As a first-time deputy to General Convention with the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee for Program, Budget & Finance (PB&F), I really had no idea what to expect from the two-week experience. It appeared to be serendipitous given my work history with the Appropriations Committee in the Maine legislature.
My focus at convention, like it is with my work in the Diocese, was advocacy. I traveled to Austin determined to learn as much as possible about the Church’s mission to focus on advocacy on the church-wide level: public policy, justice and peace-making, anti-racism, poverty, health care, public education, prisons, and care for the earth.
Yesterday, the House of Deputies passed the triennial budget without amendment, a strong vote of confidence in the work of PB&F and our Executive Council that crafted the original draft blueprint. It was the result of several days of meetings, starting early in the morning and often until late in the evening, learning about the 700 line items and 160 staff positions contained in the budget plan.
I learned in detail how the budget for advocacy creates a prophetic role by calling our Church into courageous conversations about race, poverty, violence, criminal justice and the institutions that support these systems. It reinforced the model we use in Maine to engage in the public square. The budget funds the “Jesus Movement” work of the Church without expanding staff, creates time-limited task forces and preserving the diocesan assessment rate at 15%.
The Program, Budget & Finance Committee, under Bishop Steve Lane’s gracious leadership for the past nine years, is responsible for recommending funding and spending policies to each General Convention for the succeeding triennium. We began this process with a $15 million dollar deficit – more than 10% of the total – and were ultimately able to present a balanced budget to the convention. We heard from church leaders and lay people who shared information about the amazing work happening all across the world.
My role on this committee allowed me the opportunity to combine my knowledge of the state budget process with an understanding of church and diocesan level budgets. It was also an opportunity to encourage continued focus on church-wide sustainability and a reminder of the daily challenges small dioceses face.
Being a member of this committee was an informative experience giving me keen insights into the many ways our Church supports advocacy work all over the world. It was also an opportunity to witness budget development from a different perspective as the person who gets to vote on the initiative and not trying to convince someone else to do the right thing.
Finally, the General Convention, is considering about 50 resolutions giving advice to the Office of Government Relations (OGR) on issues like alleviating poverty, human rights, safety net programs, renewable energy, criminal justice reform, environmental racism, gun safety, racial injustice and many more.
The OGR has been a strong partner in our advocacy work in Maine, and we look forward to developing our network for justice into an even greater voice working with our brothers, sisters and siblings in the DC office.
I offer my thanks to the people of our Diocese for sending me to Austin and hope we are able to bring the spirit of convention to our work in Maine.