The 2021 budget was always going to bring big change to the Diocese of Indianapolis’s budget. After Bishop Jennifer announced last year that the diocese was moving toward a new way of distributing aid to congregations, the Rev. C. Davies Reed, chair of the Budget Formation Committee, called for budget requests from across the diocese in early February, saying “We want to encourage the creation of new projects that enable us to live out our mission in new ways.”
And then came the pandemic.
As the spring wore on and congregations realized they would be meeting online or in socially distanced small groups for the foreseeable future, it became clear, say members of the Budget Formation Committee, that the 2021 budget would need to do more than just encourage innovation.
“The operative word,” said Greg Staab, a member of the Budget Formation Committee and of St. Matthew’s Indianapolis, “is tricky.”
The proposed budget for 2021 being released today was reviewed by Executive Council in August and finalized by Canon Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale last week when health insurance rates for 2021 became available. (The diocese pays the full cost of medical insurance for clergy and their families as well as coverage for the bishop’s staff; as a result, insurance costs make up 23% of the 2021 budget.) Executive Council is expected to make the changes needed to bring the budget into balance and approve it at its meeting on September 19.
The draft budget includes, says O’Sullivan-Hale, “broad-based apportionment relief and a big shift in aid to congregations.” That means that while the eighteen congregations that have historically received operating subsidies from the diocese will see less direct aid in 2021, the loss of income will be partially offset for one year by the forgiveness of up to six months in diocesan apportionment payments.
Congregations that do not currently receive aid will also be able to opt out of up to six months of apportionment payments, O’Sullivan-Hale says, thanks to a commitment by a group of parishes with substantial endowment funds to pay their full apportionments all year.
Although apportionment relief means that the full effect of the new diocesan aid system—which will include grants available to all congregations—is postponed until 2022, Executive Council members want congregations that rely on aid to begin preparing now.
“We have to have this conversation now,” says Laurel Cornell, diocesan treasurer.
Rose Anne Grasty is a member of St. Timothy’s, Indianapolis, a parish that has historically received diocesan aid. She is enthused about the change.
“Instead of just giving churches a sum of money, churches are going to have to justify getting the money,” she says. “I think it’s going to make sense to make that kind of change. It’s going to require churches to be very clear about what they want the money for. It’s not the same old thing. We need to request the money for what’s in line with the diocesan mission and our individual congregations’ missions.
“It will require that congregations clarify their reason for existing,” Grasty says.
Cornell hopes that a new granting system, now projected for implementation in 2022, will foster more projects in which congregations work together.
“Collaboration among parishes makes us stronger, not weaker,” she says. “In some ways we’ve been way too parochial.”
The change will come as no surprise to the congregations that received aid in 2020, says Reed. O’Sullivan-Hale has been in regular touch with each of them and is meeting with each vestry before the end of September to ask them both to take advantage of the aid available in 2021 and to tell him what amount of additional support they think they will need next year.
“One thing that I appreciate is the input from Brendan,” says Grasty. “He gives us a lot of information so we can ask intelligent questions about the whole budget process.”
“I’m asking congregations that receive aid to understand that if others are being forced to make difficult decisions during this time, it is not fair for the aid system to shield them from similar choices,” O’Sullivan-Hale said. “My hope is that they will ask for levels of support that take into consideration not only their resources and circumstances, but also the well-being of other congregations.”
“This is not automatic,” Staab says of the new approach to diocesan aid. His parish, which has received diocesan aid since 2012, has a plan “to stair step our way out of that mission money.” Despite the pandemic, “it is still a very viable plan.” Last week, the parish’s vestry voted to forgo diocesan aid in 2021.
Although Staab understands that congregations accustomed to receiving aid may struggle with the change, “Forcing them to think about planning will help them in the long run to consider why has God asked them to be there,” he says. “With this process, they can do more discernment about who they are and what they do.
“What got us through those difficult times at St. Matt’s is that we had a plan, even when we questioned the plan. Sometimes we felt like we were Moses and the tribes going through the desert—will we ever get there?”
Although the primary goal of the 2021 budget is for the diocese and its congregations to “get to the other side and be healthy,” says O’Sullivan-Hale, the spending plan includes modest investments to support the work of a task force on mission strategy appointed by Bishop Jennifer in May. Led by the Rev. Gray Lesesne of Good Samaritan, Brownsburg, the group’s recommendations, presented to Executive Council in August, include hiring a part-time digital missioner and starting five new “missional communities,” which might include house churches, groups for youth and young adults or gatherings of people with no experience of church. Other recommendations, which include “themed initiatives” organized according to the diocese’s mission, could begin in future years.
“We have projected out to 2022 and a little bit out to 2023, but as always, those are guesses in the wind,” says Reed, who served on the mission strategy task force with Lesesne and the Rev. Patrick Burke of St. Paul’s on the Way; the Rev. Bradley Pace of St. John’s, Lafayette; Valeria Phillips of St. Philip’s, Indianapolis, the Rev. Suzanne Wille of All Saints’, Indianapolis; the Rev. Cara Spaccarelli of St. Christopher’s, Carmel; and the Rev. Holly Rankin Zaher of St. Paul’s, Evansville.
For now, say Cornell and Reed, the 2021 budget both provides relief and assures two important priorities. The College for Congregational Development will meet in person in 2021 as long as public health conditions allow, and if the Presiding Bishop is able to pay his long-planned visit to diocesan convention, the budget to put on the event will be available. Staff salaries will be frozen and vacant positions on the bishop’s staff will not be filled, they say, which will help hold the draw from the diocesan endowments at 5%, a level widely considered to be sustainable.
“We have had to be so adaptive with the 2020 budget in order to provide relief within the regular budget year, and we had to throw out the proposed budget we developed in March and April,” Reed says. “I’m quite frankly proud of the way the diocese has responded quickly and nimbly to provide immediate relief right now.”
“The impetus for all of this is the pandemic,” Cornell says. “It provides an opportunity to go down to the basics of our mission.”