Faced with cuts, agencies plan changes

Cut back, hang tough, shift priorities.

The United Methodist Church’s general agencies will employ those strategies over the next four years to deal with reduced budgets, smaller boards and new directions in mission.

As the largest program agency, the General Board of Global Ministries cut back by reducing its board of directors by nearly two-thirds, from 92 to 32, with an additional five at-large members. The number of bishops on the board has dropped from 10 to three.

In May, the mission agency also cut back by offering many of its 201 full-time staff the option of participating in a “voluntary separation program.” The deadline for a final decision over the buyout was Aug. 6; 38 employees have chosen to leave by December or earlier.

The General Board of Church and Society decided to hang tough with a 62-member board of directors after concluding that reducing size does not necessarily improve governance or competency. But, the social justice agency already had cut back meeting costs by an estimated 40 percent and pared its staff over the past decade to 22 full-time employees.

Two smaller commissions that would have merged into a “committee on inclusiveness” under Plan UMC—the Status & Role of Women and Religion & Race—remain intact but are taking a new look at priorities for their advocacy roles.

Also retaining its status is the General Commission on Archives and History, which Plan UMC had relegated to a committee within the General Council on Finance and Administration. The General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, by its own design, has lost its independence and is re-forming as an office of the denomination’s Council of Bishops.

Most agencies will face a 10 percent cut in funding. The recently-concluded General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body, approved a budget of $603.1 million for the denomination’s seven general church funds during the 2013-16 period. That total is 6.03 percent less than the amount apportioned for the previous four-year period.

In addition, delegates redirected $12 million in the World Service Fund toward theological education in central conferences and the recruitment and training of young clergy in the United States. The World Service Fund, one of the seven apportioned funds, supports much of the general agency operations.

Thomas Kemper, top executive for Global Ministries, expects his smaller board to take on more responsibility, concentrating on oversight and goal setting. “We are very conscious of where we want to go with a smaller structure,” he said. “One of the results will be that the voices of the central conferences will be stronger.”

A third of the directors on the downsized board represent the church in Africa, Asia and Europe. “Some of our [U.S.] jurisdictional directors were struggling with this,” Mr. Kemper admitted, “but, in the end, everybody agreed that we have to reduce some representation from the U.S. if Global Ministries wants to be the global agency for the global church.”

Church & Society plan

At the Board of Church and Society, adjusting to the 10 percent reduction in funding will mean finding “additional savings” over the next four years, said Jim Winkler, top executive. That probably translates into fewer training events and seminars and holding the line on travel, postage and grants to local church ministries.

Jim Winkler

What he does not want to do is cut the agency’s 22 full-time staff members—down from 40 just 12 years ago. “I’ve learned from experience, our program is really our staff,” he explained.

Mr. Winkler said he has spent his 12 years as agency head keeping annual expenditures under budget, trimming publication costs by shifting communications online, raising some $300,000 for a new endowment fund and obtaining more than $500,000 in outside grants over the past four years.

For the last 15 years, the agency has spent millions in needed improvements to its headquarters, the historic United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill and, “consequently, it produces more income for the board than it used to,” he noted.

In total, according to Church and Society’s report to the 2012 General Conference, “the agency has increased its operating income separately from the World Service receipts by more than $3 million during this [2009-12] quadrennium.”

For 2012, Mr. Winkler stretched his staff capacity by hiring six organizers, on a yearlong contract, to strengthen networks among local churches on specific issues.

Focus on efficiency

The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry expects to reduce its meeting costs by $115,000 each year through downsizing from 64 to 22 board members and limiting full meetings to an annual on-site fall meeting and spring teleconference, said the Rev. Kim Cape, top executive.

The agency, which conducted an efficiency study last year to reconfigure its full-time staff of 56, expects the 2013 budget—to be presented to the new board in October—will reflect priorities and goals for the next four years.

“We do not expect an immediate reduction in staff but will look to reduce staff over time through attrition,” Ms. Cape said.

Higher Education and Ministry will work with other agencies, seminaries and church leaders as the lead agency for two initiatives recently approved by General Conference on young clergy and central conference theological education.

For the General Board of Discipleship, a reduction from 58 to 22 board members reflects solidarity “with the goals of the Call to Action,” explained the Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, top executive.

The Board of Discipleship anticipated budget reductions and currently plans no reductions of its staff of about 160, Ms. Greenwaldt said.

‘Still important’

Even as the Commissions on Religion & Race and the Status & Role of Women cut the size of their boards in half, their top executives remain convinced that institutional racism and sexism still pervade the denomination.

Erin Hawkins

At Religion & Race, Erin Hawkins expects her 21-member board to determine priorities and their impact on budget allocations. Despite the funding cut, she hopes to add to the commission’s nine-member full-time staff. “We’re not at full staff capacity right now,” she explained.

The commission originally was established as a regulatory body at the denominational level, she noted, monitoring employment, due process and pay equity issues at the agency and annual conference level. “While that work is still important and necessary, what we will be doing is figuring out how to shape our work in such a way that those conversations are connected and relevant to people in the pews,” she said.

With a June retirement, the Commission on the Status & Role of Women has only four full-time staff at present. M. Garlinda Burton, the top executive, plans to make a new hire, but will be reconfiguring duties and “shifting the way we’re spending our money.” Ms. Burton will leave the commission at the end of the year.

During the September organizing meeting, Ms. Burton expects her new 19-member board to consider “four top priorities” that can really have an impact. “We’re really clear that the work confronting sexism in the church is not done,” she said.

UMCom training

At United Methodist Communications, the 27-member board, reduced in size about eight years ago, already had implemented a strategy to concentrate on the denomination’s “four areas of focus.”

The Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive, said the budget for non-related work will be reduced and practical cost savings—distributing more materials electronically rather than in print, reducing travel and using more online training and webinars—implemented.

Training has become a key component of the agency’s work. Currently, training events are scheduled in Africa, Europe and the Philippines through the beginning of next year, using local resources as well as staff and materials from the church’s other agencies.

The Commission on Archives and History also provides some materials and training to the central conferences, said the Rev. Robert Williams, top executive.

Charged with collecting, preserving and making available key historic documents, the commission, which does not receive World Service dollars, ended up with about a 3.8 percent budget reduction after $25,000 was restored to support the African-American Heritage Center.

The 24-member board of directors, which was already downsized, meets once a year.

“We won’t experience significant operational decline in this quadrennium because we had built up good reserves over many, many years,” Dr. Williams said, but he added that any future reductions would cause concern.

The task for the Commission on Christian Unity & Interreligious Concerns is to find new life within the Council of Bishops as its Office of Christian Unity & Interreligious Relationships. A transition team will meet again Aug. 13-15 in Pasadena, Calif., to help facilitate the transfer.

The Rev. Stephen J. Sidorak Jr., the commission’s top executive, is hopeful the office’s new 11-member steering committee will have its first meeting in January, perhaps during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

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Save money and improve the church by disbanding the General Board of Church and Society & firing the entire roster. They do very little to represent the local church members

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