ROCHESTER, N.Y. - The Episcopal Diocese of Rochester recently convened for its 81st Convention in Geneva, N.Y., where Bishop Prince Singh and other diocesan leaders discussed the future of the Diocese and the importance of joy in Christ. The Convention, which met on Saturday, November 10, 2012, also approved the Diocese’s 2013 budget and passed budgetary and social resolutions.
Singh told the Convention, a gathering of delegates consisting of priests and elected laity, that he feels all parishes in the Diocese have come to acknowledge the changes that are occurring outside of the church in the wider world. He said churches are starting to explore adaptive change - that is, encouraging genuine hospitality and total inclusiveness motivated by joy in Christ as a way of life.
“In these lean economic times, we are being moved from doing church to being church. We are being led to be the body of Christ to nurture a hungry world, heal a hurting world, and comfort a disturbed world,” Singh said. “We are being reformed to refocus on the main thing: to be the living, loving and joyful body of Christ.”
The bishop said joy in Christ is keeping the Diocese on its path, focusing its priests and members on the growth of congregations through spiritual and missional leadership.
“Growth is not so much a strategic plan as it is the very heart of the Holy One,” Singh said. “The Holy Spirit is that one last hope for humankind through whom we know that God has not given up on this, our island home. Every crying baby, every new dream, every new day gives us yet another reason to believe that we are meant to grow in every way, all the time, now and through eternity.”
Budget sees movement towards mission
During its legislative sessions, the convention passed the Diocese’s proposed 2013 operating budget of almost $2.4 million with a vote of 125 in favor and 44 opposed. The approved budget creates approximately $120,000 of savings from convention expense, medical insurance premiums, staff and office expenses. These savings have been redirected to help fund investments in communications ($55,000), mission outside the Diocese ($11,000) and leadership development ($6,000).
In spite of these increases, the budget reduces total expenditures by about 2% ($48,000) compared to the 2012 operating budget.
While total expenditures for 2013 are very similar to what the Diocese spent in 2010, there has been an important shift in the past three years. Savings generated from increased efficiency in administration and structure are being used to fund increased investment in congregational development (up almost $200,000), reinforcing the alignment of the Diocese with its mission statement to grow and develop congregations.
Conversations about the budget indicated an increased desire for transparency as the Diocese and its churches journey together, Bishop Singh noted.
Three churches close
The convention also voted to dissolve St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Friendship, Episcopal Church of Our Savior in Bolivar, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Mt. Morris. St. Andrew's and Our Savior were part of the Allegany County Episcopal Ministry, a consortium of churches in the Southern Tier of New York State. St. John's was in the Southwest District.
The Very Rev. G. Cole Gruberth, Priest-in-Charge of Allegany County Episcopal Ministry and Dean of the Southwest District, said that two of the churches had been inactive since 2009, and that the resolutions allowed paperwork to catch up to that fact. Though the churches have closed, Episcopal ministry continues in the region, he said.
With the closure of these churches, the Diocese now oversees 47 churches in Allegany, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Schuyler, Steuben, Wayne and Yates counties.
Apportionment changes approved
Convention passed changes to the apportionment process, as well. Apportionment is the mechanism by which individual parishes contribute to the work of the Diocese and accounts for 42% of the diocesan operating budget.
Recommendations for the apportionment process were developed by the Apportionment Task Force, approved by Diocesan Council and will come into effect in 2014. These changes include simplifying the formula for calculating apportionment by eliminating the need to calculate parish “size” using the number of members in good standing and then applying apportionment rates over the trailing three-year average operating revenue. Beginning in 2014, apportionment is simply based on operating income reported by the Parish for the previous year.
For the benefit of smaller churches in the Diocese, the resolution also calls for a progressive rate structure that starts at 10% for smaller churches and adjusted income ranges to better reflect the current income profile of churches in the Diocese.
The resolution also includes provisions to limit the impact of changes in the formula to any single parish, ensuring that a parish won’t see a large increase in giving within a single year.
“Most importantly, the recommendations of the Apportionment Task Force provide a simple, flexible mechanism that Diocesan Council may adjust as most appropriate to further the mission of the Diocese,” said Todd Rubiano, Chief Financial Missioner of the Diocese. “Any such adjustments then become part of the annual operating budget that Council brings forth each year to be voted on at Convention.”
Social resolutions call for consideration, change
As part of three resolutions of social concern, the Diocese of Rochester’s Convention approved a call for the formation of an anti-racism task force and repentance “for the Church’s complicity in the sin of slavery and the oppression of Native Americans and all persons of color.”
The resolution establishes a Service of Repentance to be held in the next three years and charges Bishop Singh with the creation of a task force, which will report to the 82nd Diocesan Convention in 2013. It suggests the task force examine the history of racism and inequitable land acquisition in the Diocese.
Convention also passed a resolution calling on the New York State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo to more fully examine the health, environmental and socioeconomic impacts of high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, a method of extracting natural gas from shale deposits. The Marcellus and Utica Shales cover a large portion of the Diocese.
Burial of the indigent in Monroe County was discussed at Convention, as well. The group passed a resolution urging the Monroe County Legislature to provide adequate funding for burying the poor, especially if they do not wish to be cremated for cultural or religious reasons. The resolution also calls upon Monroe County and Rochester churches to contribute to a Supplemental Burial Fund, which is managed by the Greater Rochester Community of Churches.
New Communications Missioner
Bishop Singh also introduced Matthew Townsend, the Diocese’s new Communications Missioner, at Convention. Townsend, who is from Florida and has a background in journalism and web development, spoke about the importance of communication in the life of the church.
“We’ve all seen the numbers - we know the challenges our parishes face,” Townsend said. “We must clearly communicate who we are and what we do in our churches and communities. We must be bold and courageous in expressing our Christianity.”