Thursday, August 27, 2009

I'm Back - I Hope My Ministry Will Be Back Next Year

It has been awhile, I know. After General Convention, I had a week to catch up before going on vacation. Since then, it has been preparing for the school year. Now, the students are back and it is time to start writing again.

The phrase for today is 'budget cuts'. Yep, the have hit the Church big time. Last month, we took a knife to the national budget of the Episcopal Church and slashed away whole pieces of program. The women's desk of the national church -- gone. Thirty staff people are axed as of the end of the year. Almost every program has been hit by some funding lost. In the meantime, of course, whole dioceses have been giving way less than their asking; it is amazing how many of these are the same dioceses that cry when the national church is not quick to respond to whatever crises comes along.

On the more local level, my diocese is making cuts too. Next year, our budget for campus ministry in the diocese will be 10% less than it was supposed to be this year, until we sustained a 5% cut in May. Unfortunately, once you take out the salaries of the chaplains, most of which are minimum or just above it, that actually translated into a 20% cut. Worse yet, my programs only diocesan money is for salaries, my assistant and my cleaning service. So despite our salaries being frozen two years in a row, my program will either have to find the money (as we did this year) or cut my assistant's hours.

You know, I could probably face that if this were a real crisis in the diocese. Reality is, however, that our budgets could all be made if certain parishes (you know who you are) would cough up the asking of the diocese. Now, before you starting thinking about small parishes scraping by, I need to say that I am not talking about them. Small parishes rarely fail to pay their asking unless they really do get into a jam, in which case they need the diocese to back them for a time.

No, it is larger parishes, notably those in the two largest cities in the diocese, who seem to have trouble coughing up. Yes, it is a lot of money in dollar terms. But they have it. What happens is that they develop big ideas for programs they want to do and fund them instead, forgetting that some of the work of the church is done corporately. So while they develop an outreach program to the local jail (the good scenario) or hire an assistant youth director or redecorate the parish hall (the more likely scenario) with their asking, real programs of the diocese get cut.

Do I sound frustrated? You bet. Is it because I work in one of those diocesan ministries? Not really. I've felt this way for a long time. It's arrogance, pure in simple, to assume that whatever you come up with is more important than our collective life.

The usual arguments are that the diocese has a bloated budget and spends money on all the wrong things. Perhaps, but before you say you want to keep your money local, try looking at what gets cut. It's never the things you are griping about because, funny thing, they are required. No matter how angry you are at him, you still gotta pay the bishop's salary and give him an administrative assistant. And in a diocese this large, that means more than one bishop, folks. Besides, if I asked five people what should get cut from the diocesan budget, they would not come to agreement. And that decision belongs to all of the diocese working together, not you.

So pony up to the bar and get back in. If you had made your fair asking, two things would have resulted. First, we would not be in this situation financially. Second, the diocese would not have had to make giving mandatory starting in 2011.

So here's an idea. Since you don't want to give it to the diocese, give it locally. Write a check to the Hispanic ministry, or the campus ministry, or to a small congregation, or to send a bunch of local kids to campy. All the stuff you apparently don't like your diocese doing for you.

And don't forget your local campus ministry. We're the ones teaching young adults not to behave like you are. But they don't have a lot of spare money to support our work. That's why we are called a mission of the diocese. And we crank out most of the young clergy of the church (Remember them? They are the people everyone keeps saying we need more of.). You could pitch in some funds for their seminary education because we can't help them out all that much, especially when our budgets are cut (See? The circle closes.).

Ok. Bitching session is over. Next time I will talk about something that doesn't cut quite so close to home. Like the death penalty. Or Teddy Kennedy (RIP). In the meantime, I have a dozen new students to contact before Sunday to make sure they know how to reach us. And several pounds of hamburgers to purchase. Ah, the joys of first week.