United Methodist execs seek creative change
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 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 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 and Role of Women and Religion and Race - remain intact but are taking a new look at priorities for their advocacy roles.
Also retaining its status is the Commission on Archives and History, which Plan UMC had relegated to a committee within the General Council on Finance and Administration. The 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.
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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," 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."
International mission work and multicultural, racial-ethnic programs in the United States will take priority. Other U.S. work will be downscaled and some tasks eliminated, such as the board's research office. "It is valuable, but it's purely U.S.," he explained. "It's something we just can't afford anymore."
The mission agency is planning four or five pilot projects in different contexts under the working title, "mission celebrations," Kemper said, "where we try to revive mission spirits," specifically in the United States. The pilot projects offer opportunities to engage in mission through the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Mission Volunteers, New Church Starts and Mission Initiatives.
Staff changes at Global Ministries
Thirty-eight employees at the Board of Global Ministries will take advantage of a voluntary separation program offering a lump-sum payment of three months' salary and an additional payment of up to six months.
Thomas Kemper, top executive, said the program was conceived to honor the needs of staff, including those interested in early retirement; reorganize positions without making drastic cuts and provide flexibility "in how we want to implement the 10 percent reduction in our budget as far as salaries are concerned."
He pointed to the separation program's "generous" timeline, which, in addition to severance, allows staff to work until December and utilize outplacement assistance. "If you look at it, you basically have a year to find a new job," he said.
In July 2009, before Kemper arrived at the board, 26 employees were laid off when the mission agency cut 45 staff positions and another 19 accepted retirement or voluntary severance packages.
'Our program is really our staff'
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.
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. "I believe we have to do everything possible to maintain the staff size that we have now."
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, Winkler stretched his staff capacity by hiring six organizers, on a yearlong contract, to strengthen networks among local churches on specific issues.
While local churches excel at "feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and sheltering the homeless," as prescribed in Luke, Winkler noted that "freeing the oppressed, which is the other part of that passage in Luke, that's the hard part."
It is easier, for example, to run homeless shelters than advocate for affordable housing at city hall. "A lot of our organizing and training is developing that kind of skills and, frankly, that kind of courage, in our folks," he explained.
Reconfiguring and holding the line
The 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 limited 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.
The Rev. Kim Cape, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, speaks during the church's 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Fla. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.
"We do not expect an immediate reduction in staff but will look to reduce staff over time through attrition," 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 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.
"We believe that a smaller board with specialized skills in governance (fiduciary and strategic), along with a deep commitment to GBOD's role to support vital congregations, will allow the agency to more quickly adapt to changes in the church and proactively put in place strategic directions that reflect those changes," she said.
The Board of Discipleship anticipated budget reductions and currently plans no reductions of its staff of about 160, Greenwaldt said.
Even as the Commissions on Religion and Race and the Status and 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.
At Religion and 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 (regional) 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.
This expanded focus means resourcing churches where communities are changing across racial and ethnic lines or the increasing number of racial-ethnic clergy may be serving mostly white congregations. "That has raised a lot of stories of transformation, but there (are) also a lot of stories of pain as folks from different cultures try to come together," Hawkins said. "All of our churches, no matter what their makeup, should be able to engage in ministry across cultures."
With a June retirement, the Commission on the Status and 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." Burton will leave the commission at the end of the year.
During the September organizing meeting, 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.
If The United Methodist Church wants to transform the whole world, it must recognize that goal as a systemic mandate, not an individual option. "We talk about being a global church but we need to have global accountability," she explained. "We're not a regional club; we're a body of Christ and our witness has to be consistent with regard to justice."
Partnerships for training
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.
Other new projects include building an online network to provide training for a volunteer-in-mission group planning to establish internet cafes in Haiti and investigating the most cost-effective way to connect church members in Europe and the United States through online webinars.
Partnerships with the church's central conferences are crucial. "We don't have to do all of that work, but we can bring the people together and be part of the combined sharing of money or staff or skills," Hollon said.
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," Williams said, but he added that any future reductions would cause concern. "We have almost no wiggle room to cut a program. Somehow, hopefully, the denomination will stay committed to having a professionally run archives."
The task for the Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns is to find new life within the Council of Bishops as its Office of Christian Unity and 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. He also expects some supporting ad-hoc work groups to be formed. "We're going to try to identify the leadership we need," he said.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.