Saturday, July 21, 2012

A General Proposal for Reform

The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of  WhereEver have long and grand traditions of creative use of resources for Christian mission. Here locally we have *** years created a great number of parish churches, hospitals, schools, community services organizations and provided an environment to educate and deploy lay and clergy leadership locally, nationally and for the Anglican Communion worldwide.
We know we are immersed in a new era of national, local and congregational life that challenge us and require a new focus for a radical reallocation of our financial, physical and human resources. We know we have hit a powerful spiritual  downward headwind that causes us fear that we can no longer cope effectively. This fear is born of scarcity. Our fear causes us to see our situation and mission as fatally threatened.
However, the true compass of faith is the Word, Sacrament with the annual liturgical cycle which we know by experience and hope overcomes pain, suffering and death.  All causes of fear are finally transformed by casting our vision toward the resurrection to eternal life and 
full promise of life and love in the Trinity. When we review our diocesan and congregational histories and our personal circumstances, we are to be guided in faith and hope and lead by the the power and promise of Abundant Life.
Abundance is the real dynamic, overwhelming force of life. Therein we can find  renewal. We must see what we have and who we are by discovering the hidden pearls, the dust covered gems in our storehouse of mission lessons, our tales of joy and wonder, that are the vital aspects of our oral and written memories. To do so will allow us an imaginative and rational basis to make challenging and clear decisions about how we structure our circumstance and how we allocate our resources.  We need to become once again rigorous and impassioned disciples and the embodiment of hope.
To do so will require historic analysis and a full review of the success and errors of mission in our Anglican tradition, our Episcopal Church, of the Diocese of WhereEver and our local congregations over the last two hundred years. These are some of review tasks:
-the 20th century development of a postcolonial vision of national churches called Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence (MRI) and its organizational development from the 1960’s.
-the further evolution of MRI into the implementation of stewardship education, capital funding and planned giving and its ultimate success in Venture in Mission as the single largest capital funding in North American Church history by the mid 1980’s, 
our last period of recorded growth, and with it the reintroduction of the legislated leadership principle and practice of tithing.
-the rise of suburban mission development out of urban city  and small town/rural congregations and  the decline of all these entities over the last 50 years.
-a full diagnosis of our various corporate system failures that have inhibited our regrowth.
In the immediate circumstance and as a show of good faith, we should ask for and legislate a seven year plan to reallocate all but a basic 10% of diocesan assessments from congregations back to them for mission development. The plan would include the following:
1. A progressive decline of congregational assessments to 10% of net parochial income (not monies from capital funding and certain existing mission work) commencing in the third year of the plan for  five years so that the diocese  can deal with the change incrementally rather than all at once.
2. The first two year period as the implementation of the educational and organizational requirements as noted above.
3. A firm commitment and plan of each congregation to use their extra monies for mission development and their collection of personal or family tithing commitment statements at a minimum of 33% of the households by the end of two years at the latest.
4. A commitment statement of the Bishop(s) with a personal witness to tithing, to reduce the cost of his ministry and staffing by the end of the second year.
5. A collective statement of the Bishop, Staff, Council, Standing Committee, other official committees and commissions and Diocesan Convention to tithing and plan to provide on site, local leadership to facilitate the plan with the congregations.
6. A commitment of the  Bishops, etc. to a plan for discussion with Dioceses of X, Y and Z regarding the merger of as many jurisdictional and ministry functions as possible in order to free up all existing physical, financial and human resources for mission and supportive ministry and implementation.
7. At the end of sixth year, a full and open accounting of all work in progress to be in draft form for the review of Diocesan Convention.
8. At the end of seven years, the Diocese of WhereEver will report the changes extensively and be able to start the next seven year cycle of mission development and will state its next step in mission.


  1. The Church of Wales is already beginning to think and plan similarly:

  2. Ron, a well thought-out and workable plan that bishops and dioceses should gladly endorse and implement as compared to the “cold-turkey” approach that many of us advocate.

  3. Thanks for a series of serious suggestions. It is unclear how reducing parish assessments will not reinforce the fear of scarcity that envelopes so many in our church. Nor is it clear that a reduction in assessment will lead to any investment in parish mission. Other denominations ask more of their people - and get it. If we are to live out of abundance, why must we cut back on our giving? Are we to become a congregational church? Or are we just reflecting the spirit of the times as reflected in the "Bush Tax Cuts?"

    Our diocese has a staff person for education (youth and adult); communication; finance; and a couple more who do admin support plus the canon of the ordinary as well as the bishop. Do we dump education for the kids fr for the adults? Or perhaps we should just stop communicating? Seriously: whop else is left? Besides the Bishop?

    IF we as church are not willing to support these kinds of programs, perhaps we should give up and let denominations that are willing to put their money where their theology is take over. How many more families tithing would it take to solve this problem? That's what other churches do - but the wealthy folks of our church? Once again, are we applying God's standard or the culture's "tax cut," trickle down philosophy?

    This "cut and run" approach was almost foist on the national church - remember when the budget didn't include any funds for national youth programs? After all, we were told, if these programs are valuable, the dioceses will pick them up. And the young people stood up preaching their truth to the power of the budget cutters - and they won. How many more times are we to hear the mantra of "we can't afford to" before we start to live and give as tho church matters?

  4. The proven key is leadership commitment and witness to tithing and stewardship education. I know this not out of theory but practice in setting up such systems in my own congregational work, in the Diocese of PA and in education events with hundreds of bishops, priests and lay leaders in our work in the Office of Stewardship until the early 90's when the national commitment started waning. Such systematic practice will bring in much more money than assessments but requires discipline and integrity. In my personal experience, parochial income went up anywhere from 12% to 30% (and not all in "good times" financially nationally) annually and over time up to near double in some congregations. On top of that monetary assets increase through planned giving. When I got to St. James Wichita, there was $60K in reserve. When I left, there was $1.8 million and that after $1.2 million capital funding was expended. The Diocese of Kansas has had a good planned giving program and has had somewhere over $16million in actualized and known promised gifts.I would hope some of you old hands out there would tell your stewardship stories!!!

  5. Tom. Ron Reed did make it clear that there would be an expectation that funds not going to the Diocese would be used for mission. Also, the biblical standard of the tithe is an expectation for Christian giving and should be held as the standard for the parish and the diocese. I hardly see the comparison between Ron's article and the Bush tax cuts. In my day parish priests volunteered time to do diocesan work in education, youth, communication and there was a half time finance person, not a CPA. We conducted these ministries with enthusiasm, dedication and quite a bit of talent.

  6. Bob, thanks for further clarification. The fact is also that Tom Carson and I at the Office of Stewardship were advocating voluntary giving instead of assessments and got very little support from bishops for obvious reasons! We were making the point that solid tithing would bring in so many funds that dioceses would have not problems funding any real mission need as would mission work nationally. Venture in Mission proved that voluntary giving to solidly defined mission projects worked extremely well, like $175 million in giving. Tom, if haven't, how you start is to witness to tithing to your cohorts and evangelize to those whom you love and respect. It'll work.