Bishop Benfield’s 2012 Budget Presentation

Our diocesan treasurer Murray Rudisell has talked about what happened in 2011, and I am going to talk about what will happen in 2012 with the money with which you have entrusted us.

You may wonder why the treasurer leaves the podium and the bishop steps up to present the recently approved budget when the very reason to have a treasurer is to take care of things financial. Well, we are doing so because my fingerprints are all over the 2012 budget, and I want to share my vision for what can be possible for the church in this state. Today, by the way, I am going to tell you that there is a deficit planned, and it is not small, and that might unsettle you a bit. But you know something? I want us to be unsettled, for when we are settled, it means that we are comfortable and are not moving. The last thing the church needs is to be comfortable and static, because our call is always to keep journeying toward the full arrival of the kingdom, when all things are made new.

This budget is focused on the vision that we will see Jesus. It is a vision that we will keep our eyes on for the next decade because such a vision is at the heart of Christianity. There is barely a line item in this budget that has not been discussed and debated on in light of that vision. Everything we do is hopefully focused on it in one way or another, both in the short and long-term.

You have heard me tell you already that one thing all of us can do so is to focus on hospitality and welcoming the stranger. You have been involved in discussions on the Top Ten ways to do that very thing. Much of what we do in the diocesan office is to help you in that task and to provide the connections with one another that are essential elements of what it is to be a part of the church catholic. I visit congregations week after week, the canon visits, the young adult and youth developer visits, the communications director visits, other staff members are on the phone, and this budget provides money so we can gather at Camp Mitchell. Those are all ways to connect us with one another so that you can do your work locally, and it is locally where the mission of the church ultimately takes place. You feed the hungry; you welcome the stranger; you offer sanctuary. But there is one thing that the church as an entire diocese does that existing local congregations cannot do by themselves, that is, take the message to new communities and populations by starting new congregations. And that is where we begin with this budget.

For over five years now we have been working in Bentonville, where we have planted a church called All Saints’. It worships in both Spanish and English. It serves as a significant mainline, progressive church in northwest Arkansas. In the last year we have planted a new congregation in Maumelle called St. Nicholas’. It is so new that it is not yet an official mission of this diocese, and it serves as a solid, liturgically-based church in a town that was lacking such a presence. Church planting is a ten-year process, so we have about five years left in Bentonville for our start to take root and about nine years in Maumelle. Between these two locations the budget support that you are providing this year is about $140,000. It is a significant way that you are reaching beyond your own communities, and that is one important thing that catholic churches do.

But we also need to be in other new locations as populations increase. For example, right now we need to plant a church in Cabot, but there is no money in the budget for this pressing need, even though the 25,000 people there need to hear the good news that this church has to offer.

New congregations constitute one way that we proclaim our message to new populations, and we cannot let that effort be set aside. A new generation needs our message and us. I want to talk more about that opportunity a bit later.

But we are also doing some amazing work in forming leaders and raising up a new generation of active Episcopalians in our existing congregations. You will find in this year’s budget about $172,000 for training people who are recently ordained or who will be ordained, and for training lay leaders, and for getting young people active in the church, and for other opportunities for congregational health. We have had some amazing success stories. Our attendance was up in 2010, and looks as if it was again up in 2011. We had more people at the Episcopal Youth Event last year than any other diocese in the entire Episcopal Church. That is what your budget support provides. When someone asks, “What is my congregation getting from the budget,” I can answer that through this budget you are sharing good news everywhere. You are answering the biblical mandate to go into the world.

In order to help you make connections with one another and to provide people, young and old, with significant, sometimes life-changing events, your budget support undergirds the operations of Camp Mitchell to the tune of $50,000. I cannot overemphasize the importance that experiences at Camp Mitchell have had on the people who attend a weekend, a camp, or a conference there. For example, it is in large part the birthing room for the many young people who now come to me talking about one day being ordained.

Next, your tithes make possible our support of the work of the church in the larger world, all the way from the Millennium Development Goals to support of The Episcopal Church’s budget to support for St. Francis House, a church-overseen entity that helps some of the neediest people in central Arkansas. This work beyond our own needs in this diocese totals over $201,000.

To oversee all this work, you and I know that it takes an investment in people. Even in this computer-driven world, honest-to-God people answer your questions on the phone or through email, make visits, coordinate the work of committees, send out electronic communiqués, work with congregations on finding good leaders, and gather young people for service projects. Competitive pay and Social Security and health insurance and pension fund contributions and travel expenses for me and my dedicated staff of seven people and some contract employees totals about $750,000. It is an investment in the future of the church in Arkansas.

And I have to assure those staff members that they will have a roof over their heads when they come to work each day, that there will be heating and air conditioning for them, and that they will have the computers and paper and postage and phones and copiers and all the stuff necessary for them to do their work. Your support of about $110,000 makes that administrative support possible.

All told, we will spend about $1,423,000 this year. To help pay for it, your tithes, your tenth of your congregational income that supports our larger work, will provide about $1,010,000. We will also plan to use $20,000 that your vestries additionally pledge for specific projects through Sharing Our Bounty, work that would not be done if you did not make those particular pledges. We will get investment income of about $201,000 from those gifts that previous generations have made and set aside as endowment funds. We will draw down on some special funds set aside for specific purposes and receive some miscellaneous income that amounts to $93,000. All together, $1,324,000 is budgeted to be received.

That leaves a deficit in 2012 of over $99,000. The number is unsettling, but as I have said, we never need to feel settled. We need to keep moving and proclaiming the gospel.

I sometimes not so laughingly tell my staff when there is a big question to be answered I need some time to sleep and stand in the shower to think about how best to solve the problem. Yes, I have been thinking about that $99,000 deficit. It is not sustainable over the long run. The coffers finally empty out.

Here is what I am thinking. I am convinced that it is imperative—and by the way, exciting and life-giving—to proclaim the good news of God’s love to people who have not heard the news that we traditional, been-around-for-centuries, biblically literate, reasonable Christians have to offer. In other words, what The Episcopal Church has to offer. People have been fed a diet of bad religion or just plain old secular greed for too long. And look at the results: Prosperity gospels and religious fundamentalists to name but a few of the problems. Arkansas deserves better. Right now we are spending $140,000 on planting new churches. That amount alone is more than our deficit. We ought to be spending a total of $200,000 per year in Bentonville and Maumelle combined, and we ought to be spending another $100,000 on planting yet another congregation. And we ought to be spending even more money on developing lay leaders and well-educated clergy for our existing congregations, whether it is in fast-growing areas such as Conway or our historic congregations in the Delta.

I am also convinced that there is strong intuitive, and even a biblical case, to hold up the tithe as a model for giving. Looking at our budget, we see that we can get by internally with what needs to be done day-to-day by tithing. But we are called to be a people who do more than “get by.” We are called to share the gospel and be excited about it.

What if we decided that the message of the church means enough to us that we are willing to find money as individuals and as congregations to fund new church plants? To train new leadership for existing congregations? What if we decided that we think a new generation is important enough that we will consciously start participating in planned giving?

We are going to address this deficit. Later this year you are going to hear from me about how you can participate in building up the church in Arkansas so that we can simultaneously take care of our own needs, train our own leaders, and reach out to more people. I want the message of Anglican Christianity to be known by everyone in this state. Now is not the time to be timid. You and I have the resources to make it possible. There will be a way for you to share in making certain that everyone in this state has the opportunity to see Jesus. So stay tuned.

In the meantime, it is already beginning to happen. Here are two signs. More and more people are hearing good news in Siloam Springs thanks to the work of Grace Church. More and more people are hearing good news in Conway thanks to the work of St. Peter’s Church. These churches are both in college towns where we are reaching a new generation. The fruits of the work at these two locations have been so good that the Committee on Resolutions will ask you to approve changes the status of these congregations from “mission” to “parish.”

Grace Church and St. Peter’s Church are showing us what can be done. In other communities you can do similar things as well in the context of where you live and with whatever gifts God gives you. It is a matter of how seriously we believe in the truth of what Jesus said, that those who get it are the ones who saw Jesus as the stranger and welcomed him.

I want you to take home your Top Ten booklets and posters and postcards. I want you to go start talking about what it will take to more authentically see Jesus in the stranger who just might be walking in your door one day. Take the Top Ten Audit. Discuss the Top Ten booklet. Look around and see how the Spirit is already active. Start dreaming about how you will be a part of taking our message to people who hunger for God. We are standing on the threshold of the kingdom of heaven, ready to take the next step. And that is exactly where God wants us to be.

Presented at Diocesan Convention
Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012