THE AAC AND FINANCES
by Fr. John Dresko, NV
There is much discussion and speculation about the election of a new Metropolitan at the upcoming 15th All-American Council. But I believe that our decisions on finances may be just as important.
Just so you know some of my background, I want to start by saying I have been naive, blind and even stupid. For ten years, I was involved in the administration of the Church (Metropolitan Council, consultant to and then member of the administration) and did not see what was going on. I actually thought I could make a difference and bring changes to the culture in "Syosset". I said and promoted much of the same rhetoric we hear from the newest office holders in that building. I did everything I did with good intent but to naught.
In December 2006, the Transition Officer informed me that as part of the reorganization of the administration I was being terminated March 1, 2007. This happened despite the fact that, as Director of Development, I raised ~$140K for the OCA in 2006. When I asked at a staff meeting held at the Chancery of the Orthodox Church in America that same month why I was being terminated earlier than others also informed, I was told that it was because I was "highly paid".
I beg to differ. After being told by the Metropolitan to my face (along with Fr. Eugene Vansuch of blessed memory) that "no one would be losing jobs," I went on a fact-finding trip in September 2006 (14 different visits) as Director of Development. When I reported in the fall of 2006 to the Metropolitan, first privately, then publicly in front of the Metropolitan Council, that my discussions led me to believe that only his resignation and that of the Treasurer would allow healing to begin, I was a dead man walking.
After my termination, I was told that the OCA did not pay unemployment insurance since, as a priest, I could be transferred and assigned anywhere. I could not apply for unemployment income. But there was no assignment coming.
I was told that the Metropolitan would not let me be considered for a vacancy in East Meadow because he didn't want me "that close to Syosset." I went six months without a penny of income before finding a secular job. I was never contacted by the Metropolitan, nor the Chancellor - not even once.
The reorganization continued. I finally was given a parish assignment on July 1, 2008 (15 months after being terminated) without a single assist from the Metropolitan or the Chancellor.
Lofty rhetoric has come out of the building about the "new vision" and "new direction"of the OCA. Budgets began to reflect the "new vision" and the "new direction". I have become increasingly uncomfortable as I read the materials and debates about the upcoming AAC. So I looked at the numbers from the ìold visionî and ìold directionî versus the "new vision" and "new direction".
In 2002, as part of the work for the 13th All-American Council, I searched the history of how the OCA was funded through the years. I thought we could "plan"and "teach" our way out of the financial problems even after doing that research. I was wrong. The current administration thinks they can "plan" and "teach" their way out of the financial problems today. They are wrong. The only way my parishes have grown and prospered (and they have) is by teaching, preaching and living Christian stewardship. And that means proportional giving (tithing).
I have pondered, developed and publicly defended every single argument that is now being made for financing the central administration at the current level. It didnít work. Bridges, gradual movement into proportional giving - you name it, we argued it. None of it worked. I didnít trust God.
The Church Administration has publicized possible budgets based on a $90 per capita and a $105 per capita to try to fend off attempts to reduce the amount by more than half. The language of Fair Share, and proportional giving, has been dismissed yet again and a member of the Metropolitan Council recently published a reflection that chastised and reminded AAC delegates that the Metropolitan Council has budgetary authority and is not bound by the Treasurerís musings on a possible budget nor the expressed desires of hundreds of delegates to the All-American Council. True enough to a point - the MC has statutory authority to spend the money. The AAC decides how much to raise and the method employed. BUT, the Metropolitan Council exists to implement the goals, direction and desires of the All-American Council between the triennial meetings. The AAC is the "highest legislative body of the Church" and if it passes a resolution regarding spending, including very specific directions, the MC and Church Administration are bound to follow its direction. We are no longer at a place where we can try to parse the Statute to take the collective conciliar will of the Church and concentrate it in the hands of a few people to do with it what they may.
A look at the past five years and the proposed ("possible") budgets of the Treasurer for 2009 shows how things have not changed. Only the names and faces are different. Note the budgetary lines for the ìchurch administrationî (that means different things at different times). (The numbers for 2006 to present are budget numbers as I could not find accurate actual numbers.) Please note that housing allowances were included in "benefits" until 2007, then they were moved to "salaries". Totals are unaffected.
Year Admin Salaries Benefits % of FS*
2004 490,397 453,077 41.82
2005 593,339 508,083 49.54
2006 599,500 568,584 43.26
Dismissals and house cleaning starts:
2007 515,035 178,730 26.41
After the house cleaning and reorganization:
2008 636,000 232,279 33.26
2009 724,500 328,465 47.06
*Fair Share (FS)
Despite the fact that we are trying to recover from the terrible events and revelations of more than a decade of mismanagement and financial abuses, despite the fact that the Fair Share is probably going to be reduced (although it remains to be seen to what level), the spending for the salaries and benefits of the administration is unchanged in either proposed budget of the Treasurer. Whether we approve a $90 or $105 per capita (or less?), the total for salaries and benefits of the Church administration is not adjusted at all. Each officerís total compensation package is $60-75K more than any of us involved there before ìreorganization.î I assume from the proposed budget that the new Metropolitan is going to get half of his salary from the OCA and a duplicate half from NY/NJ/WASH.
For years we heard (and I accepted at face value) that the income was not adequate ("spending is not the problem - income is") and that programs would not be funded, budgets would be frozen mid-year, and the Church would grind to a halt. In many ways it did, and remains so. But salaries were always paid, benefits provided, and "administration" continued. We now know the sad facts, and I am embarrassed by my participation in this process.
We will hear all of the arguments - I can make them myself. But three years into the very difficult situation we find ourselves in, there does not seem to be one penny more going to the real work of the Church. Despite massive legal costs (with more to come), the administration is fully funded. FOS is dead - it at least helped fund programs of the Church. There is no development going on (indeed, how could there be?).
I don't know exactly what I am going to do at the AAC, but I am no longer going to be naive, blind or stupid.
The funding history of the OCA is included below. Count how many times it was recommended to have a "strategic plan," a plan "for proportional giving," a "system for moving away from per capita giving" and "a timetable for including all dioceses in the funding of the budget of the OCA". Many people tried. I tried. What makes us think this time will be any different?
As a missionary diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church (i.e., The "Metropolia") received its primary financial support from the Mother Church.
Following the turmoil of the Russian revolution and the administrative chaos that followed, the administration of the Church was funded through various means, without a centralized system.
From the early thirties, the Metropolia funded its administration through a system of proportionate giving. Affirmed at the 6th All-American Church Sobor (1937), each parish was required to set aside 2% of its gross income from candles, collections, non-designated donations and annual parish dues for the support of the Metropoliaís central budget.
At the 8th All-American Church Sobor (1950), the transition to a per capita system of funding began. In addition to the proportionate support mentioned above, each adult member was to be assessed $1.00. In addition, parishes were regularly assessed for designated purposes, such as the support of the newly-acquired property in Syosset, New York, the military chaplaincy, and various charitable projects.
The 13th All-American Church Sobor replaced all the different methods of financial support with a $5.00 assessment on each adult member of the Metropolia,18 years of age and above. This funded an operating budget of $160,000 and included a subscription to the official publication of the Church, The Orthodox Church.
A Special Task Force on Finances (the first of many between 1973-1991) was formed to address a financial crisis in the Church. The task force determined that the crisis was the result of unremitted assessments from parishes. The 3rd All-American Council raised the assessment to $7.00 per adult member and levied a financial obligation on each parish, based on its size, to reduce the debt.
The 5th All-American Council went on record in proposing that a "Fair Share" system of funding the operating budget of the Church be developed.
The 6th All-American Council passed a resolution "recognizing that true financial stewardship is superior to our present but necessary system of membership assessment." A feasibility study was sent out to determine parish support for a move away from the per capita system. Results were divided. Also in 1980, in an effort to encourage a scripturally-based understanding of stewardship and support of the Church's ministries, Metropolitan Theodosius founded the Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards.
The 7th All-American Council discussed the feasibility study and determined that "the more stewardly system of supportî was ìa future possibility and not a present reality."
The 8th All-American Council received a report from the 1986 Task Force on Finances, which recommended numerous studies: demographics of parish membership, an analysis of the role and structure of the Church Administration, and the development of a long-range strategic plan for the administration of the Church.
The most severe financial crisis to hit the Church happened in 1988-89. Inflation, unforeseen legal expenditures, and unfunded mandates imposed on the Church by the All-American Council were the basic causes. A one-time special appeal was conducted by the Holy Synod of Bishops to help rectify this matter.
In 1989, the Holy Synod of Bishops established the policy that per capita assessments based on actual membership at the beginning of the year would be forwarded from the diocesan treasuries monthly, with the diocese responsible for collecting arrears. Another Task Force was called, which made sweeping recommendations.
The 9th All-American Council adopted a resolution "On Financial Management", which called for a gradual phase-out of the per capita assessment and a gradual implementation of a proportional system. Studies later showed that this resolution would have jeopardized the financial stability of the Church. Financial information necessary in order to propose a true proportional system was requested from each parish. The study showed that the portion given from each parish's budget would need to be double that of the resolution passed at the All-American Council just to meet the current assessment income. Consequently, the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council affirmed that the Resolution "On Financial Management" as passed would destabilize the financial structure of the Church and simply raised the per capita.
The Financial Task Force of 1991 was charged with preparing for the 10th All-American Council in 1992 four distinct proposals to fund the Church. The proposals developed were
1) to retain the per capita assessment, with an annual increase based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI);
2) to adopt a flat 12.6% of parish unrestricted income;
3) to retain the per capita assessment at $15.00, plus 7.6% of parish unrestricted income; and,
4) based upon the annual budget approved by the Metropolitan Council, to adopt a diocesan assessment wherein each diocese would be expected to support a percentage of the budget based on its percentage of OCA membership.
The 10th All-American Council set the per capita assessment at $45.00 and allowed for an annual increase based on the CPI. The Council also made the following recommendations:
• establish a comprehensive program of financial stewardship education to be implemented in at least 25% of the parishes of each diocese;
• renegotiate all financial agreements with those dioceses not currently supporting the budget of the Orthodox Church in America at the current level;
• establish a "Parish Membership" category in the Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards;
• establish a $5,000,000 General Purpose Endowment;
• require that all contributions to Orthodox Church in America appeals (mission, seminary, charity) be sent to the Central Church Administration directly; and
• develop and introduce uniform accounting procedures and standardized forms for reporting income to the Central Church Administration in order to analyze and monitor trends.
The Treasurer noted to the 11th All-American Council that the current per capita assessment system allowed for only a maintenance budget, with no growth. It was noted that the responsibility of being the only autocephalous (self-governing) Church in North America put additional and extraordinary strains on the budget, involving the maintenance of relations with other Orthodox Churches in the world.
The All-American Council continued the per capita assessment system, but called for the Metropolitan Council to move towards establishing an operating budget that used the per capita assessments for the administrative work of the Church, and the income from the Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards, planned gifts and endowments for the program work of the Church.
At the 12th All-American Council, a resolution regarding the financing of the operating budget of the Orthodox Church in America was passed and subsequently approved by the Holy Synod of Bishops. The resolution dealt with four issues:
1) Establishing an interim system of financing for the triennium (1999-2002);
2) Establishing a standard financial reporting form for parishes to send to the Chancery;
3) Directing that all parishes and dioceses be incorporated into the support system for the operating budget; and
4) Developing a "fair share" system of support to be proposed at the 13th All-American Council.
The resolution mandated that the per capita rate for 2000 be set at $60 (raised by the CPI each subsequent year). It also mandated that a "Minimum Financial Support" figure be established for each parish each year. This "Minimum Financial Support" clause directed that assessment figures be the greater of the 1999 reported parish membership or the reported membership of each subsequent year. This established, for the first time, a baseline of support that would drop no lower than the amounts calculated in 1999. It also was an attempt to make parishes think in terms of a general "figure" or proportional amount of support rather than a "per capita" sum. "Minimum Financial Support" was never intended to be permanent and ended with the implementation of the first fair share resolution passed at the 13th All-American Council.
The second measure established a "standard financial reporting form" for parishes. This form was meant to accomplish two things.
First, it was an attempt to standardize parish budgeting in order to educate parishes in the art of Christian budgeting.
Second, the reporting was to give the Office of the Treasurer the necessary data to calculate what portion of parish budgets would be needed to support the operating budget of the OCA should a proportional system be proposed at the 13th All-American Council.
In January of 2001, a proposed Standard Parish Budget Reporting Form was sent to each parish of the Orthodox Church in America. Of 641 sent, approximately 100 were returned. The return was insufficient for serious data analysis in order to propose a proportional system of giving.
The third measure required that all parishes of the Orthodox Church in America be incorporated into a single financial support system by the year 2008. In the process of working on this resolution, the Holy Synod of Bishops determined that any changes in the financial agreements made with the non-territorial dioceses is solely within the competence of the Holy Synod. Any work to integrate the non-territorial dioceses into full participation in the assessment system is solely the prerogative of the Holy Synod of Bishops.
The Fair Share resolution that we currently live with was passed at the 14th All-American Council, although it was immediately perverted back into a simple "head tax" and the scandals which we also live with today broke in full fury. It must be mentioned that the proposal was to be a bridge to the presentation of a proportional giving system yet once again.