Today I met with the bishop’s staff to tell them difficult news that I also want to share with you. In order to make the diocesan budget more sustainable and responsive to the financial realities of congregations, we have made the hard decision to eliminate three staff positions and to make two others part-time. Beginning July 31, the full-time positions of associate for lifelong Christian formation and assistant for the Nicholas Center and the part-time position of assistant for youth ministry will be eliminated. Effective January 1, 2017, the position of associate for liturgy and the arts will be reduced to half-time and the treasurer will be reduced to three-quarter time.
This news means that we will soon say goodbye to Vicki Garvey and Megan Krings and thank them for their faithful ministry to the diocese and the wider church. Neither of their jobs has ended due to performance or disciplinary issues, and we are making generous severance packages and outplacement services available to them. I am eager to see them find new ministries worthy of their gifts and skills, and I ask you to join me in praying for them as they discern their plans.
I am glad to say that Dent Davidson and Keith Kampert, our treasurer, have agreed to remain on the staff in their new, reduced-time roles. Dent will continue to consult with congregations that want to enrich their liturgy and music, and will continue to travel widely across the church, where he is much in demand as a speaker, teacher, and guest musician. I hope that Jess Elfring-Roberts, who has been assistant for youth ministry, will continue to serve as assistant director of Camp Chicago, a position she has held for many years and in which she has helped shape the faith of many young people in our diocese and beyond.
We will, of course, continue to support congregations that want to increase their faith formation programs, and to support the Nicholas Center. We will soon have news about our plans to make faith formation coaching and resources available in ways that are aligned with our new College for Congregational Development. And I am grateful to Courtney Reid and the operations team for finding new ways to oversee Nicholas Center operations.
Eliminating jobs is always difficult, and we would not have taken these measures for any reason other than to ensure that the resources of the diocese remain focused on mission and ministry at the local level. The 2017 budget that we will present in advance of diocesan convention in November will be approximately $500,000 less than this year’s $4.6 million budget. That is an 11 percent reduction, and eliminating these positions shrinks the budget by about half of the amount that we need to cut. These cuts follow a 12 percent reduction in the 2016 budget as compared to 2015. You can review both the 2016 budget and a three-year comparison on the website.
Our need to reduce the diocesan budget is driven primarily by three factors. Common mission share contributions–the income that congregations voluntarily pledge to the diocese–has flattened out at about $2.4 million a year, which is $700,000 less than its pre-2008 recession levels. Health care and benefit costs continue to skyrocket, with increases from 2010-2015 totaling 81 percent. And finally, we cannot continue to spend from the principal of our investments, particularly Bishop’s Funds. Based on new forecasting, we believe that our current level of spending from these funds will exhaust the principal in 12-16 years, and we cannot continue on a course that we know will cause fiscal problems for the next generation of diocesan leaders to solve.
It would be possible to appeal to congregations to increase their common mission share pledges in order to keep the diocesan budget at its current levels. But as your bishop, I believe that the health and vitality of our diocese and each of its congregations is best fostered by allowing each congregation’s leaders to make transparent choices about how much of your resources you need to sustain the local ministry to which God is calling you. And I trust that each congregation that benefits from the support, coaching, and resources that my staff and I provide will choose to return some of your income to sustain the ministry of the diocese. To disrupt what I believe and hope is a healthy balance between local and diocesan needs might alleviate the budget shortfall temporarily, but in the long run, I believe it would not be the best way to sustain our common life.
Thank you for your continued support as we continue making the Diocese of Chicago a place where people’s lives can be transformed by the power of the risen Christ, now and for many years in the future.
The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee