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Deciding what budget cuts mean for ministry

Most United Methodist general agencies are facing substantial budget cuts starting in 2021. That means agency leaders are now making hard choices about what ministries to curtail or drop altogether.

For several months, these leaders have met with representatives of the Connectional Table to discuss what reductions would mean for their ministries. The Connectional Table is the leadership body responsible for coordinating the work of agencies and proposing most of the denomination's budget allocations.

Your support of The General Administration Fund apportionment supports the executive decision of the Connectional Table which is an administrative body of the denomination.

"We heard not only about their prudent work to protect their capacity for mission and ministry but also their concerns about the upcoming cuts," said the Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, the Connectional Table's chief connectional ministries officer. "We have been very aware, particularly in light of significant cuts, of the complexity of our budget allocation task, of the ministries that could be lost, the lives that could be upended and the anxiety this process is causing."

While the Connectional Table can recommend how to slice the financial pie, its budget partner — the board of the denomination's finance agency — has already set the pie's size.

In November, despite a request from the Connectional Table to reconsider, the General Council on Finance and Administration board pressed ahead with plans to reduce requested church giving from annual conferences.

The goal is to keep more money in local churches, but that's not guaranteed because each conference sets its own formula for the apportionments it requests of its congregations.

General Conference, the denomination's top lawmaking body, will have final say on the size and allocation of the denominational budget at its 2020 session.

Based on current estimates, the 2020 General Conference is looking at a proposed general church budget of $498.65 million for the years 2021-2024. Of that amount, the Connectional Table is responsible for allocating about $361.6 million — about a 23 percent decrease from the current budget.

The Connectional Table must divide that total among five general church funds. They include the Ministerial Education Fund, which supports United Methodist seminaries and seminary students; the Black College Fund, which supports historically black church-affiliated schools; the Africa University Fund; and the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund, which supports ecumenical work. The Connectional Table has held listening sessions with administrators of each of these funds.

The largest allocation the Connectional Table deals with is the World Service Fund, which supports the work of eight general church agencies.

Those agencies are wrestling with what the cuts could mean for their work, their employees and the people they serve. The church has a total of 13 agencies. Most are already engaged in cost-saving measures.

Each agency has its own board, as well as different staffing levels, budgets and mandates from General Conference. Some receive significant revenue from grants and other sources beyond the World Service Fund; others depend on the fund for the bulk of their budgets.

Nevertheless, these agencies share a commitment to providing resources and services that individual churches and even conferences cannot do on their own.

The Connectional Table plans to present its final budget allocation proposal during a joint meeting with the General Council on Finance and Administration board in April.

Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, UMNS

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