Budget Formation Committee Calls for Program Proposals

March 18 deadline for new ministry ideas

Laurel Cornell, treasurer of the diocese, with the Rev. C. Davies Reed, Max Nottingham and Canon Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale at a budget formation committee meeting earlier this month.

Since she became bishop in 2017, Bishop Jennifer has urged the people of the diocese to commit both to a new mission and new ways of achieving it. “At our last diocesan convention, I invited you to dream dreams worthy of the reign of God,” she said in November. “To try new things, risk failing, and get up and try again. That invitation still stands.”

This winter, the Diocesan Budget Formation Committee accepted the invitation. Beginning in 2020, the budget of the diocese will be organized by new categories aligned with the five pillars of the diocese’s mission, and the committee is calling for program proposals that take up the bishop’s challenge to try new things.

The work of translating the diocesan mission into line items on a spreadsheet has not been easy, says Laurel Cornell, a member of Christ Church Cathedral who became diocesan treasurer in January. “It’s tempting to just rename our old categories and fill them in with numbers, yet if we do only that we will have a budget that keeps us from acting on our new principles,” she says. “We have funds sufficient to our needs. To figure out how to use those funds we must think deeply and consider prayerfully how we transform the broad principles into the lines of a specific budget.”

According to Lara Dreyer, a member of Good Samaritan, Brownsburg, who serves on Executive Council, the budget committee is developing the new structure to incorporate several initiatives designed to help congregations build capacity for mission, including Faithful Innovation, the College for Congregational Development, which will begin in 2020, and the geographic reorganization of the diocese into neighborhoods.

“Most of our time, though, was focused on prayerful discernment around how the process and resulting budget can be a faithful response to our shared call to reach out with a radical welcome and bold witness to serve and transform our world,” she said of the group’s meeting earlier this month.

Greg Staab, a member and former senior warden of St. Matthew’s, Indianapolis, is a new member of the budget committee. He has recently helped his parish develop a strategic plan that reaffirms its purpose and identity and has as its goal becoming financially sustainable without diocesan aid. His experience has helped the committee understand better the experience of congregations that rely on diocesan aid.

About a decade ago, St. Matthew’s lost a long-term tenant whose rent payments balanced the parish’s budget. The congregation’s leaders turned to the diocese for help in what Staab called a “grudging process.”

“We didn’t like taking aid, but didn’t have a plan to get sustainable,” he said. “What we came down to is that we needed to extend ourselves outward to our community, heal, and grow within the congregation.”

Today the congregation, which still relies on aid, is taking “baby steps,” Staab said, and “moving in a positive direction.”

The budget committee, he says, is interested in helping parishes like St. Matthew’s “find a way to be sustainable on their own, while recognizing that there are probably some congregations that will need to continue to receive diocesan aid.”

To that end, Staab, a veteran of the financial services industry, helped create a process to invite program proposals from congregations and ministries that have a new idea and would like diocesan funding to try it out.

“We want to make sure it’s not a request for funds,” he says. “It’s more like, here’s an idea that we want to do, molded around the vision of our ministry, and this program will help us accomplish that.” The committee will accept budget proposals using the online form through March 18.

The budget that the committee presents to Executive Council later this year will undoubtedly look different from that of past years, but not all of the change will happen at once, says the Rev. C. Davies Reed, rector of St. Francis, Zionsville, and chair of the budget committee. He likens developing the new budget process to turning a ship.

“We’re charting a new course, and it takes a while to get things in alignment. We’ll take a few years to figure it out and experiment, but as with all experiments, some things will work and others won’t, and then we’ll try a different thing,” he says. “The look and feel of the budget are going to continue to change to better align with our budget priorities.”

“We can do anything, but not everything. And we’re continuing to move from a position of scarcity to a position of abundance. We want all parishes to be healthy and able to do mission, and the resources that the diocese has can help us do that.”

© 2021 Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis