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In which I address Executive Council, in my imagination

Dear Executive Council,

Much has been said, and much has been written about the budget. We started out talking about the priorities of funding, which was one discussion. Now, we’ve moved on to the fact that the budget, as it is currently constructed, literally doesn’t add up, which is another discussion altogether.
And not only that, but also you, members of ExCoun, have said that this is not a budget that you recognize, suggesting that somewhere along the line, Something Occured to change the draft budget you passed.

So there’s quite a lot happening now, in the Land of Budget. Many Layers. Much to prompt recreational inebriation from those of us so inclined.

And so, in response to this, you released a statement (& a memo) yesterday informing the wider church that you were “deeply disappointed” with the way the budget turned out.

While I join in your disappointment, I have to point out that this is not the best language to use. Saying you are disappointed with the budget that you yourselves passed is like a government official in the secular world informing us in a press conference that “mistakes were made.”

This budget did not fall from heaven in a Glad bag. No dryer-sock-stealing gremlins were involved. And while I understand that apparently, the numbers weren’t there until the night before, and that you were overwhelmed and flooded with spreadsheets, and yes, I don’t like math either, but the bottom line is this:

While General Convention isn’t meeting, you are the governing authority of the Church. We, the rest of us down here, elected you for that. The buck stops with you.

You passed this budget, whether you fully understood what was happening or not, and it has caused, and is causing a lot of damage. (For example, does anyone know the actual funding level for Formation at this point? Ok then. I’ll return to my low level panic.)

You need to own that action. You need to apologize. Acknowledge that this went badly, and that you hear people’s anger, pain, and frustration. (By the way, this has nothing to do with you all as bad/evil/ugly people. You’re not– you’re loved by God, saved by grace, probably personally really nice people, and nothing changes that. This has nothing to do with blaming you at all. This has to do with empathy for us. These other people in the church you serve. Do this for the rest of us.)

And then, you need to talk to us about what happened. Ok, you got the figures late. Where are you getting the numbers from? Do you know who changed the budget after you passed it? There seem to be some steps missing from this story, and they sound important.

Can we have a wider conversation about why programs were slashed, and staffing levels were kept, because, really, that flies in the face of what everyone, including you all, have been talking about for the past year. What was your thinking like around that?

Clearly, our budget process is badly broken, but the thing is, we can’t fix it unless you are transparent about the process you went through, because otherwise we don’t know what exactly the process is. Right now, I’m tempted, in my wilder moments, to believe that the budget is constructed through sacrificing a goat and examining the entrails under a full moon. (Sorry, PETA.)

One final thing, members of ExCoun, while I have you here in my imaginary auditorium:

Everyone in this church is anxious. Everyone in this church is frustrated. Everyone is even a bit defensive, I think. What we need from our elected leaders is none of those things. What we need from you is a deep breath, an apology, and concrete answers. We need non- reactivity.

Really, honestly and truly, this is not about you personally, Executive Council. This is about a collective choice you made, and its fallout for the church you serve. So, for the sake of that church, exercise your leadership, and make it right.

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About megancastellan

Episcopal priest, writer, wearer of fancy shoes.

5 responses »

  1. Excellent as always. I love your humor and your deep faith!

    Reply
  2. Susan K'wechter

    Thank you for articulating the important points of the budget boo-boo and for your call for leadership from our leaders

    Reply
  3. I can speak only for myself, so what I say here reflects no one’s thoughts but my own, and from my subjective and very fallible perspective. So here’s what I can say:

    I apologize.

    The budget process went badly, and I share the emotions you and others have expressed. I understand your being angry at Council, and I encourage you to hold us accountable for things done and left undone.

    The whole detailed story isn’t one that can be published at this point. Appropriate accountability in an organization often takes place first in private, though the consequences usually become as public as the organization is — and TEC is public. That’s a matter of ethics (give people a chance to defend their actions and confirm the facts before publicly condemning them) and often a matter of law to boot. It might be possible in the future to provide more public clarification of what happened and how. In the meantime, I’m OK with shouldering blame.

    You offer a serious, open set of questions I wish I could answer in full from my perspective. Since I can’t do that at present, I’ll concentrate on how the situation could be improved, with your help.

    I know that trust has been damaged. I know that a lot of people want to know precisely who is responsible for which errors. I like to be liked as well as trusted, so in the short term it would be easier and more comfortable for me to point fingers at specific people, but I think that would be unwise and unproductive at best for the church. It wouldn’t correct the errors or generate more funding for anything, and public blaming could be both costly and cruel.

    So my highest priority, and I think many involved share it, is to do my best working with others to get PB&F the information and support they need to set things aright. We’re also working to identify ways to improve the budget process and appropriate accountability at each stage of it to head off future problems.

    And we’re working in the present to correct things. Canons don’t allow Council to amend the budget at this point, but members of Council are providing and will continue to provide information to PB&F and other relevant parties. The memo that was released on ENS needed to be compact both so it could be passed by Council in time (as it was, unanimously) and so that people could read it in its entirety and get a sense of the kinds of concerns we’re passing along. It’s not meant to be the whole story and it isn’t the end of the story.

    I strongly encourage you and others to let PB&F know about your questions and concerns. Funds for many of the things Council voted for and that people want are in some cases buried under a broader budget line — and not always the budget line one might expect. This is not good, of course. Anyone should be able to look at the budget and tell what our mission priorities are, and that’s not the case right now. If we want to change that, we need to help PB&F.

    I hope that many, many people will provide helpful feedback to PB&F — and especially that they will do so via their blog and via letters well before convention starts. PB&F as a legislative committee can’t start their work until convention, but they can and will be considering thoughtfully and prayerfully what needs to be done.

    I encourage you to ask lots of questions of clarification. If something seems to be missing from the budget, ask whether it’s subsumed under some other line and/or what line(s) could be used for it.

    Your feedback will be most effective if it’s: a) as specific as possible; and b) it takes into account that the DFMS budget is and will be shrinking significantly, and therefore programs as well as administrative personnel must be cut. IMO, that means that a lot of things that used to be done as a big project run by one staff person or department at 815 will instead need to be done in a more ‘wiki’ way, with networks of people cooperating to get the big stuff done in manageable chunks.

    I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Even the Pentagon is crowdsourcing nowadays, and I think it’s proven to be an excellent and efficient way to get things done. It’s also potentially a way to make churchwide work more effectively meet grassroots needs, since it will involve much more participation from and listening to people at the grassroots level.

    For example, some of us looked at young adult formation happening in the church and noted that the Episcopal Service Corps was doing excellent work. Council voted to grant them $200,000 for the triennium to increase their capacity and take their work to the next level. Council can’t bind future members to take any particular action beyond the triennium, but many of us have expressed hope that the budget will continue to offer such a grant to a network that is NOT an initiative of or staffed by the Church Center. I think it’s a good idea to fund the expansion of such an innovative churchwide network that’s proven to be effective, but could use a boost. That’s a manifestation of the ideal a lot of people like you and me have lifted up — that our structures should do more empowering grassroots work and get out of the way rather than trying to control something already doing well or reinventing a wheel that’s already getting great mileage.

    I hope at least some of this helps. I apologize in advance for any errors I might have made in this message, which is strictly my own.

    Thank you for your time and care, and for your ministry.

    Blessings,

    Dylan

    Reply
    • megancastellan

      Dylan, thank you for responding so generously. You’ve raised a number of points which I’d like to ponder before I try to respond. (Probable further blog post–yikes!) But for the time being, I want to thank you for apologizing. It means a lot that someone involved in the process the way you are would respond like that, and I do appreciate it.

      Reply
      • Dear Megan,

        I’m glad people care enough to pay attention!

        I probably won’t be able to give much more information for a point-for-point response. In a way, it doesn’t matter, as there’s no canonical way for Council to make corrections once the budget is formally passed. It really doesn’t matter now to me who is to blame so much as it matters that we do our utmost to make the budget what it ought to be.

        I do think we should keep in mind that a lot of the most effective churchwide ministries we’ve seen over the last couple of decades at least have emanated from somewhere other than the Church Center.

        For example, what are the widest curricula in use for formation of youth, young adults, and for adults in the horrifically few dioceses that bother to do anything about the vocation of adults called deeper into ministry but not necessarily to Holy Orders? I’d say the ones from LeaderResources and Klesis.

        What are the most effective ongoing churchwide programs of formation and ministry for young adults? YASC is toward if not at the top, but the Episcopal Service Corps is crucial for domestic mission, full stop. Sadly, we don’t bother to engage older people in anything like that kind of domestic mission, but gladly I can say that the network is there for young adults.

        I think our first steps toward a ‘kenotic’ (in Greek) or ‘self-emptying’ ministry with respect to the churchwide budget is a shift toward seeing the central functions of leadership as gathering and empowering rather than inventing (or claiming to invent) and leading triumphal processions. Those steps are necessarily awkward, and any movement to fund networks outside of the Church Center will look like cuts. Ideally, the budget would have reflected visibly the ways in which Council intended to honor subsidiarity by resourcing networks NOT from the Church Center but crucial to churchwide mission.

        That didn’t happen. So (literally) for Christ’s sake, let’s hit the ground running now. Let’s think seriously about what work is better done outside the Church Center and get the money to the places where it’s bearing fruit. And by all means, let’s fund at the churchwide level the things that can only or best be done at that level.

        I’ve got eight serious papers to do for my MSW program to do before May 2, and the clock is ticking. We’re all busy. Let’s get busy giving PB&F everything we can to match up the budget with what we think God might be up to in the world.

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