MISSION SUPPORT 2020
Jan 22, 2021
By MNYS Vice-President Renée Wicklund
In the two-and-a-half years I’ve served as MNYS vice-president, nothing has kept me awake at night quite like the synod budget. Our synod holds a legacy fund—an endowment, really—built over decades through donations, bequests, investment, and (controversially, at times) sales of property. Many folks look at that legacy fund and ask, “Why does our synod have to conserve funds at all, if we are ‘sitting on a pile of money’?” That’s a good question, and my answer is simple: We have to conserve funds to ensure our synod’s very survival.
I know not everyone sees our work the way I do, and there are folks who say that if we have money—any money at all—we should spend it on God’s work now, to feed the poor, treat the sick, comfort the weary. That position is not without merit; in his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “This is what I mean, siblings: The appointed time has grown very short. . . . For the present form of this world is passing away.” And the Gospel of John quotes Jesus this way: “We must work the works of the One who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” Thus, those who advocate spending our endowment may ask, “What we are waiting for?”
It is hard to disagree with the argument that our work is urgent and imperative. Still, let me offer an additional perspective. To my mind, our synod’s legacy fund is not just a sum of money that exists here and now, to be spent away. Instead, the resources that we possess represent the faith of the Lutheran New Yorkers who came before us, who toiled so that they could give to the Church, buy the land, build our magnificent houses of worship. Our synod today exists and functions because our forebearers created and sustained a Lutheran presence on this territory. Our synod perseveres today because of their labor, handed down to us.
I support zero-based budgeting. Zero-based budgeting means that, each year, we spend only as much as our synod receives (whether through mission giving, interest on our endowment, net receipts on property sales, or otherwise). Budgeting this way means that we finance our work with the interest generated by the legacy fund—but not the principal. As such, the interest continues to be generated every year, ensuring that the Metropolitan New York Synod will be able, into the future, to continue to perform its basic functions, like compensating a bishop and staff, supporting congregations in crisis or transition, and serving as a resource for our clergy.
To be sure, our synod’s income through interest and giving is limited. As such, zero-based budgeting also means making difficult choices, and declining to fund worthy projects. Indeed, the pressing needs of our congregations, our faithful people, and our underserved communities have, in past years, caused our synod to forego zero-based budgeting in favor of drawing upon the principal of our legacy fund. As MNYS vice-president, I have asked for a stop to the practice of drawing down our endowment. I made this request because unless we find alternative sources of revenue (a real challenge when mission giving has been declining), we are in danger of spending out the endowment and being left with nothing to fund a Lutheran presence in our territory into the future. How, I ask myself, would that be responsible to the efforts of our forebearers?
Bishop Egensteiner also has recognized the need to reduce our synod’s spending and act responsibly within the limitations of zero-based budgeting. Following this election, our bishop identified three core values of our synod—following the example of Jesus we will live the Gospel, love all people, and serve God’s children together—and asked our 2025 Vision team to pare the annual budget to whichever expenses best serve those three values. It’s not easy to get to a position of zero-based budgeting when our synod has been (in my opinion) overspending for a long time. In fact, it will still take seven years until we are able to budget as responsibly as possible. But Bishop Egensteiner and his 2025 Vision team have put us on the path toward the goal, for which I am grateful.
God will provide for us and our work, always. Being secure in that knowledge, however, does not mean abdicating our duty for stewardship of our resources. As Proverbs 20:21 tells us, a fool squanders resources, while a wise householder stores for the future.