Setting the ball rolling
On Wednesday 12th October, the Synod agreed to note an 'exposure draft' of the Statement of Funding Principles and Priorities. The document emerges from the Mission Board Strategy Committee. Synod Members were asked to provide feedback by next March. Ted Brush gets the discussion underway.
This Statement is an incredibly important development in the life of our diocese with a number of far reaching consequences. It is therefore critical that it receives close scrutiny and thorough debate.
First of all, I think that the draft Statement is very helpful as it seeks to return us to a more objective understanding of our financial responsibilities. All the funds available to the Synod are, under God, ours to steward. There is no ‘centre’ and ‘parishes’ when it comes to our financial responsibilities as a Synod. The Synod is made up of a number of parts, including our parishes. I believe such a distinction grew out of how we viewed and managed our historical financial abundance rather than being a true understanding of where responsibility ultimately lies.
Second, the Statement suggests we bring three major sources of funds (namely the Endowment of the See, the Diocesan Endowment and Parish Cost Recoveries) under the one large administrative umbrella of the Synod. Presently the Endowment of the See operates independently of the Synod.
I think that this is a helpful way to view our income streams, however there are significant questions I believe Synod needs to address including:
Are there only three sources of funds available to Synod? For example, should we consider fund raising programmes for specific projects? (Vision for Growth was such a project.)
Another example. Just one hundred people willing to give just $20 per week would cover the Youthworks Year 13 budget line. Having seen the benefits of that programme in my own family and in more than one ministry context, I for one would be glad to contribute!
Funding for development
Or, if we want to get a little more bold, could we use similar logic to establish a development fund? Five hundred people giving just $20 per week, at today’s rates of interest, would pay the interest on over $6 million dollars that could be used to develop new, and redevelop older parish facilities. As new churches come on line, and older churches grow, they could pick up their share of the costs, and God willing, over time begin to contribute back to further drive growth.
And, to go further still, if we expand our thinking to include interest free loans from our parishioners, perhaps $6 million is too small a target?
Perhaps this sort of thinking is naive, however I can’t help but wonder what might happen, under God, if we were to explore such ideas.
Another question. Are we sure there will be no unintended consequences to this combining of income stream administration? I think it would be imprudent to have the Synod voting on funds for the office of the Archbishop without ensuring that significant protection is in place for his office. In the same way as we must always consider very carefully how much power an Archbishop is given by the Synod, so too I believe, for the sake of protecting the gospel of Jesus, we must be very careful to ensure his independence from a Synod vote on finances.
Third, the Statement proposes that expenditure items presently managed by the Synod and the Endowment of the See be combined into one single list that is prioritised into a number of broad areas, Anglican Essentials through to High Profile Mission Support. (Details are available in the Synod papers published on the Secretariat web site under the Synod tab)
Prioritising expenditure is not something new to Synod. There has never been enough income to meet all of our desires and so Godly wisdom has always been sought to determine what we will endeavour to fund, and what we will not.
The most significant change mooted in the Statement is that some expenses previously covered by the Endowment of the See will now fall under the umbrella of Synod. I’ve no doubt that this part of the proposal will generate debate, however we do need to face the reality of where we find ourselves. When it comes to the management of the EOS, beyond learning and applying our lessons for the future, we should not pointlessly seek to apportion blame or engage in ‘what if’ conjectures. Our Archbishop is our Archbishop and we must find the funds to do what needs doing.
And that brings me to the next area Synod members must satisfy ourselves with. Are the priorities in the example list given to us in our Synod papers the priorities we ought to adopt? Should we re-order them? Ought we consider other expenditure items not yet on the list as priorities?
Perhaps it’s helpful to ask ourselves, ‘If we were a missionary society, would we allocate our expenditure in these ways, or would we do things differently?’
And, in allocating funds, Synod members need to ask, ‘Are sufficient accountability measures in place from the recipients?’ I for one do not think it is responsible of Synod to simply pass over funds without an expectation of accountability. We ought not become a ‘Nanny Diocese’, yet perhaps we could ask for more than we have?
Last of all, when it comes to the Statement, I believe that as Synod members we need to be sure that we are comfortable with the structures and assumptions that underlie the various expenditure items in the priority list.
While the Archbishop’s Commission’s report into such things is arguably a separate debate, the two areas do interrelate. For example, the future funding needs of the EOS are predicated on continued regionalisation with regional Episcopal staff. If there were more bishops, who were also incumbents, what would be the impact on gospel ministry and the funds needed for such a different structure?
There are no doubt many other questions that might be raised. Perhaps some of my thinking is more wishful than practical, however we do face a real need to reform our financial principles and practices, and the sooner we do that the sooner we can devote more of our energies to the primacy of the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus to the lost in whose midst God has placed us.
Members of Synod, we have a few months. Please speak up! Ask questions! Push hard! Our collective wisdom needs to be heard and applied.
In the meantime, please pray for all involved, particularly for the Mission Board and Standing Committee as we work hard to, under God, discern the best way forward for us all.
The Rev Ted Brush is Rector of the Lower Mountains Parish. He also serves on the Mission Board. Ted and his family lived in Southwest Sydney for some twenty five years before moving to Glenbrook early last year.