Monday, November 1, 2010

Episcopal Church Executive Council Finance Chair: "those who now have the most power and resources in the system" will resist needed changes

The following comments by Del Glover first appeared on a closed House of Bishops & Deputies (HoB/D) listserve, but were subsequently shared with his permission in other venues.

Some of what he says lends to "reading between the lines," especially his last paragraph. But many who hold power and resources in The Episcopal Church perceive themselves as powerless victims, which creates no end of confusion and frustration for efforts to heal the crippled denomination.

While I share some of his analysis of church decline being a decades long trend rather than a sudden emergency, the folks currently holding the denomination's systemic "power and resources" ascended on promises that their agenda would reverse the decline. They were either wrong, misleading or both and have exacerbated the decline. They should not be holding power and resources.

His call for "change of direction" is welcome, but he doesn't put enough flesh and bone on it to tell me what he has in mind. If he is arguing that the Presiding Bishop, or the Executive Council or some other elite should have unaccountable executive authority over the church, he is certainly arguing for "systemic change" but in a form so alien to this church's historic, spiritual, intellectual and organizational identity as to erase them. And authoritarian religion, or cult of personality, or unaccountable bureaucracy are not exciting new models, but old, discredited ones.

See what you think:

"There have been a number of posts concerning the finances and leadership of the Episcopal Church. As the chair of the finance committee and a member of the audit committee, I want to address what I understand to be the key issues and the steps we are taking to address them.

The first issue is the money we have borrowed to pay for the renovations to the Church Center [in New York City] and the purchase of a parking lot [in Austin, Texas] as a future site for the national archives.

When those needs arose, the staff and Executive Council chose to borrow a combined $47 million dollars from our $50 million line of credit. The terms allowed us to pay as much or little principal as we chose - and we have made primarily interest payments and only about $500,000 in principal payments over the past six years. I and other members of finance and audit committees as well as previous members of those committees with extensive financial expertise whom we have asked to advise us, believe that a loan of that amount should not be made with a line of credit. It is not a standard financial practice to use a line of credit for major capital expenditures. The purpose of a line of credit is to cover cash shortfalls for small amounts of time and is normally repaid as soon as possible (generally within a year).

In retrospect, this loan was undertaken at the time when banks encouraged all of us, individual homeowners and organizations, to over-extend ourselves and to take on loans that were not adequately secured. I believe that is what happened to us. But now the time has come for us to put our financial house in order.

It was entirely appropriate and necessary for us to do the renovations at the Church Center and some of the costs were a result of the need for asbestos abatement and not optional. Concerning the proposed future site of the Archives in Texas, (the parking lot), some of us were convinced that the availability of the parking lot was a good purchase at the time, especially since the Archives had been asked to vacate the space to the Seminary of the Southwest, the current home of the Archives. The parking lot is a functioning enterprise and its income is sufficient (at the currently low interest rates) to make interest and some principal payment. If interest rates increase, as well they may, this situation would change. In any case, we need a new site for the Archives and the current parking lot is oneoption for that.

I and others believe we now need to obtain mortgages or private financing, using the properties as collateral, just as most of us use our homes as collateral for our mortgages. With interest rates at record low levels, we believe we should secure loans and make both interest and principal payment to service our debt - preferably paying principal at an accelerated rate, so less of the church's funds goes towards interest payments and we can again be debt-free.

Several posts have suggested a conflict between the Treasurer, Kurt Barnes, and me. That assessment diminishes the importance of the issues before us [and] undermines the commitment both Kurt and I feel for this Church. We simply have a difference of opinion as to how we should address these questions. Kurt, and others, including members of the staff, want to have the maximum amount of flexibility so if there is a shortfall in income from the dioceses, they can use more of the line of credit to fund the operations of the church and Church Center programs and pay less or no principle. That is understandable - the staff of an organization normally wants this kind of flexibility to do the work they have been given to do.

On the other hand, I believe that we should pay our debt first and make whatever cost reductions are necessary to allow us to do so. That is also understandable - he role of the finance committee is to look at the big picture and the long view.

Another recent thread that has been on the HoB/D list is reflections on the decline in members. I share these concerns. If we project the decline in members and income into the future, it is clear that we can not maintain the size of the operations we currently have. We have lost about 1/3 of our members in the last 50years - but we have a structure that has stayed pretty much the same. We need to "right-size" our structures and reduce about 1/3 of our costs. That includes General Convention, Committees/Commissions, as well as Church Center programs. And it probably also will mean combining dioceses, reducing the number of bishops and committees, on the diocesan and parish levels as well. I believe these are the points Bishop Jefferts Schori was making in her comments to Executive Council.

If we begin to make those structural and organizational changes expeditiously now and focus whatever savings we can generate on our true "mission" of building the church (by which I mean, making disciples for Christ), we can turn this matter around. I keep a copy of Claude Paine's book, "Reclaiming the Great Commission" on my desk to remind me of our mission. (after all, my wife is a priest!)

If we all continue to focus on our dwindling resources, we will simply continue down an unhealthy slope. While the most current manifestations of this have focused on declining membership and finances, it is, at the end, really about vision. The system we are now in is producing what it is designed to produce. I believe we need to challenge what we are doing, change direction and ultimately change the system. That will need the hard work of many, so I hope others will do their part.

I expect these comments will generate resistance - especially from those who now have the most power and resources in the system. I hope they and we all can stop, listen to what God is saying to us and refocus on what our Book of Common Prayer says so well about God's church (i.e., God's people) existing to be the arena by which God restores all people to God and each other in Christ. If we are not about doing that, we have truly lost our way!

Del Glover,
Chair of the Finance Committee of Executive Council"


Keith said...

What we have is the PB who is trying to be like Lincoln, but is really Jefferson Davis. She says a lot but doesn't have the skills to pull it off. You know you are in trouble when you hear a TEC bishop say publicly,"I don't care if I am the last Episcopalian, as long as I am right!" My first response was 'thank you Gen. Custer!' A good leader would tell us that we are in trouble, she keeps saying the opposite in spite of the news. Her and her like will never share power with others because that's all they have. They don't have the confidence in themselves to admit people that are different to the power circle. The problems in 815 are not about justice it's about power. That's why the figures for the lawsuits are classified, that's why we have Title IV changes. That is why we have the PB talking about suicide by governance, and having an organization that is 'nimble and flexible' That is also why the member of the Holy Trinity that has been invoked the most has been the Holy Spirit. It allows her to ignore scripture and tradition and still try to claim the moral high ground. Oh well enough about this.
This is what we get when we elect someone who has never been a rector.

Dale Matson said...

"This is what we get when we elect someone who has never been a rector."That is not a fatal flaw but only one of many problems including a padded resume, a flawed plastic Christology and unbridled hubris. Combined, these amount to a critical cluster of shortcomings pointing to a failed leadership.