Pastoral Letter from Bishop Marc Andrus
To the good people of the Diocese of California:
Since becoming your bishop in 2006, one of my primary foci of energy and attention has been to foster the sense of Christian community within the Diocese of California. I have been seeking to strengthen our community because the movement from isolation to communion is the direction of the Christian life; it is the way we follow Jesus the Christ to extend Christ’s love to those in our neighborhoods and workplaces. This pastoral letter is offered to support our ministry, and to provide context for recent efforts on diocesan stewardship.
While writing this pastoral letter to you on the eve of September 11, I remember the moving accounts of those at our cathedral who found thousand of San Franciscans streaming to Grace, filling that great space in the wake of the terrible loss in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. We are in the midst of what some have called the “long emergency,” experienced by those out of work, those trying to cope with failing schools, deteriorated roads, access to health care, and the devastation felt at a deep level of great ecosystems like the Gulf of Mexico. The crowds that found their way into Grace on 9/11, and to many churches around the diocese, are in desperate need of God and the communion of God now. I know you share the precious goal I have of offering Christian community, and it is in this context that I write about an important matter in our common life as a diocese.
This past spring I received some communication from clergy and lay people in several of our congregations regarding the assessment formula approved as part of the budget at Diocesan Convention in 2009. Representatives of these congregations were meeting to come up with an alternative to the current assessment formula. Among reasons behind the effort to arrive at a new formula were assumptions about our smaller congregations, especially our missions and ethnic congregations.
The central assumption about the mission congregations was this: these congregations are largely static or declining, and numbers of them that are being kept solvent by the diocese should be shut down and sold. At the same time, some representatives of the congregations that originated this revision effort, all from our larger congregations both in terms of attendance and annual budgets, expressed frustration at how they believe they are viewed by our smallest congregations – with mistrust, envy, dislike.
These perceptions and real stresses are not new to the diocese, but I believe have become more acute with the needs our congregants and communities face. It became apparent to me that the most needed response was not just a new assessment formula, but rather a coming together between people representing different contexts of church life, and an honest exchange about those settings of life and ministry. The remainder of this pastoral letter provides an update for you about a process set in motion a number of months ago to support diocesan conversation about stewardship.
To begin the process, I felt that it was important to have a small-scale and representative conversation on stewardship needs and capacity that could be broadened to include more and more people, representing more and more of our congregations. Jim Forsyth, diocesan controller, helped me formulate a plan to establish an initial task force for this purpose, and Jim took our recommendations to the diocesan finance committee for help in implementation. I made suggestions at the outset of this effort regarding a list of participants who could be representative of small, large and mission congregations, and soon the taskforce was underway, headed by Shelton Ensley, president of our Executive Council. In addition to the representatives of our congregations, Shelton, Executive Council vice president Roulhac Austin, Jim Forsyth, and diocesan treasurer Bob McCaskill participated in the task force.
The task force worked diligently over a several month period, meeting every week. They reflected on the contexts of ministry in mission, small and large congregations, and produced a draft assessment formula that I think is very useful as a starting place for the expanded conversations that are to follow. Let me be clear; the assessment formula that the task force put forward is for the diocese to use in conversation – it is not being presented to diocesan convention in the form of a resolution. By our canons, amendments to the assessment formula must be submitted to the finance committee by April 1 before the diocesan convention in that year.
We are now at the stage of extending the work of this task force for broader diocesan input, and shall begin this process with an extended lunch period at diocesan convention for small-group discussions. I’m pleased that many members of the task force will be present to help lead small group conversations at convention and beyond, and I’m grateful for their ongoing support. The process for diocesan conversation will continue beyond the convention with the goal of arriving at a revised formula by March 2011, at which time the revised formula will be presented to the Finance Committee. Details for how convention input will be used, as well as additional opportunities for input, will be shared at convention.
For 2011, I proposed to the Executive Council that the 10% rebate on assessments that was enacted last year be repeated this year in order to give relief to those congregations experiencing budget deficits, a request the Executive Council was pleased to ratify. The 10% rebate will be a proposal coming from the Executive Council to the Diocesan Convention for approval.
Let me close by saying that I am confident that we will reach a new understanding of diocesan stewardship over the next few months through our expanded conversations together; and, that this will be expressed in a new assessment formula in support of the life of the diocese. Even more, I have confidence that we will continue to become a manifestation of the Beloved Community, by the grace of God and for the sake of God’s world.
With gratitude for our life together, I am
The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus
Bishop of California