A year or so ago, I heard Rick Ufford-Chase, former moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA, speak at Yale Divinity School. Rick has had—and continues to have—a fascinating ministerial career so it’ll be unfair to him that the comment I remember best from his presentation has to do with budgets.
Rick remembered that in each budgeting process while he was moderator, some ministry of the churchwide office was cut. The church was spending less and less money each year and so having to pare itself further and further down.
He drew a graph that looked like this.
The blue line is the basic cost of supporting the church’s infrastructure. The green line is the ministries it supports. Rick’s point is that you can’t just keep paring until you get to zero. At some point, the budget would reach a point at which the church could no longer sustain the weight of its own bureaucracy. At this point, he thought, everything would just collapse.
In Episcopal terms, the blue line is the basic cost of supporting the infrastructure of a churchwide entity—a presiding bishop, a president of the House of Deputies, a General Convention. The green line is the (declining) amount of money to spend on various ministries—anti-racism, women’s, Christian formation, youth, for instance, to name some of the Episcopal Church’s ministries that have been cut or are proposed to be cut in recent budgets.
So what will happen when green meets blue? The proposed budget for the next three years of the Episcopal Church made me wonder if, perhaps, we’ve reached that point. The budget, as I read it, eliminates the General Board of Examining Chaplains, the group that administers the General Ordination Exams, the series of tests that prospective priests take to prove their competency in the seven areas required by the canons of the church. The GOEs have been seen as a necessary part of the church’s bureaucracy. The canons require competency. Not all dioceses have the resources to assess competency on their own. There’s an argument to be made, anyway, for national standards of competency. So the church developed the Board of Examining Chaplains, which, in turn, oversees the GOEs.
Our church has these great canons that lay out a detailed structure for a way of being church. Yet if we don’t have the money to put into practice what those canons require, what’s the point? Where does it leave us as a church?
This General Convention is going to name the committee to lead the search for the next presiding bishop. One wonders, though, at the rate we’re going just how much church will be left for him or her to preside over.