Executive Council Restores Planned Giving, Allocates New Money

Episcopal News Service. June 26, 1996 [96-1499]

Jerry Hames, Editor of Episcopal Life

(ENS) Meeting amid the mountains of Charleston, West Virginia, Executive Council at its June gathering focused on the ministries of small churches while it heard some long-awaited good news about finances.

With more funds than expected left over from the 1995 budget, the council began to reverse some of past years' ravages to the national program, beginning with the restoration of a planned giving and development office at the Episcopal Church Center in New York.

Church executives admitted they made a mistake in 1994 when they closed the office that had worked with parishes and dioceses to help Episcopalians make choices about their financial assets in their wills.

"Dropping planned giving is somewhat akin to eating your seed corn," said treasurer Stephen Duggan. Council approved up to $200,000 in 1996 to reopen the office and was presented with a projected annual budget for the office of $400,000 beginning in 1997.

Approval came despite reservations from some council members and an unsuccessful attempt to delay the move while other needs were considered.

"I don't think there can be a higher priority than this," said Bishop Christopher Epting of Iowa. With trillions of estate dollars expected to pass from one generation to the next in coming years, he noted, "we're way behind others -- universities, colleges and other denominations."

"This is critically important for the church," said the Rev. Randall Chase of Massachusetts. "If we defer this, we will lose."

Council also restored to the interim bodies of General Convention much of the money it cut in 1994. Eight standing commissions, as well as the nominating committee for the next presiding bishop, are among canonical and program activities that will receive funds totaling an additional $500,000.

A rosier financial picture

Council's decisions came on the heels of an announcement by the treasurer that $1.6 million remained unspent from 1995. About $1 million of that amount is available for 1996 budgetary expenses, he said.

In addition, Duggan told council, the financial review of accounts from the period of time when Ellen Cooke was treasurer has revealed that the national church holds about $8 million in unspent funds from 1994 and earlier. Duggan said this was cumulative money from liability and reserve accounts still on the books.

He said that council needed to know there are resources available from prior years that could be spent if it decided there were worthwhile and immediate needs. However, he warned that the $8 million should not be seen as new money.

"We need to practice budget discipline," he said. "Some of the money has been earmarked for use, such as building repair and communication. We have some very major needs that have never been addressed."

Duggan urged the council to be "aggressive in getting this organization back on track in performing the mission that it's called to do" by "identifying places where we can start to make a difference."

The administrative and finance committee endorsed a decision to seek a new investment advisor and to make regular, periodic audits of all trust fund accounts. Trust funds have not been audited separately from general funds in the past.

Duggan told the committee that the church auditing company, Arthur Anderson, has looked at several trust funds at random to insure that money was being spent for the purpose for which it was designated. "Based upon all the trust accounts inspected by the attorney and by the auditor, there were far fewer discrepancies than we might have anticipated," he said.

Episcopal Church Foundation made offer

In saying yes to a planned giving office, council was effectively saying no to an offer from the Episcopal Church Foundation, which opened a planned giving office only months after the church center's office was closed.

In May, the council's administration and finance committee rejected an offer from the foundation to administer the national church's pooled-income funds from planned giving.

"I'm disappointed and perplexed," said the foundation's president, George Fowlkes, who predicted that there would be confusion over the two offices.

"The foundation felt it was too important to drop it," Fowlkes said. "We moved into a void; we picked it up at no cost to the national church and are running a planned-giving program that many people are happy with. I don't think Executive Council had all the facts."

Fowlkes says the foundation has now invested more than $500,000 in its planned giving program.

But Duggan said that while the church was grateful for the foundation's work in recent years, members of administration felt "very strongly that this should be a function of the church center." The new office, he said, would work closely with existing national stewardship programs, and would focus on assisting local churches and dioceses.

"If we have strong stewardship and planned giving at the local level, the national church will not have to worry," he said.

Communication key to church's future

In his opening address to the council, Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning stressed the importance of clear communication as the church continues to wrestle with difficult issues.

Perhaps the majority of the church, and certainly the majority of bishops, "speak with restraint and listen with charity," he said. "We need to affirm all such temperate people and pray more will adopt their way of being."

At the same time, "it is very clear to me that parties on all sides of these difficult issues believe they are on the side of the angels," he said. "Unfortunately, many of those the most passionate about the issues are victims of their own hyperbole, which makes communication difficult at best."

Pamela P. Chinnis, president of the House of Deputies and vice chair of the council, echoed Browning in her address. Since she was prevented by illness from attending the meeting, it was read on her behalf.

The use of labels such as "conservative" and "liberal" reflects "our awareness that there are radical differences within our ranks," she said. "We are not called to an enforced unanimity that would make labels useless, but to a love that resists using labels as weapons, and a generosity of spirit willing to tolerate ambiguity and conflict no matter how painful it gets."

Browning said that in the face of such divisive questions as the ordination of homosexuals, he has seen his responsibility to keep all parties at the table. "That has been extraordinarily difficult," he said. "It would be far less complex to take up one position or another and advocate for it with all my might. Let me tell you I have been tempted."

Browning declined to comment about results of the recent heresy case involving Bishop Walter Righter, who ordained a non-celibate homosexual as a deacon, but added, "I can say that I not only believe, I know that it is possible for gay men and women in committed relationships to be wholesome examples. We see such examples every day."

In keeping with the council's ongoing emphasis on racism, Browning noted that a new initiative for dialogue on racism will begin on Martin Luther King Day in 1997. "We can honor Dr. King and begin the hard work of talking together about the sin of racism," he said. "To defeat racism, hearts must be converted and conversion can happen through conversation."

Council approved a $85,000 grant from the Constable Fund to produce and distribute material to support the church-wide racism study. They also approved a resolution expressing "deep anguish and concern" over the recent pattern of arson attacks against black churches, and urged congregations, dioceses and other Episcopal organizations to "find tangible ways to assist in the rebuilding of these churches."

A diocese of small churches

During an evening's presentation hosted by the Diocese of West Virginia, council members were treated to a typical church covered-dish supper in the basement of the diminutive Good Shepherd Church in Hansford, West Virginia.

Being Episcopalian in a diocese of small churches divided by rugged mountains is a challenge, the council was told.

"Getting around our state. . . is a very real burden we face as we go out to do ministry," noted the Rev. Elizabeth Walker in her sermon at the church. "Sometimes it is true that 'you can't get there from here.'" Bishop John Smith, she observed, travels 40,000 miles a year to visit all the diocese's congregations.

"Everything here is highly relational," said Smith. "The only way to be bishop of this wild, wonderful state is to be out among the people."

Stereotypes of West Virginians as "backward, ignorant hillbillies who end our sentences with prepositions and marry our cousins" obscure a reality of simple, hard-working folk who face harsh poverty and limited opportunities, Walker said.

Exploitation of the state's mineral resources, with most of the profit going to out-of-state companies, has meant exploitation of the people as well, said Victoria Smith, wife of the bishop. The high level of violence in West Virginia culture, she maintained, is "related to the violent use of the land."

With the slogan that they are "Mission Minded Mountaineers," members of the diocese have developed alternative forms of mutual support, such as cluster ministries that merge the strengths of several small congregations, the council was told. And too often, they were also told, national programs and policies have little application to such a diocese of tiny parishes.

Noting that 1997 will be the Year of the Small Church, Diane Porter, senior executive for program, said that recent visits by council members to a number of dioceses have helped sharpen the focus on small church ministry. "We hear over and over again that what we produce is not all times relevant to the small church," she said.

Council resolutions address international issues

In resolutions on international issues, council urged the U.S. government to use its full diplomatic capability to seek a negotiated peace in Liberia and called on the U.N. Security Council to form a peacekeeping force to end violence and chaos. It commended West African countries which have provided refuge to Liberians and also called on the international community to provide a more generous response to countries which are assisting these refugees.

Council was told that the civil war has destroyed the country's infrastructure and the possibility of reaching a peace accord is remote. The Presiding Bishop's Fund for World Relief recently made a $40,000 grant to purchase rice and to assist six clergy members and their families working with refugees in the neighboring Ivory Coast.

Council members also expressed gratitude to the presiding bishop and president of the House of Deputies for their visit to Cuba in January. "Following this model, Episcopalians in the United States should end the isolation of Episcopalians in Cuba by planning exchanges or visits," they said in a resolution.

Bishop Calvin O. Schofield of Southeast Florida, where thousands of Cubans live in exile, praised the visit. "It was the first time in 40 years a presiding bishop had been to Cuba," he said.

Observing that "not all Cubans feel very good about any kind of communication with Cuba -- it's always been that way," Schofield said that, nevertheless, Cuban exiles in his diocese for the most part welcomed the visit, and that members of the diocese might travel to Cuba in the future.

Council also looked ahead to the 1997 General Convention with a presentation on the Episcopal-Lutheran Concordat, which, if approved by both denominations, will establish "full communion." The Rev. David Perry, ecumenical officer, distributed samples of study resources that have been prepared, and urged council members to help inform their dioceses about the concordat. Council approved the allocation of $70,000 from the Constable Fund to help fund an introductory video, teleconferences, a publication listing common questions and answers, and a Central American workshop on the concordat and ecumenism.

Calling the vote on the concordat "the single most important thing to come before our General Convention," Browning observed that the historic moment eclipsed even the election of a new presiding bishop, which will also be held at the next convention.

"Presiding bishops get elected and serve and retire. We come and go," he said. "But the chance for a new expression of the unity of our two churches, our mission together, is a God-given opportunity, not one that we have seen for a long, long time. This truly is a kairos moment for Christendom."

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