A drastically reduced budget has been approved by General Convention. Among the cuts are various programs at the Episcopal Church Center.To think that "the entire Evangelism program ... has been eliminated from the budget" of the Episcopal Church! And with "no explanation given"?
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.
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 ...