Council and church need to ask hard questions

Published June 1, 2006

Something has to give.The church’s national office reported recently to the Council of General Synod (CoGS), its governing body, that for the third year in a row the church ended the year with a deficit. While this is nothing new, the scale of the deficit for 2005 is striking: $1.1 million. Put against a national church budget of just over $10 million, it is an awesome shortfall, one that should force the church’s council to make some drastic decisions about the work of the national office.The council needs to tackle some difficult questions, but will it? The signs are not encouraging. For too long, General Synod, the church’s national office, has been cutting its budget bit-by-bit, chunk-by-chunk to offset challenges of reduced income from dioceses and pressure from litigation over native residential schools. It cut a resource centre here, a specialist in congregational development there. Many other programs and staff suffered similar fates. Most recently, near the end of 2005, the national office was asked to cut five per cent from the proposed 2006 budget; it also laid off staff at the Anglican Book Centre, the church’s retail and publishing arm and tinkered with its hours of operation. Support grants to the Council of the North, 11 dioceses in Canada’s North that are supported by the rest of the church (through the Anglican Appeal), were also reduced by five per cent.But those types of reductions cannot continue. It is death by a thousand cuts. It is long past the time where we must change the way we think and the way we work. The church must ask and answer the difficult questions about what we value and where its priorities lie. General Synod’s framework, which is intended to guide the church’s work from 2005 to 2010, now feels like a pipe dream. Entitled Serving God’s World, Strengthening the Church and developed after extensive consultations across the church, the framework posits that the national office should keep doing the work it is doing and, when additional funding becomes available through an ambitious gift planning initiative (which, to its credit, has already raised its own seed money), it should add more work that the wider church wants from the national office.In the face of such a deficit, it all feels unrealistic, to say the least. It is impossible even to keep doing what we are doing.So, after years of reducing its grants, will the church once and for all end its practice of funding mission work and relationships with overseas partners? Will it eliminate grants to its supported dioceses and ministry in the North? Will it close its bookstore? Will it fold some of its communications vehicles?All difficult questions.But other questions were not asked by CoGS: like, why did it take so long for the deficit to be reported? Why did the Anglican Appeal – the church’s flagship fundraiser that supports ministry in the North, theological education in northern Canada and in other parts of the world-wide Anglican Communion – fall so far below its projections? (It brought in $500,000 of its $650,000 target.) Why were the Appeal’s results for its 2005 campaign not released until May? And what do we tell those who rely on grants from the Canadian church – both overseas partners and the Council of the North? The answers did not emerge at the meeting because the questions were not asked. National church staff, long accustomed to trying to do the same amount of work on shrinking budgets, now find themselves asking how the church could have passed a 2006 budget at the end of 2005 that, seven months later, appears not to have been based on reality. Together, the Council of the North and partnerships account for about half of the national church expenditures.The Council of the North, long ago stretched to its limits, made a presentation at the spring meetings of the House of Bishops and CoGS to ask, once again, how it can be expected to carry on ministry in the North, an area in which it is prohibitively expensive to live and work, on the same level of grants received in 1986. Their presentation noted that while the Council dioceses were once the “favoured children” of the church, they now see themselves as the “lost children of Egypt.” They challenged the church to tell them whether they will see their support grants returned to 1993 levels, or fixed at the current level for five years (and would they be allowed to fundraise aggressively) or whether the General Synod would eliminate their grants over the next five years, freeing them to do their own fundraising; the final scenario would also mean that those dioceses would, in turn, eliminate their gift to General Synod. They should be credited for the work they have done in imagining doing their work in different ways.Of course, the partnerships department could mount an equally compelling argument for continuing its work, which reminds Anglicans that they are part of one body, a global, Anglican communion. If the cuts focus on that department, which works with the philosophy that each partner has gifts to offer to the other, regardless of one’s relative wealth, partnerships staff must face the painful prospect of decreasing or ending funding for partners, many of whom have likely budgeted for anticipated grants from the Canadian church.Other departments, perhaps those whose work is most visible in parishes and the homes of Anglicans, may also face painful cuts. These include the Anglican Journal, Anglican Video, MinistryMatters magazine and the communications department.Ultimately, something, some things will have to go. And some people. Are we ready to ask the questions?


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