming the Bosporus (or the Tiber) means telling a lie, AFAIAC: that the Anglican branch of the Church Catholic isn't really that at all.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for sharing the link to the piece at your blog, Phil.

And thank you, Steve, for reminding us that some people have given up on TEC due to litigation (among other reasons). It's very sad.

You are correct that I have more than a superficial interest in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Besides the fact that my brother converted to the Greek Orthodox Church after years as a seriously lapsed Methodist with an interest in Buddhism, I find much that is rich and good and nurturing in the Orthodox tradition.

Having said that, I plan to remain faithful to my vows as an Episcopal priest, even as I acknowledge that there may be some tough times ahead.

St Charles, Il said...

Jesus sent out his disciples to preach his Good News with nothing but He gave us the greatest 'sustainer' of all in the Holy Spirit. 'Provided for or not in earthly terms,' we will be judged on how we kept His commandments. Help us Lord.


rufus said...

Bryan - Your posting brings to mind and helps explain why Resolution C067 failed to pass at General Convention. That resolution requested TEC to make public the amount spent and expected to be spent on litigation against break-away churches and the source of that funding. The opposition to an accounting of total spending on litigation and the source of that funding raises a question as to whether or not even more is being spent or is expected to be spent on litigation than is in the published budget. TEC is supposed to be a Christian Church and not a slash and burn corporation that must conceal its actions in a fog least it raise a public outcry of condemnation. In addition, Resolution C069 was also defeated. All that resolution did was affirm the uniqueness of Jesus Christ in a multi-faith world. In view of the 40th anniversary of the moon landing I can't help but think of Apollo XIII and its message "Houston we have a problem." We too have a problem.

Bryan Owen said...

Rufus, thanks for posting your comments. I share your concerns.

Some of what I'm hearing in response to these concerns is that those of us who were not at GC serving as deputies don't have the context for these actions. A number of things were cut, others expanded (and not just litigation). Both wonderful things and some gut-wrenching decisions were made with the budget. And litigation is just a reality we have to deal with these days.

I hear all of that, and I know from experience with vestries and the Executive Committee of my diocese that yes, indeed, sometimes we make very difficult decisions in light of limited financial resources. But still, it's very difficult for me to reconcile eliminating evangelism while beefing up litigation. I question the biblical and theological grounding for doing that. And while the intentions may be far from malevolent (I would distance myself here from some of the more mean-spirited critics of General Convention and TEC), the message this sends is one that runs directly contrary to our catechism's understanding of the Church's mission as one of "restor[ing] all people to unity with God and each other in Christ" (BCP, p. 855).

So while I am eager to hear from our bishop and deputies how they understand all of this, the dissonance of these actions with the core values espoused in our Baptismal Covenant (and the rest of the Prayer Book) is difficult for me to harmonize.

Fr. Dave said...

Personally, I don't think that the end of the Dept. of Evangelism @ 815 means much. Other than it's sad that it's no longer even a made up priority. By that I mean that I've have been Evangelizing and spreading Gospel message for years and years and never once have I called upon an upper level consultant for help. I was raised in a diocese that breathes evangelism... All it takes is a desire to win hearts for Jesus, grace, and the calling. I don't think that's going to stop any time soon.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for the comments, Fr. Dave. In response, I'll share the comments I just posted over at The Deacon's Slant about all of this:

Given the Episcopal Church's poor track record on evangelism - the way in which many of us tend to recoil at the very word, the negative associations and stereotypes (and anxieties) it raises, and, quite frankly, an attitude among some Episcopalians that we don't have to "make disciples" of others because that's intolerant and presumes that such persons aren't already loved by God just as they are - we really can use leadership by example at the top.

True, we cannot expect the PB and the folks at 815 or even our diocesan bishops to do this work for us. But gutting evangelism from the budget sends a powerfully negative message about values and priorities that, unfortunately, dovetails all too nicely with our fears, anxieties, and misunderstandings about what evangelism really is, what it means to do it, and just how central it is to the reason why the Church exists in the first place.

Having said that, I appreciate your sharing the experience of being in a diocese that apparently is an exception rather than the general rule when it comes to evangelism in the Episcopal Church.

Joe Rawls said...

On the other hand, GC did budget $100,000 for seminarian debt relief. That should help, what, two of them?

Bill Carroll said...

Terry is a friend of mine, was doing good work, and I agree about the symbolic importance of leaving money for evangelism in the budget. At the same time, the general direction of changes to the budget is something that I support. We need leaner denominational structures and more attention to ministry at the grassroots. I don't think it is possible to underestimate the pace of change that we are going through as a denomination. Present models of ministry will not be sustainable for the long haul in most places.

I say this as someone who agrees with the perspective motivating Bryan's post. Last year's parish budget, we increased "new member ministry," even as we laid off our sexton and made other changes to weather the storm.

Bryan Owen said...

I appreciate your comments, Bill, and I don't want to come across too strong, but I am curious: given what you say in your first paragraph about the need for "leaner denominational structures," how do you respond to the negative symbolic importance of this cut which I cite in my response above to Fr. Dave? Are there legitimate concerns there. and if so, what do you think they are? Or, as others elsewhere in the blogosphere suggest, do we just not need anything beyond the local (i.e., parish or mission) level for this? Can we push a strong drive for evangelism at the local level while we see our leadership at the national level all but abandons such an endeavor for the sake of beefing up what, for all practical purposes, is a war chest?

Again, I come back to the basic issue for me: I find it difficult to reconcile eliminating funding for evangelism while beefing up funding for litigation. Regardless of who's right and who's wrong in this tit-for-tat game that could very well play out until the Lord's return if the status quo stays in play, something is just deeply awry and out of synch with the Gospel in all of this!

Bill Carroll said...

I suspect that more could have been done to prepare the staff or to begin layoffs and voluntary reductions prior to GC. In some ways, I think that a desire for democratic process made these blows tougher than they needed to be.

If it had been up to me, I might have tried to save some program budget and perhaps Terry's position. But the shortfall was huge and cuts were made, more or less, across the board.

My own sense is that the vast majority of the staff and resources of Episcopal Church should be focused on evangelization, understood as spreading the Good News by word and deed. I would like to see less focus on 815. I believe the corporate headquarters in New York model is a relic of a different era. I would like to see different programs located throughout the country in different dioceses, with some financial support for staff to travel and share expertise, where appropriate. Suppose, for example, the officer for Latino/a ministries was headquartered in a diocese in the Southeast or Midwest, in an area of rapidly expanding Latino/a population, where the Church did not yet have a vibrant ministry.

I do believe that the office of the Presiding Bishop, acting on behalf of the General Convention, has a fiduciary and canonical responsibility to litigate these claims. It's not that litigation is more important than evangelism. Maintenance isn't more important than evangelism either, but we shouldn't neglect this kind of foundational duty.

Bryan Owen said...

Can a "foundational" duty and an "evangelical" duty be in conflict?

Perhaps so, if folks like Bishop Johnston (bishop coadjutor of VA) are correct that resolutions like D025 pitted the Church's caholicity (inclusiveness and mission) against the Church's unity.

What strange and sad times we live in when things which are "supposed" to go together now find themselves in an adversarial relationship.

Bill Carroll said...

I don't think they can be in conflict. I believe that preserving our own integrity as an institution is the precondition for effective evangelism. So too, the denial of the Western Michigan consent represented an effort to define ourselves. Things like this consent denial, as well as the passage of D025 and C056, may lead to short term membership losses in some contexts, but they lead to a Church that is willing to articulate and maintain boundaries of doctrine and discipline. Only such a Church will be able to bring a Gospel message to the world and invite people into an enduring fellowship.

I favor settling out of court where possible, but not giving an inch where it is not.

Bryan Owen said...

As I continue to think about it, Bill, you may be right: the Church's catholicity and her unity cannot be in conflict.

It is quite possible, however, for the Church's unity and the progressive ideology of inclusiveness to be in conflict.