If there were fewer bishops and their administrative costs, a diocesan convention could choose to reduce the assessment, which would give local congregations more resources to support their clergy and conduct local mission opportunities. It is therefore useful to discuss a merging diocesan church that would take the heat off of congregations which are facing reduced membership and financial support. Let's face it, as resources decline it is harder to pay the diocesan asking. While it may be true that assessments have leveled off for some, simply leveling off doesn't cut it. What needs to be cut is the assessment itself.
How might we do this? Perhaps we can learn from the merging of the dioceses of Quincy and Chicago. Sure, it is true that Quincy needed to merge by default because after the split in the diocese they didn't have enough congregations to remain autonomous. This is the code word for having enough money to support themselves. In addition, add the diocese of Springfield to Chicago. They have 36 congregations, 5229 baptized members and an average Sunday attendance of 1045. In this scenario one bishop would serve the state of Illinois instead of the three they have now. Think about the financial savings in bishop's salaries and administrative expenses. One bishop could make 50% more money than he does now and money is still saved. Then there could be a reduction in parish assessments.
The ELCA bishop of the Central States Synod covers the entire states of Kansas and Missouri. Having served as an interim in one ELCA congregation, I know for a fact that congregational giving to the synod is far less than Episcopal congregations in that same geographical area. The reason for this is that we support four bishops and their staffs in four dioceses in the two states.
Therefore, consider the merging of Western Kansas, Kansas, West Missouri and Missouri. Western Kansas has 30 congregations, 1680 baptized members and an ASA of 731. Kansas has 46 congregations, 11,469 baptized members and an ASA of 4057. West Missouri has 50 congregations, 11,105 baptized members and an ASA of 3811. Missouri has 44 congregations, 12053 baptized members and an ASA of 4160. Think of the overhead saved if these four dioceses merged. Think of the thousands of dollars that would be saved that could be applied to priest's salaries and local mission. This "merged" diocese would then be about the same size as Chicago. This could happen throughout the church.
Bishops might complain that they can't get around to every congregation each year for confirmation. The answer to this dilemma is simple. General Convention could vote to give priests the authority to confirm.
On occasion this blog has called for a reduction in the House of Bishops. If we take a look at the rest of the 2011 Episcopal Church Statistics, we can find good reason to support the notion of diocesan mergers throughout the church. We are simply too small to support as many bishops and their staffs that we have now. Rectors and Pastors, just think about what you could do for local mission in your community if we didn't have to support as many purple shirts and their staffs. And you might have enough left over so that the vestry could give you a healthy raise.