There was a movement afoot in the Episcopal Church. For the first time in my recollection, people were genuinely excited about the E word: Evangelism. We had a Presiding Bishop who was comfortable talking about Jesus. A groundswell of support saw a $2.8 million budget amendment to fund evangelism, especially in the growing and heretofore under-served Latino population. There were revivals planned. A new Canon for Evangelism and Racial Reconciliation was hired. One of the best church planting minds in the church came on board to serve as the Staff Officer for Church Planting Infrastructure. It was looking like we might finally be living into the prayer we pray every Second Sunday after Epiphany, and taking our responsibility, having been “illumined by Word and Sacrament” to “shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth.”
Things were looking good, until the Executive Council met from October 18-21, 2017, and all the hope and good will came crashing to the ground. The working budget for the next triennium (2019-2021) shows a 41% cut in evangelism spending. This cut includes a full 1/3 cut in spending for new congregations from $3 million to $2 million and a cut in total Latino/Hispanic ministry spending of more than 45% from $1,219,400 to $558,000. Meanwhile, as has been noted by several very learned practitioners, including church planter, Susan Snook, mission re-developer, Everett Lees, and Forward Movement Executive Director and discipleship guru, Scott Gunn, investment in the administrative side of things, has increased by close to $4 million in the Presiding Bishop’s office (a roughly 47% increase) and $5.25 million in Governance (nearly 38%). All that, and there is still $40 million set aside to pay for operations, finance, and legal fees!
In the support document for the budget, the Executive Council’s Joint Standing Committee on Finances for Mission (FFM) indicated that this budget has been built to reflect the Presiding Bishop’s vision for The Jesus Movement. They explicitly state that evangelism, racial reconciliation & justice, and environmental stewardship are the priorities of this movement, and yet, these priority areas make up only 10.1% of the overall budget. The only real priority in this budget is the governance, finance, legal, and operations of the Episcopal Church. Of course, we should have known this, since these four items make up the cornerstone of the Episcopal Church’s strategy.
This Sunday’s Collect and Gospel lesson are centered on sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. We pray that we might have the grace to go forth and shine the light of Jesus Christ in all the world, and we hear the story of Jesus calling Philip to follow him. In turn, we hear about Philip finding Nathaniel and inviting him to come and see. Unfortunately, the current 2019-2021 budget of the Episcopal Church would have us turn inward and hide our light under a bushel basket. The Episcopal Church’s draft budget is, at best, a dim bulb. As with all things in Christ, there is hope! There is still time to make a difference. Prior to January 10th, you can make your feelings known to FFM and the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance (PB&F) by way of their survey. Let them know that evangelism is important. Make sure they hear that ministry to our Latino/Hispanic sisters and brothers is a vital part of our ministry. Help them to see that calling something a ministry priority means funding it extravagantly. Ask the question, “What is our chief cornerstone: our administrative structures or Christ Jesus our Lord?” As we saw on the floor of the 78th General Convention, the people can make a difference. You can make a difference.
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.