Episcopal Church Development & Endowment: What are the Priorities?
There is a proposal in the Episcopal Church to launch a development campaign that would raise endowment funds to offset congregations’ financial obligations to clergy. At present, congregations send 18% of their clergy’s salary to the Church Pension Fund to invest in clergy pensions. I am fully supportive of that.
Of course, whether the Episcopal Church is in a position to launch any major development effort is a valid question. Smarter people than I are looking at that question.
But I’d like to take a step back.
Let’s say there were a well-organized fund-raising effort to create an endowment for the Episcopal Church. The proposal now on the table is to help congregations fund the 18% contribution to clergy pension funds. I’m in a smallish parish with an average Sunday attendance of about 135 people. We have a full-time priest and some part-time lay employees (Christian Education Director, parish administrator, choirmaster, and organist). We manage to pay our full diocesan assessment, salaries, the clergy pension, and all the other employee benefits we are called to make. All those are part of our core budget. We budget them before other “discretionary” items. It’s a moral obligation, in my view.
But I’d like to look at this in a different way. There is much energy around the topics of the structure and future of the Episcopal Church. Many people are urging that we “re-invent” The Episcopal Church to be more effective and responsive to the world around us and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I expect we all have our own wishes, hopes, biases, and hobbyhorses around those topics. Those will all come together at the 2012 General Convention in Indianapolis in July.
Would I like to see our parish reduce its clergy expense? Sure! Why not? But is that the best use of new monies that might flow into The Episcopal Church? I’m not so sure.
If we were going to create endowments, I’d like to suggest a couple more areas that might be better investments in the future of the entire Church.
Many people throughout The Episcopal Church have decried the high cost of seminary education.
The cost of seminary education prevents some great candidates even from beginning the discernment process. I know some people who didn’t even enter the process because they knew they could not afford to attend seminary. I don’t think “ability to pay” is a reason that Jesus would have used to knock some people out being his disciples.
Too many of our new clergy are burdened with massive debt. For those who do enroll and graduate, I suspect seminary debt has a subtle (or not-so-subtle) influence about where they will serve. Or at least it would influence me, were I in their shoes.
What if we had an endowment that enabled every qualified seminarian to graduate from seminary and move to the congregation to which s/he felt called, without having to worry about a mountain of debt to repay? Would more move into small/mid-sized congregations that now lack full-time clergy? I don’t know, but I think it’s worth asking.
I’ve heard from some marvelous priests – like Tom Woodward, David Fly, and Bill Coats – about how effective Episcopal Campus Ministry was in the 1960s and ‘70s. Not only did they raise up great priests in our church, but those ministries also helped young adults get involved and excited about the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church. Admittedly, that is now a half-century in our past. But even today in the Diocese of Missouri, most of our young priests have come out of campus ministry. Unfortunately, though, we have few such ministries in our diocese. (I expect that’s true of many other dioceses, too.) Campus ministry seems to be an area in which many dioceses have reduced their spending – or eliminated it altogether.
Admittedly, we are in a time when most young adults are not affiliated with any church. Surveys show that they eschew church largely because they view Christians as “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” and other negative adjectives. But what if Episcopal priests were active on college campuses – engaging the issues of the day from our lens of God’s mission on earth? Might more “spiritual-but-not-religious” young adults see in the Episcopal Church as an expression of Christianity through which they might live out their values?
As we move toward the 2012 General Convention, a great many groups with their own agendae are proposing resolutions. You can see all the resolutions in the massive, 800-page Blue Book available here. In that report of the current status of the Church, you will find some wonderful reports and many proposals for moving forward. Some – not well represented in the Blue Book – are trying to think anew about how we go about being the Church.
It seems to me that the current structure of The Episcopal Church might be depicted as a series of farm silos. Each is surveying its plot of land and doing what it deems best. I have no doubt that the various Commissions, Committees, Agencies, and Boards of TEC are faithfully trying to discern a way forward. Reading through the Report to the General Convention, I find many good ideas and good intentions.
But we – like almost all churches – are in a period of re-visioning. Our membership and funds are declining. We can no longer afford to fund all the “good stuff” we would like to fund. We need to prioritize. We need to look at all those good ideas and prioritize them – judging which ones are most likely to advance the kingdom of God here.
If we were to create an endowment, where might it best be directed? Should we direct it to help those congregations that are barely hanging on – barely able to afford a full-time priest? Or might we direct it toward areas that might bring us energy and growth – areas such as seminary education and campus ministry?
I look forward to conversations with other Deputies. But, for now, I think seminary education and campus ministry would be better investments in our future.