EXECUTIVE SUMMARY FOR PROPOSED CANONICAL CHANGES
For more than a decade the Diocese of Georgia has rarely used a provision written in our canons that grants the Bishop authority to move parishes who can no longer meet the obligations of a “parish” to “mission” status. Over time, this has created confusion defining which congregations are “missions” and which are “parishes.” The differences are about more than mere terminology: this affects both representation to Diocesan Convention and the amount of oversight provided by the Diocese.
The Diocese and Diocesan Council are proposing changes to enable the Bishop and diocesan leaders to follow the canons as written, requiring changes to current language and structure. The outcome of the proposed changes will:
• reduce unnecessary oversight for more than one third of the congregations,
• acknowledge several of our small congregations as full members of the Diocese,
• result in a representative Diocesan Convention, and
• provide an extra level of assurance that endowed funds in all parishes are managed with sound investment practices.
Overview of Proposed Changes
The mission designation originally referred to congregations with clergy, called Vicars, appointed by the Bishop and compensated by the Diocese. The congregations submitted their vestry minutes and financial reports monthly to the Diocese.. Although long-term support of mission congregations ended almost two decades ago in the Diocese the canonical distinction remains. We are not alone in this situation–many other dioceses have similar histories. Some dioceses have already made changes such as those proposed here. For example, the Diocese of Alabama now has no distinction among its congregations with all named “Parishes” and treated equally. The only distinction in the Diocese of Atlanta is between “Parishes” and “Aided Parishes.” This second path is the one agreed to by Diocesan Council in discussions held in 2016.
The proposed changes end the use of the term “Mission” to refer to a congregation of the Diocese. All congregations are either a “Parish” or an “Aided Parish.” It eliminates the monthly reports now required of 26 currently designated missions. The proposal necessitates two additional changes:
(1) determine delegate representation at Diocesan Convention, and,
(2) oversight of investment funds.
(1) The current representation to Diocesan Convention is one delegate for missions and three for parishes. Giving every congregation three delegates to Convention would both greatly enlarge the Convention’s size while also skewing proportionate representation. To address this, Diocesan Council proposes a proportional system based on the Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) averaged over the three previous years for which we have data.
• Congregations with an ASA of 49 or less shall be entitled to one Delegate;
• Congregations with an ASA of 50-99 shall be entitled to two Delegates;
• Congregations with an ASA of 100-149 shall be entitled to three Delegates;
• Congregations with 150-249 shall be entitled to four Delegates;
• and Congregations with an ASA of more than 250 shall be entitled to five Delegates.
Given current data, this would modestly reduce the total number of delegates from 147 to 137. Information on delegates based on the 2013-2015 data is online here.
Note: Nearly half of the congregations would experience no change.
(2) The other significant proposal is to apply Rule 18 for Missions (pg. 25) to all congregations. This rule states that missions that have financial assets exceeding one year’s Normal Operating Income, as defined in their annual parochial report, shall either invest such excess funds with the Board of the Corporation of the Diocese or obtain a simple waiver (lasting three years) from the Finance Committee of the Diocese. Such waivers are granted once a congregation demonstrates that its investment portfolio historically returned substantially similar or better results than those of the Board of the Corporation’s investment portfolio and the Finance Committee judges their investment portfolio to be reasonable and prudent. The rule guards against substantial amounts of money held in CDs and other instruments that do not keep pace with inflation or a portfolio aggressively invested in risky equities. This rule has proved beneficial for the Diocese and its canonical oversight role. The once-every-three-year waiver from the Finance Committee is a minimal requirement easily met by a vestry.
Note: This is not intended to gain more investors for the Board of the Corporation. Rather, it is to ensure that sound investment practices remain in place in all 68 congregations.
Beyond the above changes, Diocesan Council proposes a few minor amendments to conform the canons to current practice. Read the full canons here.
The Timeline for the changes is below.
To submit comments on these changes, please go here.