Saturday, March 07, 2009

Paritial DPA Forgiveness: A year of Jubilee in Oregon

Forgiveness. It comes in many forms. The wisdom of our Standing Committee and interim bishop stands like a light in the darkness of these economic times for the parishes--large and small--within this diocese, from shore to mountains, from the Columbia to the southern valleys. We thank you.

Partial DPA Debt Forgiveness Approved by Diocesan Council

From: Standing Committee, Oregon Diocesan Council

To: Members of the Diocesan Community

Date: Wednesday, March 4, 2009

At its February meeting, the Diocesan Council unanimously approved a proposal by the Standing Committee to cancel all DPA debt delinquent for the years ending on or prior to December 31, 2006. The resolution also forgave the filing of all delinquent required statements of General Purpose Income for those years. This proposal was made to act upon the Standing Committee’s designation of 2009 as a year of Jubilee (“Jubilee” is the theme of the upcoming 121 st annual diocesan convention in which a bishop diocesan will be elected).

Theologically, a jubilee year comes from the Hebrew Bible’s prescription of a year of jubilee every 50 years, a year in which liberty was proclaimed “throughout the land to all its inhabitants” (Leviticus 25: 10) through the liberation of slaves and the cancellation of debt. The modern jubilee year is a metaphor for Christians today to create, to the extent it is within our power, economic and environmental stewardship and justice and peace for the weakest in our midst.

The Diocese is acting on its beliefs in liberating its churches from a burden of debt. More than a dozen of the 75 churches in the diocese have been unable to consistently pay their mandated share of diocesan expenses. By action of the Standing Committee and the Diocesan Council, all debt more than two years old—an amount estimated at about $860,000—has been cancelled. The Diocesan Council, the policy-making body of the diocese which must approve such a measure, unanimously agreed with the Standing Committee’s proposal to cancel this debt at their February 27th meeting in Salem.

The Diocesan Council was able to act immediately on the Standing Committee’s request because it had already formed a task force to look at DPA issues, including the problem of the large amount of DPA in arrearages. The work of that task force is not completed. This specific decision covers years prior to 2007; years after that will be considered as part of the task force’s work. “Canonically, Diocesan Council has authority to cancel only DPA that has been delinquent for more than two years,” said the Rev. Jaime Sanders, the DPA task force convener. “The task force is charged with developing a fair and consistent policy for DPA shortfalls for years after 2006. We welcome, and will be looking for ways to facilitate, conversation with all interested persons in the diocese.”

During the discussion at the Diocesan Council meeting, concern was expressed about congregations that have made sacrifices to stay current on DPA or to catch up past arrearages.

Was it fair, someone wondered, to cancel debt for some congregations when others had made such sacrifices? The conversation became theological as Council members reflected on the concept of jubilee. “Jubilee isn’t about fairness, it’s about maintaining community. It’s about recognizing the different needs of people in community and sharing the resources so everyone can thrive,” said the Rev. Raggs Ragan, diocesan council member.

Some of this debt is more than ten years old. “In the judgment of the Standing Committee, this burden impairs the mission of the church at this time of global economic hardship and looking toward the future in faith and hope,” said the Rev. Shannon Leach, president of the diocesan Standing Committee. “In keeping with the biblical injunction to observe an occasional jubilee year, in which all debts are forgiven and people are given a clean slate on which to go forward, we are thrilled that our motion has been accepted by the Diocesan Council and that we can move forward into the future.

“It is the Standing Committee's hope that relieving the burden of crushing debt, under which many of our congregations have lived for many years, will free them to use the resources at their disposal to more effectively carry out the ministries they feel called to do,” he concluded.

Deirdre Steinberg

Director of Communications

Episcopal Diocese of Oregon

11800 SW Military Lane, Portland, Oregon 97219

Direct: 971-204-4108, Mobile: 503-890-1542

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