[Bumped] Diocese of Georgia Continues To Swing Between Persuasion and Bullying To Salvage Finances
[This week is “Diocese of Georgia Meltdown Week” and so we’re bumping a few of the stories from the past that let us all know why the diocese is where it is today.]
Showing every sign of desperation, the leaders of the Diocese of Georgia are clearly focused on money, Money, and Money.
At the launch of their first digital issue of their diocesan newsletter, we have this line from Bishop Benhase:
Many of you have expressed grief and concern about losing CIGA in its paper form. As you know, the diocese simply did not have the funding to continue to print the paper.
Just another sign that finances are a big issue for the Diocese of Georgia.
Of course, you can also examine the proposed budget, found on pages 14 and 15. You can see the steady decline in funding for the national church [note to parishioners—it’s working!], a zeroing out of the money for the “youth activities director,” the “communications editor,” the diocesan newspaper, an elimination of the prior year reserves, and a zeroing out of the money to the faux “parish” titled “Christ Church, Savannah.” Somewhat humorously, with all of those cuts, “staff compensation” has skyrocketed.
But not to worry. There’s a nifty new canon for the Diocese of Georgia [see page 13 of the newsletter] that means that “no congregation is allowed to contribute less than a fairshare” to the diocese. Of course, we’ve seen that tried before, in diocese after diocese after diocese, as the congregations steadily recognize that the revisionist leaders in charge of the diocesan entity in no way support the mission and ministry that the parish is actually trying to implement.
And what will happen to a parish that doesn’t pay the pound of flesh to the diocesan entity?
In the event that annual contributions from any congregation fall short of the ten percent assessment or the reduced amount set by the Assessment Appeal Committee for two consecutive years, any such congregation, if it is a parish, shall, by operation of this canon, have its status changed to that of a Mission of this Diocese.
What does this mean for a conservative parish? It means that they can expect their priest to be removed and the bishop to appoint a revisionist priest that can—perhaps—force the congregation back in line, maybe through some re-education camps or something similar.
So that’s the bullying and bluster solution for the predictable financial shortfalls that the Diocese of Georgia will experience.
Then, we’ve got the persuasion tack. While diocesan leaders are bullying individual congregations into paying their assessments so that the diocese can continue to attempt to implement its unique Benhase gospel [as well as pursue its lawsuit attempting to wrest control of Christ Church, Savannah property from that parish], we have a draft report on a “Fundraising Feasibility Assessment and Campaign Readiness Report” helpfully titled “Towards a New Era For Mission.”
So as not to frighten the natives, I suppose, the fundraising feasibility assessment begins with this puzzling assertion:
The proposed Campaign for Congregational Development of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia (EDG’15) is not about raising money, although the feasibility study determined that the potential for securing significant financial investment exists.
And then proceeds to spend much of the 29-page document discussing money.
The resources needed for the campaign will require a special fundraising initiative. Based on the information gathered through the two initial phases of the feasibility study, the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia should design and implement a major gift fundraising program to acquire the extraordinary resources needed to:
♦ Promote congregational growth and vitality
♦ Deepen individual and congregational spiritual life
♦ Provide age-related programs that attract and engage participants of all ages
♦ Foster community awareness and better serve the Diocese’s communities
♦ Improve financial health, add financial and capital resources and develop financial sustainability throughout the Diocese.
Specifically, the Diocese of Georgia should:
1. Swiftly design and implement an assertive ministry of congregational growth and development that leads to a new era of mission for the Diocese and its congregations.
2. Support these congregational development ministries through initiatives selected or designed to deepen spiritual life, address the needs and opportunities of key age cohorts and promote community understanding and outreach.
3. Develop two Diocese-wide, Convocation-based organizations – one to focus on developing and implementing the Campaign for Congregational Development for the Diocese and the other to acquire the financial resources needed to support the congregational development initiative.
4. Implement an intense fundraising campaign that will acquire the extraordinary gifts needed in the Diocese and promote sustained increases in annual giving to congregational stewardship campaigns.
5. Task the Honey Creek Commission to address the facility’s role in contributing to the spiritual growth and development of the Diocese.
The key to the success of the Campaign for the Diocese of Georgia is the engagement, mobilization and commitment of both clergy and lay leaders across the Diocese.
I can’t imagine that “engagement, mobilization and commitment of both clergy and lay leaders” taking place. But I’m sure hope springs eternal!
The “findings” were interesting:
The Campaign for the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia 2015 (EDG’15) is about selecting, designing, implementing and sustaining the ministries that will enliven the people and congregations of the Diocese and foster a new era of mission. Over 350 people across the Diocese were actively involved in the study. Participants expressed:
A broad-based desire for increased vitality, spiritual and numeric growth, and engagement with the communities that the congregations serve
A desire to be part of a movement that proclaims the Good News of Jesus Christ without hesitation and complements proclamation with active ministry within the congregation and out to the community
An understanding that the health and growth of their individual congregations are the building blocks for a vibrant Diocese
Concerns about current economic conditions and about the impact of a Diocesan campaign on their own stewardship campaigns and, where pertinent, their own capital campaigns
A belief that the potential exists for conducting a major fundraising program to support the programs and services that will enliven congregations and strengthen the Diocese and its congregation.
Worries that there was little precedent for such a campaign and that there seemed to be little readiness, at this time, for donors to make gifts at the level needed to insure success.
In the course of the study, participants identified a set of desired outcomes for EDG’15 and possible tactical approaches to produce those outcomes. In particular, participants wanted a Diocesan- wide initiative to:
Improve demographics and diversity with growth in membership across all ages and especially with increased participation by youth, young adults and young families, ethnic communities, lower income groups and other un-churched members of the community.
Create a healthy, vibrant and financially sustainable Honey Creek
Foster increased financial support to provide the resources for financially healthy congregations that then support a financially healthy Diocese.
Increase the number and quality of outreach programs that provide effective ministry to communities and make the Episcopal Church a better known and appreciated part of each community
Improve communication between and among congregations, individuals and the Diocese and promote collaboration between and among congregations.
My rough take on all of this is fairly simple:
—Leaders in the Diocese of Georgia are privately sounding the alarm about diocesan financial numbers.
—Diocesan leaders recognize that parishes—or individual congregants in particular—are withholding funds—hence the new canon that institutes punishments for parishes not paying their “fair share.”
—Diocesan leaders also recognize that bullying and threats only go so far—parishes are suffering and so the diocese can’t expect its interesting and unique gospel and goals to be funded entirely by diocesan pledging—hence the capital campaign.
—Parishes are distinctly worried that a diocesan capital campaign will undermine their own efforts to fundraise for their congregations. So we have a rift—noted and explicated in the feasibility report—that exists between the goals of the diocese and the goals of the parish. The very last thing that a parish needs to do is offer up names to the diocese for “fundraising” and “special gifts.”
—Honey Creek Camp is toast and will enter the now lengthy line of Episcopal Diocesan camp and conference centers that go bust, get sold, or are otherwise defunded by financially desperate dioceses.
That’s my take—what’s the analysis of our commenters?
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