On Financial Cutbacks: Constraint or Challenge? March, 1992

Earlier this month I received a letter from the Treasurer of the National Church stating:

At this time we are facing the possibility of a $3 million shortfall in commitments for 1992 apportionment to meet budgetary requirements. This is painful and distressing information. Until such time as the Execu­tive Council meets in Milwaukee and is able to review the estimates, of revenues and proposed expenditures for 1992, a fifteen percent holdback on all accounts except salaries and benefits for employees of the Society is being imposed. All payments for the first quarter 1992 will be made using the 1992 budget approved by the General Convention, less 15%. Any adjustments which result from Executive Council actions will take effect and payable in April 1992, the first month of the second quarter.

We have been advised by the staff officer of the Episcopal Council of Indian Ministries that the 1992 allocation to South Dakota is$537,405. The January 1,1992 available estimate, applying the 15% holdback, is $456,794.

As I write this, the Executive Council of the Episco­pal Church is meeting in Milwaukee to determine whether an additional five % cutback will be needed to balance the National Church budget.

Upon receipt of the letter from the Treasurer, I contacted both the Presiding Bishop as well as Bishop Stough, Senior Executive for Mission Planning and Pam Chinnis, President of the House of Deputies to share my concern and ramifications that this cutback would have for both programs and personnel in the Diocese of South Dakota. The Presiding Bishop and others at National Church were suppor­tive, sympathetic and understanding and did assure me that if and when there was a restoration of funds the domestic mission work of the church would have first priority. While we have the support of the Presiding Bishop, the response at Executive Council is dependent upon increased revenues for the National Church program.

In our Diocese, half of our income for ministry support comes from a block grant from the National Church through the Episcopal Council for Indian ministries. These funds combined with money generated by parish pledges, grants and income endowment provide the resources for the support of the mission work of the Episcopal Church in South Dakota. As a Diocese we are the recipients of the largest grant for domestic mission work in the Episcopal Church in the United States.

Given the cutback of $88,000, the finance committee of the Diocesan Council has revised our Diocesan budget. My instruction to the finance committee was to cut administrative expense first, program second and people (mission clergy support) last. The finance committee accomplished this difficult task which was approved by Diocesan Council at its meeting this past weekend. As such, the cost of living raises were eliminated, support staff at the Diocesan level will be reduced, all committees and com­missions are being asked to operate on approximately half their original budget. Niobrara Summer Seminary has been canceled for this year, and the clergy conference has been shortened from three days to a one-day meeting.

Such a cutback puts constraints not only on existing programs but also hinders what we have hoped would be an expanded ministry especially in the area of Evangelism and added ministry through the election of a Suffragan Bishop for the Diocese. It was my hope that we could elect a Suffragan Bishop later this fall. Given these cutbacks the elections may have to be postponed until 1993.

There is a certain frustration that attends such a cutback and the concomi­tant constraints in budget and program. The frustration is owing to the fact that as a Diocese we are growing and building both new programs and new structures for ministry. Despite the positive movement, a portion of the support for continued growth is beyond our control in the form of the reduction of the block grant from National Church. This sense of being out of control is further exacerbated by a trend that is apparent in all main line churches. In an AP article that ran in last week’s Argus-Leader, it was reported that all main line churches are experiencing cutbacks at the national level and as a result cutbacks in terms of program for domestic and foreign mission. Such cutbacks come at a time when there is a growing need for local efforts on the part of churches to support those who have been affected by cuts in government programs that address the need of the poor, the indigent and the unemployed.

It has been my experience that when South Dakotans, and especially Episcopalians in South Dakota, face a crisis or disappointment they rarely complain but roll up their sleeves and see such setbacks as a challenge. It is in that sense that I invite you to see this obvious constraint as an opportunity and challenge. Rather than complain, lay blame or rationalize, our present situation invites us to reexamine our priorities, review our structure for ministry and recommit ourselves to a renewed understanding of stewardship and growth that will demand our very best. In the days ahead. I will be calling on both the ordained and lay leadership of the Diocese to help me in discern­ing such opportunity and articulating this chal­lenge. It is my hope that we will be able to move beyond the problems of simply revising the cur­rent budget to a deeper sense and understanding of how we can best empower and enable ministry at the parish, deanery and diocesan level. Such a challenge will include finding ways both structurally and financially to provide the stability for expan­sion and growth of the church in generations to come. The planned stewardship conference for July will be critical in re­newing our understanding of the importance of stewardship education along with the need for deferred giving to increase our endowment so that we will not be as dependent upon outside income in the form of National Church or other granting agencies.

In the foregoing I have attempted to present the facts, as well as some understanding, and an invitation as to what is needed for a faithful response to the challenges before us. I encourage and invite your thoughts and ideas and solicit your prayers as we face these challenges.

In Christ,


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